One of the most important parts of creating an engaging, successful branded podcast is having a great interview host. Here are our tips for improving anyone’s podcast interview skills.
If you open up your podcast app today, you’ll hear some truly talented hosts who always seem to have the right questions and the “perfect radio voice.” It may feel overwhelming if you’re new to interviewing others, especially if you’re just starting your podcast.
1. Find your voice
If you’re nervous, try practicing by speaking into a microphone a few days before your interview. Know and understand your equipment – that will be one less thing you have to worry about during the interview so you can stay focused on your guest. You can also do mock interviews with someone you know who will give you constructive criticism on your tone.
But truthfully, anyone can become a great podcast interview host if you hone your skills. Here are several strategies you can use to take your podcast hosting and interviews to the next level.
You might feel pressure to imitate the voices you’ve heard on other shows, but it’s better to be yourself. Host with the voice that you feel the most comfortable with and aim for authenticity over what you feel you “should” sound like.
Your listeners want to hear a natural and confident voice, not a forced and inconsistent one.
On the day you’re going to host, avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages that could result in dry mouth. If you can’t resist your normal coffee routine, at least be sure to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water leading up to the interview. As a bonus, you can even do some vocal exercises to warm up and minimize the need to cough or clear your throat during your conversation.
Keeping yourself healthy and physically prepared for the interview will, in turn, make the conversation smoother and more comfortable for both you and your guest.
2. Focus on the guest
Even as the host of an interview-based show, you’ll be speaking quite a bit during your podcast series. But you shouldn’t be the star of the show. Keep the focus of your conversation on your guest and the information they’re bringing to the table, making sure that they have plenty of space to tell their story.
It’s important to remember that the quality of the questions you ask can make or break the episode. Keep questions open-ended and avoid those that could be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” to coax longer, more thoughtful answers from your guests, and use their responses as jumping-off points for the rest of your conversation.
Additionally, keep the energy of the room in mind as a factor in your guest’s overall comfort and try to conduct your interviews in a tranquil environment to reduce nerves. Or if you’re recording remotely, make sure to equip your guest with all the knowledge they need ahead of time so they won’t be stressed about technology on the day of the interview.
If your guest seems nervous or timid, at the very beginning during a sound check, you can ask a softball question: “What brings you joy?” Pretty much every single time our hosts ask this, the guest shakes off nerves with a natural smile acknowledging and sharing something that brings them peace. A disarming question like this will deflate anxiety and get them into the right headspace.
3. Keep the story natural
Sometimes the best flow for your interview is the simplest one. Allow your guests to tell their stories in chronological order from start to finish, prompting them along the way.
A “then what happened?” will often reveal details that both you and your guest would have overlooked the first time, and there’s perhaps no better way to finish a story than looking towards what’s next.
If your guest follows a tangent that you both find engaging, go with the flow. Find a balance between following your guest through the conversation and directing it to get as much information about your original topic as you can.
This will make you an overall more flexible host who is comfortable with the sometimes unexpected tangents that happen during an interview.
4. Accept silence as a natural part of the conversation
Much of hosting is making space not only for your guest to be human, and to embrace the “um”s and silences that we don’t notice in everyday conversation, but for you to be human as well.
There are natural lulls in any conversation, and one on record is no exception. Try not to allow silence from your guest to make you nervous. Often, silence from your guest can mean that you offered up a complex and thought-provoking question.
Use the time to gather your own thoughts and select questions that can move the conversation forward. Remember, and remind your guest, that the interview can and will be edited and longer silences can be removed.
Additionally, try to minimize polluting the interview with “uh huh” and other verbal cues. It’s tempting to try to fill silence, but sometimes the best guest moments appear during those pockets of space.
However, also keep in mind the timeframe for your interview and use that to evaluate the importance of the question that has caused the silence. If you must, move your interview forward by suggesting you come back to the point at the end of the interview, once other topics have been explored.
While it can feel difficult to balance finding your voice, focusing on your guest, keeping the story natural, and accepting silence, a good host can be the cornerstone of a podcast, the voice listeners come back to over and over again.