How to be a great radio guest

Screen Shot 2016-09-26 at 12.58.17 PM.pngYou got a radio spot to talk about your film. Great! Here’s how to make the absolute most of it, and increase the odds of getting invited back.


  • Take a little time before the show to get clear about the key points you want to make.  It’ll all go by faster than you think. That said, prepare but don’t rehearse, and be flexible if the host takes it another direction. Roll with it. It’s a conversation.
  • Bring notes or printed articles that you may want to reference. Highlight important details on the page so your eyes can find them quickly– just be careful not to ruffle papers.
  • Avoid canceling at all costs. If you absolutely must cancel, do this:
    • Try to offer the producer a suitable replacement guest, and explain this person’s qualifications to your producer. Daily v. weekly shows will differ, but sometimes the producer might put you on the next day instead.
    • Let the producer know as soon as possible. Cancellations suck. Last-minute cancellations suck even harder.
    • At the end of the day, you’ve just made this producer’s life tougher, so be very kind, professional and apologetic about it.
  • Post about your appearance on social media, including info about how your network can listen in or find a rebroadcast later.
  • Bonus points: create a one-sheeter for your host to reference during the broadcast and email it to the producer once you get booked, or, if booked way in advance, within a day or so of your appearance on the program. This page should include the name of the project, your name and how to pronounce it, a website where listeners can go to learn more, whatever social media handles you prefer, and, if applicable, ticketing info, a few bullet points with interesting facts about the project, and a bullet point about the next milestone or event related to the project.

When you arrive…

  • Be. on. time. In fact, make a point to be early, so you can arrive and have a second to get your bearings and relax. (Also, once you’ve arrived, that’s one less thing for the producer to worry about, so you’re helping them to like you even more.)
  • Hosts are busy, producers are busy. Sit quietly in the green room until you are asked in-studio. (But, do prepare for an abrupt start once you are brought in to sit with the host. There probably won’t be a lot of time to “settle in.”)
  • Turn your phone off. You don’t know how far the sound can reach, and you’ll forget to turn it off once you get in-studio. And if your phone rings or dings or vibrates while you’re on the air…. it’s not gonna be pretty.
  • Producers will probably ask the correct pronunciation of your name and how to introduce you. Be ready with a quick answer. (Ex: “It’s ‘Guth’ like ‘truth’ and ‘filmmaker and journalist’.” Now’s not the time for, “Welllll, funny story. I kind of have three different job titles, you see…”)

