Odds are you’re running a podcast interview or a true crime podcast. They’re the most common formats for podcasts in 2019. But they’re going to run their course at some point. In the case of podcast interviews (I run one too), there’s a big reason why we need to take the next step forward, you and me.
Now…we’ve gotten things off to a good start, we podcasters. We’ve established that podcasts matter, that they’re great ways to make connections, teach and entertain others, and build a platform for ourselves. But let’s first talk about why they work, and why they need to take that next step forward.
Why Podcast Interviews Work
Podcast interviews work well as a format because they follow a proven model that we’ve seen played out on television over decades: Capable Host interviews Expert (or Celebrity) Guest, who shares their personality, expertise, humor, anecdotes, and personal stories that an audience soaks up. This I think we’ll all agree on.
In a podcast interview there are so many areas to cover with any given guest. We all have back stories. We’ve all had life experiences to share that would blow others’ minds, if only we were asked about them. We’ve learned lessons. We all have expertise in something that would be valuable to share with others.
More people have fought through adversity than we fully appreciate until we’ve sat down, eyeball to eyeball, and talked with each other.
Interviews allow us to get these perspectives and this wisdom into the world.
From your role as host, podcast interviews work well because you don’t necessarily have to be an expert to pull off a good show. You can be a facilitator, a guide who leads people to learn from the expert. And if we’re honest, this lowers the barrier to entry for podcasting for many people — you find guests who want to talk to your audience, ask those people questions. Podcast published.
And here’s where the ‘but’ comes in…
Why Podcast Interviews Need to Evolve
But here’s the thing.
In the podcasting world, we Capable Hosts may or may not be trained in the art of preparing for or guiding interviews. Hopefully we have innate curiosity, and an interest in our guests and their topics. But most podcasters are not trained in communicating for effectiveness; most podcasters aren’t trained to glean deep insights, or to pull something more out of people they communicate with. So the inclination is to wing it.
Many podcasters don’t yet grasp how important their own personality is to their own show, let alone their preparation and .
We should be honest with ourselves about this and acknowledge it’s a craft. It’s not just a matter of showing up and being talkative, or asking a lot of questions ad hoc. Interviewing can be learned, to be sure, but it is a craft that can be done well, or poorly.
I’m writing this article for myself, first and foremost. Despite a career in sales and marketing, with well over the vaunted 10,000 hours in interviewing customers, clients, potential clients, partners, in order to understand a story, I would still say I’m far better at observation than I am at the art of podcast interviews. But because I’m wanting to get better at podcasting, I’ve been paying closer attention to this over the last few months.
What I’ve noticed is that there are two missing ingredients in many podcast interviews that makes them very different from the interviews we’ve watched on television or we’ve heard on radio. And we can set aside our pride, we may learn something from them.
You'll never want to manage your podcast any other way
The Missing Ingredients
1. The personality and interview talent of the host
When I think about the shows that have captivated me from one episode to the next — and this is true with podcasting as much as it is with television and radio — it’s about the host. The guest should always appear to be in the spotlight on a podcast interview, but know this:
A great host knows how to leverage their own personality in working with a podcast guest, so the two are working together to produce a great show.
It’s on you, the host, to make this happen. You have to bring more to the table than random questions. You have to bring yourself. To get a taste of what I’m talking about, watch the interaction in this old clip from 1990.
I realize you may not know your guests like a late night talk show may know their guests. You may not run in the same circles. (I also realize some of you are young enough that you have no idea who EITHER of the two men in that video above are! Try to look past that!) Notice how the host brings himself to the show? He’s a part of the entertainment, he’s not just setting things up for the guest, although that happens too.
Here’s another example:
These aren’t so much interviews as they are conversations.
I download 40 different podcasts every week to hear what’s out there, and almost nobody who conducts a podcast interview is grilling their guests. We’re all asking ‘softball’ (relatively easy) questions. And yet there’s so much room for adding our own personalities into our guest conversations and podcasts.
If you’ve got great guests but you’re a mediocre host, you’ll get up and down listenership. With great hosting skill and great guests, you’ll get subscribers vs. sporadic listeners.
2. The prep and grooming of the guest
There’s another reason we’ve consumed so many celebrity interviews over the decades since television was invented. We love when smart (think James Lipton), or clever (think Conan O’Brien), or both smart and clever (see Dick Cavett above) hosts get their guests to bring their ‘A game.’
Not that we should pattern everything we do after American television talk shows, but check out this interesting insight as an answer to the question, “Are talk shows scripted?” on Quora:
A pre-interview call can go a long way to forging this sort of plan with your guest. If you can’t pull that off, maybe a custom video you send them? Or maybe you bake in extra time prior to the interview beginning to prep your guest?
Most podcast guests aren’t celebrities, or even professional speakers or communicators. They haven’t been primed to come ready to share anecdotes, stories, colorful examples, nor do they have quotes and quips at the ready. Sometimes they do, but most of the time they don’t.
But you can play your part, like I’m beginning to, in preparing guests to bring more to our podcast interviews.
So What Next?
While I selfishly wrote this article for me, as a call to step up my own game when it comes to conducting podcast interviews, I hope you’ve gained from it as well. The world doesn’t need another 60-minute interview that’s bland or lacking in any flair from the host, with all the pressure put upon the guest.
We need to work more closely with our guests to bring shows that have personality and differentiation that’s noticeable early in the show, as well as throughout. Good luck…to both of us.