The idea of approaching a total stranger – especially someone high-profile – can seem daunting. It can feel especially hard if you’re new or if you don’t have many listeners. That’s even assuming you’ve started publishing episodes yet.
New podcasters often shy away from booking guests because they worry they’re wasting the other person’s time. Yes, high-profile people are often busy, but there’s a fundamental fact that unites us all.
We love talking about what lights us up
If you’re inviting someone to talk on a subject they love, their reward is just that. You’re giving them the time and space to talk about something they care about, and don’t always get the chance to. It might be a topic the guest talks a lot about, but without the depth a podcast conversation can offer.
I’ve recorded with comedians, world-touring musicians, and at least one Hollywood writer. The best discussions were on topics they loved, which is why they all said “yes”.
I’ve had far more yeses than nos. That’s down to good research – being sure the guest is right for the show – and one simple realisation:
High-profile people are just busy
If you’re approaching someone high-profile, it can be tempting to jump into a low-status role. For you, “high-profile” might mean they’re a household name or that they’ve written an important book. When it comes to the subject of your podcast, it’s all relative.
Higher-profile people may not think of themselves as such, and some might even bristle at the idea. What is true, and is more relatable, is that they’re busy. Even if they’re not, it’s polite to assume they are.
If you put your guests on a pedestal, you set the conversation up for awkwardness from the get-go. If you’re bringing them on to talk about a topic you both love, you’re on an equal footing.
Getting in contact
Finding a person’s contact details might not be an easy task. Check out a recent podcast episode, scrub to the end and wait for the host to ask “where can people get in touch?” This is common in thought-leader spaces, and especially in the business world.
Of course, LinkedIn is an option too. If you’ve got a tenuous connection to the person you want to interview, see if you can follow that chain through private messages.
Website contact forms can be useful, but some people put their email addresses on their websites too. In that case, prioritise the email address. You may need to scan the page closely as lots of people try to avoid spam by not linking their email address, or using things like “jo[at]website[dot]com”. Again, if you see an address like that, decode it and use that over a contact form.
If your guest has representation, you might find their info on the person’s Twitter bio or on their website. Use these contact details as a last resort. I’m not sure agents actually pass on your messages to their clients, but they’ll tell you they will. Don’t take “I’ll pass it on” for an answer if it’s come from an agent.
Speaking of Twitter, some people keep their DMs open, so you can drop them a message there. A “TL;DR” approach is particularly useful here. You can make the initial ask and then quickly follow up with “If that sounds interesting, I can give you a bit more info”. (I’ll go into the “TL;DR approach” in more detail shortly.) I’ve used this to good effect before, with people who don’t follow me. Be aware that some higher-profile people don’t use DMs, or have accounts managed by other people.
Getting to “yes”
My approach is the “TL;DR” method. “TL;DR” stands for “Too long; didn’t read”, and is why lots of Internet writing goes unread.
We tend to want to cram our introductions with lots of context, to show thoughtfulness. That’s good practise, but if you’re approaching someone busy, you need to give them an ejector seat.
The best way to do this is to start your email with a quick greeting, then the short version of your ask. This assumes you’ve already written a subject line like “A podcast about fly-fishing”. In this case, the guest we want is all about that fly-fishing life, so we’ve piqued their interest.
“Hi Jo. I know you’re busy so here’s the short version: I have a podcast about fly-fishing called FlyTime, and I’d love you to be on it.”
What we’re doing here is acknowledging the person is busy, and that we’re going to ask them what we want upfront. We’re also giving them an easy way to bail if they’re not interested. Using their first name, even for someone high-profile is a better approach than trying to be too formal. Again, you’re both talking about a thing you love, so on that score, you’re of equal status.
If you want to link to your podcast website or better yet, your pod.link page in your TL;DR version, that can’t hurt.
Then you can go on to give some context and further detail.
The longer version is that I found your details through a mutual friend, Alex Bloggs. I know both of you are into fly-fishing so I thought you’d be a great fit. On my show, I speak with fly-fishers about their favourite techniques, best places to fish, and fondest memories. I also love to ask guests about the weirdest or worst thing they’ve ever caught!
You don’t need to prepare anything, and I do all my recordings over Zoom, so all I ask is that my guests wear headphones as it helps with noise cancellation. It’s audio only, so feel free to turn your webcam off, but I like to keep mine on as it helps with eye-contact. We typically record for an hour, but we can go shorter if you’re really busy.
If you’re up for recording an episode, you can pick a time that’s convenient to you via my Calendly link. All times should be in your local timezone. If you’ve got any other questions, let me know.
Thanks so much. I hope you’ll join me on the show, as I know we’ll have loads to talk about.