How to be while on the air…

  • Don’t wear noisy jewelry. Even the tiniest little jingle form your fabulous earrings might register on the mic, so skip them.
  • Don’t give answers that are too short. Try to follow the rule of improv of “yes, and” (or, “no, because”) and add information when answering questions. One word answers are really bad, mmmkay?
  • Watch for vocal ticks like “um” and “like” and guard against them at all costs. Answer promptly and speak concisely, but don’t go so fast that you sound like you’re trippin’ balls.
  • Don’t feel like you need to be “broadcast”-y. Just be you. Be conversational. If you mess up or get tongue-tied, roll with it: nobody died. Keep going.
  • Don’t depend on the host to plug your book/film/award/project, etc. When you reference your project use the title/publication, etc, but don’t overdo it.
  • Speak the language of the audience. If you’re on a show specifically geared toward filmmaking, it’s probably okay to use a little bit of jargon since we’ll all know what you mean. But, if you’re on a show with a more general listenership, which is most likely going to be the case, don’t exclude listeners by using codewords and lingo; it won’t make you sound smart, and it will frustrate and make listeners not fully connect with you.
  • Don’t be afraid to jump in, but don’t talk on top of others. Rude, sure, but it also sounds like absolute, chaotic hell to the listener to hear many voices at once.
  • Be high-energy and positive. Not like four-cups-of-coffee-and-a-Redbull energy, but alert and on your game. If you’re tired or crabby, perk yourself up by jumping around or shaking your hands out, having a little caffeine, etc. Broadcast is exciting and you might have adrenaline already, so be careful not to over caffeinate.
  • Treat even the craziest of crazy callers with respect, no matter what. Take the high road.
  • Be genuine! Don’t be fake, or a jerk, or act or be over the top. Just be you. Broadcast, but radio especially, is just a conversation between two people. Connect with your host through eye contact. Be yourself. And remember, you got invited on the show for a reason: they want to talk with you. So, just do you.
  • Be mindful of the date your segment will be broadcast if you aren’t live on the air. If you’re taping on, say, a Friday afternoon, and your segment won’t air until Monday, don’t mention the weekend, etc. This also applies to referencing the weather.
  • Swearing. Don’t even. But, shit happens (see) and if you accidentally do, do not, whatever you do, say: “OMG, sorry, sorry, shit, I didn’t mean to do that! Sorry, OMG OMG!” Just keep going. Reason: if you’re on 7- or 10-second delay, your chatter will make it very hard for the producer to “dump” a few second of your audio in a seamless way. If you’re being taped to air later, you’re just going to give an editor more to have to cut out. (But, do apologize when you go to commercial.)
  • Speaking of commercial breaks: try not to chit chat during break about the topic you’re there to discuss, or, much at all. Save it for the air! Reason? You might have a really great moment with your host and trying to recreate it a few minutes later it on the air will sound rehearsed. When in doubt, take a cue from your host about how much conversation is appropriate during commercial breaks, as it does vary by host and show.
  • If you do chat during commercial breaks, don’t reference the conversation once you’re back on-air. It makes listeners feel left out of the conversation.
    If you absolutely must reference something you discussed with the host off the air, do it, but try not to do it too much. (“Like the thing we were saying on the break that was so funny…. “) Keep the listener/viewer in the conversation.

A word about being on the phone…

  • If you are going to be a guest on a program by phone, try to be on a land line. We know, we know. Nobody has a land line anymore. We know. But, try.  If you must be on a cell phone, be in a place where you get absolutely, amazingly, impeccable service. If your service sucks and you start breaking up on the air, there’s a good chance the producer is going to drop you to save the audio integrity of the show.
  • Do the segment in a quiet room, and never on speaker.
  • Be sure to turn your radio off, and let others know to stay the hell out of that room during your interview.
  • Pro-tip: take advantage of the ability to have your notes, printed out articles to reference, etc. in front of you when calling into a show.
  • Another word about phoners: it’s really, really easy for listeners to get very bored very fast when listening to a voice through a phone on the air. Take steps to guard against this by being energetic, professional, and over-enunciate. You’re already going to sound less clear just by virtue of the fact that you’re on a phone.

How to move while on the air…

  • Be really careful about not breathing into your mic. But do get close (really close) to mics in front of you, and try not to turn your head away from them. Same applies to being on air via the phone.
  • Remember: the show invited you to speak with them. Lean in, be interested, make eye contact with the host. Act like you want to be there.

A few special notes about eating and drinking…

  • If you are prone to getting dry mouth, pause to drink water when your host is speaking. Dry mouth is a super gross sound on the air. Super gross.
  • If you have to taste or sip on the air for a show, get away from the microphone, whether that means moving yourself away from your microphone for a second, or turning you head away from your lapel mic. Better yet, don’t eat or drink unless you’re on a cooking show, or you’ve gone to commercial break.
  • No gum, no mints. Ever. Nothing in your mouth. Listeners can hear it when you speak.

After the show…

  • Thank the host/producer/network on social media. Then, follow-up a day or so later with a polite thank you email to the producer and to the host. This will help you get invited back, especially if you take the time to thank the producer; hardly anyone remembers to thank the producer. Seriously.
  • If there is a podcast posted online, share it with your social networks, again making sure to properly tag the producer/host/show, etc. They’ll appreciate the effort.
  • Listen or watch your segment to check for vocal ticks (like saying “like” a lot, for example) so you can get better and better each time you make a broadcast appearance. It might really suck and be painful to listen to yourself, but do it anyway and help yourself improve.
  • Stay in touch, but not too closely. Keep the producer in the loop about big developments, ways you can be useful or offer expert insight on relevant news topics, but don’t drive them crazy with too-frequent contact.

