How to conduct a podcast interview and find the right podcast guest

How to conduct a podcast interview and find the right podcast guest

2022.05.09

It’s fair to say that almost every podcast relies on interviewing. Whether you’re hosting a laid-back long-form chat, or investigating corporate fraud, your ability to connect with people – and conduct productive, probing conversations – will be key to unlocking the story.

How to approach someone for a podcast interview

Once you’re settled on who you want to interview, the next job is inviting them onto your show. How easy this is will depend on who your chosen guest is. Most public-facing people offer means of contacting them on their website, either via a form or an email address. It’s generally wiser to reach people through these options, rather than inundating them with DMs on their personal social media accounts. If you’re really shooting for the stars and your potential guest is too famous to leave their email address lying around the internet, it might be that you have to approach them through their agent or publicist.

How to invite your future podcast guest

You’ve got their email. Now, what do you write? The most important thing to remember is to keep it personal. The best podcasts are passion projects, and there’s no point pretending you’re a major production, so tell them who you are, what your podcast is about, and why their work is interesting to you.

‍Be clear about what you’re asking for. How long will the interview be? Where will it take place? When, roughly, would you like to talk to them? And what exactly do you want to talk about? This last one is especially important as it will give your guest a chance to prepare for your chat. Be upfront about what you want the conversation to involve, and your style of interviewing.

How to research your podcast guest

Everyone has their own preferred methods for researching their guests, and you’ll figure yours out over time, but there are some basics that can get you started.

‍The internet can be super helpful for building basic biographical information: birthplace, rough age, and the key points of their career or life story. You might even be able to gather a brief bit of color on their personal life if it’s publicly available (don’t go looking if it’s not). Get these bullet points down before anything else. If there really isn’t much information about your guest out there already, email and ask them if they have a bio they could send you in preparation for your conversation. It’s not rude, you’re just doing your job.

‍Next, dig out a couple of their previous interviews. These might be other podcasts, or features in magazines or newspapers, and will help you get a feel for their “story” – but make a note of what they don’t get asked about, too. Good interviews should cover new ground.

‍Finally, three words: Read. The. Book. Granted, not every guest will have written a book, but no matter who you’re speaking to, the principle remains the same. If you’ve invited someone onto your podcast to speak about their work – especially if they’re promoting something – it’s very important you’re actually, you know, familiar with it. Pretenders will be caught out.

How important is researching a guest before you interview them?

“It's everything. I try to enter the guests' world for as long as I can in the build up to the record day. Whether it's reading their book/s, watching their films or TV's shows, watching talks they've done or old interviews to try and get a loose understanding of their life. This essentially makes me feel safe as I know that whatever area of life they talk about I'll have a rough idea of the context. I also leave room for me to learn something about them so I'm not looking to know everything in the lead up.”

Fearne Cotton
Happy Place

How to prepare your podcast interview questions

When writing questions, it can help to break them down into sections. For example, you might decide to divide the conversation between questions on your guest’s upbringing, then their new book, and then their wider thoughts on a topical issue their work touches on.

‍Bear in mind how long you’ve got with your guest. If you’ve only got half an hour, you’ll want to prioritise the stuff you really want to talk about, rather than spending half your time on what they had for breakfast.

What’s your advice for getting guests to feel comfortable to answer questions honestly?

“You need to be emotionally aware of your interviewee throughout the planning and interviewing, and afterwards too. So, first chat to them, for example on an informal phone call and no recording, where you can ask some very open questions and discuss with them about what you’ll talk about during the recorded interview. This helps them to feel comfortable with you as a producer/interviewer/human”

Adam, Tash & Shiv
The Log Books

Try to write open questions, rather than simple “yes or no” ones that seek to confirm what you already think you know. “What’s your earliest memory of hearing a jazz record?” is better than “Did you like jazz growing up?”

‍Finally, remember that the key to a good interview is making a meticulous plan that you’re prepared to abandon completely. If the conversation takes an unexpected turn, follow it.

How to conduct an interview for a podcast

Before you start recording, give your guest a quick rundown of how you’re planning on structuring the conversation and make sure they’re happy with it. From there on in, keep it personal and relatable. There’s no need for formalities unless you think the subject matter really calls for it: it’s a podcast interview, not a job interview.

How do you put your guest at ease and keep the conversation natural?

“The Dope Black Women podcast is intended to be  a safe space for black women and black non-binary people to share their stories. We have a reputation for creating an environment that makes our guests feel like they are having a casual conversation with an old friend. There are several ways we ensure this happens, one of which includes speaking with the guests beforehand in order to build a rapport. Another is making sure we are across the subject and the person whom we are interviewing. We also brief the guests beforehand so they know what to expect and we encourage them to show up as their most authentic selves. We noticed that sharing as much of ourselves as possible and being vulnerable on the podcast and with our guests also helps people to feel like the conversation is natural. Beyond asking questions, we find ways to connect with the topic personally and share our own perspectives. We also try to strike a balance between serious and light-hearted.”

Leanne Levers & Roshan Roberts
Dope Black Women

Once you’ve asked a question, let your guest speak. It’s fine to nod and smile to encourage them to carry on, but try not to speak over them – avoiding even the occasional “yeah”, if you can help it. You’ll thank yourself in the edit.