16 Things That Separate Good Podcasts from Average Ones

Biz Markie, the rapper from the 80s, hung up on me during our podcast. I made so many mistakes.

After he hung up I had to decide what to do with that podcast. So I had the engineer play it back and I commented over the podcast all the mistakes I made.

I’m sorry, Biz Markie. I didn’t mean to make it seem like “Just a Friend” was a one-hit wonder (although it IS the song that plays when someone visits your website).

Another time I asked a podcast guest, Erika Ender, who wrote Despacito (six billion views on YouTube), to marry me. In the middle of the podcast.

I was serious but she just laughed. I don’t know if that makes a good podcast or bad one but she probably made the right decision.

I love my podcast. I started recording episodes exactly 5 years ago. Maybe a little longer.

I’ve had on guests ranging from Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Sara Blakely, Tony Hawk, Garry Kasparov, Wayne Dyer, Peter Thiel, Jewel, Tyra Banks, Coolio, Jordan Peterson, and so many of my heroes. Even if I stop the podcast today (I’m not) I am so grateful I’ve had the chance to do this.

I do not let a podcast end unless I have at least one takeaway that makes my life better.

For instance, I took a cold shower this morning (Aubrey Marcus). I ask myself each night what I failed at today (Sara Blakely). I assume everyone is irrational so that makes me less stressed (Scott Adams), I work hard at everything I do (every guest), I figure out how to get past the gatekeepers who always try to stop me in every venture (Richard Branson), and so on.



Only 7% of communication is verbal. So if a podcast is just done on phone you are missing 93% of the information conveyed in that podcast.

About 55% is body language and 38% is tone.

Visual cues, personal rapport, deeper communication, can only be done when the two people are face to face.

Most podcasts do not do this. Once I started doing this my downloads went up 3x.


Phone and Skype are low quality audio.

I use professional mics in a professional studio to keep outside sounds away.

People will listen to your podcast even if it has poor audio but it has guests that they like.

But they will not share a poor audio podcast. And eventually they will get annoyed.

I started doing podcasts phone only (I was lazy) but now I do in-person only.


Average podcasters are focused on getting guests. But every guest requires 10 hours of research and they forget that.

I’ve been on many podcasts. The best podcasters have done their homework and ask questions to the point where I have to really dig deep to come up with an answer.

It shows me they’ve read my books, listened to podcasts I’ve been on, listened to my podcast, watched some of my talks, etc.

Read the book(s), listen to podcasts, listen to talks and interviews, read critiques, read articles they’ve written.

THEN, when the guest is on and he starts talking about something he or she mentioned on another podcast I say, “This is a great topic. Listeners can listen on the XYZ podcast where you spoke about this”. And then I veer to a topic that makes my podcast unique for this guest.

It’s not a biography podcast. It’s a podcast about peak performance.

Not to get listeners. But because I want to get better as a result of having this guest in front of me for such a short time.


The listener has chosen to spend 1–2 hours with you out of all the options they have. That’s a big responsibility you have.

They better get something out of this podcast that is valuable to their lives. That makes life better.

Even if I have to say, “Imagine a 50 year old divorced mom or a guy just fired from his job or a 26 year old trying to figure out his passion. How can they apply what you just said?”

If the listener can take just ONE thing from a podcast, the listener will come back.


It’s not about Trump or Obama or social media or making money.

A podcast is about the person sitting across from you.

What makes them tick? How did they learn what they did? What made Wolfgang Puck go from picking organic foods with his mother when he was six years old to being the best chef in the world?

What made Tony Hawk stick with skateboarding during the years when California basically made it illegal and before X-Sports?

What made Sara Blakely go from selling fax machines door to door to being one of the biggest fashion moguls in history (when she never sewed before in her life and had no idea how to manufacture)?

What made a small magazine publisher named Richard Branson have the gall to start a major airline?

What is it about these people that turned them from ordinary to extraordinary?

It’s not just luck or skill. There’s a magic and unique element in each of them that turned them from Luke Skywalker, Farmer, to Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master.

What is it? What happened in their brains and lives? What were their fears that they had to conquer? What were the insecurities they were trying to overcome?

Read books on psychology because for the one or two hours you are interviewing, you are a psychologist probing their deepest layers.


I’ve been on podcasts where the podcaster would just blindly read a list of questions and then go onto the next one on his list no matter what I said.

The podcaster is the main guest on his or her own podcast.

People listen not because Richard Branson or Tyra Banks is on. But because YOU are the ones asking them questions.

Some of my least-downloaded podcasts are with the most famous guests of all.

Some of my MOST-downloaded podcasts are when I have had no guest on.

Be the person that others trust to have their back. If your listeners know you provide value no matter what, then they will listen.


Lots of mistakes happen in a podcast.

I mispronounce a name or forget a book title. Someone in the audience (some of my podcasts are with audience) is too loud.

Sometimes things break or coffee gets spilled.

Keep it all in. A podcast is not a conversation, it’s a recording of an experience. Keep the experience intact.

8) ADS

I bring this up for this question only. Ads don’t make a podcast good or bad.

BUT, the better podcasters have ads and the average podcasters don’t. This is a generalization and is not always true but it’s 99% true.