A note about pitching producers…

Once you have been on the air a few times, and as your work progresses, you might find yourself needing to pitch a producer. Great! It’s important to build and nourish these relationships for the long-haul, so pitching is recommended.

First, remember that producers want every idea to be great. Think about it: when you give a producer a great idea, you’re making their job easier, so don’t timidly approach like they’re some kind of mean gatekeeper. Be cool, be friendly, and be brief. Use a straightforward, clear subject line. Be kind and don’t send something long. Just a “hey, I have this story I wrote. I’m willing to talk about x, y and z aspects of this subject. Here’s how to reach me today.” Boom. (And, it goes without saying: proofread– you are, after all, pitching yourself as an expert source.)

Amy Guth is founder/executive director of Strangewaze, a filmmaker, journalist and talk radio host on WGN-AM in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter at @amyguth


How to network at film festivals without being a jag

We’ve all been there, at a film festival event at which everyone is standing around chatting when someone enters the conversation in full-on schmooze-mode. It’s insincere, it doesn’t feel good, and, as is usually the case, it doesn’t get the schmoozer anywhere. But, on the flip side, we’ve also all felt the great feeling that comes from striking up a conversation that feels genuine, that has give and take, and that feels good long after the conversation has ended.

networking-at-film-festivalIt’s a delicate balance. We want to go into events prepared to shine, but we also want to be mindful of not trying too hard and looking like a schmoozy bullshitter. Here are some tips to keep in mind next time you find yourself at an event where socializing is on tap, so you can networking with ease and authenticity and make the most of the opportunity to build community.

Understand the reason to schmooze.
People who really excel at networking and building relationships are masters at finding out what they can do for other people. This alone can change your whole approach, if not your life. Seriously. Think about it. It’s not about going into the room and begging for your needs to be met. Nope, when it comes to networking, the people who are giving to others and connecting like-minded people together are coming out way ahead.

Before the festival, look at the website, its event calendar, and at related social media and take note of news related to the event, the people highlighted, and who is going to attend. Connect and follow social media accounts, both the official accounts of the festival and with people you might find who are posting/tweeting about the event. If there’s someone especially relevant to your work, you might even send them a chill “looking forward to meeting you” tweet as long as you do so with a completely professional and not-creeper vibe. Another route, if you are in contact with the festival or event organizers (and provided it’s not the night before because hello, busyness) you can shoot them a note well in advance and ask for an introduction to a particular person. Note, though, that this only works for an intro to someone relevant to your work, and will backfire terribly and make you look like a jerk if it’s just about connecting to someone famous. So, don’t do that.

Next, take a second and determine what you will have in common with others at the event. This seems goofy and simple, but it puts you in a more confident state to remember as you go in, especially if you’re feeling the pangs of imposter syndrome or sheepishness about what you might perceive as too-few project credits. Just remind yourself you’re a filmmaker/actor/whatever, too, and proceed.

The elevator speech is so dead.
Don’t open with your entire bio or some fake-ass line. The goal here is to get to “tell me more,” not to barf your entire resume or some boring pitch at every person you meet. Better plan? Have a simple and brief introduction and have 3-5 bullet points in your mind of things that are relevant and that you’re passionate about (passion reads positively) and work them into conversation as appropriate. But, also remember this: it’s better to keep it brief and light. If the conversation accomplishes its goal, then you will have another opportunity to give the other person more information later, so don’t drive yourself crazy trying to bare your soul to everyone you meet.

Be a hero to a wallflower.
If you don’t know where to land next in a room full of chatting people, go talk to the person standing alone. They’ll probably welcome your company because nobody wants to be the one standing in a room by themselves. And, don’t assume that by standing alone, this person is low-status; in fact, always assume the best and most empowering narrative for everyone you meet.

