The Best Podcast Questions to Get Your Guests Talking
Storytelling is at the heart of any good marketing strategy. And what better way to tell a brand's story than by getting directly into the ears of your target audience.
For the last decade we have seen an explosion in brands investing in interview-style podcasts as a way to successfully tap into crowded markets. While algorithms can help brands find ways to target their ideal audiences directly, it's meaningful conversations that are capturing consumer's attention for the long term.
The overall growth and success of your podcast depends on three key areas:
Well written marketing content and copy
The show's audio quality
The podcast content itself i.e. the conversations between interviewer and guest
And it's the latter that we'll be covering in this article, because it's the quality of the show's content that matters above most things.
Yet to create great content that fills a listener's need, you've got to be asking the right questions. Great interview questions are the number one tool for unlocking top notch conversations that bring a lot of value to the table.
But, what are some good podcast questions? We're glad you asked.
Recognizing that not everyone is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, we've outlined some of the best podcast questions you should be asking to help get your guests talking.
Questions to Ask During a Podcast Interview
No self-respecting interviewer asks a question and then immediately moves on to the next one. Instead, there needs to be a natural flow and rhythm.
When forming your questions, you need to consider:
Will this elicit something interesting from my guest?
Will these questions help my audience learn about who my guest is? How they work, play, and think?
What questions will help draw information from my guest to provide the most value for my audience?
Open-ended questions encourage extended responses from a guest because they don't allow for a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer. Instead, these types of interview questions require the respondent to elaborate on their points in much more depth.
Examples of open-ended podcast interview questions can include:
What has been a major challenge or failure in your career?
Is there a piece of advice you'd give to listeners just starting in the industry?
What does a typical day look like for you?
The above questions don't allow for a simple one word answer. Guests can be much more measured in their response, and therefore provide a meaningful answer.
Questions You Don't Know the Answer To
Podcasts are the ideal medium to learn. Audience members get something out of the conversations, and so does the host. But, if a host sticks only to the questions they know the answers to, they run the risk of hosting a somewhat predictable interview.
It's the host's job to take the conversations beyond what listeners can find online and prevent them from feeling bored or disappointed. So get creative! Try to think outside the box. For example, if your questions are typically geared towards asking a guest about the industry, consider steering the conversation towards other avenues, such as their education or hobbies.
No matter the podcast genre, the best podcast interview questions are tailored to the guest—those questions that tap into the individual guest's interests, life experiences, and expertise.
Say you're interviewing the regional head of marketing at Apple California. A specifically tailored question might be "What successful campaign did you lead?" or "Which marketing channels do you tend to avoid and why?" Try to draw from their personal experiences as much as possible.
Clarifying questions are questions that the listener asks the speaker in a bid to stop or clear up any misunderstanding, confusion, or even ambiguity within a conversation. The goal as the host is to make sure that everyone fully understands the guest's message, while also trying to tease out important additional information.
Asking clarifying questions is important for your audience. If you don't understand a topic or point that your guest is talking about, your listeners probably won't either.
A good clarifying question doesn't express an opinion or bias. Instead, it serves as a simple request for more information while staying within the topic being discussed.
✔ Good clarifying question: Why did that particular project take eight months?
✘ Bad clarifying question: Isn't eight months for that kind of project too long?
Say a guest mentions, "I think our brand has to invest in new technology early next year."
A clarifying question might be:
✔ What do you consider to be new technology?
✔ Why do you think it should apply then?
✔ Where can that take your business?
✔ How did you determine that?
Clarifying questions can open up a treasure trove of information from your guest and keep the conversation natural and engaging.
Questions to Avoid During a Podcast Interview
Ever heard the phrase "there are no stupid questions?" Well, in podcasting, that's not necessarily true. Audiences crave content that offers genuine value for their time. If you ask a fruitless question and get a one-word answer, they may find your content lacking and potentially switch off.
Here are a few types of questions that offer little to no value for listeners:
Yes or No Q&As (Closed Questions)
Yes or no questions, also known as "closed questions," only allow for two possible responses: Yes or No. Closed-ended questions are perfect for surveys—but we're not trying to collect and analyze data here; we need a conversation. Furthermore, closed questions are incredibly restrictive from a content perspective and run the risk of getting a canned answer.
As mentioned before, the characteristic of a high-value question is that it's open-ended rather than closed-ended. Open-ended questions prompt conversations precisely because they don't elicit a one-word answer.
✘ Closed question: Are you satisfied with your role?
✔ Open question: What aspects of your role do you enjoy?
Yes or no questions are ineffective and usually lead to a conversational dead end. As a host, you want to aim for encouraging thoughtful dialogue or creativity in a conversation. Listeners expect a certain experience from a podcast, and that's to either be entertained or educated.
While audiences may love to hear some gossip from your guest, avoid prying by asking personal questions in your conversation. Encouraging a more profound response from a guest should be the end goal. But, you need to be patient and strive to build rapport first. Before hitting record (and provided you've mapped out your questions beforehand), mention to your guest that you intend to dive into a sensitive topic. Ask them whether that's something they'd be open to discussing.
