Before you interview a guest on your show, someone has to track them down, ensure they are willing and able to talk to you at the time required, and check that they can actually speak intelligently and coherently on the topic you want to cover. This list will help you go from “I want to talk to someone about [topic]” to “Dr. Topic Expert, it’s so nice you could join us…”

Getting started

  • Finding the right guest means being a researcher, a detective, and a salesman. You need to learn about the topic and discover who the experts are in that area, track those people down and get them on the phone, then convince them to take part in the interview.
  • You’ll also need to make sure that the guest really is an expert in the area you want to cover, and that they can handle talking about it under the pressure of a recording situation.
  • Beyond just testing to make sure that the guest will survive the interview, you also need to decide if they will be engaging enough that your listeners will enjoy their contribution to the show.

Booking celebrities

  • If you hope to have a famous person on your show, realize that they are going to see it as doing you a favor, not the other way around. For the most part, celebrities will have higher-profile ways to get their stories out than being a guest on a podcast, so you need to understand their motive for talking to you.
  • You will most likely need to talk to a celebrity’s publicist, press secretary, or other “handler” before you can talk to the person themselves, so you have to impress upon that person that you have done your research and are truly fascinated with their boss’s work (their latest album, book, or sponsored legislation).
  • If the “official” point of contact doesn’t work out, sometimes you can go through your target guest’s manager, chief of staff, or someone else who you know has access to the person.
  • If “we just don’t have the time” is a problem, ask “How can I make it more convenient for you?” Perhaps you can book it well in advance, or can schedule a time when the celebrity will be in the car or taking a break. Some celebrities are less busy outside of “prime time,” so if you’re willing to willing to get up early or stay up late, you might get the interview you couldn’t swing otherwise.

Booking a topic rather than a person

  • Sometimes you want an oceanographer, an expert on immigration, or a car salesman, rather than a specific person. In other cases, you want to talk to someone whose house has been foreclosed or who has survived leukemia. In these cases, you want to know how to do your research and — once you find them — approach the potential guest with warmth and friendliness.
  • Start with an internet news search on the topic. If you find someone who has been profiled in an article, you know that they are open to talking about the topic. This also helps solve the “How did you find me?” problem — you saw them mentioned in the paper or heard them interviewed on the radio.
  • If you are looking for an expert, try searching for the topic on Amazon.com. This will give you an instant list of authors who have written about something, along with brief biographies of many of them that may aid your getting in touch with them.
  • For cancer survivors, working-class artists, horseback riding enthusiasts, or other such people, look to online forums or other meeting places that cater to your target group. Look around a site, then start contacting contributors with the qualifications you are looking for.
  • For more geographically-focused topics (a Pit Bull ban in a certain city, or South Florida retirement communities, for example), look to the local newspapers. The writers to the letters-to-the-editor section or people quoted in articles on the topic can be great contacts and guests.
  • Be ready to explain exactly who you are and what your show is — both in terms of coverage and technology. Many people are still unfamiliar with podcasts, so be ready with a quick “it’s radio that people listen to online” explanation. It also helps to know how many people are listening, and what types of people make up your audience. This will help to convince someone that it is worth their time to talk to you.

The pre-interview

  • Once you’ve gotten in touch with your potential guest, you need to do a pre-interview. The purpose of this conversation (which in some cases can last as long as the actual interview) is four-fold: to make sure the person is actually knowledgeable, to gather information to make the actual interview go more smoothly, to find out if the person will make a good guest, and to schedule the official interview.
  • It is important to ask questions about the topic, not just about the person’s availability. If your questions are somewhat open-ended, you will get a better sense of the person’s ability to react on-the-fly, to sound like they’re having a conversation rather than giving a lecture, and — more importantly — to tell interesting stories.
  • Be sure to follow up on any vague answers to make sure that the person can really address the topic head-on, and ask “Can you give me an example?” a couple of times to hear what kind of stories they tell.
  • Once you are sure you want this person to be a guest on your show, explain to them how the recording will work, and offer to do a short test with them if they are uncomfortable with the technology.

If you’ve done these things, you’ll be head and shoulders above other podcasters (and many TV and radio hosts) when you actually interview your guest. Your listeners will appreciate the professional outcome — and so will your guest.