Be ready and be confident.
Having a rehearsed schpiel ready to go is going to sound fake AF, but knowing how to simply, briefly and confidently state your deal is important. Equally important? No self-undermining. Your body of work is a fact, so claim what’s yours– there’s a huge difference between saying “I’m a documentary filmmaker. Right now I’m doing a project about rollercoasters.” and “I sort of make films or whatever. I mean, not like huge ones, but like… you know. I’m doing one about rolelrcoasters. Well, not like famous ones, but like…” Blah blah blah. If you don’t believe in your work, nobody else will. It’s not endearing to undermine your work. Just say it. You work hard. Claim what’s yours.

Even if you’re new to the game, own it. Way better to say, “I’m working on my first feature,” than, “Oh, yeahhh, I’ve done a tone of films, sure. Yeah.” Be real. People can sniff out a bullshitter a mile away.

Also on that note, take a few minutes before the event and scan whatever blog and news orgs you regularly read beforehand so you’re up on current industry news, and the main headlines of the day. You never know when the big stories will come up in conversation, and you want to be ready. Bonus readiness plan? Read opinion pages and sites so you have a related op-ed or three in your mind so you have an interesting point to add.

Ask questions.
We can’t emphasize this one enough. Look, people want to feel heard. So, listen to them. We all intuitively sense the difference between someone genuinely listening to us and someone waiting for their next opportunity to speak. Be a listener, and even better, be someone who is curious about others and makes them feel heard by asking questions. Not cutesy, gimmicky questions, either. Think interesting industry news and questions about the other person’s projects, passions and work. People will love you for hearing them and wanting to know more about them.

Start with easy questions like, “How are you connected to this event?” or “Where are you from?” or “What brings you to this event?” Then shut your mouth and listen. Ironically, you’ll likely be remembered as interesting simply by drawing conversation out in others.

And remember, the goal of conversation is to advance it with each contribution. A great conversationalist not only advances conversation with ease and simplicity, but also is generous to the other person in terms of giving them places to go in the conversation. No matter how tempting it might be to describe a play-by-play scene breakdown of your amazing script, try to give more than take and form a connection. Think long haul, not one-shot.

Keep it positive.
Often, when we don’t know what to say, we resort to complaining. Nooooooo. Double no! Don’t do this. Keep it positive, or, at least, neutral and not negative. Remember: successful networking always builds forward, and never tears down.

Know when to exit.
We’ve all been there: stuck in a boring conversation, stuck with a person talking nonstop about themselves, or, as is most often the case, stranded in an awkward conversation that was perfectly fine but that has run its course. Easy: downshift with one small-talk sort of question or comment, then smile and politely excuse yourself with a simple, “Well, So-and-so, it was great chatting with you. I’m going to grab another drink/start to make my way out/thank the host/make sure to say hello to a couple of other folks here before I leave.” Then, shake hands and go. Easy, no drama.

For the love, please follow-up.
So often, people make contact at events, then never follow up. Here’s what’s needed: say hello, remind them where you met, and give them something. That’s all. For example: “Hi, So-and-so. Great to meet you at XYZ Festival the other night. Here’s the op-ed I mentioned about women in film. Have a great weekend. -Your Name.” Greeting, place reminder, and a gift. Boom.

If you want to also ask something of them, make sure the ask is very specific and connected to the conversation you had in person, that it’s very clear, that you’ve given a compelling reason for them to say yes, and that you’ve made it easy for them. For example: “Hi, So-and-so. Great to meet you at XYZ Festival the other night. Here’s the op-ed I mentioned about women in film. I would love to learn more about the board position you’re looking to fill and see if I would be a good fit for it. Here’s a link to my bio. How about we find a time in the next week to hop on the phone for 10 minutes and talk more about what the role requires and I can share my ideas about what I can bring to it? -Your Name.” Notice that the intent was clear, not some vague “let me know what you think,” the ask was low-stakes– a 10 minute phone call, not the dreaded “grab coffee” meeting (nobody has time for this), and not leaving it vaguely to the fates.

Amy Guth is founder/executive director of Strangewaze, a filmmaker, journalist and talk radio host in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter at @amyguth