These 6 steps will make you master of the podcast interview
Sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, fluttering stomach, dry mouth, and a racing mind. That’s how I remember my first few interviews. Sound familiar? In this blog post I’m going to explain the key foundations of a good interview so you don’t end up an anxious mess at the thought of sitting down with your podcast guest.
You might still feel a little nervous, but trust me it won’t take long for you to start really enjoying interviews.
In my career as a journalist and podcaster I’ve done thousands of interviews. Not all of those went to plan, and there are some I’d much rather forget. But I’ve also felt privileged to speak to some truly incredible ordinary people and share their stories.
When I started university eight years ago, I never imagined I’d one day be interviewing Divergent author Veronica Roth live on stage. I mean, I had to have a good lie down and a tiny anxiety cry after my first phone interview!
There are two reasons for my confidence as an interviewer: preparation and practice. One of these is obviously all down to you, but in this post I’m going to walk you through my own preparation process.
None of us will become Ellen DeGeneres overnight, but these simple tips will make your podcast interviews so engaging your audience don’t want them to end.
Not sure if you want to interview guests on your podcast? I’ve got a FREE planning workbook to help you build the foundations of your business podcast. You can download the workbook and get access to the resource library by joining my mailing list below.
Podcast interview tip #1: Do your research
If you proposed the podcast interview, chances are you’re already familiar with your guest’s work. Now it’s time to do a little extra digging.
Look through their social media feeds and website. Read up on their ‘about’ page and check out any articles or books they’ve written. Check out other interviews your guest has done and get across what’s already publicly well-known about them.
Your research should tell you:
What your guest is passionate about
What your guest is known for (this could be serious or quirky, or a mix of both)
What they’ve talked about in previous interviews
Podcast interview tip #2: Write open-ended questions
In five years as a journalist, I did hundreds of interviews with no prepared questions. When you’re writing several stories each day, you learn how to interview on the fly. The few times I did write ‘questions’ before an interview it was a vague phrase or a topic to jog my memory.
My approach to podcasting is the exact opposite. When Caitlin and I book in guests for Better Words, we both do bits of research and I write detailed notes we use throughout the interview.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the interview, start with a basic mind map. Write out the main topics you want to touch on and then map out questions or statements related to this.
Now try to turn those basic points into a question. When you’re writing these questions, try and imagine the response you’ll get from your guest.
Avoid questions which could simply be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Keep them open-ended by asking your guest what they think about a topic, or what their experiences with a topic have been.
If your notes are based on statements from your guest or your own observations, try and turn them into questions. And remember, just one question at a time.
Instead of: Was it hard to write your first book?
Try: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your first book?
Once you’ve written your questions, read back through them and try to group them into a natural flow.
Questions about writing the book/creative project
Questions relating to themes explored
Questions relating to guest’s career or interesting fact about their life
Summing up question, something lighter or future focused
Why should you start a podcast for your small business? Read this blog post to find out how a podcast can be your marketing secret weapon.
Podcast interview tip #3: Remember it’s a conversation
Ideally, your podcast interview will be a conversation rather than an interrogation. But if you’re feeling a little nervous about the interview make sure you prepare yourself.
When I’m writing notes for Better Words, I like to include a lead-in statement before the question to remind us to keep things casual. For example, here’s a question we asked Sara Tasker:
Lead-in statement: You’ve spoken a lot online about how the community you created online happened because you were open and authentic. Question: How do you feel about that community and how do you think we can all nurture our own communities as creative people online?
Remember, you’re having a conversation. Don’t just fire questions off at your guest. Introduce the topic with a small statement to lead into your question and nurture a conversation. This will also help any listeners who are not familiar with your guest’s work.
Podcast interview tip #4: Ask you guest if they want to preview questions
As journalists, we’re discouraged from ever sharing our questions prior to an interview. But I’ll often ask guests how much preparation they need before we jump on a call for a podcast interview.
Some people are well versed in answering questions off the cuff, but others will prefer some time to prepare. So always ask your guest if they would like to see the questions before the interview.
I also always let guests know we’re likely to go off topic and that we want the interview to feel as natural and conversational as possible.
If your guests don’t want to see full questions, it’s always courteous to just let them know the general topics you’ll touch on in the podcast interview. Don’t forget to also double check there’s nothing that’s off-limits, especially if they’ve had a record of talking about private topics.
Podcast interview tip #5: Don’t be afraid to go off script
You’ve done all this preparation for your podcast interview, but the most important thing to remember is that your questions are flexible.
There’s nothing more frustrating as a listener than hearing an interesting tidbit, only to have the interviewer skip over it completely and go to the next question on their list. I can’t say this enough: your podcast interview is, above all, a conversation.
Don’t be afraid to follow new topics if your guest says something interesting, even if it’s the opposite of what you prepared. If you think it’s interesting, it’s likely your listeners will too.
While it’s a controlled situation, don’t try and stem the natural ebbs and flows of conversation. That’s the podcast gold your listeners will enjoy and the authentic relationship that’s going to make the interview memorable for your guest and your listeners.
Podcast interview tip #6: Put your listeners first
Your listeners are the most important part of your podcast, so make sure whoever you’re interviewing and whatever you’re talking about is something that’s going to deliver for them.
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Start with the research and jot down some topics you’d like to cover
Write open-ended questions and group them so they flow
Add introductory statements to soften your questions
Check if your guests would like to look at the questions before the interview
Go with the flow of the interview
Which of these tips has been most helpful for you? Let me know in the comments and get in touch of Twitter or Instagram with your podcast interview wins.