Finding guests for your podcast

I host the Post Mortem podcast where software engineers come to the show and reflect on a challenging project or incident. Since each episode is a 2 way interview, I need to find a new guest every month.

Here's the flow I've refined over the past 6 months to ease this booking process:

  1. Identify potential guests - be curious & prioritize
  2. Reach out - a few rules of engagement
  3. Follow up - some bookings take more time than others.

Now, let's break down each step.


1.Finding potential guests

aka lead generation

How do I find new guests ? was the question I asked myself the most when I started my podcast. Indeed, passed the few persons in your existing network that have a relevant experience to share on the show, you feel the fear rising as you're wondering how to cold call/email someone to come to your show.

One advice is to look differently at the media you consume everyday. Whenever you see a news article, blog post, a tweet, or a video that relates to your topic, write down the info of the poster in a spreadsheet. I use one looking like the table below:

Name Contact info Contacted? Answered? Last contacted on VIP ? Notes
John Doe @johnDoe on Twitter Yes No 2021-03-25 Yes John wrote a great article on his blog on how he resolved a major incident in a data center
Carly Ra @carlyRa on Twitter No No N/A No Carly regurlaly tweets on how incident management is dealt with at her company
... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Note: You don't need to contact this person as soon as you think they'd be a great guest, but you must write down their infos so that you don't forget to do it.

It only takes a minute to write down a line in your spreadsheet, but crafting a proposal message where you pitch your show and make it echo with the person's experience is a much harder task. If all cells are relatively self explanatory, the "VIP" one might need some context. Here, VIP is to understand as:

"Is this person someone I really want to book for the show due to their high expertise in the domain or large audience base? Am I ready to put a substential amount of time and energy in reaching out and following up?"

Having this priority clearly defined helps to focus on guests that are likely to bring compelling narratives to your audience.

Now, whenever you watch a YouTube video related to your topic, and find that the speaker is a great storyteller: take note of it. It's only a few words in your spreadsheet. The hard work is in the next step, reaching out.

2. Reaching out

Doing your research

Before even writing your message, do some research on the guest. What do they care about? What are their contributions to the field? What would they be ecited and passionate to talk about? You can find inspiration by checking their blog entries, past tweets, or LinkedIn profile. This research step is fundamental and sometimes you'll realize the person's expertise is just not aligned with what you're looking for. That's still a win, you saved their time, yours, and your audience's.

The first message

People are more active on certain platforms. Some prefer email, other Twitter, etc. So the first step is to choose a medium your guest is more likey to answer and to compose a message according to this medium's rules of engagment. LinkedIn limits you to 300 characters in your connection note so you have to be concise and convincing. An email can be longer but you might get classified as spam or left in unread. In any case, be professional in your first messages.

Now about the message, it has to be tailored for each guest. For sure you can keep some elements pitching your show from one intro message to the other, but the core of the message differs. Make it clear why this person's experience would be valuable to your audience, it's an opportunity to give them a voice to share something they care about. Specific is terrific - If you can pinpoint some recent work of your guest that connects with the show, make it explicit that you'd love to make a show about their experience X, how it felt, and what they learnt form it. When crafing this message, your subtext must already propose a narrative you could adopt during the episode.

I also include a link to one of my episode in the intro message. I pick an episode I think this person would appreciate. It makes the proposal serious and they can ensure the podcast is real. But keep in mind that it's unlikely somone's going to give 20~30min of their attention to a stranger on the internet. Still, they're likely to check the link, read the titles and show notes of an episode or two to assess the show's professionalism.

A Sales' job

Booking guests is a Sales' job, it requires resilience. You're playing the long game and have to be consistent in your effort. It's ok to send follow-ups messages, perhaps via a different channel, to get the conversation started. Your best ally for this is so set yourself reminders.: "in 10 days, if I haven't heard back of them, I send them another email with complementary infos" Think about the doubts that person may have about coming to your show and answer them in those follow up emails. Use your favorite reminders app and commit.

Know to stop when you get a "No.", but not before. It's a Sales's job. You have to push yourself. If you're convinced this person's story would be valuable to your audience and resonates with what they're intersted in, you must give your best shot at having those guests on the show. And don't treat a "no answer" as a no. Life happens and people are busy. A podcast proposal is likely to be at the bottom of their todo list. Maybe they're still considering coming. That's where follow-up messages can clear some doubts they have.

Make it easy to say yes. People don't like making choices, so you have to lower the barriers: clear all logistics issue they might have (how's the recording going to happen, how much time it will take, etc.)

"Hi X,

Did you get a chance to think about dropping by for an episode of the Post Mortem podcast ?

Here are some additional infos: a show is 20 to 30mins long and it should take us 40mins to record. The audience is composed of software engineers, especially data people. Your last blog post about your incident management at "Tech Cie" is a fantastic story!

Do you have some time this week for a chat? Maybe Tuesday afternoon? Here's my calendar, "link to a calendly to ease the booking"

Best regards,

Tracking messages sent and following up

After each message, update your contact spreadsheet on the "last contacted on" column. This tool is to help you compare what you expected to do (e.g., how many people I expected to reach out this month) against the reality (e.g., how many people did I actuallly reached out this month).

Takeaways

  • Do your prep. job, research the guest interests and past experiences.
  • Tailor the invitation request.
  • Follow up to clear potential doubts
  • Make it easy for the guest to say yes.

The advantage of having a two stages pipeline is to decouple two steps requiring two differents level of effort.
1) Adding a row to your spreadhseet is quick and easy, you can do it at anyime of the day.
2) Crafting an engaging intro message to convince your guest requires more time and focus, you'll need a good 1hr and your undivided attention.

Accept that some won't even answer your best piece. Life happens and people have a thousand things to do instead of coming to your show. What you can do though, is to make it as easy and compelling for them to tell their story on your show. Everything else if out of realm of action so there's no need to worry.


Shameless plug, here's the first episode of the Post Mortem Podcast: we discuss an incident during a migration project at the ad retargeting company Criteo. I met the guest, Nicolas, at the TensorFlow World conference the year before, he was giving a talk and we sympapthized at lunch. Talk about serendipity, little we knew the next year we would record a podcast episode together!


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