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5 Ways To Get Better At Interviewing Your Podcast Guests
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Crafting a quality podcast interview is no simple task. A good podcast interview requires more than a list of questions. In this blog post, Jennifer Furlong shares 5 critical interviewing tips that will take your conversations with guests from good to great. This is the art of recording confident, naturally flowing interviews that become captivating and engaging conversations that your audience will love and remember for years to come. If you’re ready to get better at interviewing your podcast guests, this will help elevate your interviewing skills and take your podcast to the next level!
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Today, I’d like to communicate about interviews. As a communication and media specialist, I research communication skills. It’s the heart of what I do. And as a podcaster, I know just how important it is to have a successful interview.
But how do the pros do it? Well, it all starts with having a good conversation. And if you’re like me, you love a robust conversation. And it turns out that podcast listeners are no different. The research shows that out of the top ten most popular podcasts, eight of them are conversational.
So even when the hosts invite guests to interview the most successful ones, they can make it sound like a good conversation. It’s not an inquisition. They allow the conversation to unfold organically. But what’s the skill set to make this happen? If you ask their guests, they usually describe their interviewers as good at listening.
How Can The Top Interview Shows Teach Us To Get Better At Interviewing Your Podcast Guests?
They’re relatable and don’t mind asking tough questions, but they remain respectful throughout the interview. The pros make it look easy, but a lot of preparation goes into it. Interviewing is a skill just like any other skill. Getting better at interviewing your podcast guests takes work! So, to take it from an interview to a robust conversation, you have to allow a synergy to be created. And that’s where the listening skills come in, the relatability comes in, and the willingness to ask the tough questions comes in.
“Interviewing is a skill just like any other skill. So, to take it from an interview to a robust conversation, you have to allow a synergy to be created.” – Jennifer Furlong
If you can allow this synergy to build, you can do a deep dive into the topic. You’re no longer just discussing the topic at the surface level. You’re exploring the topic together with your guest. Sometimes, you might reveal a new idea or learn about a different perspective. Sometimes, you might have to model what a healthy debate looks and sounds like for your audience. But every time, you should bring something valuable to your listeners.
5 Ways to Get Better At Interviewing Your Podcast Guests
So how do we do that? Well, interviewing is a skill just like any other skill. So, it takes time, effort, preparation and practice. So, I want to share five tips you can practice today to elevate your conversations and take your interviews from good to great.
#1. Begin With The End In Mind
It would be best if you had a blueprint, a way to be able to set the tone for your conversation. And that’s going to require you to consider three things. Number one, what is your goal for the episode? What do you hope to achieve by the end of the episode? The second thing to consider is your audience.
What do your listeners expect from your episodes? Do they expect to learn something? Do they expect to be able to have a solution to a common problem? Or do they expect to have their way of thinking challenged? Because you like to bring in guests from various backgrounds, values, and belief systems. After you’ve figured out what your goal is, and then after you’ve figured out what your audience’s expectations are, the third thing that you need to consider is your guest.
Is your guest up to the task? Are they going to be able to deliver? Now, if you are already familiar with your guests, you should be able to answer that quickly. However, if you’re unfamiliar with your guests, you want to do a little homework. You need to vet that guest so you can make sure that they understand what the expectations are and that you’re on the same page.
Now, I like to do two things to vet my guests. Number one, I like to have a pre-interview. Now, it doesn’t take very long. I usually spend about 1015, maybe 20 minutes, if we have a good conversation. But I like to do pre-interviews because it helps me build a rapport with my guests, especially if I don’t know them very well.
To Get Better At Interviewing Your Podcast Guests Focus on Great Conversation
I don’t want the first time we’re having a conversation to be the day of the interview, the day that we’re going to record. What I want is to be familiar with their conversational style. I want them to be familiar with my conversational style. So, building that rapport is very important to me, and I can do that through the pre-interview. But there’s another thing I’m doing during that pre-interview.
