The quality of your guests makes a big difference as a podcaster.
Especially when you’re a solo podcast like me who relies on guests to help make your show what it is.
Many podcasters out there work in teams of two or three, maybe more. When last August I started my podcast Film at Fifty, which celebrates the fiftieth anniversaries of major movies, I had no partner to do the show with. At first I thought maybe I could do it by myself, and then I recorded the first two episodes solo and hated every last miserable minute of it.
For the third episode I had a friend join me to talk about a fifty-year-old film, and the opposite happened — every second was pure bliss. This was now officially the format of my show!
I knew that for the podcast to grow and have longevity, I needed to find at least one guest for every new episode.
And getting those guests the first few weeks was easy. I asked any friend willing to come onboard, and I also reached out online to other podcasters who might want to chat about an old movie with me.
At the beginning, any person who said yes to me was a mini miracle. It’s not nothing what I’m asking these people to do — take time to watch a film, do some research, collect their thoughts, and spend an hour or longer with me talking about it on a Zoom call. Any person who guests on your podcast you should thank more than once, that’s for sure!
About three months into my podcast in November 2020 I decided to take a leap and start contacting people in the film community I admired who I didn’t know at all to see if they would guest on my podcast. I was prepared for a lot of rejections. A lot of silence.
And yet I saw that beautiful word “yes” way more than I ever expected to!
So what have I done to get some truly amazing guests on my podcast the last few months?
Honestly, something that I thought would be too simple to work, but, hey, as my dad liked to tell me all the time growing up, if you don’t ask you don’t get.
For the first few weeks of my podcast last fall most of the guests were my friends.
Now cut to the summer of 2021, the most extraordinary month yet for my podcast with a handful of incredible guests, none of whom I knew until very recently!
Here was the line-up just last month…
McCabe & Mrs. Miller — Michael Phillips, film critic of the Chicago Tribune
The Million Dollar Duck — Jason Sheridan, co-host of Podcast: The Ride
Klute — Izzy, creator of Be Kind Rewind on YouTube
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — Alonso Duralde, film critic at The Wrap
Moulin Rouge — Whitney Anne Adams, costume designer of Freaky
Interview with Julie Dawn Cole, Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Just a fantastic group of people I never thought in a million years would be on my podcast, including film critics, popular podcasters, filmmakers, actors. And every single one of these guests I reached out to and communicated with in the exact same way.
I e-mailed them or messaged them through a social media channel with a sincere (and brief!) message about what I love about their work and if they’d be interested in appearing on my podcast.
That’s it. That’s all. It’s not rocket science.
I read so many articles last fall that said you have to always go through an agent or manager or publicity person to get hold of some of these people, particularly the ones in the film industry.
But you know what I have found the past few months? Every time I did try to reach a guest of larger stature through an agent, manager, or publicist, I was met with total silence. I’ve probably tried that route ten times since November, and I’ve never even gotten a rejection that way. Just that depressing silence we writers hear so often when we’re in the querying stage on a novel.
Where do you find the e-mail or best way to reach a potential guest?
Sometimes this takes all of ten seconds, and sometimes you’ll be on the hunt for ten minutes or more.
First I Google the person to see if they have a website. It can be a personal website, or a website they might share with others if they have a podcast or are a film critic. Usually if you can find a website that features profiles of that potential guest or an About section, there will be an e-mail somewhere.
I do feel the best way to contact someone to be on your podcast is through an e-mail. You pretty much know they’ll read it that way.
But obtaining the person’s e-mail isn’t always feasible. Of the four names I listed above, four of the six people I could not find e-mails for no matter how hard I tried.
So the next thing to try is looking up their social media accounts and contacting them through one where they are active. Key word: active!
This is an important component of the equation because before you do a little dance after finding that person on Instagram, you might want to check to see if that person has actually posted on their Instagram at all the last six months. If the last post is from February 2019, odds are they won’t see the message you write them.
Two of the six names above I found on Instagram and messaged them that way. Sometimes an Instagram message goes straight into the void, there’s no way around it (especially if that person is famous and/or has a ridiculous amount of subscribers), but sometimes luckily that potential guest writes back through Instagram and shares interest in participating on your podcast, woo hoo!
One of the names above I found on Twitter and messaged them that way, and then there was a name above I tried every which way to find. I looked for a personal website, searched on Twitter and Instagram, even looked up their contact information on IMDBPro, and nothing.
So I tried one last thing — I looked them up on Facebook. And you know what, not only did I find this person on an active Facebook page and message them with bated, hopeful breath, but that person messaged me back within the hour and gave me a heartfelt YES! Hooray!
My advice to you is to message that person you want on your podcast with a brief, sincere message, and be sure to message them directly instead of trying to reach them through a third party.
And lastly, what exactly do you put in your email to a potential guest?
The most important thing is to keep it short. Don’t go on and on. My message is usually four very brief paragraphs.
The first paragraph states what my podcast is all about, and gives the topic of the upcoming episode I’m interested in the person participating in.
The second paragraph details what I love about their work and why I think they would be a good fit for my podcast and this particular episode.
The third paragraph tells them what major guests I have had on the podcast before, just so they have a sense of the kind of people I’ve talked to.
And the fourth paragraph thanks them for their time and that I hope to hear from them.
I also always put the following language in the fourth paragraph: “I’ll work with your busy schedule to find a day and time that works best for you.” Do not in your initial message give them a precise day and time you’d like them to appear on your podcast. You can figure that out later after you’ve heard the initial “yes.”
Right now the main objective is to hear back from the person. And then you can go from there.
This is why I reach out to my potential guests two whole months before the episode I’d like them to be on will actually air. Yep, this might be uncommon in the podcasting world, but I’m all about buying myself time just in case I don’t hear a “yes” on the first go-around and need to try a second, third, sometimes even a fourth person to be on an upcoming episode.
You never want to be in a position where you’re mere days away from the episode airing and you still haven’t found a guest for it and have yet to record it. That puts you in a place of panic and anxiety I went through exactly once, and trust me — you never want that to happen.
So think early on about what guests you want to be on what episodes, find their contact info, and then message away!
Don’t be shy during this process. The worst that can happen is they say “no” or you don’t hear a word. That still happens to me all the time, and like with rejection as a writer, you have to let it slide off your back and move on.
Just keep going, and keep trying. Make every e-mail or message personal. Reach out to your potential guests for the right reasons, always.
And then start planning your next episode!