Great interviewers were made, not born. It takes practice, work, and experience. I’m listing resources that helped me prepare to launch my podcast.
It’s worth mentioning that there’s not one best way to this. Interviewing is an art. I encourage you to find your voice and an approach that works best for you. Then, lean into it.
My quest to become a better interviewer is ongoing, and I’m always learning. I’ve created my own master class on conducting interviews by reading, listening, and watching everything that I can find to hone my skills. Whether you are a podcaster, want to be a better conversationalist, or aim to ace your next job interview, these resources can help you.
I’ve heard people say that they want their podcast to be natural and conversational so they do not want to over prepare or prepare at all. IMHO, the greatest interviewers make it look easy and natural. One thing they have in common is preparation. This can come in varying degrees that includes reading books or articles, listening to existing interviews, and reviewing a guest’s social media accounts. Once you’ve done your homework, set a plan. Have an idea where you want to go. You are competing for your audience’s attention. In response, you need to create the best content possible and preparation plays an important role in doing that.
Striving to be a better interviewer is really a set of guidelines because there is no one-size-fits all approach. Rather, there are many approaches and it is highly individualistic. For example, James Lipton, the creator, executive-producer, writer and host of Inside the Actors Studio, typically had a list of scripted questions. Nobody can contest his success with the 94 million American homes that he reached. Find your own approach, do your prep, and then, let it go. I believe in letting it go. Being in the moment is what translates into delivering a “natural” interview. By letting go of all the research that you did, you are well prepared yet free to be present, listen, and flexible to allow the interview to change direction — naturally.
Be a Great Host
Your job as a host is multi-faceted. First, it’s your role to make your guest feel welcome and comfortable. Be gracious and generous. Establish rapport. Push back if needed.
Second, never forget that you are responsible for driving the interview so it’s important that you maintain control. Allow interesting tangents to happen but appropriately bring the conversation back on topic.
Use techniques to get the best tape out of your guests. Ask open ended questions… What, How, and Why. As host, you may share a great story but be concise. Let your guest shine. Your ultimate goal is to bring out the best content for your audience, and nobody knows your audience better than you do.
Questions to Ask to Elicit Story
- Tell me about the time when…
- Tell me about the day/moment that you realized…
- Tell me the story of…
- You’re on the right track when people are talking in dialogue (then he said this, she said that…)
- Describe the conversation when…
- Tell me the day you realized what we’re talking about…
- What were steps that took you from A to B
Things You Should Not Do
- Ask a Yes or No question.
- Ask more than one question at a time.
- Say “…and my next question is…”
- Be disrespectful to your audience and the person you’re interviewing.
- Forget who you’re serving.
Additional Resources That Helped Me
- 6 Powerful Communication Tips From Some of the World’s Best Interviewers
- EARFUL: Marc Maron Discusses the Perfect Interview
- Copyblogger: Conduct Better Podcast Interviews with This Simple 6-Step Preparation Process
- Confessor. Feminist. Adult. What the Hell Happened to Howard Stern?
- No, Your Podcast Isn’t Conversational, It’s Sloppy
- The Turnaround with Jesse Thorn – I’ve listened many times to this 16 episode series about our greatest living interviewers. If only this podcast were still publishing!
- Rolf Potts: Bestselling author Tim Ferriss on how to create a successful podcast
- Tim Ferriss interviews Alex Blumberg: How to Create a Blockbuster Podcast (Part 1)
- Tim Ferriss: How to Create a Blockbuster Podcast (Part 2)
- Noah Kagan: How to Have More Engaging Conversations — with Jordan Harbinger
- The Showrunner: No. 105 How to Conduct Not-to-Miss Podcast Interviews
- Marc Pachter: The Art of the Interview
- Mike Dronkers: How to Interview “Almost” Anyone
- Katie Couric on how to conduct a good interview
- Larry King – Interviewing Tips (2 of 7)
- Transform Your Interviews by Celeste Headlee (Requires email registration. Lots of valuable tips in this free intro for a paid course)
- Study YOUR favorite interviewers and see what they have in common and do differently (Oprah, Howard Stern, Terry Gross, Conan O’Brien, David Letterman…)
Do you have additional resources that should be added here? Please leave a comment.