Podcasters often argue about “issues” like: is crosstalk good or bad? Should “ums” and “ehs” be removed or left in an episode? Do these factors determine if a podcast is good or not? They’re small stuff in the big picture. If we removed these hotly debated items, would we agree on a list of good host characteristics? This is my attempt to answer the question: What makes a good podcast host?
Which Podcast Formats Are We Covering?
For the sake of focus, we’re generally speaking about the interview and co-hosted podcast formats in this piece. Hosting tasks in these two types of podcasts are very different from audio drama, solo show, roundtable, etc., although there is some overlap for sure.
We’ll also set aside mic technique and vocal skills for this article. That’s extremely important, but a whole topic worthy of its own article (or a book).
And, though I didn’t ask this specifically in my original Podcraft or Twitter thread, let’s also admit that these desired characteristics rely on culture as well. So podcasts in the vast continent of Africa or other regions of the world might come to different conclusions. If you’re a podcaster outside of North America and are thinking, “YES,” as you read this post, contact me. I’d love to do a follow-up piece on the differences.
There Are Four Characteristics to a Good Podcast Host
Early on in this parallel online discussion (Podcraft/Twitter), there was a lot of oooohhhhing and ahhhhing over a podcast host’s voice. Our fearless Content Thresher here at The Podcast Host, Lindsay Harris Friel (also creator ofJarnsaxa Rising) wrote the following in the Podcraft thread:
For the record, I’d love to participate in this study! And although the conversation started with the sound of a host’s voice, it quickly blossomed into more. And this makes sense, right? The voice carries all of the host’s thoughts and emotions from their recording location straight into our listener’s ears. All in all, respondents wrote about these 4 good podcast host characteristics the most.
The podcast host needs to be…
- a cohesive storyteller
Why Do Listeners Like Curious and Flexible Podcast Hosts?
Doing Research Shows Listeners That the Podcast Host Is Curious in the Topic
J Hall of The Okie Bookcast, Danny Brown of Pod Chats and the folks at Ossa Collective all mentioned that research is an important part of being a good podcast host. J Hall from The Okie Bookcast explained why this was important to him as a podcast listener.
Wanting the podcast host to be skilled, but not demanding that they’re an expert at something, is a trend in all 4 of the traits in this post. Listeners have preferences but they’re not unrealistic. Which is a relief!
A Genuine Podcast Host Is the Most Important Trait
Similar to what J mentioned, many respondents said that a good podcast host must be genuine, just like Genet “GG” Gimja of the Spend Donate Invest Podcast did in this tweet.
Listeners didn’t necessarily want a totally scripted experience, but a host’s genuine interest in the topic should be obvious. The podcast host should pull them into the conversation with infectious energy and interest. Podcast Editor Jerry West admitted that “his voice and the way he makes me feel all these words…”
If the host is expressing themselves fully then a listener is sure to “feel their words ” and will be moved emotionally. And this is the beauty of podcasts, isn’t it, the intimacy of the medium that makes this possible! JD the Jedi, Host of Dark Days Bright Nights Podcast, explained further in his tweet that a host doesn’t have to use complicated language to sound smart but instead should, “be able to understand the art of conversation.” From the responses that people wrote, it felt like a curious and genuine host is automatically a flexible one who goes with the conversation flow. Or as @rawr_tigerlilly put it that there’s more than, “just question and answer.”
Storytelling Is at the Heart of Being a Good Podcast Host
All podcasts are stories. So, it makes sense that our community spent a lot of time discussing craving a good story IN each episode. Podcast Coach @MacharinaLinah made me giggle when she shared this on Twitter:
I do this too! But I’m also someone who loves a bit of crosstalk. Engagement moments are messy and sometimes stories are too. That’s what makes them so much fun to hear, isn’t it?
Can Staying Focused and Telling a Good Story Coexist?
There was almost as strong of a focus on, well, the host staying focused, in the responses, as there was on adding personal stories to the episode conversations. I wonder if these focus and storytelling traits work hand in hand, OR if they fight each other. When storytelling is done right, it’s like how Anoop from A Walk Within described it, the podcast host has “the ability to become the podcast listener’s internal voice.” Do your favourite podcast hosts ever have this impact on you? Mine do and sometimes I even give them a mental high five for it.
Good Podcast Hosts Need to Connect With Their Listeners
All new podcasters stress over getting the right recording and editing technology when, in reality, the human connection aspect is a much more difficult thing to master. The good news is that it’s worth it! And this connection consists of two parts: being relatable and being vulnerable.
A Good Podcast Host Puts Listeners’ Needs First
Let’s be honest; many podcasters start a podcast because they have something they want to say. It’s often a few episodes later when they start to look at their downloads that they start to wonder what they can do to increase their audience. There’s nothing wrong with leading with your own passion and message. But, to be a good host, our respondents said that you need to connect and be relatable. The women of Krāv The Podcast shared this on Twitter:
“Transparent conversation” sounds to me like the podcast host’s ego needs to get out of the way, which is very true. There were enough respondents that hinted that this is true for them as well.
There is a balance in being confident but not overpowering in all personality-driven mediums, so why not podcasting? @expatany said, “When the host has a guest that is more interesting than them…” in reply to what makes a good podcast host. Even though the word “selfless” was not said during these discussions, respondents were loud and clear that listeners were more important than the host’s, well, ego, if I’m blunt about it. Which I want to be. Podcasting is hard and the last thing podcasters need is bad advice. Think of your listeners first is some of the best advice you will get and that’s what many respondents said in these discussions.
Be a Good Human to Be a Good Podcast Host
I bet you’ve caught on by now that being a good podcast host is a lot like being a good human being. Be genuine about your intentions and actions, work on things that you’re naturally curious about, tie everything up in a story and connect with others. Look, no one says these are easy things to do. What we are saying is that they make for a satisfying listening experience. So I hope this good human deep dive gave you some things to ponder about your own podcast hosting and how you can make it more tantalizing for your listeners.