One of the top questions we get from creators is “How can I get excellent guests onto my show?”
It’s a valid question. While too many creators rely on their guests to do the heavy lifting for shows (a sure fire way to produce a bland show), the reality is that great guests are a key ingredient for most non-scripted shows.
Without a clear plan for engaging and booking guests onto your show, the process can be a major obstacle to consistently creating quality interview-based content.
In this post, we’ll lay out the following:
What Does a Quality Guest Look Like For Your Show
On a recent episode of the Knowledge Project, author and podcaster Seth Godin made the case that many of the speaking invitations he receives are a result of the event organizer’s desire to prove an ability to “get” Seth, rather than opting for a better learning experience (e.g. a pre-recorded presentation).
Many creators mistake a guest’s existing star power or influence as a proxy for their actual quality as a guest. That’s not to say well-known guests are bad. There is an obvious reason they are sought after for content.
The point is that the measurement of a guest’s quality doesn’t lie solely in their star power. Status and celebrity is one component of what could make a great guest. You need to determine what the criteria for “quality” looks like for your show. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Experts in Your Niche
If the guest is currently, or has been, an expert in your niche, they can likely provide analysis and critical thinking that would benefit your audience.
ESPN has built an entire industry around this concept. “Analysts” who have never played the game, but have a certain expertise can be useful in explaining what is happening on and off the playing field to sports fans.
Similarly, your audience may find ideas, solutions, or simply a more thorough understanding of your subject matter when hearing from a studied expert on the topic.
Extending the ESPN example, another type of show host or guest is often a former player who has since retired and now offers insight into the mind of the athlete.
The same could be true for your show. Hosting guests who have actually been in the shoes of the audience members and can speak from experience to the obstacles, opportunities, and experiences that the audience is facing is invaluable. These conversations can be both inspirational and aspirational for the audience as they hear from someone who has “been there and done that.”
Similarly, there may be someone who spent time in or around your subject matter and has developed a unique perspective as a result. These types of guests may not offer the same level of camaraderie that the “former player” can provide, but often provide a zoomed out perspective that is otherwise difficult to communicate.
A current or former coach who has been in and around the game is an example of this type of guest. These people have often spent their lives thinking and evaluating the subject matter and can effectively communicate helpful information to the audience that is unavailable elsewhere.
Industry Celebrity with Existing Audience
The final (and most obvious) guest type is a person who carries with them an existing audience that is relevant to your show’s concept.
The second part of that last sentence is the key part.
Hosts and Producers can fall into the trap of doing whatever it takes to get a “big name” only to find the subject matter that results is less than satisfactory. Ensuring the guest brings not only an audience but also relevancy to your show can elevate the episode from merely good to truly excellent content.
Where to Find Guests
Armed with a clear understanding of what a great guest is for you, the next step is to actually engage and eventually book interviews with the prospective guests.
There are some obvious places to go when you’re first starting out. There are a ton of resources that speak to these ideas, so I’m not going to spend time fleshing them out. But, if you’re starting out, don’t overthink the guest list. The friends, clients, or warm connections that are willing to spend their time as a guest on your show define “greatness” early on.
Assuming you’re looking for guests past the initial group of warm leads, here are a number of places to begin your search.
If you’re like me, you may not have darkened the door of an *actual* bookstore in some time. However, authors who are releasing a book (or product) are often some of the lowest hanging fruit for potential guests.
If being managed by a smart marketer, the modern day book tour includes a PR/Podcast Tour. Whether you actually go to a bookstore or not, finding the top sellers in your niche on the “Coming Soon” lists from publishers and distributors is a good place to start. Here are a few:
- Amazon Coming Soon
- Barnes and Noble: Books Coming Soon
- Penguin Random House: The Read Down Coming Soon
- Book Reporter: Coming Soon
In addition to books, there are more creators earning their living through content creation and audience arbitration now than ever before in history (quote). All of these people are looking for ways to expand their audience and can be excellent guests.
As you hunt for guests, become familiar with the platforms where creators are congregating and regularly publishing. These can be broken down to the three channels. In addition to the “traditional” platforms (Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram), there are newer platforms that incentivize creator activity, and platforms that exist solely to connect guests with hosts like you.
