Conducting interviews is quite different than producing a solo audio or podcast. It’s also much more involved than most people realize. You can’t just “wing it” and do well on an interview. You need to prepare for it, plan for it, and carefully make sure every piece falls into place throughout the recording.
At the same time, you have to make sure you sound natural during the conversation. Because an interview truly is that – a conversation. The audience has to be able to feel the flow and chemistry between you and your guest. You want to sound spontaneous, but also informed and .
A great interview will have your audience captivated for the entire duration. If it’s an educational piece, your audience will learn something. If it’s something fun, they’ll walk away thoroughly entertained.
Do a Pre-Interview
Talk to your guest beforehand. Don’t just jump on the call and do the interview.
Start by giving your guest a list of sample questions. You might want to hear the answer to some of those questions to make sure they know how to answer.
Don’t try to guide their answers; you just want to make sure you’re both on the same page about how the interview should be conducted. Also ask them if there are any questions they want you to ask.
Get clear on their story. If you’re interviewing someone whose background is important, make sure you know the chronological order of how things happened. And make absolutely sure you know how to pronounce your guest’s name.
Feel Out Their Limits
Often time’s the best interviews are the ones that really push the boundaries to the limits. Of course, you don’t want to make your guests uncomfortable. So if you’re going to be asking those kinds of questions, make sure you run them by your guest first.
For example, if you’re running a business show, questions you might want to run by your guest first include things like:
• How much money do you personally take home?
• When your first business failed, how did you face the investors whose money you lost?
• Did you use any “black hat” techniques when you first built your company?
Questions that might cause your guest to balk shouldn’t be avoided, but you should try to feel out their limits before the call.
Do Your Research Beforehand
Do thorough research into your guest’s background. Even if you have extremely cooperative guests, this can still make a big difference.
Where did their career start? What were some highlights of their career and what were the rough spots? What opinions do they have that are more controversial? What original ideas did they put out in the world?
Read their website. Look them up on Google. Check their LinkedIn profile and Facebook pages.
Learning about your guests will allow you to formulate informed questions.
Fix the Sound Before You Start When Possible
Before you start the interview, make sure all your sound is good. This is something that can change from call to call, so check it everytime.
Start by checking the levels. You and your guest should have approximately the same volume. If one or the other is louder, adjust the levels on your mixer.
If you’re noticing feedback or background noise, try making adjustments. You might ask your guest to move closer to the mic so you can turn down their levels and blend out any background noise.
If they’re on a Skype connection and you’re noticing stuttering or delay, you might ask them to close other windows and other applications that might be taking up bandwidth.
Get your sound and connection issues sorted out before you start the interview.
Pick Topics and Guests You’re Genuinely Curious About
A lot of podcasters choose guests based on who’s big in an industry or who they think their audience will like. While this is okay every once in a while, the best way to produce home run content is to interview guests you’re genuinely curious about.
When you’re genuinely curious about a guest, you’ll ask much better and much deeper questions. You’ll be much more attentive and be able to dive in more with your guests. You’ll have more on-air chemistry and livelier discussion, which are much more interesting to your audience.
Much like you can get “sucked in” to an interesting discussion, you and your guest can both get “sucked in” to an interesting interview. For someone listening, these kinds of interviews have a magnetic quality. Whenever possible, try to interview people who you’re genuinely curious about.
Demonstrate Your Guest’s Credibility
Start by demonstrating your guest’s credibility.
Remember: Your listener’s attention is very scarce. If you want someone to sit through a 20 to 60 minute interview with you and your guest, you need to sell them on your guest.
Be brief, but be powerful and succinct. Talk about your guest’s past, your guest’s achievements and the benefits the interview can offer to your listeners.
If you’ve met your guest prior to the interview, you might include a brief line or two about how and where you met them, and how that was important to you in relation to the topic of conversation. This is particularly effective if talking to a mentor or someone who has inspired your work.
Your intro for your guest should be no more than a minute or a minute and a half. But by the time your intro is done, people should be on the edge of their seats, ready to really absorb everything your guest says.
Ask the Hard Questions
Don’t just play on the surface. The best interviewers are the ones that aren’t afraid to ask the really hard hitting questions.
Ask about their insecurities and their challenges. Ask about real numbers. Look for things that most people wouldn’t have guessed about your guest. Try to chip away from their public persona and really get to know the real person. Try to get to the real experience, rather than just the surface level explanation.
As an interviewer, it’s common to want to go easy on your guests. You want to maintain rapport with your guests. You don’t want to offend, to step on toes or to make your interviewee mad. Unfortunately, when you go light on your guests, you aren’t serving your audience.
Yes, you should absolutely help your guests look good on your show. But you can do that by digging for the real picture, instead of just settling for more shallow answers.
Go With the Flow, But Have a Backup Plan
Don’t go into your interview with a rigid outline of what you want to talk about. Instead, follow the energy of the conversation. Go into things that seem most interesting in the moment.
That said, you should always go into your interviews with a plan. Once one line of thought is complete, you should immediately know where to take it next so that everything flows together nicely.
Don’t worry so much about transitioning. One topic does not have to smoothly transition into another. If one topic is finished, you can simply take a breath, bring up another completely unrelated topic and begin a new discussion. If you feel the need to do so, you can insert a short stinger audio snippet to indicate the change of topics. If you air advertisements this might be a good time to insert the ad break as well.
A great interview is one where the interviewer is sharing the excitement of a topic with a guest all the way until it starts to die out, then a new topic is quickly introduced and the energy picks up again. The interview should never feel boring.
Put Yourself in Your Audience’s Shoes
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What would your audience want you to ask your interviewee right now?
For example, let’s say you run a podcast for people who’re starting a restaurant for the first time. You’re interviewing someone who has started 20 restaurants in the last decade.
You might be tempted to ask him high level questions or questions about what it’s like to operate such a large operation. But when you put yourself in your audience’s shoes, you quickly realize that your audience doesn’t care about any of that. They want to know how to open and run one restaurant.
Put yourself in your audience shoes. It helps if there are specific people you can think of. What questions would benefit them most?
When you’re interviewing a guest, it’s important to remember that the interview is not about you. You might be tempted to share your opinions, your stories or your thoughts while your guest is on the air. More often than not, you’re better off letting your guest speak instead.
Sharing your own thoughts or experiences should be done only very briefly. You can share something if it helps you ask a question or helps cement a point home. You can use your own experiences to help move the interview along.
However, throughout the majority of the interview, all of your listeners’ attention should be focused almost exclusively on your guest. Yes, you can chime in here and there, but it should be the exception to the rule. Your guest’s time is a rare commodity – Make the most of it.