How To - Podcast Guides

How to Interview Someone for a Podcast: Insider Secrets

Are you feeling unprepared for an upcoming podcast interview? Our top interviewing tips and best practices will keep your audience hanging around until the very end.


African American woman on podcast show - how to interview someone for a podcast

Keeping your podcast conversations fresh and unique can be a challenge. While many novice podcasters think it's just a question of stepping up to the mic and talking, any expert will tell you it's way more nuanced than that.

Sam Datta-Paulin, ex-journalism teacher and executive producer at Lower Street, offers his unique expertise to help you learn everything there is to know about how to interview someone for a podcast. We’re talking all the insider secrets and then some.

It Starts With Finding the Right Guest

Every podcaster wants their show to be as valuable for their listeners as possible. Undoubtedly, having the right guest can lift your content and keep your listeners engaged. So, before we get into the nitty gritty of the interviewing process, let’s first look at how to find and approach the right person for your podcast.

"Finding the right guest is a mix of researching people with something to say, and people who can tell their story well." —Sam Datta Paulin.

Do some field research: You want to avoid sending invitation emails to someone who isn't going to be a good fit for your podcast. The reason for this is that they're likely going to dismiss it. Your audience should overlap with theirs to ensure solid content continuity.

"I tend to start by searching articles and blog posts which are highly regarded in the space, then tracking down the author and seeing if they've done any public speaking or media," says Sam.

Listen to similar podcasts to yours: Can you find other podcasts that cover the same topics as you? If they are an interview-formatted show, would their set of guests be a good fit for you and your audience? If so, it might be worth reaching out.

Use online resources: Research potential speakers in specific industries, companies, and niches that best serve your audience on platforms like LinkedIn. 

How to Approach Your Ideal Guest

Once you have found the perfect guest, it's time to reach out to them. It's a well-known fact that most of our networking these days happens online. So, you will probably approach a potential guest via email or send a direct message on social media. 

Find people's email addresses: Rocketreach is an excellent resource for finding professionals. Alternatively, contacting people via their website, LinkedIn profile, or on social media, also works well. 

Top tip: Avoid going to their press representatives or through any assistants. Speaking directly to the person you're trying to reach will feel more personal, and messages won't get lost in translation.

"There are two ways to approach a guest—either you can appeal to this being something fun, or you can market it as a good business opportunity (or both!)," says Sam.

  1. Start the conversation by highlighting the value of your podcast. For example, "Our show talks about [industry or niche] and [explain the value of your show]."

  2. Be precise about what you want from them. "I'm contacting you because I came across your work on [site/podcast/social media] and would love to have you join me on my show to talk about [specific topic]. 

  3. Reference something specific. Mentioning any relevant research, papers, work, or career highlights they have achieved shows that you're genuine: "In researching your work, I found [insert a point about their work] and feel my audience would also enjoy hearing about it." 

  4. Mention what they will get from it: "The podcast reaches [enter average listener numbers] a week, so it would be a great opportunity for you to promote yourself and your work to a like-minded audience." 

  5. Finish with the next steps: Please reply to let me know if you're available, or reach out if you have any further questions; I'd love to talk more.

Keep the introductory email short. Briefly discuss who you are, what you want from them, and your following actions. 

Prepare Your Guest: Good Questions to Ask Before a Podcast Interview

Preparation is essential. Once you've found your ideal guest and they've accepted your invitation to come on your show, the next step is to guide them on what to expect at each stage of the process. 

It's all about the guest's experience. By making it as easy and enjoyable as possible, you increase the chances of them wanting to work with you in the future. Plus, if they had a great time, the likelihood of them recommending you to others in their field will be much higher. 

Sending a list of pre-show podcast questions to your interview guest will ensure they know what to expect and that you're fully prepared. It also reduces the chances of misunderstandings, since nobody will be making assumptions.

1. Background Information

Ask your guest about their background (education, career journey, accomplishments, etc.). This information can provide a better understanding of their experience and perspective on life. It'll also pair nicely with your own research findings.

Researching your guest allows you to familiarize yourself with their work from a different vantage point. You can become immersed in what they have done by checking their blog posts and social media profiles, reading their book (if they've written one), and listening to any other podcasts they've been on.

During the interview, Sam points out that you should avoid parroting their information back to them. Instead, keep the conversation open and flowing by letting them tell their own story and then bolstering using your research e.g. "That's fascinating. I think you've also written about X; tell me more about that."

Research isn't only key for your interviews; this information will also be useful in the post-interview stage for show notes, social media posts, and blogs surrounding their podcast episode. 