Let people know you are the type of podcast that major brands want to advertise on.

When you read the ads, have fun with it. Because… ads are bullshit!


During the podcast I write down everything interesting. Then I try to write an article about it.

This helps me figure out how MY life is going to be better from the podcast.

Yesterday I had a podcast where the guest, a brilliant thinker, investor, and trained scientist, gave an example from physics about how to find opportunity in your life.

It’s already changed how I think about situations, businesses, even relationships.

If I didn’t take notes, I would forget, because I have to prepare so much for each guest it’s often hard for things in short-term memory to make it to my long-term memory.

And if you take notes, it also focuses your later questions with the guest.


Here’s a typical podcast: I start off with one question, but then we go on a tangent (like any conversation), and then a further tangent, and then a further tangent.

It becomes a tree of possible topics.

It’s like a chess game.

I have to remember which branch I want to go back to where I had a question. I have to remember the question. This is hard.

Then I have to go back to the main trunk of the tree. This is hard.

Then I have to remember to get that one great gem of value (at least one). This is hard.

And every time they say something I don’t understand I HAVE to say, “I’m sorry to interrupt but I don’t understand.”

Because if I don’t understand now, then when will I ever talk to Wayne Dyer or Steve Case or Jewel again?

How will I understand why Jewel turned down a million dollar offer when she was homeless and sleeping in her car?

Like when Coolio said, “And then I got off my coke addiction and…”

WAIT! “How do you get off a coke addiction?”

My one takeaway from Coolio: do what you love every single day. And it’s OK to change what you love (he went from rap to cooking).

My other takeaway from Coolio: expand the art form (he took rap and added R&B and melodic singing to it). You expand an art form by loving it, loving the history, studying every aspect, and (in Coolio’s case) DOING IT EVERY DAY FOR SEVENTEEN YEARS before having one ounce of success.


If you are a podcaster, you are an artist, a performer, an entertainer, an educator, all at the same time.

Just like in the above takeaway from Coolio, always be experimenting how to change and expand the art form of podcasting.

Some experiments will be successful and some will fail. We’re all new at this. Give yourself permission to fail and to try and fail again and try again.

One time a guest cancelled at the last minute. I had Steve, my podcast producer, get on the mic and we talked about “The Power of Ask”. How do you ask thousands of people to come on a podcast?

How do you have the nerve? The nerve!


Focus on becoming the best podcaster you can be.

Listen to other podcasts (ranging from Joe Rogan who is the best at the “conversation/interview” to more structured podcasts like Freakonomics or Hardcore history.

The outcomes (greater downloads) are pretty much out of your control.

Having a great podcast won’t necessarily get you the most downloads. Often you need an external factor (Barack Obama becomes a guest. OR you write a new book that is a bestseller, OR you start a TV show, OR Oprah mentions your podcast).

And a podcast doesn’t always make money (I spend every dime on increasing production value).

But if you get better at the process, the outcomes will follow.

13) THE 20:3:1 RATIO

My podcast producer (who produced TV news for 20 years) sends out 100 emails a day.


For every 20, he gets on average three responses (“Sure I’ll come on James’ podcast”) and for every three of those we’ll get one who will actually come on.

So mostly it’s rejection.

But you have to ask and ask and ask. Don’t take a “no” from someone who can’t say “yes”.


Bring back the old guests that were fun. That you had rapport with.

Your listeners are an X-ray machine. They know who you enjoyed. Who you had fun with. They liked listening to the conversation because they like you.

So bring back those guests.


I don’t like to have a “guest” on. In my ideal world, I like to have a friend.

I wanted to have on Wally Green, one of the best ping pong players in the world.

I didn’t just have him on. AFTER I decided to have him on I started taking lessons from him. After I had a bunch of lessons I knew his story.

But now WE had a story together.

And that’s what we were able to talk about on the podcast.

Two years later we are still friends. I just ran into him in Venice, CA where he is training for the World Paddleball Championships.

We got to play. That’s the benefit of being friends with your guests.


Feel what it’s like to be a guest. Know what you like as a guest and what you don’t.

In the past week I went on Tom Bilyeu’s and Jay Shetty’s podcasts. I’ve been on 100 others.

It’s always great fun to meet new friends. A year later they are now old friends, And your best new friends are your old friends.

I had more parts to this answer but now, as I finish it, I’ve forgotten them.

I started this article on a plane. I was coming back from podcasts with three of the most fascinating people I ever met.

(Byron Allen just bought the Weather Channel. He was a stand-up comedian at age 14.)


There are always new ways to make a podcast better.

If you can think of more ideas, please tell me. I’ve been doing my podcast since late 2013.

I’ve had over 430 guests on. I’ve been on hundreds of other podcasts. I’ve been interviewing people since 1996 when I worked at HBO and this was my job.

I think I’m about 60% there. I want to get better.

Help me.

Perhaps the comedian TJ Miller gave me the best advice: what if we both put chicken bones and other stuff in our hair and then just let it fall out while we were talking to people?

He also told me what was his secret at being a comedian:

“It always amazes me that people think they can be the best without working harder than everyone else.”

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