By Dave Purdy, public relations specialist at Otter PR
Interviewing is an art. It takes skill, experience, and practice to be able to ask questions that yield insightful answers from a guest. Over time, you get a feel for the questions that work best for your podcast or radio show and the topics that generate engaging responses from your guests. You develop a natural rhythm and flow that turns a list of questions into a natural, unforced conversation between two people genuinely interested in each other’s lives and careers.
Research your guest to prepare relevant and engaging questions
If you want to design an interview that is fun and informative, it’s crucial to prepare relevant and engaging questions. Questions like this are the result of conducting thorough research on your guest before the interview takes place.
First, look into your guest’s background. Learn the journey that brought them to their chosen field, and what experiences shaped them along the way. Be sure to acquire a thorough understanding of the work they’ve done so far and the work they hope to do in the future. Be sure to investigate current topics of interest related to or surrounding their field of expertise that could come up during the interview.
To build rapport between yourself and your guest, take note of similarities you can build on during your research. If you don’t come across obvious ones at first, try digging deeper. Connecting with a guest by pointing out something such as, “Wow, we both grew up outside New York City!” often puts your guest at ease and leads to a relaxed conversation.
The most important element of a successful podcast or radio interview is keeping your audience engaged. That means asking questions they care about. Know your target audience well, and do extra investigation into any areas that would interest your listeners.
Prepare a structured outline for the podcast or radio interview
A structured outline for the interview will help you stay on track and keep your train of thought. Start by structuring your introduction. Take notes on the main points you will highlight from your guest’s bio.
Your outline for the main interview comes next. Write up a list of questions beforehand. Send them to your guest to allow them to think through their responses. Before the interview, practice asking the questions aloud. This enables you to hear how they sound in terms of spoken conversation. Avoid questions that are too long or complicated.
Finally, outline your closing remarks. This gives you the chance to organize the way you will wrap up the conversation.
Creating a clear outline of your interview with key topics and questions will ensure a smooth flow. It will go a long way to head off awkward pauses or tangents.
Start with a warm introduction to help the audience connect with your guest
You want your listeners to connect with your guest on a personal level, so start off with an introduction that provides some context for who they are and what they do. When you introduce them, be sure to include their name, title, company, credentials, background, and area of expertise.
When crafting an engaging introduction for your guest, give a brief bio that hooks listeners. You may want to touch on a memorable accomplishment or one of their recent projects. In just a few sentences, make sure to explain why this person’s story is important or interesting.
Ask open-ended questions
As a general rule, radio and podcast interviews ask questions that encourage guests to share their insights, experiences, and opinions. Instead of questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no, craft questions that encourage detailed and thoughtful responses.
Open-ended questions typically start with words such as “how,” “what,” and “why.” They allow your guests to share their opinions and explain the reasoning behind those opinions.
Practice active listening during a podcast or radio interview
Rather than looking ahead to the next question, listen actively to your guests’ responses. The best interviews are the ones that go beyond the surface of a person’s experience. When you hear something interesting, ask follow-up questions that delve deeper into your guest’s response.
You may also need to ask questions that nudge guests to reveal more about their life and work. If something a guest says interests you personally, it is likely to interest listeners as well. Never pass up an opportunity to learn. After a great interview, both parties walk away feeling like they’ve learned something new.
Make sure not to overload your interview with follow-up questions. When every answer results in further questions, your guests may become bogged down. Such an interview quickly becomes boring and tedious for your listeners.
Maintain a conversational tone throughout the interview
You want your listeners to feel like they’re in on the conversation, not listening from afar. Keep the interview natural by engaging in friendly banter, sharing personal anecdotes, and creating a relaxed atmosphere. All of this encourages your guest to open up.
We each have a unique speaking style, but a few best practices maintain engaging dialogue for guests and keep the conversation interesting for listeners. First, be careful not to interrupt your guests. They will have more to say than you think, and you want to give them the opportunity to fully express their thoughts. Resist the urge to jump in or try to finish their sentences.
Another tip that will make interviews flow more naturally is to avoid reading from a script. Certainly, you should come to the interview prepared with a list of questions. However, you will sound more conversational if your questions are not written out word for word. Use your own words to ask questions and respond to your guest as if it were just two people talking about the topic at hand.
Next, make it a point to avoid overusing filler words like “um” or “like” during pauses. In moderation, these words sound natural; if used too often, they come across as awkward.
In addition, try not to use jargon or industry terminology unless absolutely necessary. Your goal is not to show listeners how intelligent you are; it is to intrigue listeners with a new topic and entice them to learn more about it. When listeners are bombarded with confusing terminology or technical explanations, they quickly lose interest and tune out. Focus on describing things simply, so that everyone can understand and participate in the conversation.
Finally, make sure both parties understand each other clearly during an interview. When someone is confused, it’s best to ask for clarification and get everyone on the same page before moving forward into new territory.
Allow for natural pauses in an interview
Finally, remember that silence is not just golden, but necessary in an interview. Don’t be afraid of silence. Sometimes the most profound insights come after a thoughtful pause.
Don’t feel the need to rush the conversation. If your guest does not answer immediately, give them space, and pause before asking follow-up questions. This will give your guest time to think about their answers and respond thoughtfully.
Successful interviews are like conversations, not interrogations. The interviewer drives the discussion, but the guest is an active participant.
The goal of any good interview is to create an environment where both parties feel comfortable and can share their knowledge with each other. There are many types of interviews, but the same fundamentals apply to all of them. Go into the interview prepared and establish a solid rapport with your guest. If you’ve done your research and prep work, then all that’s left is to have fun!