Can you talk? (RIP, Joan Rivers!)

Ready?

After hosting 160+ episodes of Podcast Junkies, I can certainly understand the anxiety that might come from planning for interviews – especially if your guest hasn’t been on a lot of shows. Setting yourself up for a successful interview comes down to planning appropriately.

With that in mind, here are some clear guidelines for preparing yourself and your guest so that you achieve a win-win outcome.

I recently listened to Tim Ferris’s recent podcast episode, “How to Build Popular Podcasts and Blogs” which was chock-full of interview-prep gold! Some of the highlights are listed here, in addition to suggestions we make to our clients.

Pre-Interview

While not always required, one pro suggestion is to set up a video chat before the actual interview itself. During this talk, you can establish a level of familiarity that may not be there otherwise, and in some cases, when the interview starts, it may even just seem like the chat is continuing. During this “pre-interview,” ask questions so that you know more about the guest than you did before.

  • Remind them that you have the final cut! There is no reason to be embarrassed or nervous about the content of an interview.
  • Encourage them to be as raw and natural as they want, because in the end you can remove anything they decide they do not want heard, and so can you.
  • Tell them to let you know if they need a break – water, bathroom, knock at the door, etc. It’s OK.
  • Even if you think you don’t really like or have structure, you do! Even loose structures are a type of format, so you need to discuss this with your guest.
  • It’s a great idea to start with a question because it provides a framework and leads more comfortably into discussion because it gets them talking from the beginning.
  • Give them an idea of the pacing and timing of the show. If you plan certain segments let them know when they will happen; even tell them when they will be able to “promote” themselves (usually at the end).
  • The basic idea is: YOU are in charge of “setting the stage” for YOUR show. If you lay out a map, they will feel comfortable finding their way.

As part of outlining the structure, you might want to ask them if they have any cues you can use that they know will draw a story out of them, especially one that they have seen work well with other audiences.

This will allow you to showcase their charm, wit, intelligence, quirks — whatever it may be, it will make them look and sound interesting and relatable. This BUILDS CONFIDENCE in the guest and GRABS ATTENTION of the audience.

Podcasting Preparedness Checklist

You might want to provide your guest with a prepared document or checklist to review before they are interviewed, especially if they are not used to speaking for long periods of time or using an online conferencing tool like Skype, Zoom or SquadCast.

Although a courtesy to your guest, many of these tips are also ones you should be using yourself to be as prepared as you possibly can. Provide the following guidance for your guest:

  • Drink enough water prior to the interview. It’s always a good idea to be hydrated.
  • Recommend they use earbuds / headphones for the interview, plugged into the laptop or computer. This will prevent any feedback making its way into the recording.
  • If they are using an external USB microphone, confirm the settings show that the USB microphone is selected. Suggest they keep a few inches of distance between their mouth and the microphone and to talk across the mic. This will minimize any popping sounds.
  • If at all possible, recommend a hard-line internet connection. If Wi-Fi is the only option, it's always best to be as close to the Wi-Fi signal as possible.
  • If running Google Drive or Dropbox, click on the preferences menu and pause file syncing. This will ensure the internet signal is not working overtime. One of my new ‘ninja' recommendations is a tool called TripMode (http://tripmode.ch). It will toggle off/on ANY applications that are using the internet.
  • If possible, close every program besides the conferencing tool in use.
  • Remind them to use the mute button if they need to cough, clear their throat, or take a drink of water, as this will make the post-production editing easier!

Always start your interviews a few minutes early, which will allow you to test the audio on both sides.

Long-form Interviews

Don't plan on asking any more than 10 questions. The truth is, when you get into the natural flow of conversation, you may not even get to all 10 points, so it's best not to plan on any more than that, or you'll find yourself scrambling. #nobueno

Whether you realize it or not, if you are bored in a conversation, it's something a listener will be able to pick up on. Don't ask a question if you don't care about the answer.

Additionally, try not to dwell on questions that can be found easily online. If you can Google it, it’s not very interesting.

The beginning of anything is so imperative, isn’t it? Try starting with a question they will NOT expect: something that has nothing to do with their job or business or public persona. This catches them off guard and leads to a spontaneous answer, and something you might not have tapped into so early into the conversation. Don't let them become complacent. Above all else, have fun!

Don't be afraid of silence. It’s one of people’s biggest fears when it comes to being in front of other people. Resist the instinct to break the silence yourself and jump in — it will not help your flow or positive vibe, but rather it will make you seem more uneasy and floundering. Let the guest feel their way comfortably to their response. Remember, again: you have power of the final cut.

Remember to treat interviews like a class and do your homework. Prepare yourself to have a professional conversation. Your listeners will appreciate it.

With gratitude,

Harry “Enjoy the Silence” Duran