How to be an engaging podcast host

Written by
Sam Floy
Published on
February 2, 2023

Once a great guest has agreed to appear on your podcast the fun begins to ensure you both get the most out of the experience. 

Here we go through practical things you, as the host, can do to make sure you get the best insights and audio from your guest which will keep your listeners engaged and wanting to come back for me.

We’ll assume that you’re doing a “straightforward” interview with your guest i.e. there’s not much editorial post-production apart from the Cofruition production team reviewing/ removing sections that don’t offer much value, and inserting an intro and outro.

We’re going to cover:

  1. Preparing for the interview
  2. Asking good questions
  3. Making your voice engaging

1. Preparing for the interview 

Before you sit down with your guest it’s good to take time to understand who you’re going to be speaking with. 

Your Cofruition producer will write up an interview preparation document which includes an overview of the guest and ideas for questions that would elicit interesting/ valuable answers from the guest consistent with the show’s general purpose. 

We recommend taking 10-30 minutes at some point before the interview to identify things that you find interesting about the guest, and tweak the document accordingly. In the first 5-10 minutes speaking with the guest, you can review the document so they feel comfortable with the direction of the interview as well as any questi

Writing a bio to introduce them

We often find that this sets up the interview on the right footing.

Rather than asking the person to introduce the audience about who they are and what they do (which invites generic, stock answers), we research the guest and write your own bio which you start the show with.

  • Research the guest: e.g. we go through their social media accounts, personal blog, other articles. If you’re unsure of anything then you confirm things on a pre-interview call.
  • Focus on aspects interesting to your listeners: you know your audience better than the guest, and so focus on parts of their story which your audience will find most relevant
  • Get straight into the good stuff: with this foundation set you can start talking about things you’d like to in the interview, rather than lots of time being spent with the guest giving a lengthy “pitch” on what they do.

Prepare easy/ fun questions to start with

Your guest will likely need a bit of time to “warm up”. As such, you don’t want to be launching into a heavy “What’s your life philosophy?” type question straight away, but instead something that gets them talking, and feeling comfortable speaking with you.

If, for example, you know that they recently did an unusual activity like a charity skydive (either through online stalking or as part of a pre-interview call) you can reference that as a way to get the conversation going and for them to become more relaxed around you.

The production team can then decide whether it makes most sense to include this at the start of the episode, or move/ remove it to another place. In any case, it will have served its function of warming up the guest.

Ask for anecdotes and stories

In your preparation communication with the guest, ask them to think about some stories that the audience would like to listen to.

You can prompt this by saying “listeners are interested in stories that…”

Forewarn about “thinking” questions

There are some questions which might catch the guest off guard if they’ve not thought about them before.

Often these “thinking” questions yield interesting answers, and so it’s worth sharing a few of them before time so that the guest can prepare. An “off the cuff” answer might not be their best.

Quick fire questions

Some podcasts ask each guest a series of questions. Sometimes the benefit in these questions is the “instinctive” answer that the guest gives (in which case you won’t want to forewarn them), otherwise you may choose to share those with the guest before.

Additional tip: don’t focus on the superlative

Asking for definitive answers (“What’s your favourite business book?”; “What’s the best restaurant you’ve been to?”) can induce anxiety as the guest hones in on “the one” thing. In their mind, they might think of a good answer, but then hesitate saying it as there might, for example, be another restaurant that is better than the one they’ve just thought of.

By asking questions more broadly (“What are some of your favourite business books?”; “What are some of the best restaurants you’ve been to?”) this means the guest can start speaking as soon as they think of something, and you’re not left with an awkward pause.

2. Asking good questions

When you’re with your guest you have a great opportunity to get them to share some interesting, entertaining and insightful stories from what they know.

These stories won’t necessarily just be delivered perfectly, it’s your job as an interviewer to bring out the good material from your guest.

Here are some recommendations on how to ensure you’re asking good questions:

*Adopt a curious mindset*

This is the meta trait you want to be having going into an interview. 

By coming at it assuming that there are lots of things that you don’t know you’ll be more open to exploring topics and uncovering things that you otherwise wouldn’t.

Be positive

In your interactions and questions assume the best in people and focus on the positive sides of what they’re saying.

