Ever listen to a talk show on the radio? And ever wonder how those experts on the shows got to be there?

The dirty secret is that they shamelessly pushed themselves onto the program. And while it sounds both dirty and shameless, the reality is that going on to talk programs is a great way to promote your work in a way that’s both low-key, and effective.

Plus: even if you can’t be on a particular program, you can benefit from talk shows, as a caller.

The secret in both situations is to remember my rule: you are there to provide information, and not to sell your service or product.

Which doesn’t mean you won’t sell your work. You will. But your listeners won’t think they are being sold. And that’s a great combination.

I’ve written about using audio calls to promote your work. This is a variation of that. But it’s a far more effective system.

Talk shows need you. Desperately. And the smaller the talk show, the smaller the network, the smaller the radio station, the more desperately they need you.

Most people contemplating going on talk shows think Oprah first. And while I won’t argue with anyone who manages to snag a spot on Oprah, the reality is that you are competing with thousands of other people for that privilege. And you are unlikely to get on there, at least not for a long time.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re in a small town. And the local station has a talk show every morning from 8 to 10. And most of the time, the talk is a group of several announcers who sit around, chew the fat, discuss high school sports, and generally try to fill in the time between commercials.

And there are hundreds of such examples across the US and Canada. And you don’t have to be in a small town. Even in such radio markets as New York City and Chicago, there are dozens of small stations which serve niche markets (think ethnic groups, small areas, etc.) And those that have talk shows need talkers. Which is where you come in.

The other reality is that while a good talk show sounds informal, it’s anything but that. The structure of a good show is formal, and laid out in advance. The guest (that’s you) sets out the format for the program, sets out the questions the host will ask, and basically knows what’s going to happen, and where the program’s going to go.

If you have never listened to a local radio talk show, do so. Listen to a number of them. Know what you are getting into, and how the host operates.

In the meantime, prepare a resume, but not a regular resume. This one focuses on what you are prepared to offer as a talk show host. Explain what you have done, what you are good at, and what you know.

Next, prepare a list of questions for the host. These will be ones that you are prepared to answer, and while it sounds a little silly (to you) answering the questions that you’ve prepared, and already know the answer for, it won’t sound silly to the listener, if you follow a couple of rules. First, know the general format of your answer, but don’t memorize what you’re going to be saying. Second, be spontaneous. Try to engage the host, and talk to them. Of course, there will be lots of people listening on the radio, but you will sound stilted and forced if you think of them. Think instead of that one individual you are speaking to, the host or the caller. Third, smile. Of course, if you’re discussing an unhappy or serious issue, you don’t want to be grinning from ear to ear. But smiling, or at least maintaining a pleasant look on your face, will make your voice sound more musical, more vibrant, and less flat. If a caller, or even the host, becomes argumentative, that’s all the more reason to keep a pleasant look on your face. Maintain a pleasant expression, and be a genuinely nice person, and you’ll likely defuse the anger.

Don’t be discouraged if there are not a huge number of calls. A good host will know how to make a program work, even if there are not a lot of calls. But you will likely be surprised at how many calls come in.

When you get calls, make sure you listen to the caller, and understand their question. And pause for a second before answering, to give yourself time to think, and collect your thoughts. If you are baffled by a question, it’s OK to say, “Well, that’s a very good question, but it’s a little outside my area of expertise. But let me tell you how I handled a similar situation …” Then go on to talk about an area that relates to the question that you are familiar with. Don’t take calls personally. If someone is angry about something, you are very likely not the cause of their anger. In such a situation, you might say, “I can appreciate that you are quite concerned about this issue …” And then go on to relate their question to an area of your expertise.

And when the program’s over, your work is not complete. You need to do 2 things. First, speak to the receptionist. Leave one of your cards, and write your URL on the back of the card in large, legible letters. The receptionist may get calls later from people who want to contact you, and you want the receptionist to be able to send them to your site. Next, write a thank you note to the host of the program. Not an email: you want to send an actual card. No one does this. And so by doing it, you will stick out in the host’s memory. If the program went well, you definitely want to be back at a later time, and if the host remembers you as a good guest who’s helpful, informative, and easy to deal with, you have a far better chance of being asked back, over and over again.