2. Time Constraints and Availability

Confirm your guest's availability and check if they any time constraints. Guests need to know exactly when the interview will take place so they can feel prepared. Scheduling apps such as Calendly or Google Calendar can simplify the process by allowing you and your guests to pick a time, update information, add notes, and reschedule if needed. Being aware of time constraints also means you'll know how much time you have to cover the topics you want to discuss.

3. Current Projects and Unique Insights

Find out what the guest is currently working on. Whether it's work-related or part of a passion project, it can provide valuable insights into their current interests and goals. This could very well lead them to share their insights on a particular topic that could ultimately benefit your audience.

4. Topic Preferences

Ask your guest if they have any specific topics they would like to talk about and perhaps more importantly, if there are things they're prefer to steer clear of. While you obviously have your own ideas for the interview angle, it's always important to gain the interviewee's perspective on this. You never know what interesting podcast topics might arise.

5. What Can Your Guest Expect?

Making your guest feel comfortable should be a top priority, especially in the lead-up to the interview. Along with the questions outlined above, there are a few other things worth adding to your pre-interview email.

Briefly restate what your show is about and who your audience is. You may also want to mention the podcast's format, how much of their time you'll need, and how you'll promote their episode. Adding easy-to-follow podcast software and mic setup instructions is also helpful.

  • The recording software you'll be using

  • A link for the guest to join the call

  • Whether the recording will also include video

  • Confirming your guest has both headphones and a microphone available

This type of information will help your guest feel prepared and comfortable during the interview because there won't be any surprises.

While many podcasters send their question packs ahead of time, we suggest keeping them to yourself unless the guest asks for them. More on that further down.

Prepare Your Interview Questions In Advance

Prepare a core list of podcast interviews questions you intend to ask. You don't need the same amount of detail as a regular podcast script. Instead, jot down prompts to act as a guideline. This will keep the conversation sounding natural and off the cuff.

Don't get lost in your notes. You can think about the next question when it's time to ask it. Pay attention to the here and now.

These are some pointers to keep in mind when coming up with questions:

  • Avoid basic questions that elicit short answers with no room to followup 

  • Don't ask yes/no questions  

  • Don't ask leading questions i.e. questions that encourage a desired answer

  • Ask one question at a time

How to Structure Podcast Interview Questions

Having a basic structure you can use to create effective podcast interview questions can be hugely beneficial when you're first getting to grips with the genre. Conducting a successful interview is an art form that takes time to perfect.

Hosts like Joe Rogan, Marc Maron, and Nate Silver weren't always the expert interviewers they are today. Learning how to properly structure your questions will help you get better at interviewing people and before you know it you'll be in the same league as the big guys.

When structuring your questions, it's important to keep your audience front of mind. What do you think they'd be most interested in hearing from the guest? Mix it up with serious and lighthearted questions and keep in mind that how your guest responds could take the conversation in an entirely different direction.

In other words, be prepared to ditch your questions and go with the flow!

  • Open-ended questions: Kick the conversation off with a couple of open-ended questions to get your guest to share their back story and get the juices flowing.

  • Follow-up questions: Based on the guest's answers, you can progress to follow-up questions for clarification or ask them to expand on their points.

  • Contextual questions: Asking questions about the guest's experiences (upbringing, education, career path, etc.) can put things in context for listeners.

  • Personal anecdotes: Humans are story-driven by nature. Asking your guest to share personal stories helps humanize the conversation, making it more relatable and engaging for your audience.

  • Insight and advice questions: The whole point of having someone on your podcast is to glean something thought-provoking from them. Make sure you ask questions that prompt your guest to share their insights and advice on a topic.

Should You Send Interview Questions Ahead of Time?

Sending your podcast questions in advance could lead your guest to answer disingenuously. If they have had a lot of time to prepare fully baked answers before you sit down to record, often you will lose that element of spontaneity—something listeners can pick up on.

The danger with sharing the questions is that they will over prepare and write enough notes that they can read from them, and the conversation becomes stilted as a result.

Instead, send a bullet point list of the topics you want to cover—not questions. 

"I also make it clear that if there are any questions they can't answer during the interview, that's fine. They are also welcome to prompt me to ask a question differently—or tell me on-air why it's a bad question. Sometimes that makes great content, and a great avenue of conversation can come from it!"

Check Your Setup

Nothing is worse than having a technical issue before you've even begun recording. So, before simply jumping on an interview call, it's best to carve out some time to check your recording setup.

Make sure that both microphones are plugged in, everyone's headphones are on, and you have double-checked all the mixer and software settings to ensure that your computer is picking up the sound. It'll only take a few minutes and it means you get any troubleshooting out of the way as soon as possible.

