Part of the series of answers to students’ podcasting questions. For more about this series, read this post.

Question from Andrew P.

What number of guests is considered to be too many in a single podcast? Also, how do you control the flow of conversation within the group so that the discussion comes across as natural and not contrived/scripted?

Answer

How many is too many podcast guests?

Let’s think of the listener first. If the voices are distinct, we humans can do a pretty good job of figuring out who’s who. But if we’re listening to five people speak, and their voices are similar, that’s a problem. One of the podcasts I listen to, InsidePR, is helmed by a group of three people, and their voices are quite distinct. The Gillmor Gang, a popular podcast, regularly featured four or five people at once.

For your own podcast, think of how many people you need to get a good conversation going about the topic. Two? Three? Four? More? I’d say if you have more than four, you might find it challenging to keep everyone on track and not have people speaking on top of each other.

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Natural flow of conversation

As for the second part of your question, make it clear in advance that guests can know the general themes to be discussed, but that they should not expect precise questions in advance, and they should definitely not prepare detailed answers ahead of time. Why not? I can guarantee you that the guest will start to read his or her answers. I’ve heard this many times. Stop them in their tracks. No one wants to hear someone reading (unless he’s a trained voice actor).

So the best way to encourage a natural conversation is to have one! Don’t set the stage for a stilted podcast by providing questions in advance and allowing your guest to read “on air.” Another tip: Before you start to record, warm up the guests with some informal chatter; it will help to relax them. Some people get nervous before being interviewed.

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