I’m vetting my guests, the ones that I’m not very familiar with. I need to know that they can deliver. So, I want to ensure they understand that, ultimately, my listeners. I want to make sure it’s vital to me that they get something of value out of our conversation. So that’s what they need to bring to the table. If I realize throughout our conversation that they’re there only to self-serve, they’re going to self-promote, and that’s their goal, then I won’t have the interview.
I won’t invite them to my show. So, doing the pre-interview is a great way to vet the guests and build a rapport. Now, if you’re unable to do the pre-interview or don’t trust someone enough to do the pre-interview for you, then you can do some homework and do some digging, and I will address that in tip number two. But for now, tip number one: remember to begin with the end in mind so that you can build that blueprint and set the tone of the conversation.
#2. You Need to Be Ready; Prepare Your Questions
Now, yes, many times, guests will provide you with a press kit, and sometimes those press kits might include questions that they’ve already vetted and are already prepared to answer. And that’s okay. Sometimes, they’re even excellent questions. But the problem is, this is your show, this is your episode, and they’ve already given that press kit to everybody else who has already interviewed with them. And you don’t want your show to be a repeat of all of those other shows.
Think of this as your opportunity to do something unique, to have a conversation with them in such a way that it will bring about new ideas, new information, an exclusive, if you will. So make sure that you are preparing your questions. That means you have to do your homework. This is also a way to vet your guests if you don’t know them well. Doing your homework now, there are three ways I like to do homework on my guests, whether I need to vet them or whether I’m preparing new questions for them.
“Make sure that you are preparing your questions. This is your opportunity to do something unique, to have a conversation with them in such a way that it will bring about new ideas, new information, an exclusive, if you will.” – Jennifer Furlong
First thing, I go to their website. You might not learn many new things about them on their website, but it can be helpful, too. Maybe they have a favorite quote or a story on their website that you find interesting. That could be the catalyst for some pretty good questions. Don’t stop there.
Move on to a Google search. Now, in a Google search, you might find out that their local paper wrote a story about them, or you might find out that they were awarded some big-time awards in the past. That could be a fantastic conversation to get into. Don’t stop there, though. Now, what I like to do, in addition to the Google search and going to their website, I also like to do a deep dive into their social media platforms.
You never know what you’re going to find in there. So look at their posts, look at their tweets. There might be something that piques your interest. And then you might find out, you know what, that’s a fascinating perspective. I think this is how I’m going to start the conversation.
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So that could create a unique conversation for your audience, something different from all of the other podcasts they’ve already done. So do your homework. Look at the website, the socials, and the Google, and write your questions. As you write your questions, it’s important to understand good journalists. They focus on who, what, where, when, and how.
This is very important. These are called open-ended questions. Avoid closed-ended questions that begin with things like Did you do you, have you, or will you? You’ll probably get a yes or no answer if you ask a yes or no question. So you want open-ended.
What that does is invite your guests to take the space they need to be able to answer the question you want them to develop a meaningful answer that’s going to be more meaningful for your listeners. As you ask your questions, remember, hopefully, you’ve begun developing a rapport. So, think about going back to your goal and what type of interview you want. You’re setting the tone, remember? So, if it’s a light-hearted interview, your who, what, where, when, and how questions will be excellent.
Get Better At Interviewing Your Podcast Guests By Being Willing to Go Deep
But if you want the type of interview where you want to do a bit of a deeper dive, you might want to talk about a topic that may be a bit controversial or a hot-button issue, a current event of the day. You need to be able to go past those types of questions and then dig into the why. So why questions will require that your guest use some critical thinking skills, and it’s going to require your listeners to use some critical listening skills, which is a great thing. So, make sure that you organize your questions in a way where you are building rapport. Start with the easy questions, and then, if you have more complex questions, move those questions toward the end of the interview.
And finally, if you have a question that you think it is possible that your guest might get offended or it might even make them angry, I don’t know, they have some weird reaction to it. Save that question for the very end of the interview. That should be the last one you ask. That way, the rest of the interview is saved. And if they do get upset, no worries.