"Take the time to check that your mic (and theirs) are sounding the best they can before recording. The classic sound check is to ask the guest what they've had for breakfast. Of course it's a rubbish question, but it will give you a chance to check if their mic is working."

Further reading: Proper Microphone Techniques & Placement Explained

Record Straight Away

After your sound and equipment check, start recording immediately (even before you begin the interview). It's worth spending five minutes or so asking them about themselves—how they are, where they are, what they've been up to, how their family is, etc. Not everyone is great at small talk, but it loosens people up, gets their vocals warmed up, and creates a feeling of familiarity between host and guest. 

"Show them that you're calm, that you do this everyday, and that your interest in them is genuine. Get them used to being in a recorded conversation and make it clear it's a chat, not a grilling."

Adding that sense of calm and light conversation helps release those pre-interview jitters for guests. It's also good for the host!

The Interview

Once you are set up, relaxed, and recording, it's time to start the interview. While you should be striving to have fun conversations, you need to take your interviews seriously. Even hosts who have conducted hundreds of interviews always prepare ahead of time. If you don't, your conversations will end up lacking, and you'll ask unsubstantial questions or drop the ball.

Ask Clarifying Questions

Clarifying questions are the perfect opportunity to dive into a topic even further. Knowing how and when to ask clarifying questions is a learned skill. But, once you get used to seeing the right opportunities, it can help the listener understand what your guest is saying.

Prompt your guest to elaborate by asking when, why, where, or how questions. Let them expand their thoughts and ideas, which can help them clarify further. To help guide your listeners, you can also reiterate what your guest just said and ask them to confirm or deny that it was what they were trying to express.

Examples of clarifying questions:

  • What did you mean when you said …?

  • Can you give me an example?

  • How did that make you feel?

Engage in Active Listening

Active listening is a fundamental skill and is undoubtedly one worth refining for an interviewer. This kind of listening is when you give your full attention to the speaker, not only by hearing what is being said, but by showing that the speaker has been heard. 

"If you can see each other, react to show you are 'present.' For example, smile, nod, shake your head, make eye contact," Sam explains.

In everyday life, we may engage in active listening and react to what is being said with verbal sounds, such as "uh-huh," "yeah," "right," etc. However, in audio form that can come across as impatience, potentially rude, and irritating for listeners.  

But, by engaging with the guest non-verbally, they'll feel at ease and valued, and you'll notice nuances in the conversation that can be picked out and discussed.

Podcast host actively listening to conversation

Know When To Butt In

We all know that politeness is a virtue, but sometimes interrupting your guest is warranted. As long as you get the timing right, you should be able to interject and change the course of the conversation or ask a clarifying question—even in the middle of a sentence.

"Interrupting isn't always the worst thing in the world," says Sam. "But remember, they are the guest. You'll have plenty of time to get your thoughts across, so let them speak."

You should always strive to be conversational and if a point comes up that needs further exploration, then do so. A simple "Sorry to jump in, but I need to ask you more about that," will suffice. It's not rude; it's conversational.

"Don't let the guest walk all over you. Stop them and move on if they go off-piste or talk for 20 minutes uninterrupted!"

Have Fun!

Any interviewer can get caught up in the details of generating a great conversation. But, while the details can matter, one of the essential tips for any podcast host is to have fun.  

Conversations will always hold more substance if listeners hear both the guest and host enjoying their time together. Laugh, joke, mess up a little, challenge each other in a healthy debate, find common ground, and explore a thread of thought together. Whatever direction the conversation takes, enjoy it. 

Post-Interview: Next Steps

Once the interview has come to its close, you will want to tell your guest what they can expect next. Again, manners are essential here. They've taken the time to speak to you, so thank them.

"Thank them for their time, and if you want to keep talking off the air, check they've got time first!" says Sam. 

Tell them your next steps, such as how long the editing process will take, whether they will be able to hear the episode ahead of publishing, where they can listen to it, how they can share it, etc. 

"Explain the process to the guest and promise you'll be back in touch once it's ready to review/air."

It's Time to Embrace Your Inner Marc Maron

Knowing how to interview someone for a podcast is a skill that develops over time. Like anything, the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it. A good conversation can make a podcast. However, while you may sense your audience on the other side of the mic, sometimes it's best to go a little more insular.

Keep the focus on you and your guest and strive to stay completely present in the conversation. Becoming a great interviewer doesn't happen overnight; it is an ever-evolving process that will only improve over time.

Step aside Joe Rogan, there’s a new podcast host in town.

Word On The Street

Join thousands of other subscribers and get a monthly newsletter on what matters in podcasting: how to create and grow a world-class show for your brand.

    We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time