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How You Can Elevate Your Podcast Interviewing Skills To Grow Your Show

How You Can Elevate Your Podcast Interviewing Skills To Grow Your Show

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How are you doing in podcasting as a guest, host, or both?

If you’ve ever interviewed a guest on a podcast about their life and work, you know that interview is far more than an innate ability; it’s a challenging skill to master! In this episode, former journalist and long-time podcaster Michael Ashford explains how to master your interview technique to create powerful conversations that listeners want to listen to on repeat and share with their friends. Get ready to excel as an interviewer and create content that listeners will want to consume!

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I want to tell you about the worst question I ever asked in an interview. I was a student at Kansas State University, Go Wildcats, working for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian. And I was working on a story about student-athletes and their on-the-field and off-the-field lives. And on this particular day, I was at the football press conference to interview Brian Casey. He was a tight end for the Wildcats on the football team and an all-conference player, so he’s perfect. He was an academic All-American, so he was brilliant, and he was a husband and a father, so he had a family life at home besides being a student and an athlete, so he was the perfect subject for my story.

Cringe to Growth: The Evolution of an Embarrassing Question

Well, at the press conference, I pulled Brian aside to do a one-on-one interview with him, and I started asking the questions that I had prepared in anticipation of this interview, and I got to the point where I asked the worst question I had ever asked. In my research and prep leading up to this interview with Brian, I had written all my questions in my notebook, including that Brian’s wife was pregnant with her second child. And you can tell where I’m going with this. She was not pregnant with her second child, but I still ask the question in my notebook: how do you think life will change with baby number two?

Yeah, that question lingered out there. Brian was quiet momentarily, and his face twisted as he processed what I had just asked him. And then he finally said, “‘Do you know something I don’t?’ “‘ I was so embarrassed. “‘It was so embarrassing. “‘Other reporters had joined the interview at the time, “‘so my peers surrounded me, “‘people I looked up to, real professional reporters. “‘It was all I could do to finish that interview and leave.'”

And I did finish the interview. I wrote the story. It ran on the front page of the newspaper. So it was a good story. But that question highlighted much of what I want to discuss today. And I’m so glad I did ask that question, as embarrassing as it is, because it underscores what can go wrong in an interview and how we can work to improve an interview and master the art and the technique.

What a great interview; this is what I want to talk to you about here today. So, what went wrong with that question that I asked Brian? I would boil it all down to the fact that I went in with assumptions and opinions rather than a curious mindset. Now, there was a story I was writing from an angle that I was shooting for, but rather, it could have been or could not have been any of my business; I assumed that I knew his wife was pregnant and asked questions to confirm what I thought I knew.

Assumptions Unveiled: Navigating the Pitfalls of Preconceived Notions

That, more than anything, is what where so many interviews, so many podcast interviews, for instance, can go wrong when we go in with assumptions when we don’t do our research and our prep, where we try to turn the spotlight on us and what we think the story is rather than letting the story come out in the questions that we’re asking. So keep that in mind. Keep that anecdote in mind as I review today’s content about mastering an interview’s art and technique. Again, bad interviews are where the spotlight is on the interviewer rather than the interviewee. And this is a huge…

“That, more than anything, is what where so many interviews, so many podcast interviews, for instance, can go wrong when we go in with assumptions when we don’t do our research and our prep, where we try to turn the spotlight on us and what we think the story is rather than letting the story come out in the questions that we’re asking.” – Michael Ashford

The issue in the podcasting space. You hear it all the time. The interviewer asks lengthy, long-winded questions that aren’t actual questions. They’re just a way to slide their opinion in for their guest to confirm that idea. I have been listening to a podcast where I’ve screamed and shouted at the host several times.

Ask the question because they are just going on and on and on. There’s a difference between having a conversation and doing an interview. And those types of quote-unquote questions, where we give our opinion and then tag a, isn’t that right? Or when you agree type of question, technically, yes, that’s a question on the end. That’s different from how we want to be doing interviews. That is not going to get our guests to say something profound.

It is unique and exciting and keeps the listener engaged. However, it often leads to questions that could be more active, like talking about questions. For example, talk about this time that you did that thing. Talk about what happened there. That allows your guests to go on, perhaps, an unnecessary diatribe or go in a direction that you didn’t want them to go. So, stay away from talking about questions.

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Interviewing Mastery 101: Unveiling the Fundamentals for Success

Avoid questions that are just statements with a question mark at the end. The thing I always point to is from Anchorman: I’m Ron Burgundy. Are you making a statement? We hear that a lot in what I consider bad interviews. Now, I want to ensure everyone knows some basics of interviewing. First off, what do you write down? What do you write down pre-interview? Well

There’s no need to get romantic about it. You can write down your questions, but allow yourself to ask follow-ups. Instead of writing down specific questions, consider discussing topics you want to broach with your interview subject rather than the specific questions. That can give you some wiggle room there. And then, as I mentioned, ask follow-up questions. Get great at listening and asking follow-up questions. Don’t be afraid to go down rabbit holes.

“You can write down your questions, but allow yourself to ask follow-ups. Instead of writing down specific questions, consider discussing topics you want to broach with your interview subject rather than the specific questions.” – Michael Ashford

Keep your first question about how you begin an interview. The first question in many interviews is, can you tell me about yourself? Well, you should have done that long in the intro. And you don’t want to make your guests become biographers where they recite their background because there’s no direction or aim in that or theme. They get to pick whatever information they feel is most relevant to you.

