Mastering The Art Of The Podcast Interview

 How do you prepare for an interview? How do you prepare for your guest? How do you prepare your guest?

A few weeks ago, I published an article called The Ten Best Interviewers In Podcasting. Those top ten -- according to an impeachable source, me -- were:

10. Zale Mednick -- Preconceived

9. Jordan Harbinger -- The Jordan Harbinger Show

8. Matt Gilhooly -- The Life Shift Podcast

7. Evan Stern -- Vanishing Postcards

6. Mike Carruthers -- Something You Should Know

5. Robert Peterpaul -- The Art Of Kindness

4. Elaine Appleton Grant -- Sound Judgment

3. Audie Cornish -- The Assignment With Audie Cornish

2. David Pogue -- Unsung Science

1. Michael Barbaro -- The Daily

What makes an excellent podcast interviewer? What makes an excellent interviewer?

Is there a difference? In a word, yes.

 TV show interviewers have video as their secret ingredient, since video images can communicate so much more than words. Podcasting video typically offers fans the host and guest with bulky headphones on and talking in a large mic on a swivel and surrounded by technology. It's not exactly visual stimulation overload.

Print interviews can be informationally dense but lacking in three-dimensional depth.

Podcast interviews are inherently sound-based, therefore tone of voice and voice cadence can be important clues to the listeners about the tenor of the interview. Sometimes, the silence can be as crucial and full of meaning as the words spoken.

 Before we start, let's determine what makes a good podcast interviewer. I can write an entire article on these criteria, but for the sake of your time, let's summarize exceptional podcast interviewers via these traits.

1. Listens well. This is a contradiction because listening isn't asking questions, but a good listener assesses the direction of the interview, forms strong follow-up questions and truly engages with the subject.

2. Asks questions that spotlight the guest's expertise.

3. Keeps the interview focused on the guest, not the host. 

4. Asks follow-up questions that result from the guest's previous comments.

5. Guides the guest through the interview by controlling the flow of information imparted by the guest. For example, less astute interviewers ask a question and then sit back while the guest blurts out all the information they have available before another question is asked.

So how do some of the best podcast interviewers handle an interview so artfully?

First question: How do you prepare for an interview?

Robert Peterpaul, host of The Art Of Kindness podcast, observes:
"I need to get excited. If I'm excited about the guest, it propels me forward into all aspects of preparation. This is usually an easy task because every person has something unique to offer. On a practical note, my first step is always research. I get my hands (or ears) on as many interviews and resources about the guest as possible. While reviewing materials, I'm careful to flag what piques my interest. I jot down notes, questions, incoherent scribbles and then move on to the next. Then I comb through my notes and formulate interview questions based on the theme of my show. The order of questions is very important to me."

Peterpaul echoes a sentiment repeated by numerous podcast interviewers.

"It's also important that I don't over-research, so I can leave room for spontaneity. I want a balance of specific questions that show the guest I took time to prepare, but simultaneously allows us to go off the cuff."

Joe Casabona is a podcast systems coach who helps busy solopreneurs take back their time. Some even say he perfectly blends content creation and technology like it’s the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had (he says that).

Joe is also the host of the Podcast Workflows podcast.

Joe notes: "Do your research. Many podcasters will say they don’t do any research because they want to be surprised along with their audience. That’s lazy. The pilot of your airplane doesn’t say, 'I don’t like to know where we’re going until we’re in the air.' They know the exact flight path before takeoff. You can’t tell a story unless you know all the story beats first."

Joe offers an insight shared by many strong interviewers. "Do a pre-interview. This continues the research (finding things that may not be available online) as well as ensures you and your guest jive. There’s nothing worse than having a bad interview because you and your guest weren’t on the same page."

Finally, Joe offers sage advice about handling your guest. "Don’t tell your guest to come up with the topic/questions. You know your audience best. Don’t outsource this crucial part to someone who doesn’t know your audience at all."

Let's continue with our next question:  How do you make sure the interview doesn’t go off track?

Robert Peterpaul of The Art Of Kindness has a unique take on this question.

"To some extent, I love going off track. Some of my favorite interview moments have been because I simply let the natural flow of conversation guide us. Of course, I never want to veer so far away that it's no longer interesting to the audience. I try to land somewhere in between an interview and a conversation... an inter-sation? I want the guest and I to have a fun banter, but if I see that we're losing time or getting too off topic, I'll swoop in with my next question. In many ways, the design of my questions helps with this. Laying down the questions, like stones in a path, allows me to ensure we get where we need to go. I would say you have to avoid the weeds that pop up between the path, but stepping onto the grass beside it isn't always a bad thing."

In an interview I did with Mike Carruthers, host of the Something You Should Know podcast, Carruthers discussed the interview process.

"The toughest part of a podcast interview is keeping it interesting. I have a little voice in my head that keeps asking me right from the start of every interview, 'Is this really interesting,' or 'Is this going on too long,' or 'Is he/she really answering the question.'"

Carruthers continues: "I try to assume the mindset of the listener. And in my view, a listener wants every interview to get interesting – FAST. It would be easy to let people talk in the beginning about how they got interested in the topic or what is their background. But I don’t think that’s what an audience wants to hear first. They want to hear why this is interesting to them and why they should be listening. Then, once they care about someone, then they might be interested in their background."

Now, onto our final question. What is your process after the interview?

Carruthers from Something You Should Know advises: "That’s why I think editing is so important. I’ve done interviews where the first several minutes are edited out because the guest was just warming up. They didn’t get interesting until six or seven minutes into the interview. So in the show, that’s where the interview starts."

Carruthers then notes: "Other times I have had a guest say something really interesting two-thirds of the way through the interview. I will move that to the front of the segment to grab the audiences’ attention."

Carruthers also recommends a unique practice.
"We ask all guests to watch a short video that tells people exactly what we expect from 

Finally, Joe Casabona is blunt when he advises strongly that podcasters should "EDIT your interview."

Joe continues: "People don’t actually like raw, uncut interviews. Cut out the stuff that doesn’t make sense, the meandering bits, and the things that don’t contribute to the story."

There isn't any way to cover the complexities of conducting of a podcast interview that doesn't entail a book-length piece.

However, for those looking for more information on conducting a strong podcast interview, I recommend the upcoming December 14th episode of the Sound Judgment podcast with host Elaine Appleton Grant. In each episode, Grant and her guest -- a top audio creator -- deconstruct one of their episodes. It’s not just a revealing conversation about the art and craft of audio storytelling, but also about podcast interviewing. 

I've found that the smartest people I've met ask a lot of questions. The people who think they are smart offer a lot of unsolicited answers. 

Being an interviewer carries with it a lot of responsibility. As a podcast host, you are trying to transfer experiential and theoretical knowledge and accrued wisdom to an audience of listeners through a third person, the guest.

Basketball announcer Ernie Johnson once said, "A lot of times the interview relies not so much on the interviewee but on the interviewer."