12 Nov Podcasting Made Simple. Ep 3: Interview Techniques. Wow Your Guest and Listeners!
Best interviewing practice.
So we’ve found some amazing guests for our podcast. We’ve got so much to ask, yet so little time. In this, we’re going to cover the best practice to be able to get the most from our guests including what to ask and how to ask it, as well as tricks and tips for becoming a better interviewer and an even better host.
Setting up a brief pre-interview.
Where possible, meet with your guest before the interview takes place. Have a brief chat and find out a bit more about them voice to voice. Give them a chance to find out more about you. They may want to know more about the plan for the episode and what topics you plan on investigating so they can be better prepared.
Because interviews are often best toward the end when people have relaxed into them, it can help to set aside five or ten mins to chat informally in the format you will be going with for the recorded interview before you start recording. This gives both yourself and the guest time to warm up and ease nerves. Make them feel at home. It’s nice to have a few icebreakers in there too. It can really take the pressure off before you hit record. This technique will allow your interview to start with a bang.
First and foremost, ask questions that you personally want to know. The ones that have been bugging you for ages. The ones that you feel compelled to ask. There’s a few things to ask that your audience will want to know about too. However, if your guest has done this before, they may be used to certain lines of enquiry. We want our questions to stand out from other previous interviews. Dig a little deeper. Think about what you could ask them based on their previous answers to a typical question for them. For example, rather than asking, “so why did you make that documentary?” Ask them “did you face any hurdles or challenges when creating this documentary”. These sorts of questions create an emotive response, rather than bland, vague run of the mill questions, which don’t. We like to know about personal and professional battles. It’s relatable. We all go through them in our lives. Ask real questions- get real answers.
Types of questions.
There’s only really three types of questions that matter.
- Surface level questions. These are the – Hi how are you’s? The- What you been up to’s. Try to save these for your pre-interview before you hit record. Familiarise yourself with your guest by asking them familiar questions. It’s okay to use these when you’re doing your introductions but try to move on to the juicy bits swiftly.
- These are often general questions not specific to your niche or planned topics. They are the ‘would you rathers’, the ‘who are your idols?’ and the desert island treasures- ‘what would you take with you if you could only take X’. They can also be great for asking probing questions based on your guests’ answers, that smoothly take you into the topics you want to cover in your show. You might find it super useful to always have a well stacked bank of icebreakers you can turn to at any given time.
- Deep questions- the ultimate goal. These are the important questions. The ones that inspire an emotional response. The ones that really help you get a sense of who this person you’re talking to actually is. When we think back to our all time favourite interviews, it’s these sorts of questions that are the catalysts for the most memorable moments. They’re the questions that allow your audience to become emotionally invested in your podcast. I’m of the opinion that without this connection, your listener receives very little. But with it, they will come back again and again returning for more. Whether it’s joy in fits of laughter, stories of deep nostalgia or great personal journeys, they all stem from asking one important question.
More on connection.
Never be afraid to show your guests your vulnerabilities. Because when you do, you create a space for them to show theirs. Allowing your guest to safely express their innermost thoughts means that we can truly try to understand who they are and where they’re coming from on a deeper level. This translates well into other aspects of our lives, not just our podcasts. When we listen actively and make the effort to really digest what someone is saying, we open our minds up and grasp new understanding of why and how people are on the journeys they’re on now. Getting to the bottom of what makes someone tick can help us learn about ourselves and our communities too.
Pillar questions & topics.
These are the questions that support the three main topics you want to ask your guest about. If your quest was a genie and you could only have three wish questions, what would you ask? Convert these into topic areas and set yourself a small list of questions covering each one. We reach for the pillar questions when we need to steer an interview back on course. It’s easy to end up on tangents and sometimes it’s worth letting them happen. Great moments can arise. But eventually the time comes when we need to get back on topic.
The misguided concept of ‘we’ll fix it in the edit’
The ideal interview would be totally unedited, natural and candid in its raw state. That’s what we should be trying to aim for, even if it’s an unrealistic goal. This is because the art of conversation isn’t about how much content we can stuff into a 15 minute segment. It’s about real conversations with real people.
Editing is a brilliant and necessary tool but we should always have in mind that the best results come from getting it right at the source. Mistakes do happen. Hopefully not, but awkward silences do happen. Sometimes you or your guest will just stop mid sentence and say “scratch that give me a minute, I’d like to start that bit again”. And that is okay. In order to get more choices for content, recording more than we plan to use gives us the option of selecting parts that work best.
But when we aim to capture the rare state of audio nirvana, we know we will be in the mindset to deliver a more genuine experience to our listeners. One where the conversation feels natural- because it is. Not because we’ve crafted it that way to feel like it is. We will also save ourselves precious time when we bring it all together.
Practice practice practice.
Becoming a great host and interviewer doesn’t happen overnight. The very best have it down to an art-form and there is a lot to be learnt by studying them and their different styles. The best are naturally inquisitive people who are often very similar off-air as they are on air. Practice asking your friends questions as well as people you meet in daily life. See what you can learn about them that you don’t know already. See if you can find out something truly unique about them. People tend to like being asked questions about themselves. The more you ask new people questions out of habit, the more natural it will feel interviewing a guest for your show.
P.s I would love to know more about some of your favourite interview moments. Drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about a moment that stuck with you.
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