Make your first question count. Start with a bang and make sure that question flows into a topic that you want to address with them—practice asking shorter questions. Shorter questions are more to the point. They leave less room for your guests to get confused. Long, lengthy, windy answers can be confusing for your guests because often in a long question, excuse me, often in a long question,

There are multiple questions inserted in there. It’s also where we, as hosts or interviewers, get into giving our opinions and assumptions and having our guests confirm them. So, ask short questions that will make your guests, that will get your guests more unique and decisive answers on the topics you’re asking or want to ask about. Take notes; always have a piece of paper next to you.

Beyond the Basics: Elevating Interviews to Artful Conversations

Write down interesting things you heard your guests say so you can revisit those topics with them. You don’t have to write down everything. You’re not doing a dictation or transcription here. Just get good at taking notes so that you can refer back to them even after the interview while typing up notes. And finally, if LeBron James can watch the tape and go to practice, so can you. Listen to yourself. Listen to your interviews. Figure out or judge for yourself.

“Write down interesting things you heard your guests say so you can revisit those topics with them. You don’t have to write down everything. You’re not doing a dictation or transcription here. Just get good at taking notes so that you can refer back to them even after the interview while typing up notes.” – Michael Ashford

You could have asked another question, a more profound question, or a different one, and also celebrate the wins and the times when you asked a great question. Those are the six basics. Now, the more masterful the art of the interview, the more these techniques come into play here, and it’s more of a feeling thing. There’s no specific advice I can give you because so much of a great interview is the back-and-forth feeling and flow, and you listen to what is said and what is not said by your guest. Okay. So, in the first part, do your prep. Going back to that story, I had not done excellent prep work for my interview with Brian, but when you do your prep work, look for these two things: look for patterns from your guest, the things that they default to or the things that they go back to time and time again,

Those are important to them if there is a repeated pattern of behavior or action. Also, look for anomalies. Look for those times when your guests deviate from what they typically do or what they tend to do, and ask questions about those two things. Dig in and go deep on patterns and anomalies. Next, clarify. This is an offshoot of follow-up questions.

Unlocking Depth: The Power of Clarifying Questions in Elevating Your Interview Conversations

Follow-up questions tend to look behind and ask questions about a guest’s words. For clarifying questions, look further and ask a guest to explain something more in-depth and forward-looking. So, ask clarifying questions. The flow between heavier and lighter questions. So much of interviewing is a dance; where you are, you want to ask those heavy-hitting questions. You want to get that emotion out of your guest. You want them to pause and reflect rather than immediately jump with your default answer to questions they may have heard hundreds of times.

One of my goals for every interview is to ask a question my guest has never heard. But in doing that, I also need to give them a chance to have a breather with lighter questions, with questions that give them space to reflect on what they have just been asked and what they have said. That can sometimes be deeply philosophical for people, and we want to give them that space. Interrupt sparingly. If you interrupt, use it like ghost pepper sauce. Do it sparingly. Use it in tiny minute uh… portions because an interruption will rail your guests from whatever they were talking about, but you can interrupt to drive home a point if your guests are at something profound.

“One of my goals for every interview is to ask a question my guest has never heard.” – Michael Ashford

But know your guest will be derailed and go off on a different tangent based on your interruption and question. So interrupt, not for your ego, but to drive home a point. Give space. Your job as the interviewer is to fill only some of the second with sound, whether your guest’s answers or questions.

Especially in those that go back to a previous tip, I gave you, flowing between heavier and lighter questions. Especially if you are asking a heavy question, You need to give your guests time to process it, Especially if this is the first time they’ve been asked that question. You ask a heavy question when your guests take time to consider your question and their answer. Make sure that you give them space. Don’t feel the need to fill the silence. Silence, even in an interview or a podcast that’s audio only, can be incredibly enrapturing for the listener. What are they going to say? You get on the edge of your seat as you hear their process, in that silence, their answer to your question. It’s a great technique. Please feel free to fill any dead space with your voice.

“Don’t feel the need to fill the silence. Silence, even in an interview or a podcast that’s audio only, can be incredibly enrapturing for the listener. What are they going to say? You get on the edge of your seat as you hear their process, in that silence, their answer to your question.” – Michael Ashford

It’s different from what I’m doing right now. All right? This is not an interview I’m trying to teach, so I am trying to fill that space and drive home points. But when doing an interview, we want to ensure that we give and hold space for people. Finally, tie up loose ends, and this is where your listening comes into play. Listen to ask follow-up questions. Listen to themes sprinkled throughout your guest’s answers, and wrap those up at the end.

Refer back to something or several things that your guest said as a way to put a package or to put a bow on the interview. When you can bring out key themes, the things you’re writing down in your notebook, and use that to land the interview rather than having the interview end with a Tell me where to find your work. Okay, that’s great again, something you can cover in the outro or something in the show notes, but

Suppose you can tie up loose ends and have an interview land that way again. In that case, that’s more artful, that’s more of a dance that you’re performing with your interview subject, and that leaves your listener with a much better experience of that interview rather than this kind of flat thud of a, tell me where to find your work or tell me where you’re most active on social media. We can do all that in other avenues.

My last tip is to be bold, take everything I’ve just said, and throw it out. Figure out what works best for you, your show, and the style you want to create with your show, and interview people to reflect that. I’m not the be-all and end-all expert on interviewing. I’ve done thousands of interviews, so I know what works for me, and these tips help make a great interview for me and many others. But find what works for you.

Make it your own. I hope this has been helpful, and I can’t wait to answer your questions. Thank you so much


About Michael Ashford

Michael is the host of The Follow-Up Question podcast and is the Director of Marketing at The Receptionist in Denver, Colo. He is a two-time TEDx speaker and has been featured in Men’s Health and Podcast Movement. Prior to his career in marketing, Michael was an award-winning journalist after graduating from Kansas State University.


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