In some cases, if a conversation naturally leans towards a sensitive topic and upon reflection, the guest feels that it shouldn't be published, be sure to edit that segment out.
It's important to keep communicating with your guests even after recording. For example, some podcasters will send their guests the rough-cut of an episode before it goes live. Doing so allows guests to offer their input or voice any concerns they have with the content. You should always strive to maintain good relationships with your guests. Having the option of editing segments out in hindsight is especially critical for brand owners, as it can help safeguard a company's name and reputation.
Questions Your Guest Answers Regularly
High-profile guests and lesser-known individuals alike will often get asked the same questions over and over again. Of course, attentive guests will often answer these questions without hesitation. But as you can imagine, it's not much fun.
Remember that not all your listeners will know who your guest is, so you should aim to cover a few grounding questions:
Who they are
What they do
How they got there
Why that's important
However, even as you cover this surface-level information, try to find a unique angle when asking these questions.
Tips for Asking Great Podcast Interview Questions
One of the most brand-friendly podcast formats is the 1:1 interview. The caliber of the guests you interview can be a huge draw for your audience's attention, but a well known name should never be a substitute for good content. This means there's a lot of weight on the host's shoulders when it comes to getting the most out of their guests.
Preparation, research, curiosity and active listening are vital skills for any podcaster looking to grow their show and make it one that listeners not only subscribe to, but actually look forward to. We delve further into each of these skills below.
Further reading: How to Be a Good Podcast Host
Preparation Is Key
The art of mastering the podcast interview does take a lot of practice. Understanding the nuances of when and where to ask specific questions is something that gets refined over time. But, not everyone has extended periods of time to really sharpen their interview skill set. That's why preparing questions in advance is key.
Mapping out your interview questions prior to your conversations can act as a guide, and help you ask natural-sounding and interesting podcast questions that your listeners will enjoy.
Research Your Guest
You'd be surprised by how many podcasters don't do much (if any) research on their guests ahead of time. Yet, when creating an interview series, research is a crucial step in the question prep process. Author Robert McKee once proclaimed, "When you do enough research, the story almost writes itself!" And it's true.
There is no need to hire a private investigator to get specific insights about your guest. You can arm yourself perfectly well by doing a simple internet search. First, Google your prospective guest's name and filter through any of their latest articles, books, other podcast interviews, social media accounts, and anywhere else they may have contributed.
If your podcast aims to help listeners learn, focus on asking 'why' and 'how' questions. Concrete examples are what help solidify a guest's credibility, so use your research to help you tease out any useful anecdotes, tips, and case studies they may have.
Having the correct information before your guest gets on your podcast is a professional necessity. Imagine not having even the most basic information about your guest; it would appear rude and inconsiderate.
Twitter: can offer insight into a person's community or communities
LinkedIn: showcases their education, short bio, career history and title
Instagram & Facebook: provides clues into their values and what they stand for
Research can be a messy business, so keeping it concise and well laid out is important, especially if your guest has a large online profile. Use an easy-to-use tool like Milanote to help organize your research on a visual board.
We've established that every host needs to plan if they want to craft the right interview questions for a great podcast. But, spontaneity and curiosity certainly have their place in an interview. Hosts need to have some degree of flexibility and openness during the conversation. Reading off your list can stifle any natural flow and often prevents an interview from getting into any areas of real depth.
By all means, begin your conversation with your predetermined questions, but let your guest’s response dictate any new directions you should explore. If something perks your ears up, follow that thread, dig deeper, and try to get more information.
Use Active Listening
Everyone wants to feel like they've been heard. Active listening isn't something that comes easily to everyone; it's a key skill learned over time. In podcasting, it's incredibly important to try and hone this skill because it keeps both listener and speaker actively engaged in the conversation.
To be a great active listener means listening attentively to the speaker, understanding what's being said, responding, and reflecting on what you've heard.
Avoid interrupting your guest when they are speaking. It can appear rude and can be extremely irritating for listeners. There may be times where interrupting your guest is necessary to help get the conversation back on track. But, do your best to keep those kinds of instances as the exception, not the rule.
Let's be honest. Not all your guests will bring high energy and deeply fascinating conversations to the table. In cases like this, the mind can start to wander. But, as a host, you should never allow this, as your show could derail quickly. You never want to be in a position where you're caught off guard.
Pay attention to your guest. As they speak, you can jot down any keywords or phrases they mentioned to revert back to later on. Don't interrupt them unless they are starting to go off on a tangent or are looking to you to intervene.
The Best Questions to Ask Podcast Guests
Every interview you host will be different. Most of the time, there is a level of a host's intuition regarding what to ask and when to ask it. To help get you started, here's a list of our favorite podcast interview questions.
Being interviewed on a podcast can be a big deal for a guest. They may be nervous, shy, lack the energy, or don't quite have a grasp of the podcast interview process—this can often lead to awkward silences and brief, stale chatter. So, diving straight into the heavy talk and expecting your guest to start firing on all cylinders definitely isn't the best way to go.
Instead, get your guest warmed up and ease them into the conversation by starting with an icebreaker question. Icebreakers typically create space for a lighter conversation or tone. They can break down barriers, allow host and guest to get further acquainted, and help to build trust.
