Asking The Right Questions: Podcast Interviewing

by Thomas, June 10, 2008 - 3:18pm

We want our interview-based podcasts to sound like a perfectly natural conversation. Somedays we get lucky and we capture that perfect collaboration between interviewer and interviewee. But what can we do to ensure that slice-of-real-life experience every time? It is time to ask some questions and maybe find some answers, starting with ...

What makes a good podcast interviewer?

This might seem blinding obvious, but an interviewer ought to display a certain confidence in asking questions, coupled with an ability to capitalize on the initial answers, finding those revealed routes to interesting stories and even better answers. The interviewer ought to have a neutral voice that is not distracting, but audible and clear. I'm not saying that everybody needs a voice like a radio announcer, or that we should all remain as flat in tone as androids, but the "character" of the interviewee's voice shouldn't be overpowered by the interviewer. Most of all, be personable and adaptable, especially patient with delays or interruptions due to the "intrusion" of real-life during the interview. Often, those entirely unscripted moments become the best part of an interview.

Another question ...

What makes a good podcast interview?

The recording doesn't need an "official" introduction (i.e., "Welcome to the So-And-So Podcast"). That only takes up valuable time that could be spent building a rapport with the podcast participant. Introductions can and will be added during production. Instead, initialize the podcast conversation simply. Let the participant introduce him/herself, or just ask them for their name, then proceed.

After asking the first few questions -- those basic questions that the listener would expect (Who are you? What do you do?) -- the interview ought to become a conversation. Any prepared script should become invisible. Let the conversation happen naturally. If tangents are uncovered and pursued, so be it. If the conversation runs over the time needed, so be it. Time is a concern during editing, not so much during recording. Basically, you're gathering raw information that will be refined later into a podcast.

At the same time, remember that this podcast is about the interviewee, not the interviewer. As Amber Rhea tweeted during a bit of on-topic research, "Don't be Charlie Rose. [S]hut up and let your interviewee talk, but also don't let them ramble like an idiot for too long."

To me, it is helpful when a podcast has "bookends," one point where we are introduced to the podcast participant and another point where that participant is thanked for their time and/or given an opportunity to conclude. These are not always necessary, particularly when an interviewee says something that makes for a perfect conclusion.

These answers are subjective and not all-inclusive. And there are surely more questions to be asked. So this is where you come in. Get involved, step into the comments, and let me know what works for you.

Tags: best practices, Charlie Rose, discussion, good, interview, podcasting

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1 comment

Rusty Tanton's picture
Rusty Tanton

Thanks for writing this Thomas. I hope to add more points later when work isn't trying to kill me. One thing I'll add quickly as a basic is to ask open-ended questions that require several sentences to answer rather than binary yes-or-no questions.

If you're feeling really lazy, you can even ask a binary question and then tack "and why" on the end.

Bad: What is your favorite color?

Good: What is your favorite color, and why?

Posted on June 10, 2008 - 3:47pm