Six months after starting this blog back in 2005 I purchased what at the time was a cutting edge MP3 player, called an iRiver. It was a 20GB HDD MP3 player, a principal competitor to the dominant iPod.
I didn’t get an iPod because I wasn’t a mac user yet. I wasn’t a fan of itunes (I’m still not a fan) and I hated the way iPods were “jailed” to itunes. My iRiver was essentially a portable hard drive that I could stick any file on and carry with me. If it was a music file it would play it, no questions asked.
I Discover A Microphone
One of the features of my iRiver, which initially I ignored, was a tiny little microphone. It didn’t look like more than a dot cut out of the plastic case. That dot would be my doorway into the world of podcasting.
If you are not familiar with what exactly podcasting is, I recommend you start by reading the introduction I wrote a few years ago here -
Using my iRiver I recorded spoken audio – just me talking into the mic – that I uploaded and distributed on my blog. If you want to hear how much of a novice I really was, you can find my early recordings listed on the Podcast page right at the bottom of the sidebar.
Fast forward to today and I have recorded more than 70 episodes of my show, most of which are interviews with other entrepreneurs. I stopped using the iRiver a long time ago, however podcasting remains one of my favorite methods to produce content on my blog. It’s a great tool for meeting other experts, learning from them and providing value to your audience.
Podcasting is also a fantastic marketing technique. My podcasts are often shared between friends and sometimes when I interview someone prominent they link back to my site to inform their readers about it. It’s quick, relatively easy, makes for fantastic content and brings traffic to you.
Of course all of this rests on your ability to produce a great podcast interview, so let’s take a look at how you can do that next…
7 Steps To A Successful Podcast Interview
I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts from my industry and I’ve noticed that many of them, although providing some value, are often let down by the quality of the questions asked by the interviewer.
I’ve compiled the following seven steps to help if you are considering running a podcast and interviewing people. These tips represent what I have learned as the best techniques for you to get the most out of the people you interview. The better an interviewer you are, the better the quality of your podcast, and thus your audience will really benefit from the content and share it with others.
Here we go…
1. Equipment: What Software And Hardware I Use
I’ll cover this first since people always want to know what tools I use to record my podcast interviews.
I have a Apple MacBook Pro 15.4-Inch Laptop. I have a fantastic mic, Snowball USB Microphone by Blue Microphones, which slots into any USB port and should instantly be available in any software you use (you may have to select it in the audio options). I usually plug in a standard set of iphone/ipod headphones when conducting interviews so I can block out the ambient noise. That’s all I need for hardware.
For software I use Skype to call the person. Sometimes I use the SkypeOut function (you can call any phone with SkypeOut, but you will need Skype credit to do so), but most of my interviews are Skype-to-Skype. I just ask for the Skype username of my interviewee, we arrange a time and then connect. The benefit of Skype-to-Skype is the digital connection makes for better sound quality. You can also use Skype video to record video interviews.
Today for efficiency I record my calls and will say an intro and outtro at the start and end of the interview to remind people that they can get more podcasts from my blog. By doing this I don’t need to edit any of the interview post call, I can just take the raw .MOV file, convert it to MP3 using iTunes (here is how to do this) or any MP3 converter (I sometimes use Garage Band) and upload it directly to my server.
If something goes wrong during the call and I need to stitch two files together, or edit in an intro (I used to add theme music to my earlier podcast episodes), I use Garage Band that comes with Mac. When I was a PC user I used Audacity to do all my post-production editing, which is a free download.
Currently I set my MP3s to MONO at 128kbps during the conversion process, which results in a high quality sound at about one megabit per minute in size (60 minute podcast is roughly 60meg download). If you are worried about filesize you can drop this to 64kbps or 32kbps and still retain quality.
I upload the MP3 to my Amazon S3 account for streaming media using Bucket Explorer, set the permissions to public, generate a download link and then take that link and place it into my blog post. I use the Audio Player plugin for WordPress to generate a streaming file version that looks like this -
I also link the URL to a plain hypertext download link so people can save the file to their computer. I write a little description of the person I interviewed, highlight the best parts of the interview, add a photo and click publish. Done!
Now let’s talk about how you can convince people to come on your podcast as a featured interview…
2. How To Convince Famous People To Come On Your Podcast
The first piece of advice I recommend when it comes to convincing people to be your next interview victim is to simply ask them. Nine times out of ten this has resulted in a “yes” for me.
If you approach really really famous people obviously you will face more resistance. It’s a smart idea to not approach the big players until you have some history behind you. This gives you the opportunity to practice, and also build some audience. It’s easier to convince someone to come on your podcast when you can say certain other respected people have already come on and you have X number of listeners.