If you focus too much on asking questions and listening to answers, or being accusatory in the questions you ask then the whole thing can feel quite transactional, will “turn off” the guest, and result in a very unengaging episode for the listeners.

Focus on their passion

Good podcast episodes have good energy between the interview and the guest. One of the surest ways to achieve this is by having the guest talk about things that they are passionate about.

By doing some research on your guest we can pencil in some questions that we think they’re going to enjoy answering, and that will result in lots of good content.

Ask: “Why?”

The best insights often come one or two levels “below the surface”. When a guest is reciting an anecdote, or explaining something, ask them why they’ve said a particular thing, even if it’s quite innocuous. 

An example from an episode of The East Africa Business Podcast about a company providing school lunches in different parts of Kenya:

Guest: “... though obviously we don’t offer lunches in that part of Kenya.”

Interviewer: “Why’s that?”

Guest: “Well, it’s really fertile soil up there and there’s already lots of fresh food available”

Interviewer: “Why does that matter?”

Guest: “Well, there are things like banana trees surrounding all of the schools, and so any time a kid is hungry they can just go and pick one”

For us, at least, this is a pretty interesting insight.

If a topic is their expertise, then they probably won’t see what’s “below the surface” as interesting, though for you (and your guests) it most likely will be. 

Ask: “Tell me about when…”

When trying to get a guest to talk about past experiences they’ve had, it can sometimes be difficult doing it from the vantage point of today. Stories get told in sweeping generalisations and a lot of the juicy details can be missed.

Getting the guest in a frame of mind where they’re thinking about the anecdote in more of a “First Person” mode makes it easier for them to recount examples of what they were doing.

As such, asking them to tell you about when they did a particular thing is a great platform for an exploratory anecdote.

Get specific

When things are general they can easily get boring.

Examples of boring general statements are

  1. Guest: “AI is going to be an important factor for our industry”
  2. Guest: “It’s important to hire a good team”
  3. Guest: “Our X product is becoming pretty popular”

Of course it’s good to have some situations where you can talk about general themes in order to cover more ground, though when something intriguing presents itself, don’t be afraid to dive into it.

Examples of how you can get into more detail is by adding the word “specific” (or synonym) to your vocabulary.

  1. Interviewer: “What are some of the specific ways you’ve seen it being implemented so far?”
  2. Interviewer: “What are some of the practical steps you take to ensure you’re hiring a good person?”
  3. Interviewer: “What are some of the specific attributes your customers have said they’ve liked?”

By asking questions like this (and following up with “Why?”), you are guiding the conversation towards detailed points which yourself/ listeners probably won’t have encountered before. Which makes it interesting.

Ask: open questions

Even though it’s good to delve into specifics, you should always frame questions in an open manner which gives the guest lots of room to talk.

It can sometimes be good to ask a closed question to “tee up” an open question.

  • Interviewer: “Where did you go to college?”
  • Guest: “Harvard”
  • Interviewer: “Why did you choose to go there?”

Ask: one question at a time

You may feel that you have lots to ask on a topic and so it can be tempting to cram in all of your questions in one go. 

E.g. “So Barack, it would be great to talk about your time at college when you were editing the Law Review. What were some of the main lessons you learnt from doing that? And have there been people who you were working with then who have stayed in your life? If so, how have they changed over the years?”

What can happen in this instance is: 

  1. The guest loses track of what’s been asked and so doesn’t fully answer the question
  2. The guest ends up speaking for a long time which can feel monotonous for the listener

           a. You may end up diving into the specifics of one of the statements, but that leaves the rest of the question unanswered

As such, it’s good practice to limit yourself to one question at a time which will facilitate the back and forth flow of conversation whilst still getting the same information out.

Take notes

It’s good practice to have a pen and paper next to you when speaking with your guest. If they say something interesting that you’d like to come back to later you can take a note to do so. 

This can also reduce anxiety about asking that great question (where you may otherwise feel compelled to ask as part of multiple others in one go).

Silence is OK

It demonstrates the guest is thinking, and if the interview dives in too quickly, there might be a missed opportunity to get a really insightful answer.

Preface: “for those who might not be aware”

When asking basic questions about the person, this is a good way to avoid coming across as patronising.