Creator Incentivizing Platforms
- Substack: many of the fastest growing newsletters today are available here
- TikTok: before you roll your eyes, peruse your subject matter on TikTok. The volume of content is breathtaking, and the platform’s decision to reward views and engagement has recruited some prolific creators
- Clubhouse: too many get caught between podcasting or clubhouse. The correct answer is to use both. The nature of the platform allows more voices to become involved in an audio format which can act as an audition for you to evaluate
- Help a Reporter Out (HARO): Platform to connect journalists with experts for niche content. I suggest signing up as both a publisher and a guest (PR!).
- Podcast Guests.com: Guests can create a profile that allows you as the host to learn a little bit about them and decide if they’re a good fit for your show.
- Matchmaker.fm: Really impressive platform. The volume of guests and shows represented allows them to offer hosts the opportunity to find a perfect guest.
Shoot Your (Informed, Creative, and Thoughtful) Shot
I’m all for shooting your shot. The biggest wins of my career personally have come from doing so. That being said, too many hosts view themselves as some kind of podcast JR Smith which leads to ill-informed requests that leave both the host and formerly potential guests feeling less than satisfied.
Like an athlete who studies film, it is the job of the Producer or Host to do the necessary preparation before creating an informed guest-invite. Consider the following:
Engage Directly On Social
Let’s be clear. We’re not talking about spam here. This step should primarily focus on research and fact-finding, but may offer opportunities to engage when appropriate.
Being informed on your target guest’s ideas and thinking can provide in-roads to starting a conversation with them. Just remember – social stalking/engagement is like using garlic in your favorite dish – a little goes a long way.
The one exception to the “use sparingly” advice from step one is when creativity takes the reins and caution is thrown to the wind. Again, this should be rare.
There are those times, though, when a bold creative campaign to get a guest may be effective either to book the actual guest, or to drive awareness around the brand generally. One example immediately comes to mind.
In 2017, filmmaker and podcaster Matt D’Avella launched a campaign to “Get The Rock on Matt’s Podcast.” The campaign went on for over a year and included tactics like Matt’s invitation for his audience to tweet (spam lol) The Rock, start a competition to create the jingle for this special episode, and a website dedicated to the effort.
Although he hasn’t actually joined the show (yet) this effort eventually culminated in The Rock replying to Matt.
Hysterical stalker vibes aside, Matt’s campaign showed how a little creativity and effort can generate a massive amount of awareness around an otherwise somewhat obscure show. Choosing a figure with the reach, impact, and humor of The Rock was a stroke of genius from Matt.
Your creative campaign may look different. It may be a simple video or even the publication of an episode dedicated to the individual you’re trying to engage with. I’ve used video tweets and designed one-sheet pitches to attract certain hard to get guests. 2x Super Bowl Champion Torrey Smith is a Heard customer directly as a result of this type of effort.
Whatever your creative looks like, ensure you remain respectful and have done the appropriate homework to know whether your prospective guest will respond well to some out-of-the-box efforts.
Use Automated Systems
In contrast to the particular effort you might give during a single creative campaign, it is equally important that you bring the same energy to creating systems that allow you to clearly communicate with your guests and lower the burden of effort each individual booking takes.
Utilizing tools like scripts for outreach and scheduling tools can be a huge help in making guest-booking a repeatable process. For reference, I’ve highlighted a few tools that make scheduling easy for you and your prospect in addition to the specific scripts I use when booking a new guest.
There are a variety of scheduling and automated meeting creation tools. You may already have one that you prefer (if so, ignore this section and just use it). For the uninitiated, here are some popular options:
- Calendly: the industry standard
- X.ai: my personal favorite due to its automation capabilities and integration with my existing calendar
- Book Like a Boss: haven’t used it but is the choice for many podcasters
Having a template you can quickly queue up and send is a common productivity behavior. Personally, I use these scripts to provide the structure that is sent to every prospective (and eventually booked) guest. There are three primary scripts I use primarily: Initial Contact, Follow Up, and Booked Guest Info.
For simplicity, I have loaded these scripts into Clickup for your convenience. Obviously feel free to personalize your tone, and feel free to reach out with further questions or ideas.
- Recruit guests who are GREAT for your show, not just well-known
- Utilize traditional and novel platforms alike
- Be respectful and cautious…until you’re not
- Automate when possible