How to ask great podcast interview questions
Have you ever lost your train of thought right in the middle of interviewing a guest on your podcast? You want to ask insightful, impactful questions but suddenly you're lost...
If you’ve ever felt this way while conducting an interview for your podcast don’t worry, you’re not the only one. The truth is, interviewing guests is a skill. That’s good news, because no matter where your starting point is you can always learn new skills. People are not born great interviewers, they become them, and so can you!
When you master the skill of interviewing you’ll be able to squeeze the most value out of every guest that appears on your podcast and your listeners will eagerly look forward to each new episode you put out. Your guests will love talking to you and your listeners will love listening to you!
Let's walk through 5 strategies you can implement to immediately become a better interviewer. These proven strategies are used by the top podcasters in every industry. Let’s get started!
1. Have a plan
Before you jump on a Skype call, sit down at the table, or even turn on the microphone you must have a plan.
- What are you going to talk about?
- Why did you invite this person to come on your podcast?
- What are they an expert in that you can share with your audience?
Your plan doesn’t need to be bulletproof, but you do need one. Spend some time doing research on your guest, especially if they are someone you aren’t super familiar with. Identify the 4-10 questions you know you want to ask them and have each question written down on a piece of paper or on your computer. This way you won’t get stuck wondering what to talk about next.
In addition to planning out what questions you want to ask, you’ll also want a plan for how the interview will start. The most seasoned podcasters know how to “warm up” a guest. It’s difficult to jump right into the good stuff without getting into a rhythm and asking some easy questions to get the conversation moving. Practice how you want to introduce your guest and identify your first 2 questions. This takes the guesswork out of seizing positive momentum at the beginning and sustaining it throughout the rest of the interview.
As you start to wrap up you also want a plan for how you’re going to finish the interview. Do you have a standard question you want to ask each guest? Do you want to ask for book recommendations? Is there a neat way to wrap up each interview that’s true to the heart of your podcast? By having a plan to finish you’ll avoid sounding like two people trying to hang up the phone on each other and be the most polite about it (“You hang up first.” “No, you hang up first.” “No…).
2. Tap into their passions
Part of doing research ahead of time is identifying what things your guest is passionate talking about. Hopefully, if you’ve chosen your guests well, their passions line up with the substance of your podcast. Here’s why this is important:
If your guest is excited to talk about something they’ll bring that energy into the interview. More energy = better interview.
When your guest is genuinely excited about what they’re talking about you can take even the most mundane subjects and make them captivating. As you map out what questions you want to ask, make sure that they will engage your guest’s passions and interests.
3. Ask open-ended questions
When you craft questions for your interview, do your best to avoid questions that can be answered using a single word. Here are some examples of poorly worded questions:
- Are you excited about the release of your new book?
- Would you consider yourself to be successful?
- Did you encounter any obstacles as you created your business?
Each of these questions can be answered using a single word - yes or no - and kills any momentum you had built up to that point. Instead, frame your questions in such a way that it invites them to tell their story. Here are those same questions reworded:
- Why are you excited about the release of your new book?
- How do you define success?
- What obstacles did you encounter as you created your business?
Each of these questions opens the door for your guest to fill in the gaps and share their personal journey. Stories are the currency of your interview. The more insightful stories you can share the better the interview.
4. Ask selfish questions
As you decide which questions you want to ask your guest during the course of the interview make sure that they are questions you are legitimately curious about. What are the questions you would ask them if it was just the two of you and no one else was there to listen?
When you frame it this way, you become naturally more engaged in the conversation. Being curious turns the interview from a question and answer session into an exploration of ideas. Which would you rather listen to?
Treat your interview like a personal meeting, one where you have the opportunity to pick your guest’s brain and learn from what they have to offer. It’s not every day you get to sit across from someone that has the wisdom to significantly impact your life.
At the end of the day, remember why you decided to interview guests in the first place. Certainly your listeners are a big part of that and you want them to find value in your podcast, but chances are you decided to interview other people so that you could learn.
Be selfish with the questions you ask and the quality of your interviews will increase dramatically.
5. Deviate wisely
The first four strategies are all about coming up with a solid plan of attack for your podcast interview. While having a plan is necessary, interviews hardly ever go exactly to plan. When they do, the conversation can come off as stiff and robotic (not how you want people to describe your podcast).
Conversations are fluid in nature. You don’t plan every question and conversation topic ahead of time when you’re spending time with your best friend, do you? Of course not! Similarly, you need to know when to deviate from your plan over the course of your interview.
If your guest says something that sparks your interest, if they mention something in passing that you want to learn more about, if they open the door for a deeper discussion about a topic, take advantage of it! Follow up and dig deeper even if it means sacrificing one of the questions you had planned because you run out of time.
The goal for your interview is not to ask all of your questions. The goal for your interview is to have a great interview! Give yourself the permission to deviate from your plan when you sense an opportunity to talk about something truly fascinating.
Now that you’ve learned the top 5 strategies to master the skill of interviewing, take some time to audit yourself. Go back and listen to one of your old interview episodes and ask yourself the following:
- What questions would you have worded differently?
- Were there missed opportunities to go deeper?
- Did you ask too many one-word answer questions?
- Were you selfish enough?
The only measuring stick you should focus on is becoming a better interviewer than you were yesterday. Even the most effective interviewers started where you are right now and it’s not fair to compare yourself to people who have been mastering this skill for many years. Commit to progress, not perfection.
When you’re able to implement these strategies in your podcast interviews, your guests will be more excited to share their experience with others. As your reputation for asking great questions grows, you’ll be able to book more exclusive guests and provide more value to your listeners.
Master the art of interviewing and you never have to fear awkward silences again.