Whether you’re chatting with a casual friend or talking shop with an industry leader in your space, there’s nothing more important than conducting a compelling interview with your podcast guest. Being able to navigate an evolving conversation, find the most compelling and interesting stories, and identify key moments of reflection — all while, ya know, talking — is one tall order! But, it’s crucial to the success of your show.
If you’re new to the world of podcasting, constructing an engaging interview might sound like something reserved for podcast veterans with hundreds of episodes under their belts. Fortunately, like any other skill, great interviewing is something that can be learned and improved upon over time.
In this post, we’ve deconstructed an interview between Jay Acunzo, host of the 3 Clips podcast, and Sam Balter, one of the creators of the Weird Work podcast. Two podcasters talking about podcasts — what more could you ask for? Oh, and this post is the third (and final!) installment of our series featuring the Marketing Showrunners founder, Jay Acunzo. Thanks, Jay!
Your guests might feel just as nervous about joining your show as you do about interviewing them, especially if you don’t know them personally. Calm their nerves (and yours) by connecting with them at the beginning of your show or even before you hit record.
On this episode of 3 Clips — and on most episodes — Jay kicks things off by telling Sam why he wanted to have him on the show and what he genuinely admires about his work. Jay then goes on to play the theme song from Sam’s podcast, Weird Work, and shares that he thinks it’s one of the best jingles he’s ever heard. Sam then blushes (we’re imagining) and then graciously accepts the compliment, which prompts him to tell an interesting story about the origin of the song itself.
But, you don’t always have to build rapport on air. If your podcast is on the shorter side, you can do it beforehand. Kerry O’Shea Gorgone, the host of MarketingProf’s flagship podcast, Marketing Smarts, does 10-minute pre-calls with each of her guests, spending the first few minutes just getting to know them. This allows her to hit the ground running at the beginning of each episode.
“Building rapport will take, say, two-to-three minutes of talking about things that probably won’t make it into the final cut,” she says. “You don’t necessarily want to waste that interview time, so if you can get them to agree to a 10-minute prep call, it really makes a difference in how quickly you can get to it in the main interview.”
So, you’ve built up some healthy rapport, but now it’s time to go a layer deeper and make a real connection. Throughout Jay’s many interviews, you’ll notice that he constantly banters with his guests and shares emotional moments with them. He does this, in part, because it allows him to build a stronger connection, and a stronger connection often leads to more shared insights. Plus, let’s be real — badgering his guests with relentless questions would just be plain annoying for both the guest and the audience. Now, here are two foolproof ways to establish a solid connection with your guest throughout your interview.
The main way Jay connects with his guests is through humor. For example, towards the middle of the 3 Clips episode about Weird Work, Jay and Sam discuss being okay with silence during interviews. Sam mentions how he sometimes doesn’t respond to his guests after they say something, which makes them feel a little uncomfortable, but it usually triggers another cool response from them. As a response to this, Jay stays silent for a few moments, then questions Sam — “You’re not gonna say anything cool here?” Sam naturally replies, "Nope, not anymore!” The two burst out in laughter.
This is just one example, but when it comes to being a successful podcast host and interviewer, humor is often one of the greatest possible connection-builders. It’s especially helpful when your subject matter is on the heavy side and could use some levity to keep moving along.
“When it comes to being a successful podcast host and interviewer, humor is often one of the greatest possible connection-builders.”
Kerry O’Shea Gorgone gets even more personal on her show, Marketing Smarts, that we mentioned before. On her show, she dedicates an entire segment to just learning about her guest’s hobbies. This not only builds rapport, but it also gives her audience a peek into her guest’s personal lives, which makes them more relatable to the audience and keeps her listeners tuned-in.
“It’s about opening yourself up [as a podcast guest] and being a little more vulnerable and letting people see the weird, quirky, nerdy things that you do when you’re not doing your main job,” she says in a Marketing Showrunners blog post. “Even opening up just a tiny bit, and laughing at a joke, or making a joke, or talking about some crazy thing that happened while you were doing your marketing research. That stuff makes you relatable, and it makes you memorable.”
The questions you ask your guests can take your interviews from good to great. Remember that the quality of their answers hinges on the quality of your questions. Here are three types of questions that Jay recommends asking your guests in order to get the most out of an interview. Let’s dig in, shall we?
“The questions you ask your guests can take your interviews from good to great. Remember that the quality of their answers hinges on the quality of your questions.”
The human brain is hardwired to respond to narrative, but getting your guests to tell interesting stories in an organic way requires some tact. Jay finds that asking the questions, “Tell me about … ?” “What did you think it was going to be like?” and “What was it actually like?” can naturally elicit compelling stories about your guest’s work.
For instance, on this episode of 3 Clips, Jay says to Sam, “Tell me about how you’re justifying the existence of this very creative vehicle for a company that’s incredibly metric-driven.” Sam then tells three insightful stories about how he constantly educates his company about measuring podcast performance, how he stays data-curious instead of data-driven, and the metrics he uses to measure Weird Work’s podcast. Only one question pulled all of those narratives out.
Asking questions like “How did it feel when … ?” “What changed when … ?” and “What do you say to people who disagree with you on a certain point of view?” can create moments of deep reflection — they force your guest to think deeply about the situation at hand.
Jay plays the intro of an episode about an international pizza consultant and asks Sam how he feels about hearing his own voice on the podcast. Sam says that, at first, it was horrible. But at this point, he’s taken all the emotion out of the exercise and employs a purely rational approach to analyzing his narration abilities.
Forcing your guests to spell out the details leads to more specific, interesting answers. The two questions Jay has found that can focus their attention on the nuances of their work are, “Can you give me an example?” and “What was the least/most/best/worst … ?”
For instance, Jay asks Sam what his three favorite episodes of Weird Work are. Sam brings up an episode featuring a hand model, where he learned that she hones her craft by recording herself opening hundreds and hundreds of bottles. Who would’ve thought being a hand model took that much practice? I’m sure Jay’s audience didn’t know about the life of a hand model, but that might be why they kept listening. The answer was specific and, more importantly, super interesting.
As the host of your show, your job is to lead your guests to the finish line — but you have to do it in a way that’s both graceful and direct. Otherwise, you and your guest could veer off track or even trip over each other’s feet. And if that happens, your audience likely won’t listen to you hobble to the end. So, the next time you do an interview on your podcast, start off by building rapport, then aim to make a deeper connection, and last but not least, ask some open-ended questions to get to the good stuff.
Remember that becoming a great interviewer takes a lot of time and practice, so don’t get discouraged if you’re not a pro right off the bat! Listen back to your recordings (even if you hate the sound of your own voice) and take notes on what you did well and where you can improve.