Suddenly, podcasting is hot. It’s taken a combination of smartphones that can download online files easily, earbuds and noise-canceling headphones, easy-to-use recording hardware and software – and not the least, places like iTunes and Stitcher to make one’s podcast findable online. But podcasting has moved from geeky to cool, when it comes to getting your ideas in front of potential clients.

To start with, let’s get a clear idea of what a podcast is and isn’t. The word combines two root terms. One is “broadcast,” which means putting a program on television or radio for anyone to access. The second is “iPod” (remember those?) which were (well okay, “are”) portable devices to download and play content from Apple’s iTunes online library. So, a “podcast” is a broadcast accessed on an iPod or other Internet-connected device. Get it?

A podcast isn’t a one-off, like a movie. It’s like a TV series in that it’s produced on a regular schedule. An audio file on a website isn’t necessarily a podcast, particularly if it’s just a one-off interview, unless it’s produced as a regular program to which users can subscribe. Most podcasts are audio-only, although it’s good to have a transcript available.

What’s good about being a podcast guest?

Having your own podcast is a good idea for you if you can dedicate yourself to this goal. But it’s a LOT of work. Probably more than regular blogging (see Post #52 for more on that). This means that being a podcast guest, rather than building your own podcast, may be a more viable way to get your ideas in front of potential clients. Why?
• Being a podcast guest can give you an idea of whether you want to climb the daunting hill that is having your own ongoing podcast
You get the benefit of the host’s setup – likely, all you need to do is show up on time to record the podcast; the host takes care of the rest
• You can get a ride on someone else’s audience outreach, which probably helps you reach more people than you could with your own podcast (just as guest blogging can help you reach new markets, as in Post #41).
• You can reach highly specific markets, and do it on a worldwide basis

How to be effective as a podcast guest

To find out more, I interviewed someone who knows a LOT about the subject – Donna Papacosta of Trafalgar Communications, who has co-authored a book, “The Business of Podcasting.” Here’s an edited version of our interview.

Carl: If someone wants to build a position as a thought leader in their field, how do they find podcasts that are influential in reaching the people they want as clients?

Donna: I would hope that if you’re influential in your field, you’re keeping up with publications both online and off, seeing what’s happening in your industry. If you are, I would hope you’d come across some podcasts that are relevant for you. If not, you start with your friend Google, just doing searches within your industry, whether it’s human resources or manufacturing or chemical engineering or whatever, and look up podcasts.

If you belong to any discussion forums online, whether that’s Facebook groups or LinkedIn groups, I would ask people what podcasts they listen to, and what they like. But as I said, if you’re a thought leader you should probably have some on your radar screen, but if you’re new to this idea of thought leadership or new in your industry, then you may have to do a little bit of sleuthing.

Carl: Can sites like iTunes and Stitcher help you find relevant podcasts?

Donna: Sure, you can go on iTunes and look under the different categories and see what’s there. The thing is if you look on iTunes, the ones that you may be likely to discover are the big, more commercial kind of podcasts, and you’re not as likely to become a guest on something like that, you know. You’re not going to get on Marc Maron.

There are also services that match guests with hosts. You know about HARO, Help a Reporter Out, right? That’s really not the greatest place but it’s worth a look to see if anyone is looking for an expert in your area. There’s also something called from Jessica Rhodes. She provides a service that’s almost like a personal booking agent to find shows for you. There’s also something called . It’s more of a listing service that lists potential outlets for you. So those three are resources that people could check out.

Carl: So if you do find a relevant podcast, how do you approach a podcast producer? What are they looking for?

Donna: Well, like anyone else they’re looking for what’s in it for them and for their listeners. Sometimes podcast producers like me get approached by people who have a new book, or a new course. Usually it’s a book. And I will get these unsolicited offers from people saying “I’d like to be a guest on your podcast.” Or it might be an agency saying “My client would like to be on your podcast; he just published a book about opening a chain of pizza parlors.” That has absolutely nothing to do with what I talk about on my podcast or what my listeners care about, so I just put it in the trash bin without replying.

So, you want to make sure that whatever you’re offering to talk about is relevant to the audience of that podcast, or there’s got to be something in it for them. And I don’t mean even something tangible. You don’t have to give away a book or something, which is nice to do, but you don’t have to. Just make sure that what you have to offer is something that their listeners would listen to and say “Wow, that’s great, I’m really glad that the podcast host brought that guest in.”