You still have the rest of the interview that you can rely on for the recording. So prepare your questions, be unique, and have your audience be able to hear something new from your guest.
#3. Go With The Flow
If you want to have a robust conversation, you need the flexibility to go where your guest leads. Now, that doesn’t mean throwing all of your questions out the window.
“If you want to have a robust conversation, you need the flexibility to go where your guest leads. As new doors appear, don’t be afraid to go through those doors.” – Jennifer Furlong
That means that as new doors appear, don’t be afraid to go through those doors. And that will require you to be willing to go with the flow. Now that you have your list of questions, I know it’s vital for you to get through them. However, you need to understand that often, your guest might answer those questions while they’re answering the other question as they’re telling their story. So please don’t be so stuck on those written questions that you ask a question they already answered. That’s going to make you sound repetitive, and it’s going to make you sound like you’re not listening, which is the next tip that I’m going to talk about.
But before we get to that, let’s say this is a part of going with the flow. Let’s say that there is a burning question that you have to ask, but you feel like you missed your opportunity because your guest was rambling. No worries, it’s okay, I got you. You can use a transitional statement. A transitional statement sounds something like this. That’s a great point you just made, and it reminds me of something you said earlier.
Make It Easy For Listeners To Follow Along
So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to come back to that, and then you ask the question so you’re transitioning smoothly. It’s easy for the audience to follow, and you’re guiding your guest back on track so that you can ask that question and get the information out to your audience. Now, going with the flow doesn’t mean, like I said, throwing out all of your questions. You might find that throughout the interview, as you put out those new questions, your guests might be slightly surprised and, even more importantly, get a little excited at being asked something different. Now, one of my guests was so used to answering the same questions over and over and over again. Coming up with different questions will cause you to get better at interviewing your podcast guests.
That was when I began doing the deep dive, and I asked her some unique questions I could get from reading her book and then looking at some of her social media posts. She told me at the end of the interview, after we finished the recording, that although I surprised her with some of those questions, it was a pleasant surprise. She said it caused her to think about her topic slightly differently, giving her a different perspective. And then, with that, she got excited because she said, now, as an author, I feel like I can go back and do some additional research, and I will continue writing about this topic. So, how cool is that?
#4. Practice Mindful Listening
Notice I didn’t say active listening. One of my biggest pet peeves as a communication specialist is when I listen to others and try to advise on what they call active listening. Do you know this advice?
Lean forward, make strong eye contact, nod your head, and then you can respond with things like, yes, that’s interesting, because that will let them know you are actively listening. Well, here’s the problem with that. You don’t need to focus on your nonverbals if you’re listening to them. After all, you’ll do them naturally anyway because you’re listening to them. So, I like to advise that you practice mindful listening. To practice mindful listening, you don’t focus on your nonverbals.
You focus on your guests’ nonverbals. This is very important in an interview. Now, if you have the advantage of having them physically before you, that’s awesome. Because what you can do is you can pay attention to their facial expressions, you can pay attention to their posture, you can pay attention to their hand movements, all of those things. Because those nonverbals are going to give you a clue as to what they’re thinking and how they feel about the topic.
Pay Attention to Nonverbals
Now, if you don’t have the advantage of being able to see them, that’s perfectly okay. You can still pay attention to their nonverbals. You have to listen very carefully to the vocal variety that they’re using. How are they answering the questions? And I don’t mean just the words that they’re using.
I mean, it’s not just what they say. It’s how they say it. So listen to the volume, pitch, and fast they’re speaking. Those things will also give you a clue as to what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling about the topic. That’s very important. Now, I also want you to listen.
I encourage you to listen for keywords because I said to go with the flow before discussing mindful listening. Tip number three was to go with the flow. So, you can’t go with the flow if you’re not practicing mindful listening and listening out for the keywords. I cannot tell you how many times I was listening to an interview, and something piqued my interest. They used a keyword, and I was like, oh man, this would be a fantastic follow-up question.
