Interviews are a great way of adding variety and gravitas to your podcast.
It shows you have an understanding of your topic because you're approaching the right people. Plus, there's clearly a respectable level of work that goes into your production.
All the more reason to build on your hard work by doing it right.
A few things you should always do before pressing Record.
Who are They?
Find out as much as you can about the person you're interviewing – everything that's relevant to your podcast, at least.
Have they done interviews before? If so, what style do they like to take? For instance, are they quite formal and guarded or do they like to relax and laugh?
Not only that, but what have they said before on the subject? If you can get an idea of how they think, you've got more chance of asking the right questions and getting decent audio for your show.
Stock up on Topic Info
What if your guest has brief answers and you're suddenly bounding through your main questions quicker than you'd planned?
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You don't want to end up red-faced, making small talk about the weather, so you need somewhere to go. Think of some back-up material you can discuss, like predictions for the future or how they feel about relevant issues. Anything to keep them talking!
I know I've just warned you to have back-up material, but in my experience most interviewees will talk until the cows come home.
If you're planning a specific episode length – including, say, 15 minutes of edited interview audio – then you need to make sure they know that. They'll realise there's no point on talking for an hour on the subject if you're not going to use most of it.
Back when I was a radio journalist, I made the mistake several times early on of allowing the interviewee ramble on for ages, even when I knew I'd be cutting 9 minutes of raw audio down to 3x fifteen second clips for a news bulletin!
What did I do wrong? I guess I just didn't want to be rude, coming across like this; “Keep it brief, First Minister, I only need a minute's worth.”
I should have made clear what the requirements were and controlled the conversation.
Ask the Right Questions
Your questions should be straight forward and open-ended. Instead of asking something with a Yes or No answer, ask them something that they have to expand upon;
- Tell me about your experiences with this topic?
- How do you feel about X?
- What's the best Y you ever had or did?
- What's next for you?
Open questions are the best way to get their creative flow going, and it makes it harder for them to give evasive answers.
Listen, Understand and React
One of the worst things you can do – and it's easily done – is to tune out from what your guest is saying. Usually because you're too focused on having your next question ready.
Say they give an answer to your question about vacation plans that include something like “I'm hoping to go back to Ireland for vacation this year because I was actually born there.”
If you're not listening properly but you hear
Ireland, your next question might be, “Have you ever been to Ireland before?”
Faux Pas alert! They just told you they were born there! And now you've just gone down in their estimation as a decent interviewer.
As I say, it's easy to do. Especially if you're nervous or haven't done enough planning and you're winging it. The answer is to do your prep!
So be aware of what they're saying and respond directly to their answers. You don't have to ask every question on your list. React accordingly to what they say.
Control the Conversation
Warm Them up
You'll often find that interviews go much more smoothly in the second half. By then, you've both had time to relax, get into the groove, and find your respective voices.
If you have the time, a good way of getting a head start is to chat about something off-topic for a minute or so. Something you know they like. Sports, weather, the weekend, anything you can easily dip into and share a laugh over.
By the time you're actually rolling with the set questions, you'll hopefully hit the ground running.
On that note, don't feel like you can't hit record until you ask something on-topic. I always start recording from the moment I start speaking to my interviewee. This might be more relevant to journalism, but you never know what might be said in the moment which you'll want to use in your final recording.
Which Style Should You Adopt (if any)?
Yeah, it's an old cliché that even Shakespeare wouldn't have used, but it's a cliché for a reason. It's always good advice!
If you want the best from your guests, they're going to want to feel like they're talking to a genuine person. If you're pretending to be someone esle, you may come across as false, and put then at unease.
However, if you REALLY want to base your style on a particular framework, then consider the following factors;
- the purpose of your interview
- the style of your podcast
- the type of guest you're interviewing (and their personality)
- the context of the interview
Are you grilling a politician over the latest scandal? Chatting to a chef about their new recipe for vegan muffins? There's no magic formula here, but simply considering these things will help you to visualise your end-product and work towards achieving the best interview you can conduct.
Relax, You'll Live Longer
And so will your chances of a decent interview. If you're at ease, they will be too.
Some people find themselves tensing up when the Record light is flashing, whether it's during an interview or even hosting it solo. If that's you, check out Episode 2 of the Podcast Presentation Skills series.