7 rules for being a great podcast interviewer

If you’ve ever seen a Larry King interview, you’ve probably noticed how he doesn’t interrupt his guests. His unique ability to NOT interrupt his guests is what made him such a great interviewer. But I’ve never seen anyone else copy his style. Instead, they all interrupt their guests, just like everyone else.

Why is this? Why do so many interviewers feel compelled to interrupt? I believe it’s because we’ve all been misled to believe that the person who speaks the most is the person who has the most power.

But if you’re talking more, you’re thinking less. And if you’re thinking less, you’re learning less.

Interrupting your guests is a terrible habit. It’s the equivalent of “thinking out loud” and it destroys your ability to listen and learn. Fortunately, you can overcome this bad habit. Here’s how.

1. Don’t “perform for the audience”
When you are interviewing someone, you are seemingly having a conversation. But you are also constantly thinking about the audience and worrying about being entertaining and keeping them engaged. You can’t be both at the same time. You can only be one or the other. If you try to be both, you’ll fail at both.

You have to be 100% present in the conversation with your guest. And you have to focus on what they are saying and what they are thinking. If you are focused on being entertaining, you’ll miss the important insights that your guest has to share.

The only way to get out of this habit is to simply make a decision. Decide that you will be 100% present in the conversation with your guest. That you will be fully engaged and listening to them. A great, healthy conversation will automatically become more entertaining and insightful.

2. Relax
If you’re not having fun, your audience isn’t having fun. And if your audience isn’t having fun, they will leave. If you have just started as a podcaster, it’s natural to want to make the best possible show that you can. But if you take that attitude into your interviews, you’ll end up pushing too hard. And that will lead to bad results.

There is no perfect interview. Every interview will have its flaws. But if you relax and don’t worry about it, you’ll be able to create an easy atmosphere that will make your guest more comfortable. And that will allow you to have a better conversation. If you are nervous or jittery, your guest will feel that. And it will cause them to be nervous and jittery too.

3. Don’t prepare questions in advance
It’s tempting to prepare your questions in advance. But I strongly recommend that you don’t. Your questions should always be a product of the conversation. If you’re trying to figure out what to ask next, it will show. You won’t be listening. And you won’t be able to have a great conversation.

The best interviews are always conversations. They aren’t interrogations and they aren’t performances. And the best way to have a conversation is to not prepare in advance. Think of the greatest conversations you’ve ever had. They might have been with your friends or family or colleagues. Or with a random stranger at a party. Did you prepare for those conversations? Or did they flow organically?

4. Mine those stories
Everyone loves a great story. Allow your guests to tell their stories. Be the sidekick. Be the wingman. Set them up. And let them tell their stories. It’s the best way to get them to open up and make your show interesting.

Look out for great stories. Let’s say you have a startup founder on your show and while talking about how he raised funding he casually mentions how the day before an important meeting he ate forty mangoes to get over a stomach virus. That’s a great story! Don’t just move on. Pause. Comment on the story. Prod him to tell you more. He’ll be happy to oblige. When you are having fun your audience will have fun too.

5. Remember the first rule of improv: Say “yes, and…”
You have to be a good improviser to be a great interviewer. It’s about being in the moment and reacting to the flow of the conversation.

Don’t steer the conversation in a particular direction. Instead, go with the flow of the conversation. You don’t have to lead it. It will lead itself. If you start to worry about where the conversation is going, you’ll start to think about it. And that will kill the conversation. Like Bruce Lee said, “Don’t think, feel.” This is tied in with rule 3 – don’t prepare. If you prepare questions in advance you’ll try to steer the conversation in the direction of those questions.

Instead, be in the moment. React to the flow of the conversation. Like a surfer riding a wave, you don’t control the wave. You react to it. You go with it.

6. Be genuine
Your guests can sense when you’re faking it. If you’re trying to be someone you’re not, your guests will feel it. If you’re not having fun, they won’t have fun. If you’re not interested in them, they won’t be interested in you.

Be honest. Be humble. If your guest mentions something that you don’t know about, don’t pretend that you do. If an idea seems confusing, say that it seems confusing. Don’t pretend that you know more than you do. You’ll come across as arrogant. Instead, ask the guest to teach you. You’ll learn more and your guest will appreciate your honesty.

7. Ask smart questions
If you ask questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” you’ll kill the conversation. If you ask a question like “Do you think it’s a good idea to eat raw fish?” the interview will be over in two seconds. Instead, ask open-ended questions. Questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Like, “What are the pros and cons of eating raw fish?” or “What would you say to someone afraid to eat sushi?”

These types of questions will make your guests think. They’ll open up and have more to say. And the conversation will be better for it.

“What” questions are usually boring and lead to boring answers. Instead, ask “Why” questions. Questions like “Why did you do that?” or “Why did you start that company?” These types of questions lead to interesting answers. They are much more fun.

“What” questions are usually about facts. And facts are boring. For example, “What is your company’s vision?”. Ask “How did you come up with the vision for your company?”

Another mistake is to ask questions that “lead the witness”. For example, “Don’t you think…”. These questions put your guest on the defensive and make them want to argue with you.

So there you have it. The most important thing is to listen to your guest. When you listen, the rest will follow. You’ll ask the right questions. You’ll get the most out of the conversation. And you’ll make a great podcast.

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