I also find referrals are a great doorway into the world of certain people. If you can’t reach someone directly, get to know a friend of theirs and ask for an intro. The more well known you are, the easier it is to convince people to join you for an interview. Networking works.
Most of the people I interview either I meet in person at networking events. I’m introduced to through networking online, or I approach them after reading about them on another blog or website. Some, like Tim Ferriss, come to me when they have something to promote, and if I think their story is interesting enough I will record an interview with them.
3. Focus On Your Audience
There is one thing I want you to keep in mind the entire time you are on the call with your subject:
Who are your audience?
Just like when marketing your products and services in your business, you need to have a strong understanding of what your customers needs and wants are, where they come from and what language/style they use to describe their problems, when conducting a podcast. You need to consider all these things when interviewing. The better a job you do of this, the more popular your podcast will become.
One of the key mindset shifts I make while conducting an interview is to get into the shoes of the “avatar” of my target audience. The avatar is an example of the typical person who listens to my calls, and in my case I always focus on beginners who want to learn how to start a business and make money online.
While interviewing I think about whether the questions are being answered in enough detail for a beginner to understand. If the steps aren’t explained, or no examples are given, I ask the person I am interviewing to break these things down. This works particularly well when I am personally curious because I want clarity too.
For example, when conducting an interview recently with Scott Valdez, he explained how within two weeks of starting his business he had more customers asking to buy his service than he could handle, so he had to create a waiting list. Naturally I asked him how this happened and he said the story behind his business (Virtual Dating Assistants) was picked up by various media outlets, including television coverage in the USA.
If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering exactly HOW Scott managed to get this much press coverage. So that’s exactly what I asked him. He then proceeded to break down the process of how he went online and found the contact details for 150 journalists and emailed them all a template about his story. He even explained how he found the contact details, giving enough detail that a listener could replicate what he did.
This level of detail is important, and most people you interview won’t automatically break things down for you. You need to ask them and keep asking them until you have the specifics.
To help you do this, drop your presumptions and knowledge about the person you are interviewing and become your target audience. Then you will know what level of detail you need to dig out of the person you are interviewing.
4. Begin The Story: Find Out Where They Came From
A key lesson I learned about conducting quality podcast interviews is to see the person you are interviewing as a story. You are there to help facilitate the revealing of their story to your audience.
To begin this process I always ask my subjects to go back in time and take us through their lives to bring us up to date on their current project. Everyone I interview has some kind of key theme, something that makes them special and a real success story. Revealing how they became successful is important, and discovering how they came to the place of success by digging into their past is a great way to begin a story.
I usually ask my interview guests questions like this at the start of the interview -
- Where they were born
- What schooling they had and if they did any university studies
- If they had any jobs before becoming entrepreneurs
- How they developed whatever skill or speciality they are know for
- If the had any businesses/websites before the current project
You can use these questions as is or adapt them for your interviews. They should lead you to the next step, talking about their current success.
5. Find Out The Secrets To Success
Once you break down the history of your interview subject you can move on to the core reason you brought the person on the call. This part of the interview focuses on whatever successful project or reason that person is famous (or infamous).
I find every person I interview usually has two “secrets” to reveal when it comes to whatever they are successful at.
- What practical steps they did and in what order to get the result they achieved
- What mindset/strategy sets them apart and was responsible for their success
You have to be careful to cover BOTH aspects, not just one. Talking strategy is great, but often it’s more inspirational than practical. It gives people hope and motivation, but they don’t have anything they can actually take away and do. The practical steps make your podcast a training tool as well as a source of inspiration and ideas.
6. Wrap Up The Story And End With A Summary
Once you have broken down the entire process your interview guest went through for their current success and revealed their life story leading up to that success, you can begin to wrap up the interview.
I like my interviews to go for 30 minutes to an hour at most, so I always keep an eye on the clock to see how things are progressing. Towards the end of the interview once I have everything about the core story explained, I use the remaining time to fill in any gaps I may have picked up on while the interview progressed.
Often I’ll pick up on something that wasn’t fully explained but it wasn’t appropriate to stop them at that point. For example, I might ask them to explain their marketing technique in more practical detail, or talk about how they found their business partner, or even simple things like who built their website and how they found the people who work for them.
Having run a business myself I’m naturally curious about certain key things that I consider the major challenges, things like -
- How to find good people and what to pay them
- How to find good partners and structure partnerships
- Exit strategies, including finding buyers and completing a sale
Obviously these questions are relevant to the entrepreneurship industry. You should consider what are the major challenges in your subject area or you have personally experienced and whenever they come up during an interview, make sure you ask your guest to explain how they dealt with the issue.
