Protists are major predators of bacteria in soils. However, it remains unknown how protists sense their prey in this highly complex environment. Here, we investigated whether volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of six phylogenetic distinct soil bacteria affect the performance of three different soil protists and how that relates to direct feeding interactions. We observed that most bacteria affected protist activity by VOCs. However, the response of protists to the VOCs was strongly dependent on both the bacterial and protist interacting partner. Stimulation of protist activity by volatiles and in direct trophic interaction assays often coincided, suggesting that VOCs serve as signals for protists to sense suitable prey. Furthermore, bacterial terpene synthase mutants lost the ability to affect protists, indicating that terpenes represent key components of VOC-mediated communication. Overall, we demonstrate that volatiles are directly involved in protist−bacterial predator−prey interactions.