Interviewing is an art form, much like playing the piano. And just like playing the piano, without practice, most people can’t sit across from someone and ask targeted questions that uncover brilliant stories.
There’s an art to guiding interviewees to explore profound and vulnerable insights, but many of us fail to realize that. As a result, we fail to uncover the engaging stories that would help us create brand podcasts that resonate with listeners. To answer the question of why hosts fail to acknowledge the art of asking questions, we need to start by taking a look at our mindset.
There are typically two fixed states of the mind: the knower mindset and the learner mindset.
Most of us, myself included, don’t like to admit that we spend the majority of our time in a knower mindset. There’s a comfort in believing we know more or better. And there’s something inherently uncomfortable about admitting what we don’t know. A knower mindset, however, prevents us from acknowledging that there are things we could stand to learn.
If we can lean into the learner mindset and shift ourselves away from knowing and into simply being present with someone else, then we can release that need to be in control. That release lets our curiosity guide us to explore what fascinates us most about the conversation or the story being shared. When we lean into learning and follow that curiosity, we can access more profound questions and become better interviewers.
When it comes to the art of question-asking for podcasts, the best hosts are both prepared and present—willing to perform serious due diligence and then throw preparation aside to follow the moment and unearth the stories behind guests’ answers.
The Power of a Great Story
When guests accept opportunities to appear on brands’ podcasts, why are they committing their time? It’s not just to deliver information and then be forgotten by listeners; they want to create or further relationships with audiences.
Compare this to reading a book. You might read 10 pages of a book and learn one decent idea, but you’re not moved to stick with it, so you stop reading. Soon, you don’t remember the author’s name, and you barely recall the decent idea. Books like this are information products, and it’s hard to be in a relationship with information. It’s the same with podcasts.
That’s where stories come in: connect with storytelling to evoke emotion and invite listeners into a relationship with yourself and your guest.
Stories are vital even for audiences who want to be informed when listening to a podcast. Stories help make content more memorable, more conversation-worthy. When you share an idea or experience grounded in a story or metaphor, you make it repeatable. The audience will remember the podcast as impactful and will likely share it with others when the information is contextualized within the emotional content of a story. In a viral, sharable world, that’s a powerful tool.
So how exactly do you pull those stories from your podcast guests and become a better interviewer?
How to Interview Someone for a Podcast
First, your own outlook is crucial to the success or failure of excavating interesting stories. If hosts believe that not everybody has something amazing to share on their show, they’re more likely to settle for whatever they get. Therefore, evaluate your mindset. Ask yourself, “If I expect my guests to do only a mediocre job, how supportive am I going to be in ensuring they create a transformative experience for my audience?”
Second, great podcast interviewers challenge guests. They ask guests to consider their stories from new—and maybe even provocative—angles. If hosts deliver information without first passing it through this lens, their shows possess no differentiating characteristics from the other 1.7 million podcasts in existence, and listeners can go to a different source for the same value. When guests feel like you are a trusted confidant, however, they’re likely to let down their guards and reveal unique truths.
Third, great hosts are entirely present with their guests and understand how to interview someone for a podcast spontaneously. They lean into the aliveness of the moment and connect with the storytelling. Conversely, some podcast hosts script out their whole introduction to the conversation out of fear of improvising badly. For 10 minutes, we listen to them read off a piece of paper and feel like we’re attending a lecture. It’s not a live performance where anything can happen — it’s a prepared statement and, therefore, a missed opportunity. A script says “I’m uncomfortable,” which then makes listeners uncomfortable (and not in a good way).
A podcast interview can inform and entertain audiences. When it does both, the storytelling process becomes more free-form, led by the incredible presence of a host who’s artfully excavating stories from a guest.
Strategies for Becoming a Better Interviewer
Interviewing cannot be mastered overnight. This process takes heightened awareness from the interviewer to cultivate a trusting relationship with guests. And like any art, the ability to show up and utilize the full range of your capabilities requires constant practice and exploration.
Because the podcast format allows you to know who your guests are ahead of time, you can use the following strategies to guide artful, vulnerable interviewing when creating a podcast for your brand.
- Create psychological safety using the three agreements. For guests to become vulnerable and share stories in ways they typically don’t, they must feel that they’re in a psychologically safe space. This safe space is vitally important to inviting more depth from podcast guests. To create psychological safety, adhere to three agreements:
- A request for presence: Being fully present with guests shows support for their risk-taking and vulnerability. When you are entirely present, you demonstrate that no distractions will separate you from the sacredness of the shared experience with your guests, grounding your relationship in mutual trust.
- Suspension of judgment: As a human, you’re wired for judgment, but judgment creates a hierarchy between hosts and guests. When you agree to suspend judgment, you show your guests that all aspects of their stories are worthy of gracious exploration.
- No fixing/solving: It’s not your job to solve or fix things. In fact, when you try to rush in and offer solutions or answers, you invalidate your guests — and decimate the trust you’ve been working to build. Letting go of the need to solve anything allows you to focus on being fascinated and present with your guests as you share and explore stories together.
- Study listening techniques. To become a better interviewer and expand the avenues to pursue in asking questions, seek out and study techniques on active listening. Some of the techniques that I lean into are listening for types, variations, and emphasis in language, as well as the physical impact on my body as I listen to others share their stories. I’ve found the Gestalt listening method to be particularly valuable in this regard, and podcast hosts who demonstrate exceptional active listening include Chris Cooper of “The Business Elevation Show” and Paul Edwards of “Influencer Networking Secrets.”
- Before the interview, find something fascinating. It’s said that the sound we love most as human beings is someone saying our names properly. Second to that might be the sound of someone saying things about us that acknowledge what we love about ourselves. Podcast hosts would be well-advised to research and review whatever they can find about their guests, doing so with an eye for the nuances that make their hearts or minds stir with fascination and curiosity. When thinking about how to plan a podcast interview, avoid looking for what might stir others. Instead, sincerely search for what pings something inside yourself. Great interviews are co-created, after all. They’re unique when they evolve into a dance between the guests telling their stories and the hosts daring to follow their curiosity.
- Do all that prep work; then, throw it away. The thing to remember about any kind of preparation is that when done in earnest, it becomes a part of us. But if it’s there to lean on, we’ll likely use it as a crutch, which will pull us out of the present moment as we focus on what to ask next.
By throwing your notes away, you force yourself to be in the moment with your guests while remaining grounded and supported by your preparation. In preparing for a theatrical performance, you would do the same thing: spend time rehearsing but, on opening night, leave it all behind and live out the play in real-time. Hosts who trust that their preparation will support them can let it go and focus on riding the wave with their guests as they connect with the story being revealed.
When you accept the responsibility of elevating your guests’ stories into transformative experiences, you invite listeners to connect to your guests in ways that tether them to one another—possibly for the rest of their lives. And when you help listeners fall in love with every guest, you’ll find that your audiences tether themselves to you as well. Both your brand and the brand of each guest are profoundly affected. And what does a brand desire more than a fanatical following?