5 Steps to conduct a superior podcast interview

podcast interview

By Mark Schaefer

With the release of a new book, I’ve probably done 100 interviews in the last three months. And I found a stark contrast in the quality of the interviewers! Creating a great interview can be an extremely effective and time-efficient way to do a podcast, blog post, or video but it takes some skill to pull it off.

Doing an interview with an author or thought leader is your chance to discover unique insights and information. Having a guest on your show can raise your own level of authority that may even lead to new opportunities down the road. How do you maximize that effort?

Here are some tips on creating a great podcast interview:

1. Ease into it

Often, you may not know the person you’re interviewing. They may even be a little nervous. A good technique is to put the person at ease by making some sort of personal connection based on a little research and insight. Something like:

  • “I see you’re a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates … they’re my favorite team, too.”
  • “Your LinkedIn profile notes you worked for Coca-Cola. Did you know I worked there too?”
  • “I love your outdoor photos on Instagram. Where is your favorite place to hike?”

You don’t have to be recording when you ask these questions. You’re simply setting the stage for a relaxed conversation. Those types of questions are unexpected, personal, and can immediately put the person at ease as they discuss some shared bond. This familiarity will be reflected in the rest of the interview.

2. Respect the work

There is one person out there who sends out the exact same set of interview questions to authors, no matter the subject or the book. As the person being interviewed, I know this person is “mailing it in” and I’m likely to “mail it back.”

You’re just not going to create interesting content if you don’t put a little effort into it. Spend some time to investigate what makes this person unique, interesting, and relevant to your audience. Specifically, if you’re interviewing an author, familiarize yourself with the book, even if it just means absorbing the main points.

In addition to long-running Marketing Companion show, I’ve started co-hosting a new program on digital transformation for Dell Technologies called Luminaries. Douglas Karr and I speak to some of the people on the leading edge of tech and we prepare 90 minutes or more for each 30 minute interview. We research each person, read their work, brainstorm potential questions and then plot out a logical “story line” for the show.

Also, respect the person’s time. Before each interview, confirm the date, time and interview technology. Double-check your tech and calendar. Ask the person if they would like to see the questions first (I don’t).

3. It’s about them

I’ve been on several interviews recently where the interviewer simply took over the entire conversation. It made me wonder, “What am I doing here?”

Here’s an example of a frustrating interview:

podcast interview

As I sat through this “discussion,” I wondered why I was even on the show. The podcast host seemed nervous and inexperienced. You can see that the problem worsened as the show went on and they used their time with me to tell stories from their own career. If you have a tendency to ramble or tell war stories, you have to hold that in check for the sake of your content and your audience.

Here’s an example of the pace from an excellent, balanced interview:

podcast interview

You see in this case the conversation was a true give and take. The interviewer led the conversation but gave the guest most of the air time … which is the purpose of having a guest, right?

4. Ask something original

If you ask boring questions, you’ll have boring content.

The best interviewers prepare for a discussion by digging into the person’s content and background to try to find the intersection between the expert and the audience. When I do an interview, I actually write out my questions (but them pose them in a natural and conversational way). The best questions should be open-ended (instead of a yes-no answer).

The most important thing you can do before an interview is brainstorm a list of questions that will tease new and relevant insights from your guest. An interview is always more fun when it’s a little challenging. Don’t bring out the same old tired questions. Here are some questions I’ve been asked that were challenging and “different.”

  • Several years ago you wrote a well-known post about XYZ, do you still believe that to be true today?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how weird are you?
  • If you could send a message to yourself 10 years ago, what would you tell the younger Mark?
  • Describe the process behind …
  • Where do you get your best ideas?
  • How do your values show up in your work?
  • This other person seems to have an opposite view from you. How would you respond to that?
  • You given us a path to success in your book, what is one reason why people would fail?

5. Go “off road”

During the interview, don’t think about your next question. LISTEN intently and be prepared to take the conversation in new and unexpected directions. This is challenging because a host has to watch the clock, balance the conversation, and cover the essential topics, but you’ll be rewarded if you pay close attention to the wisdom of your guest and probe a little more.

More often than not, the best question isn’t on your list. It’s a follow-up question based on a provocative guest comment.

The best interviewers

If you want to learn from the best, here are five people who have interviewed me multiple times so I know they can bring the thunder to an interview (in no particular order):

Kerry Gorgone — Kerry is a contributing columnist to {grow} of course but also hosts the Marketing Smarts podcast. Kerry ALWAYS takes the conversation off-road. She is well-prepared but knows when to make a pivot based on a guest insight.

Mitch Joel — Mitch has one of the longest-running podcasts out there in Six Pixels of Separation and he takes no prisoners. It’s not unusual for Mitch to respectfully scald one of his famous guests if he sniffs some BS. He is also gifted at connecting the dots between industry trends and the guest’s topic.

Jay Baer — Jay would be at ease hosting a national television show. He’s incredibly smart but also puts his guests at ease with his wit and teasing. Being on Jay’s Social Pros podcast is the closest thing out there to talking to a friend over coffee.

Douglas Burdette — Doug is the most prepared interviewer in the business. As the host of the Marketing Book Podcast, the man has literally pored over the subject matter. You will always get amazing questions from Doug.

Srivanos Rao — Srini used to be a guest contributor here on {grow} and he has gone on to be a well-known author and host of the Unmistakable Creative podcast. It’s been a long-time since I’ve been on his show, but he’s secured a place as one of the most gifted interviewers on the scene. If you want to get the most from your guests, listen to this master.

So there you have it. Any other tips for interviews you would like to provide?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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