Carl: Okay, so how do you approach them? What are they looking for? Do they want a recording? Do they want a CV?

Donna: If you’ve been a guest on another show, for sure you can provide a link. Because the thing is, sometimes people who are great experts in their field are terrible speakers. This happened to me as a podcaster many years ago early in my podcasting career. I wanted to do a show on a particular communications topic, and I found this woman. She was a PhD, big expert, terrific CV, great presence on LinkedIn, but I didn’t talk to her until recording day. We never spoke. It was all e-mail. She was the most boring person I’ve ever encountered in my life. Absolutely monotone. That is not a good guest.

A guest has to be someone who’s knowledgeable but also can speak. If they can be maybe slightly humorous, at least have a sense of humour, that helps. If they can tell stories to illustrate points, terrific, that’s what producers want.

Carl: Okay, so you should have a demonstration clip of yourself talking?

Donna: Yes, or even to offer to say, look, can we do a two-minute Skype call just to chat, and this way they can sort of hear you out, if you will. Or maybe there’s a video of you. Anything that lets me know, as a producer, that you’re not just an expert but you make for good audio.

Carl: How do you screen and audition potential guests?

Donna: I’d want to look at what they’ve done, what it is that they want to talk about, is it relevant, and can they talk. Really, that’s it. The main thing for me is relevance. If they’re the author of a book that I would really love to speak about and tell my listeners about, that’s terrific. If they’re experts in a field like communications, social media, whatever, that’s great. But if they have nothing to do with my focus ... I get these all the time... inspirational speakers and all that, and they may be wonderful, but it’s not what my audience wants to hear.

Carl: How can a podcast guest prepare? Do they think of the questions, maybe practice their lines?

Donna: A guest should first of all be clear on what exactly the conversation is going to be about. So the host should say or the producer should say, “Okay, here’s what I like to cover,” but not necessarily giving the exact questions. I don’t like to give people the exact questions, because sometimes they over-prepare and they write out a script and they read it and it’s deadly boring.

But I would say to someone, “I’d like to cover these four areas,” and this way they could be prepared. And if they’re an expert in the area there shouldn’t be any surprises. This is not like a 60 Minutes where I’m trying to ambush them. It’s more cooperative -- it should be conversational.

Think about what stories you can tell to illustrate your points, so it’s not just a laundry list of a, b, c, do this or that, so that it’s interesting to listen to.

Carl: What kinds of recording technology should a podcast guest use?

Donna: As a guest, you want to make sure that you have the technology out of the way. Is this call going to be recorded on Skype? Is it over the phone? I hope not, because it’s going to sound bad. Are they using Zencastr or some other technology? Is it BlogTalkRadio? How is it happening? And please, if you’re going to be a guest on more than one podcast, buy a microphone. I’m just in the midst of writing a blog post about this. The age of saying “I’m sorry, I don’t have a mic,” we’re over that now. So make sure you have one. And if you’ve never done a Skype call before, don’t make your first Skype call the one for the podcast. Do a Skype call with a friend, a relative, whatever. Even the built-in Skype test call is better than nothing. You don’t want to come across as a person who’s totally inexperienced.

For picking up your voice, the built-in mic on your computer is the worst option. Even on a Mac, it’s not ideal. A one-piece headset with an integral mic is okay. That’s a step above the built-in computer mic. But for under $100 you can get an ATR2100 or Blue Yeti or something like that, a USB mic that’s very versatile, easy to use, durable, and will have you sounding much better than a headset would. The problem with the headset mic is usually even if it’s bendable, the mouthpiece is often too close to the mouth and you get “plosive” sounds (such as p’s and b’s) and breath sounds and things like that that really don’t sound very good on a podcast.

Carl: In terms of getting the best benefit out of the podcast, after it’s been recorded, what would you suggest?

Donna: Definitely promote it through all of your social media channels whatever they are, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ if you’re still using it, even Pinterest. And don’t be afraid to mention it more than once, because not everyone will see that tweet that you put out at noon on Friday. And you would hope that the podcast producer is also promoting it. You want both of you to be promoting it ideally.

Donna has published a blog post on this topic – “Guest on a podcast? Read this first.”