Being a good podcast host and interviewer is more complex than one might think. It takes special skills to really bring the best out of your guest:
- A curious nature that has you asking appropriate follow up questions.
- The foresight to know when to pull the conversation back to the next question so as to not derail the show’s intended flow.
- The courtesy to listen intently to your guest to allow them to truly feel heard.
- The comfortability to embrace a few moments of ‘dead air’ to let the guest breathe, and to allow yourself a moment to digest what was said, as well.
These points, among others, were covered in our interview with Larry Jordan, the host of the Digital Production Buzz podcast.
Two Kinds of Podcast Interviewers
“As a host, there are two ways you can do a show:
“One way is, the host is the star and everything the guest says needs to build up the ego of the host. You don’t have to look far to find shows that meet that criteria where the guest is just incidental and the host is using a platform to pontificate.
“The other way, is the guest is the star. To me, that’s the best kind of show. As the host, I want to introduce new and exciting people to my audience. I’m going to be here, I’m the voice of stability. I’m the reason you come to the Buzz each week saying, ‘Larry’s got cool people to talk to. Let’s see who Larry’s talking to this week.’
“But I’m not the star, center, or focus of the show. My job is to make the guest the center and to make sure the guest feels like they’re communicating directly with my audience. At the end of the interview, I want my guests to say, ‘That was really cool. Larry made me feel great.’ Then, I know I’ve done a good job.
“So people who spend time cultivating a guest, and really just stroking their own ego, and forcing the audience to say ‘look how cool the host is.’ To me, that’s a disservice. I mean, there are hosts that are stars, but even their guests are always more important, what the guest has to say is more important, and I want to build a showcase where people tune in to learn something new.”
As a way to achieve the latter of the two types of podcast hosts, consider how exactly you plan to bring out the best in your guest. Are there any interview strategies you see in other shows or podcast hosts that you’d like to try for yourself? Let us know in the comment section!
Larry is able to draw out a guest’s most insightful self by withholding the interview questions from the guest so that they can’t script their answers! In the other interviews that we conducted with podcast hosts, we heard that providing the question list ahead of time is considered somewhat of an interviewing best practice. So why does Larry go against the grain on this? Continue on…
Podcast Guests Shouldn’t Need a Question List Ahead of Time
“I never, ever, ever, share questions with a guest. Even when they ask. Because, what happens, is they memorize their answers and it just sounds terrible. What I will tell the guest, a few minutes beforehand, is the direction of the interview.
“So guests will know the direction that we’re going to go, but I never share questions because it makes the interview too stilted.”
As mentioned above, we’ve heard that providing the question list ahead of time is considered a best practice. But it was really interesting to speak with Larry and hear the merits of the alternative.
To provide context around the power behind withholding questions until the interview, Larry asked for an example of a hobby of mine. To which I replied, “Zumba – you know, the dance exercise class.”
“Wow,” said Larry, “Your energy levels must be through the roof! Okay, now, if I were to do an interview with you on Zumba, you wouldn’t need to rehearse your answer. You do it, you know it, you live it on a daily or weekly basis.”
“If I asked you, ‘Why do you like Zumba?’ Look at what would happen: You already know the answer. Your eyes are lighting up. You get excited. You start to remember the last Zumba session you did. How much dancing you did. How great it makes you feel!
“And now you’re saying, ‘Oh my goodness, I got started with this and it’s unlike anything else I’ve experienced before!’ And the energy goes through the roof!
“So I don’t have you tell you what the questions are, I just have to tap into that energy that you have. Well, that’s true of every guest.
“As soon as you start telling guests the questions… Like, ‘My first question about Zumba will be what is Zumba?’ You’ve written it down because you want to make sure you’ve got it right, and oh, you want to include this phrase, etc. So, by the time I ask you, you’re responding with (in a dull voice) “Zumba was invented by Frank in Florida…
“Where’s the energy? Where’s the life? All of a sudden I’ve now made you this parrot that’s reciting information off a piece of paper.
“Have you ever had lunch with a friend, and you spent the whole time giggling? Of course you have. Did you have a script about what those jokes are ahead of time? Did you sit down with your friend and say, ‘Okay, I want to talk about this,’ and that’s exactly what the lunch conversation was about? Of course not.
“And yet, look at how much fun that lunch was. Looking back on it, you think, ‘That was just the best lunch, we spent the whole time laughing. I can’t remember everything we talked about, I don’t remember all the jokes, but it was just great!’
“That’s what I want my interviews to be like. And if you let them write it all down ahead of time, you get parrots! I don’t need parrots, I need people who are having a good time with life.”
So there you have it, when an interviewer is able to tap into a guest’s passion and energy, there’s no need to distribute your questions for preparation.
However, if a guest asks for what you’ll be discussing, try giving them the general topic as Larry suggests. It’s okay to be completely transparent and tell them how confident you are in their ability to speak to the topic, but you don’t want to stunt the passion and excitement in their responses.
Larry’s got even more to say on this topic. Check out his blog post on asking the right questions when conducting interviews. Note, his post has a bit of an ‘on-video’ perspective to it, but the advice around formulating and asking questions rings true for podcast interviews as well!
Still looking for guests to book on your show? Take a read through our interviews with Brian Peters from Buffer, and Jon Nastor from Hack the Entrepreneur on finding and vetting potential podcast guests for some hands-on tips to booking guests.