If you run an interview podcast, it’s good practice to research your guests before you chat to them.
Matthew: This was a question that came in from Peter, he was wondering how should he go about researching guests before they come on the show? Obviously if you get in touch with somebody you want them on your show, that’s for a reason, you’ve identified them as somebody who could bring value to your audience and good content to your show. You probably want to do a bit of research haven’t you just to know a bit more about the person?
Colin: I’m heartened by the fact that he’s asked that question, I think a lot of people don’t bother. Sorry, I was just going to say, I think there’s a lot of people out there just doing interview shows because they think it’s the easy option, they see it as the way to create content without having to create content. You just phone somebody up, you talk to them, they tell you their experience and you edit it and put it out. You don’t have to contribute anything. That just makes for crappy interviews, doesn’t it?
Matthew: A couple of years ago, on our own podcast, I don’t listen back to them, I probably should but I cringe at the way I used to do interviews. Again, I thought I was being quite clever here, I never interviewed someone that I didn’t know a lot about, it was always people that I knew and followed their work. I used to get people straight away to just introduce themselves, and I thought it was a good way of bringing them into the interview. On hindsight, it’s a bit cheeky, you get somebody on your show and then you’re suddenly saying, “Okay tell me about yourself.” They’re like, “Wait a minute you asked me to come on here not the other way round.” It helps just to … It’s not about giving their life story at the start of the interview but just a good wee intro. Succinct.
Colin: I think it’s bad form getting somebody on getting them to do that, it’s as if you don’t know anything about them. It’s lazy, I’ve heard people say, in all seriousness, and probably believe in this that they say, “I don’t research my guests, because I want to be asking from the same point of view as my listener.” They justify it by they think it’s good to be unacknowledged because they’re going to ask the relevant questions. It’s just, that is lazy I think. You’re not going to be able to delve into the real interesting aspects. You know those parts of their personality or their work or whatever that people really want to hear. You might luckily stumble across it, if you’re the most expert interviewer ever, you might be able to get all that stuff out of them during the interview. For us average mortals, we’ve got to do a lot of research so that we can decide what aspects to delve into, you know. What bits our listeners might find interesting and really just get the best from that person.
Matthew: I think a good starting point is when you maybe have a list of people that you want to invite on your show. Is to really ask yourself, why do I want this person to come on the show because your research can stem from that can’t it.
Colin: Yeah, absolutely if you know the why, then you know what value they’re going to bring to people that listen to your show.
Matthew: It shouldn’t be just one person on the show, because they do podcast interviews and they have a podcast and they get a lot of downloads, you know, there should be a reason that’s far deeper than that for getting them on.
Colin: Absolutely and we fall into the trap of trying to get stuff out every single week and taking interviews from anyone you can get just to fill in the gap. You’re better really to do it a bit less frequently than to just take any old person. We’re supposed be talking about how to research them I suppose aren’t we? What do you do before you take an interview?
Matthew: Usually a good starting point is somebody’s website. Whether it’s a personal website or whether it’s the website of their project, their podcast, their book, whatever. Most people now a days are going to have some sort of “Bio” or “About” page. I suppose the danger with these things is that if they do a lot of interviews, a lot of people might basically read these bios out verbatim and it might become a bit samey for them. It’s a good idea, although it’s a great starting point there are definitely other things that you could do aside from that aren’t there?
Colin: Yeah, for sure I think that website obviously good start, go and have a look in there, but you want to be delving deeper than different page certainly and that current bio. The gold really is in previous bio’s or finding old material by them. Finding stuff that they used to do that maybe they’re not concentration so much on anymore. I think one of the really valuable things about researching guests is that you find ways to get past their current soundbites. Everybody has got somebody that they’re currently really interested in. That stuffs great, you almost are certainly inviting the person on, because of whatever they’re concentrating on right now. You want to talk about that at some point, you want to be creating an interview that’s unique. Whereas if you just do the current work, you’re probably going to be getting the same interview, the same answers, the same info as five other podcasts, right now.
