When a podcaster takes steps to be meaningfully prepared, a great interview can become so much more.
I’ve recorded over 600 episodes of my podcast Story Worthy, and I’ve made many mistakes over the years. Here, I’ll share with you the lessons I’ve learned and the most effective ways to prepare for your guest.
Thorough preparation involves time, but every minute of effort will pay off. You want to gather all the information possible about this person. This may seem obvious, but many hosts overlook this basic step.
Instead, they end up asking their guest the same questions they’ve answered a thousand times before. If you don’t do proper research, you may leave your guest thinking they’ve wasted their time, and the listeners may question your show.
Become an expert on your guest
As soon as you get the booking, start listening to the guest’s own podcast (if they have one). If they’ve been featured on other podcasts, listen to those interviews. Explore the guests’ website and social media. Dive in deep. Straight up Google their name to find any presence on YouTube, Wikipedia, Twitter, and beyond.
Have they published any writing? Find the books they’ve written and read them if there’s time, or at least read a summary. Have they acted or performed? Watch their movies or television shows.
Your goal is to know the guest as intimately as possible before you actually meet (or meet virtually). Impress the guest with your knowledge of them. Show them you’ve done your homework. Make them happy they gave you their time.
Impress the guest with your knowledge of them. Show them you’ve done your homework. Make them happy they gave you their time.
The difference between a decent interview and a great interview is how you make the guest feel emotionally. If you listen to someone closely, you will be ready to jump in and ask follow-up questions like “How did you feel at that moment?”
Keep a notebook close while you’re doing your research, and write down questions that come to mind. What wasn’t discussed in the program you listened to? It’s essential to think beyond “Where are you from?” In many cases, the listener also knows a lot about the guest, so try and get something original out of the conversation.
Ok, it’s recording day!
Shortly before the interview, slow down and take a minute. What do I mean by this? You need to get yourself centered and arrive in your body. This can be meditation and sitting in silence. For some people, it’s listening to loud music.
However you choose to center yourself, you need to spend a minute thinking about the interaction ahead. Hear the conversation in your head — the laughter, the tone. This will take less than 5 minutes, and trust me, the guest will notice that you are truly present.
However you choose to center yourself, you need to spend a minute thinking about the interaction ahead.
When your guest arrives or when you meet them on Zoom, ease into the interview. How has their day been so far? Did they have trouble parking or with internet access? Make small talk until they are comfortable with their space and their microphone.
Show them where the restroom is, and offer them a glass of water, preferably a bottle with no clinking ice. Next, give them the rundown of what’s going to happen. It can be as simple as showing them a piece of paper with a simple outline, for example:
- Guest Credits
- Running Time: 35 minutes
This may seem like an unnecessary step, but this is extremely useful for the guest. Remember, it’s your show. The guest may have never listened to it. They may have no idea how it flows or the time expected.
The interview: Be flexible and listen carefully
Have your pre-production notes and a pen ready to take new ones. Remember, your list of questions are there as a suggestion, but you may not end up asking any of them. Sticking to the list will come off as mechanical and disjointed. Without spontaneous questions to capture the guest’s essence, you will miss out on little gems they may say. These moments are only possible if you’re actively involved in the conversation.
Without spontaneous questions to capture the guest’s essence, you will miss out on little gems they may say.
We want the listener to feel the emotion so that we can make a true connection with them as well. Ask questions that paint a picture of the individual’s life. Remember, this interview isn’t about you. It’s about the guest. It’s about the connection you’re making with the audience. You are the conduit through which your audience gets the message.
While being present with your guest, you also need to be a bit ahead of the curve to anticipate what may come next. Ask them engaging questions, then leave them space. This is tough, especially for hosts who are not used to dead air.
Your guest may be thinking about their response, so give them room to do so. Whether or not you’re in the room together, you need the awareness to let the pause breathe. If it ends up too long and needs to be shortened, well, that’s what editing is for.
Putting it all together
It’s almost as if there is a director in the room. That director is the listener. Imagine they’re “directing” you to conduct a perfect interview. They want you to be clear, concise, and not waste their time.
They want you to ask the pertinent questions and jump into the conversation when you should, and sit back when you need to listen. In other words, create what your audience wants to hear, and deliver the quality they deserve.
Create what your audience wants to hear, and deliver the quality they deserve.
Finally, have confidence. Believe in yourself. Believe you are good enough to interview this person. You are the quarterback of the show.
Believe your guest really wants to be there. Believe they want to sit with you and talk forever.
Believe in the individual listener, and your entire audience. Believe they will enjoy the episode from start to finish, will leave a good review, and share it with a friend.
Finally, stay positive! If your guest trusts you and feels safe, they will be open to being vulnerable. They will mirror your energy. Take care of yourself before the interview and they will meet you there.