What's your strongest skill?
How would your friends describe you?
Have you ever met one of your heroes?
Has a book ever changed your life?
Icebreaker questions get the conversational ball rolling and can tap into an aspect of your guest's life or personality that people may not necessarily know about.
Professional Expertise Questions
Most branded podcasts will be focusing on interviewing industry experts. If you are interviewing someone who is offering their professional expertise, these are the kinds of questions that will be central to your conversation. As a host, your aim is to get as much value out of your guest as possible for listeners.
What's one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in your field?
When did you decide that you wanted to begin your career in _____ ?
What are some of the most important industry lessons you've learned?
Have you ever had a mentor? Tell us about them.
How do you optimize your productivity throughout the day—especially with remote working?
What skills have you gained that have contributed to your success?
How do you create and maintain a work/life balance?
What's the worst mistake you've made in your career, and how did you overcome it?
What professional tools make your life easier?
What is a common myth about [your industry/career/field]?
What are some of the challenges you faced when you first started?
Are there any resources that drastically helped your career?
What are the differences between you and your competitors?
What are the keys to building a great team?
How long did it take you to see success?
How did you feel when _____?
Tell us about your upcoming project
What's your favorite productivity hack for entrepreneurs?
What's the biggest challenge you're facing in your role/business/project right now, and how are you tackling it?
How Did That Make You Feel?
The connection between the listener and the guest is an important one. When you tap into certain emotional aspects of a person's story, your audience will likely resonate with them and with the content.
"How did that make you feel?" is a question that can invoke a lot of emotion, especially in our work and business.
Research shows that many business owners and entrepreneurs have the same chemical and emotional connection to their businesses as a parent does to their baby. Business is emotional. Successes and failures can take up a lot of emotional space, so try to dig into your guest's emotional reactions for a deeper interview experience.
Asking more profound and personal questions can be a natural part of the rapport-building stage between host and guest. But, you need to read the room. Has your guest previously been willing to open up about a particular time in their life or career? Or, are they giving short and blunt answers to questions? Does the conversation you're already having warrant getting into a more personal zone?
Personal questions shouldn't be too invasive or probing, but instead give guests space to speak openly and honestly about a topic.
What was your career's lowest point, and how did you turn it around?
Who in your life had the biggest impact on who you are today? Why?
What advice would you give to your younger self?
What has been your greatest accomplishment, both personally and professionally?
How are you similar to your parents? How are you different?
What do people in your personal life think about your career?
Best Closing Questions
As your interview comes to a close, aim to ask questions that finish on a strong note and leave your listeners feeling satisfied. Closing questions are a great opportunity to come back to a previous question that you feel could use some more airtime, touch on a takeaway that would benefit listeners, or give your guest the floor to speak on something that's important to them.
Is there a question you wish I had asked you?
What advice would you give my listeners trying to get into a similar field?
Where can we find you online?
Where can listeners learn more about you?
Where can my listeners go to [sign up for your course/buy a product/read your work]?
What books or helpful resources would you recommend to the audience, and why?
Where can our listeners learn more about your industry?
Are there any podcasts related to your field that you love?
What's the biggest takeaway you hope listeners learn from our conversation today?
What's your next project?
Contact and Call to Action
In most cases, if your interview has hit a particular chord with listeners, they will want to learn more about your guest. So, leave your audience with a way to contact or research your guest by encouraging them to share how listeners can connect with them.
A simple question like, "Where can my audience find you?" will suffice. Then, prompt your guest to leave a social media handle, email address, or website for listeners to find them, and add these details in your show notes.
At the final point of your podcast interview, why not allow your guest to add a call to action (CTA)? What can the audience do next? Perhaps sign up to your guest's newsletter, join their community on Facebook, buy their book, visit their website, etc.
Is There Anything You Wanted to Add?
It's a simple question, but sometimes it can open up a new avenue of interesting conversation. You don't know what you don't know, but your guest might. Asking the question, "Is there anything you want to add?" may prompt your guest to touch upon another golden nugget that you otherwise would have missed.
Interviewing is a great skill that most podcasters have to learn. Although you will get better at it over time, it can undoubtedly be intimidating right at the start. Also, understanding how to control the conversation flow and knowing the right questions to ask can also take some getting used to.
While there is a lot of intuition needed in creating a great interview, it's the preparation that will help take your conversations from dull to premium.
The first thing you need to do is research your guests. Doing so will help prompt you towards asking relevant questions based on their particular industry, expertise, and know-how. Ask open-ended, clarifying, and slightly probing questions. Use your curiosity for diving even further if a point piques your interest.
Don't use closed or invasive questions that your guest would have been asked a thousand times already. Instead, aim to bring out something new.
To get that nice balance between informative and entertaining, a host should strive to put their guests at ease. Encourage a natural way of speaking, and ensure that you listen to your guest's responses.
Let Lower Street Help
All podcasts have multiple moving parts. If you're looking to launch a great show, plus nail your podcast strategy, content, and promotion from the very first episode, Lower Street can help.
Submit your project and let us know how our team of experts can help. We'll be in touch to arrange a free strategy call.