And then, I would wait for the interviewer to ask the follow-up question. But they let the opportunity slip through their fingers. It was so disappointing. You don’t want to be that interview, so make sure that you practice mindful listening while going with the flow so you do not miss the opportunity to ask those good follow-up questions. Remember, this is a unique interview, so you must be mindful.
#5. Do Not Underestimate The Power of the Pause
The pause is so important in an interview. In any conversation, the pause serves many vital functions. But I’m going to highlight a few of them for you. Now, for you as an interviewer, the pause, if you are uncomfortable with silence, you need to get comfortable with silence fast because the pause helps you as the interviewer. If you try to jump in too early because your guest is taking their time and answering the question, you risk becoming a conversational narcissist.
And that’s like the death knell for an interview. So practice waiting a bit longer, even if it gets uncomfortable, because you need to give your guests the space to reflect. And that’s the second reason why a pause is so important. Give your guests the space they need to reflect to give you a meaningful answer. And then the third thing to keep in mind is why pauses are so crucial for your audience. Again, if you want to get better at interviewing your podcast guests, pause!
Quick Hack to Get Better At Interviewing Your Podcast Guests, Avoid Information Overload
Your listeners, you don’t want them to run into information overload. So, just like it’s essential to give your guests the space they need to reflect, allowing those pauses to happen gives your listeners the ability and the time to reflect. Also, that allows them to take in the message, making it more meaningful to them, and that will keep them tuning in every time. Combining pauses with mindful listening creates a powerful tool to get your guests to continue talking and sharing with you. I had a guest once toward the end of our conversation. She shared a story with me.
Frankly, it was a privilege and honor to know she trusted me with this story. So, by the end of our interview, she revealed that her husband had a tragic ending. Now, what makes this so unique? Not only was she sharing something so intensely personal and in such a vulnerable moment, but she told me that that was the first time she had told that story. She had never shared the story of her husband’s suicide with anyone else, especially not in an interview on a podcast.
Be Willing to Allow Vulnerable Moments Happen
That was a special moment for me as an interviewer because she trusted me with her vulnerability. The only way I could make that happen was because I gave her the space and the time she needed to think about sharing that with me, number one—and then feeling the rapport we could develop. So, she was confident enough to share that with me. What an amazing moment for me as an interviewer.
To Get Better At Interviewing Podcast Guests, Keep Practicing
So those are the five tips that I have for you. Make sure that you begin with the end in mind so that you can understand what your goals are and understand what your audience expects. And then, from there, you need to make sure that you develop your unique questions. Do your homework so that you can have a unique story to share with your audience. And then you need to be able to go with the flow.
Even if your guest tends to ramble slightly, that’s okay. Go with the flow. You can always edit out the stuff that you don’t want later. Open the doors that present themselves. Ask the follow-up questions. That’s the formula for getting better at interviewing your podcast guests.
Practice mindful listening so that you can pay attention and pick up on the keywords and anything that piques your interest so you don’t let any good stories fall through the cracks. And then also, don’t underestimate the power of the pause. We just talked about that. Combining all of these things will create a fantastic conversation. Remember, interviewing is a skill just like any other skill.
We got to practice it. So practice it, do some reflection, make some adjustments, and then practice it some more. And I promise you, if you keep doing that, you will interview like a pro before you know it.
About Jennifer Furlong
Jen Furlong is a communication and media specialist who has kept one foot on the professional side of the industry for three decades and the other foot on the academic side teaching communication and public speaking for almost two of those decades. She is an author, speaker, media literacy advocate, and Marine Corps veteran. Nowadays she stays busy as the Communications Director for Ad Fontes Media, as Board President for Media Literacy Now, as a speaker coach for TEDxSavannah, and as the host of the Communication TwentyFourSeven podcast, “where we communicate about how we communicate.
- Check Out Jennifer Furlong’s Website & Podcast
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