Insider Secrets: 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 just talking, any expert will tell you it's way more nuanced than that.
Sam Datta-Paulin, the executive producer at Lower Street and ex- journalism teacher, offered his unique expertise to help bring you the real insider secrets when interviewing someone for a podcast.
Find 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 how to interview someone, let's 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 is that they're likely going to dismiss it. Your audience and their audience should have some overlap 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 resources like LinkedIn to research potential speakers in specific industries, companies, and niches that best serve your audience.
Approach Your Ideal Guest: The Right Way
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, or social media messaging works well.
- Top tip: Avoid going to their press representatives or through any assistants. Directly speaking 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.
- Start the conversation by highlighting the value of your podcast, e.g., "Our show talks about [industry or niche] and [explain the value of your show]."
- 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 my show to talk about [specific topic].
- Reference something specific. Mention any relevant research, papers, work, or career highlights they have achieved - that always shows 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."
- 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."
- 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 for a Podcast Interview
Preparation is essential for any guest coming onto a podcast to speak. Once a guest accepts your invitation for an interview, 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.
1. Do Your Research
You won't get the best out of the guest if you don't know enough about them. Researching your guest allows you to familiarize yourself with their work. Become immersed in what they have done by checking their blog posts and social media posts, reading their book, and listening to any other podcasts they've been on. Read, watch and listen to everything they have done.
During the interview, Sam points out that you should avoid parroting their information back to them. Instead, let them tell their own story and bolster using your research, e.g., "that's fascinating. I think you've also written about X; tell me more about that). It keeps the conversation open and flowing."
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. Schedule a Day and Time
Guests need to know exactly when the interview will take place, so they can also feel prepared. Scheduling apps such as Calendly or Google Calendar can help keep things straightforward by allowing you and your guests to pick a time, update information, add notes and reschedule if needed.
3. What Can Your Guest Expect?
Making your guest feel comfortable should be a top priority, especially in the lead-up to the interview.
Send a short email a few days before the interview outlining your guest's expectations. 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, how you'll promote their episode, and include easy-to-follow software and mic setup instructions.
- The recording software you'll be using.
- A link for the guest to join the call
- Whether the recording will also include video
- That your guest has both headphones and a microphone available
- How and when the episode will be promoted and released.
This type of information will help your guest feel prepared and comfortable in your conversation because you've prepared them for any surprises.
While many podcasters send their question packs ahead of time, we suggest keeping them to yourself unless the guest asks for them.
Prepare Your Questions In Advance
Prepare a core list of questions you intend to ask. Naturally, you don't fully script every part of your conversation. Instead, jot down prompts to act as a guideline and will keep conversations sounding natural.
"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."
- Avoid basic questions:
- Don't ask yes/no questions: These are questions that the guest can answer with a simple "yes" or "no."
- Don't ask leading questions: They are questions that usually encourage the desired answer.
- Ask one question at a time.
"Avoid asking questions the guest could answer with a yes or a no - 'You like blue. Is that true? "Yes." Try something which demands a more in-depth answer: 'You've said blue is your favorite color. Why is that?'
Should You Send Your Questions Ahead of The Interview?
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 to 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.
Ensure 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 picks up the sound. But, again, it only takes a few minutes and allows you to get any troubleshooting out of the way as soon as possible.
"Take the time to check 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 I will give you a chance to check if their mic is working."
Record Straight Away
After your sound and equipment check, start recording immediately 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, gets their vocals warmed up, and creates a feeling of familiarity between host and guest.
"Show that you're calm and do this every day 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.
Once you are set up, relaxed, and ready to record, 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 is 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 everyone to understand what someone is saying.
Ask your guest to elaborate by asking when, why, where, or how type questions. Let them expand their thoughts and ideas, which can help them clarify further. To help guide your listeners, you can also reiterate what they just said and ask them to confirm or deny that it was what the guest was trying to express.
Examples of clarifying questions are:
- What did you mean when you said …?
- Can you give me an example?
- How did that make you feel?
Know When To Butt In
We all know that politeness is a virtue, but sometimes interrupting guests 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!"
What is 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.
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.
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 have taken their 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, etc.
"Explain the process to the guest and promise you'll be back in touch once it's ready to review/air."
Interviews are a staple for most podcast mediums and should be treated respectfully. Taking the time to find the right guest is just as important as asking the right questions, so quality research should be at the forefront of the early stages of the interview process.
A good conversation can make a podcast. But while you may sense your broader audience, sometimes it's best to go a little more insular. It's just you and your guest so stay present. Becoming a great interviewer doesn't happen overnight; it is a forever-evolving process that will only improve over time.