Here we’re answering the question “how did you get this number?” in case the person doesn’t make their contact details public. Another good line is simply “I was thinking about who to have on the show and couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather chat with about this”.
We then add a little more detail about the show. If the reader was interested by the TL;DR version and reads further, this will help them decide if they want to make a hole in their diary. It’s also nice to add a bit of colour, and maybe get some ideas percolating.
Then we get onto logistics: how we record, how long you usually go for, and any requirements you have. It’s always good practise to remind people to wear headphones, as it will make your audio sound so much better. Here we’re using Zoom as an example, but it could just as easily be SquadCast or Riverside. In that instance, it’s important to let them know they don’t have to download anything special.
Using a service like Calendly is vital if you’re dealing with people in timezones other than yours. And even if you’re inviting someone from the same city, it saves the back-and-forth dance of figuring out availability. If someone is very far away from you, make sure you have some slots at times more convenient for them. You can always remove them later, but remember if you’re in the UK and your guest is in Australia, you have very little overlap.
We finish up by thanking them for their time. We close by letting them know we want to speak to them because of the interests we share, not because they’re famous.
Dealing with “no”
While I’ve had good success with this approach, it’s not going to work every time. Sometimes the pitch just won’t be right, or your guest really is too busy to make the time. You’ll usually get three types of negative response, but they’re rarer than you might imagine.
The first type of response is no response at all. In that instance, it’s worth waiting. My first ever notable guest took months to reply, and I’d assumed they’d ignored the email or it hadn’t landed. If it’s been a few weeks and you haven’t heard back, send a follow-up. You can do this by forwarding the original email with a brief sentence to reset the context and remind them. But I’d only do this once.
The second type is “I don’t have time right now”. Sometimes the person will offer to let you know when they’re free again, but I wouldn’t count on it. In this case, I’d give them a couple of months and check in with them again. You’ll have to judge how warm or cold you think their response is before deciding to risk a third follow-up.
The last type is “thank you but I’m not interested”. If you’ve done your research and you’re contacting someone relevant to your topic, you should find this is the rarest response. In that instance, thank the person for their consideration, and chalk it up to a loss. You can’t win ‘em all. If you think there’s a really good reason why they might be wrong to say no, you can try your hand at persuasion, but don’t overdo it.
In all cases, remember to be polite. They don’t owe you their time, whether they’re famous, busy, or otherwise. Especially if it feels like an important contact to you, it’s better to have the door slightly ajar than to have it forcefully closed on your foot. Oh, and don’t take it personally.
Emailing en masse, one at a time
If guests are what make your show work, then you need to put in the time and effort, and contact as many people as possible. But it’s a repeatable process, and one you’ll get quicker at over time.
Start with a template email, but make sure to tweak it and adapt it to each person. Never cold-email someone via a list or by BCCing their name and a bunch of others. If you’re adapting your email from a template, make sure that whatever app you copied your text in from isn’t going to mess with your formatting. It will look pretty rubbish if the boilerplate text is in 12pt Times New Roman and the personalised bits are in 16pt Helvetica.
- Considering: Any time you think of a new guest, add their name to a card and put it in this default first column.
- Researching: When you’re ready to find out how to contact them, move their card to this column and start digging for contact details.
- Approached: Once you’ve got their email address (or you can fill in a contact form), do so and move them to this column.
- Scheduled: As soon as the guest has said “yes” and you have a date in the diary, move them to this column.
- Needs follow-up: Move them here if you haven’t heard back from them in a few weeks, or they’ve given you “not right now”.
- Recorded: Once your episode is recorded, move them to this column.
If you’re certain you won’t get to record with someone you’ve approached, you can archive or delete their card.
If your podcast hinges on a new guest per episode, this is a great workflow for managing your content schedule. You can add info like show notes, recording dates, publishing deadlines, and all sorts of other things that will help you produce each episode.
Go forth and bag a whale
Now you’re all set. You can find your guests’ contact details, make an empathetic approach, and get organised.
The last thing to remember is that guests – even higher-profile ones – aren’t responsible for your episode’s marketing. We’ll cover this in another post, but don’t try and bag a great guest for their profile alone. A big name can add legitimacy, but you have to do the heavy lifting when marketing the episode. Remember, they’re busy people!
With that said, it’s easier than you think to book a great guest, and it’s a repeatable process. Work your way up the chain, dropping previous relevant names in your pitch to higher-profile guests. Then, most importantly, enjoy the conversation!
If you’re ever starved for a guest, I’m game. I can talk about tech, running a small, calm company, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or writing for kids. My email address is mark[at]origin[dot]fm!