Once you reach the end of the interview or at any point where the guest has explained multiple processes and experiences, I like to reflect back a summary. This serves a few purposes:
- It helps recap, sequence and clarify the points for the audience (and yourself – it makes you an active learner while doing the interview)
- It may trigger further explanation points for you to ask or your guest to bring up
- It ends the story-telling loop, meaning you can move on to the next chapter in the story or move to conclude the interview
I end all my interviews by asking my subject to list any websites or resources of their own they want to promote. I sometimes ask them to explain what they are doing next (plans for the future), or talk about what a day in their life currently is like (again focusing on specifics) or ask if they have anything to say to a person listening to them who is at the start of the process they just went through.
That last question is a great ending point because it’s always motivational and speaks directly to the listener. It’s nice to end on a high that leaves the listener eager to get out there and take action.
7. Ask How As Often As You Can
The final piece of advice I have for you is to always ask “how” whenever you don’t understand how something was done during the interview.
This one tip on some levels is all you really need to be a good interviewer. If you keep asking how, drilling things down, you will keep opening new doors to ask how about.
Most people are vague or very generic when they say they did something. Some of my guests have initially been very brief when answering my questions. I might ask how they did something and they will respond with one or two sentences…
Me: So how exactly did you come up with the idea for your blog?
Guest: I realized I liked sowing so I started a sowing blog.
Answers like that do not make for a long interview and don’t really give your listener anything to benefit from. In this example I would ask them more about how they learned to sow and what skills in particular are most challenging to learn. I’d then ask them how they built their blog, what platform they used, how often they publish articles, what sort of subjects are most popular, how they come up with ideas for content, where they found readers, etc etc.
Every answer opens doors for more questions, it’s just up to you to decide which doors are the best to open.
If you ever really struggle with a guest who just doesn’t give you in-depth answers I recommend you focus on one thing – get personal. All people, even shy people who don’t like being in the limelight still enjoy their own lives as a subject. Ask questions that flatter and show direct interest in the subjects that person cares about the most. Ask them to talk about where they were born, what they enjoyed growing up, what they are good at, what books they read, or anything specifically about them. A quick trip down nostalgia lane is a great way to get a person interested in opening up to you.
You Can Ask Why Too
For more on the concept of always thinking about asking questions, here’s a similar take but this time on asking “why” -
How Do I Prepare For Interviews?
I’m often asked if I do any preparation for my interviews, including whether I have questions ready to go in advance.
The answer is no, I don’t. The only preparation I do is some brief research into the person I am interviewing so I know what they are most famous for and what websites they own. To be honest though, I don’t even need this info. You can begin an interview with anyone and deliver a great podcast without knowing a single thing about them simply by asking the right questions and follow-up questions.
Right now I could ask you – “What are you most known for?” – and that would take us down a path to learn a lot about you, and make for a great interview, no matter how boring you think your life is.
I’m naturally curious about people and I’m good at coming from the angle of a beginner, so I find conducting interviews on the fly is my preferred style. I feed off the answers of my guests and probe any subjects I feel are relevant or interesting. This works well for me and always results in a good interview.
However don’t assume this is something you can do immediately. Interviewing is not a skill everyone is naturally good at, and until you get some practice your own nerves may stop you from being relaxed and in the flow with your guest. If you need a cheat sheet of questions to help you conduct your interview, that’s perfectly acceptable. I sometimes take notes myself so I don’t forget to ask something.
You can prepare these questions in advance or even run off a template you use for all interviews. A word of warning though – using only prepared questions can lead to a disjointed interview.
If you rely on prepared questions so much that your mind isn’t open to diverging down different paths based on how your interview guest responds, your podcast can feel quite stunted. Being relaxed and enjoying the interview like a good conversation, engaging with what your subject is saying and showing real curiosity, is the key to a natural interview style.
It’s Not About You
One final reminder that’s important for all you people out there who love to talk – the interview is not about you.
You can add to the interview, briefly, by offering your own reinforcing story, or relevant comment, but don’t start interviewing yourself. I like to focus on two things as my role as the interviewer -
- Asking the questions
- Summarizing the answers
That’s all I do. Even when I tell my own stories I usually do so only as a means to summarize or repeat what was just said by my guest.
If you find yourself dealing with awkward silence, don’t use that as an excuse to start filling the interview with your own voice. Keep asking questions. Follow the idea that you can never ask “how” too many times.
I hope these tips have given you some insight into how to conduct a quality podcast interview. The next step is to just get out there and do it. One of the most important skills to develop is comfort in front of the microphone when interviewing people. When you first do this it feels like you have a massive audience in front of you, even though it’s just you and your guest, so there will be nerves present. The only way to get past this is to do more interviews.
Practice breeds comfort and a comfortable host makes for a better podcast.
Get busy interviewing.