Show Bites: The Real Role of a Great Podcast or Video Show Host
Creating shows to build passionate audiences provides our companies undeniable benefits: we hold attention, gain trust, increase the lifetime value of our existing audience, and decrease customer acquisition costs thanks to word-of-mouth. However, creating and growing a show or a network of shows can be a total mess of parts and pieces. Show Bites is our series of quick-hitting posts where we try to snap off a tiny little piece of the overall work and rethink it in order to improve.
The Show Bite: The Role of a Host for the Audience
As the marketing mandate continues to shift away from purely grabbing attention to emphasize the need to hold it instead, it’s no surprise that the skills required to be great at marketing become a bit of a moving target. What goes us here won’t get us there. Few roles seem newer and less clear on marketing teams than show host.
Should the CMO host? They have the most gravitas … and also the craziest schedule.
Should we tap an influencer or celebrity? They’ve got the biggest audience and earn a living performing and publishing … but who really earns the adoration of viewers and listeners if the show succeeds? Answer: Someone who doesn’t work for the company.
What about an employee? Do we have anybody with the time, talent, and charisma to host? Should we hire someone? Train someone?
It can all work, but whatever we choose, it MUST work. Talent is the most important of three building blocks to make a great show, along with the show concept and episode format. After all, you’d listen to a brilliant host chatting about anything, without structure, for a lot more time than you’d listen to a terrible host plopped into an artfully developed show vehicle.
So what does it take to host a show with aplomb?
The Misconception: The Host Is the Star
The host might gain trust and might, as a byproduct of a successful show, receive a dollop of public recognition or even a scoop of fame, but make no mistake: The host is not the star. (There are always exceptions, of course, like with a single-voice show, where the host is the lone person appearing. But these programs are far from typical, especially at a brand.)
I use the word “aplomb” for a reason in the headline of this article. It means “self-confidence or assurance, especially when in a demanding situation.” Hosting a show is indeed a demanding situation that requires the confidence to execute as a personality. We as marketing showrunners, should we also host the show ourselves, need to juggle several contradictory or complementary things all at once:
Be yourself … but a performative version of yourself too.
Enjoy yourself … but have a plan.
Care about the guest … but also the company … but also the audience (especially the audience).
Be present … but also think about what to say next … but also think about the final edit.
It’s daunting and complicated and all-consuming, and so the way many hosts cope is THEY become the expert, the star, the very embodiment of what “confidence” looks like. But think back to your last gathering of friends, or the all-hands meeting where people presented in turn. Who is truly the most self-confident? Are they the ones pushing their own intelligence and charm on everybody, or the ones capable of sitting back? The most self-confident and self-assured person in the room rarely feels the need to let us KNOW they feel that way. They just ARE that way. Like a smooth ride in a sports car, they’re able to lean back, comfortably shifting gears and weaving in and out of traffic, not aggressively, not in a showy way, but just kinda …. in flow.
To me, that is the role of a great host, the ability to host with true aplomb.
Consider Instead: Be a Guide, Not a Star
When the microphone is hot, or the camera turns on, what kind of host does the audience need most? When you create a podcast to support your brand, or film a video series to spark your movement, who must you become as the on-air or on-camera talent?
I’d argue they need a guide. They need someone to welcome them to this journey, whether that’s the journey unfolding in one episode or across episodes. (Ideally, it’s both.) They need someone to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them, pointing out what’s interesting, ensuring they don’t miss anything as they watch or listen. When they feel like a fly on the wall as the audience, observing and even sitting with two people chatting, or when they feel the emotional pull of a great story or the spark of inspiration and motivation because they suddenly understand a concept, it all happens because THEY arrived there themselves. We merely led them there, and we did so by starting where the audience starts: their understanding of the subject matter or guest, their misconceptions and biases and hopes and desires and struggles.
Our job as a host isn’t to say, “We have the answer, and here it is.” It’s to act like a great teacher, spooning out just enough info that they can take one bite at a time until they’ve finished the meal. (Most hosts try to smash the plate full of food into the face of the audience all at once.) As a great host, we guide the audience from where they’re at to where we want them to be.
The point of creating a show is to hold attention, and the only way we hold attention is if we never lose them. We can’t leap too far ahead. Even if we feel special or smart or, yes, self-assured by telling others how much we know, we’ve left out enough steps that we’ve taken and they’ve yet to traverse that we lose the audience.
We could tap an executive or hire a celebrity. We could train a teammate or grab the host’s chair ourselves. It doesn’t matter who plays the role or what kind of show we create. A great host isn’t the star. They’re the guide.
Founder of Marketing Showrunners, author of Break the Wheel, and host/producer of docuseries about creative work. I’m a believer that exceptional work happens when you find and follow what makes you an exception. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.
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