Sam’s notes

I always become very wary when a guest goes on “autopilot”: reciting stock phrases about what their company does, how it’s going to save the world etc. etc. As such, whenever I feel someone do this, I’ll be quite happy to interrupt them, and get them to explain something they’ve just said to “jolt” them out of their normal PR mode. I should note that this is much easier to do in person, as there are non-verbal signals you can use to break up the conversation.

Example questions you can ask

There are different types of questions that you can be asking throughout your interview, and indeed if you choose to share questions with your guest before the interview they can be broken down into specific segments.

Easy questions

To get the person feeling comfortable; no “thinking” questions

  • We were introduced via X, how do you know X?
  • When did you start doing X?
  • What did you have for breakfast this morning?

About them as a person

To get them speaking about themselves

  • When you were a kid, what did you want to do when you were a grown up?
  • Who are your personal heroes? Why?
  • What would you be doing if you weren’t doing your current job?
  • How are you similar or different to your parents? Are you 50:50 Mum:Dad? How so?

So they can demonstrate expertise

Opportunities to show and share what they know 

  • What are some things you think the X industry has got wrong?
  • What’s an undervalued trait you see?
  • What would be your advice for people getting into X?

To elicit stories/ emotions

Get them talking about experiences

  • Tell me about your first day doing X?
  • What was your path into doing X?
  • … how did that make you feel?

Challenging questions

Best phrased as “some people might think” otherwise it can be too accusatory meaning the guest becomes defensive

  • Some people might say X about the [work you do/ industry you’re in]. How do you normally respond?
  • What can lead you to having a bad day?
  • What are some things you wish weren’t as difficult in the X industry?

Quick fire/ regular questions

To elicit definitive answers that don’t take time

  • If you could have a billboard in Time Square, what would it say?
  • What app/ software do you find most helpful?
  • What are some good podcasts you’ve listened to recently?
  • Would you rather..?

Closing questions

  • Is there anything you think I should have asked?
  • How can people learn more about you/ what you do?

3. Making your voice engaging

There are certain people who you might feel have a good “podcast voice”. There’s nothing stopping you from adopting techniques to make your own voice more engaging on a podcast, whilst retaining your uniqueness.

Quick summary

  • a big component will be the acoustics of the area that you are recording in - make sure sound doesn’t reverberate around the room
  • the best (and often cringeworthy) way to do this is to practice, practice, practice by recording yourself speaking, and then listening back to it with a critical ear

The top things you can do though are:

Slow down

If in doubt, speak slower.

You’re probably used to speaking with people in person where there are lots of other cues people can take from what you’re saying. With podcasting, listeners just have the audio and so be more deliberate in what you say.

Also consider that some people will be listening in with, say, English as their second language, and so it’s important to not exclude them.

What’s more, speaking slowly conveys authority, which is a good position to be in.

Be upbeat and positive

This has been mentioned a few times, but the energy you give off will be picked up by the guest.

Good interviews come from a well energised and comfortable guest, and so by driving the positivity you get the best from them (and yourself).

Remember, you can still have good energy without speaking super quickly.

Speak at a consistent volume

Find your natural speaking volume and try to stick to that. Keeping your voice at a steady level demonstrates your self-confidence, as well as being easier on the listeners’ ears.

Embrace your personality

A big reason why people will tune in to your show is to hear from you. 

If something your guest says gets you excited, don’t shy away from it - that excitement can come through in your voice, which is a delightful thing for listeners to hear.

Remove filler words

Such as “umm”, “you know”, “OK then” etc. 

This is easier said than done. The best remedy is to listen to a recording of yourself where you recognise these filler words. Your toes will curl but you’ll become much more aware when you’re doing it and more likely to stop doing it. Note we can of course remove these in post-production 🙂

Match the cadence of your guest

This will subconsciously put them at ease. If they are quite slow and deliberate in their answers, don’t be overly quick and energetic in your questions.

Deep breath before you begin

It can be pretty nerve-wracking before doing an interview, so do this to start calm.


We hope you found this a useful article to read and potentially refer back to.

The high level points to be aware of:

  • Be genuinely curious about the person you’re going to interview
  • Write a bio that you use to introduce your guest to get off on a good footing
  • Prepare questions you can ask, but be more guided by listening to what they are saying and asking follow up questions (that you probably weren’t expecting to ask)
  • Get in the habit of asking why
  • Practice recording yourself speaking slowly
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