Six months after first starting this blog in 2005 I came across another form of online communication called a “Podcast”. Initially, like blogging, I had no idea what this term meant, but with some quick research I learned that podcasts and podcasting are all about creating audio files and syndicating them online via things like RSS. You can read my more lengthy definition of what a Podcast is here.
Blogs, which come with RSS, seemed like a good fit for a podcast. I didn’t see the need to create a completely new entity for my first podcast, I figured I’d just experiment and distribute the podcasts on my blog.
The first few episodes of my podcast featured basically my voice rambling about a topic. It was at this point that I discovered I was actually quite good at talking off the top of my head about subjects I had something to say about, and could easily fill a 30 minute audio with reasonably coherent content.
However it was when I began to invite other people on to my podcast and ask them questions and have a discussion that I really started to see the compulsion to podcast on a regular basis. Not only could I create good content for my blog, which would syndicate all over the web, I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet, talk to and learn from people who had achieved things and had interesting stories to tell.
Many of the first podcast interviews led to introductions to some of the most effective joint ventures I’ve ever done. Podcasting also helped to spike traffic to my blog, especially when the person I interviewed linked through to the interview I published with them, not to forget all the other blogs who link through as a run-on effect.
To this day I still listen to podcasts, and especially love interviews with experts (and music of course too), however I’ve noticed that many podcast interviews are just not well done. While I don’t consider myself the best of the best when it comes to podcasts, I’ve done over 60 of them in the last five years and I thought it was about time I wrote something on how exactly to conduct a quality podcast interview.
To keep this straight to the point, I’m going to outline what I consider the most important elements to ensure you create a quality podcast interview. Here they are in no particular order.
1. Get your technology right
The majority of the podcasts I’ve done in recent years were recorded using just Skype and a program called “Call Recorder“, which is Mac software that allows you to record audio and video conversations over Skype. PC users can try Pamela to record Skype calls.
Not every podcast I have done is perfect. Sometimes lines drop out, volume isn’t balanced, video is blurry (for video interviews) or there is lag, but on the whole, just using simple tools results in a high quality output. On the rare occasion I have to open up Garage Band, which comes with Mac, or you can try Audacity for PC, and edit out silence from lag, or increase volume, or link together multiple audio files if the call dropped during the recording. Taking a little time to edit any major issues is worth it, just don’t go crazy or you may never get your podcast out the door.
I previously used bells and whistles like theme music, introductions and outros, but in the end I decided that simply getting the audio out there in a clear, simple and straight to the point recording satisfies people. The content is what matters, so you only need ensure your technology creates something that people can understand and requires minimal fuss to manage at your end.
2. Let the person you are interviewing do the talking
During the interviews I’ve done, the only prolonged talking I do comes in two stages – a brief introduction of who I am interviewing at the start, and sometimes a recap and simplification of a point made during the call by the person I interviewed, if I believe the point is important or needs clarification (often I do this for my own benefit too to make sure I understand what is being said).
The rest of the call should be all about the person you are interviewing. They do the talking and your audience is there to learn from them. You are simply a facilitator, who is there to extract the best information you can with the right questions and responses.
3. Be genuinely interested in who you are interviewing
I NEVER prepare questions in advance for interviews. I rely on a genuine interest to learn something, and – this is important – extract the story behind the person being interviewed. I focus a lot on the personal history, the anecdotes and time-line that led to the person becoming who they are. In fact in almost every interview I’ve done, a good chunk of the early part of the call is all about diving into a play-by-play recount of who the person is, where they were born, what did they study, how did they get into what they are doing today, etc.
If you need prepared questions to help prompt you, that’s fine, and I definitely recommend this if you haven’t developed the skill of thinking off the top of your head and feeding off responses from other people. Being able to guide a conversation to the most important elements is critical, so this will take practice, however if you really do care about learning from this person, you can treat the interview like a conversation you might have sitting with them face to face at a cafe.
4. Learn how to deal with different personality types
Every person is different, hence every interview is different. Some people like to talk. Some people are shy and some are simply not the best speakers, yet if you dig around they have a great story to tell.
The easiest interviews I’ve done are by people who have interesting personalities, are good story tellers, but are not overly prepared for the interview. There’s nothing worse than an interview that is devoid of emotion because the person has told the exact same story over and over again as if reading from a script.
You won’t really know what type of person you are about to interview until you speak to them, which doesn’t give you time to prepare – you have to deal with whatever mood and style you are dealing with.
I’ve done interviews with people who clearly started off not in the best mood to talk. Although tough at first, my secret has relied on one thing to get people talking – ask personal questions.
Everyone’s favorite subject is themselves, and while it may not work immediately, in every situation I’ve been in during an interview, once I hit the nerve regarding an aspect of their life or personality they are proud of, or are passionate about, they will open up and start telling great stories.
Sometimes it takes some probing, but if you keep asking things like “how did you do that?” or “where did you learn to do that?” or “how did it feel when you did this?”, you will eventually warm them up enough to start giving you their best stuff, provided you come across as genuinely interested.
5. Become your audience
This is absolutely critical. When interviewing an expert, and you want to produce an interview that really teaches unique insights into the subject the expert knows about, you need to enter the mindset of your audience.
This is a lot like becoming your customer when defining your niche. If you have a clear understanding of the problems, language style and background of the person listening to the interview, then you will have a clear picture regarding what questions to ask. This is particularly important when dealing with beginners because you often need to ask the person you are interviewing to clarify how to do things down to a granular level, as they will otherwise gloss over the details. When in doubt, ask the expert to break it down into step-by-step procedures.
6. Focus on tangibles whenever possible
The best interviews I have done have been very specific as teaching tools regarding how to do something. Often the best stories come from really tangible case studies, where all I need to do as an interviewer is ask the person to explain how she or he did what they are famous for doing.
If you combine a great case study, told as a story, with lots of tangible, real-world examples, presented as steps your audience can replicate, then you have the ingredients for a truly awesome interview.
7. Stay aware of time
One podcast should not go longer than an hour. Forty-five minutes is a good time-frame to aim for, but don’t be afraid to end a call at 25-45 minutes if you’ve covered the topic enough.
If a call is going long, but the quality is high, you can break up the interview into parts. This can work well for the particularly long case studies, which require detailed breakdowns, and you end up with two really good podcasts.
There’s more I could talk about regarding how to create quality podcasts, but at least now you have a solid list of some of the most important elements to make an interview work.
Practice really does make perfect in this case, because the more relaxed you are, the better your interviews. Keep a good flow, make jokes now and then, and refocus the interview when you feel it’s moving off track, and in the end you will have a quality podcast interview.