That person got to where they are through a whole bunch of other stuff, probably just as valuable, so if you can find some older pages on their sites and different types of subjects or even the biographies on different websites that were written a few years back. I always find that I can get some good questions out of them because you discover stuff that they used to work on, maybe they’re not so much associated with it anymore. I think Linkedin is a great source for that as well, if you go on Linkedin, find them on there, and look at their past job history, it might be jobs, it might be companies, it might be projects. Whatever it is you can find a whole list of stuff that they’ve worked on in the past.
Not only are you going to find stuff that’s unique but if you start to talk about these things that they’re not used to talking about these days it can make it really interesting because they’re not just reading off the same old stuff, it might be some old projects that they’re actually really passionate about still, or they just really enjoy talking about. It can bring a lot more energy into a show as well I think.
Matthew: What about … And this sounds really obvious, but what about the traditional Google search and it again depends on your guest doesn’t it? If it’s somebody famous it’s going to be screeds and screeds of stuff out there. If it’s somebody that’s not famous at all, it could be bit more difficult. The thing about a Google search is you’ve got to philtre your results, it could be anything coming back at you. It might not be remotely relevant.
Colin: Yeah, and it depends on the kind of interview you’re going for doesn’t it? There’s some people, you look at this out of more entertainment based interviewers. Take Mark Madden for example his show thrive son asking the hard questions and getting the more personal, more in depth stuff out of people. He’s going to want to look into issues they’ve had in the past and problems and difficult times and stuff like that. That’s kind of stuff that you can find our through Google, just doing a standard search. I think in a lot of cases, you want to do a bit of it, but you don’t need to worry too much about searching out every single article that’s been written about this person, just the relevant stuff. Again, it depends on the image you have I guess.
Matthew: In your experience what are some of the ways that you can go about it. I know you’ve touched on this a wee bit, but putting your own stamp on the interview with a person.
Colin: I think the big thing is making sure that a portion of the questions, I would say at least half of the subjects that you’re going to be talking about on your show are going to be stuff that is not their current sound bites. Not their current work, and at least a portion of them are questions they haven’t been asked before. You want to get unique stuff out of them don’t you, you want to make it different from all the other shows out there, so try and find something that they haven’t been asked before. That could take a bit of nerve, it could take a brass neck to ask some stuff that you think is quite hard to ask, like with personal or maybe related to a problem they’ve had, a rumour or something like that.
It could just be actually something that is quite an unusual question. You don’t want to do just novelty questions too much, but it might be something that you particularly ask for your show that brings out decent answers. I think when you’re trying to get those answers out of people A big part of it is making them comfortable, talking to you. That’s a big part of researching guests as well. I think one of the good ways to do this, something that Tim Ferris does really well actually, is find something outside of work they’re interested in, again this could maybe be a past interest or something. Talking about that first.
There was a good example of that when Tim Ferris talked to Ed Norton on his show, and they spent the first, can’t remember how much it was, maybe the first ten, fifteen minutes of that interview, talking about surfing. It was a really niche subject, well not little and niche but you know, it’s not related probably what Ed Norton, certainly no this work. It’s not related to anything really to what Tim Ferris does, that was just something that Tim Ferris had found out that Ed Norton was interested in, was really passionate about. And just chatted about it because it’s an easy subject, somebody’s passionate about, got them relaxed and settled into the interview. It set the rest, the tone of the rest of the interview, it made them more friendly, more vulnerable, all that kind of stuff more personal. It creates better content in future.
Matthew: Not to go off on a tangent, this is definitely a subject of discussion on its own, but the research doesn’t stop the minute the interview starts because it’s an interview skill, you don’t just go in, you have you questions that you want to ask as back up. When you’re listening to the answers that your giving there’s opportunity there to ask follow up questions on that. That in its own way is research as well, is being a good interviewer and actually listening to the responses you’re getting rather than just looking at you sheet and waiting to move onto the next question.
Colin: Yeah, it’s the curiosity isn’t it? It’s making sure that your thinking about what they’re saying like you say, and delving into the bits that you find interesting. It’s likely, you’re target audience the people listening to you show are almost quite like you that’s just the way it works, fans tend to like people a bit like them, same interests and all that kind of stuff. If something that you’re interested in, it’s likely they’ll be interested in it too, basically follow your nose.