Last updated 18th of December 2019
Author Martin Burgess-Moon
Room with an Interview: Podcast Interviewer Tips
“Did you threaten to overrule him?” Does that question bring back any memories? Try repeating it thirteen times. Now does it bring back any memories?
That question was asked by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight on 13th May, 1997. The same question asked fourteen times. Do you remember who he was interviewing?
YEAH, BUT NO, BUT…
It was Michael Howard with reference to the DG of the prison service and a sacked prison governor. It was a moment that went down in the history of interviews. Incidentally, he didn’t get a straight yes or no answer.
There are a lot of articles, videos and even books on how to be a good interviewee, but it’s a rarity to get any tips and advice on how to be a good interviewer. Well, far be it from us to criticise the great Paxo, but our first top tip would be to not ask the same question fourteen times. After about the third time you ought to get the hint that you’re not going to get the answer you want.
We record a lot of interviews for podcasts and more often than not, it’s one of the interviewee’s colleagues that conducts the interviews. So, if you’re planning on being the interviewer on a podcast, here are some of the things we’ve observed and learnt along the way.
RESEARCH, THEN FORGET…
Your interviewee will be clued up on their subject or topic, so you need to be just as knowledgeable. Usually, with corporate podcasts, a series of questions, bullet points or subjects are agreed beforehand. However, the interview could end up going off in any direction once you get going.
In order to keep the recording sounding natural, you won’t want to be slavishly following a script and that means there could be a fair amount of spontaneity or improvisation. So, be prepared … but don’t slavishly follow your notes.
DON’T JUST TALK – LISTEN AND REACT
Your interviewee might be nervous, so make them feel at ease. Have a chat beforehand, go over what is likely to be covered and try to match their mood and gestures. Obviously, don’t mimic or impersonate them! That would be silly.
Also, get the hint when an answer isn’t going anywhere or when you feel your interviewee is done covering a specific subject. Move things along and you’ll both keep things flowing nicely.
We’ve already pointed out that interviews can go off in any direction. The best way to encourage that is to listen. If you find an answer is so interesting that it should be expanded upon, ask a follow-up question before you move on to your next planned question.
You never know, you could end up covering topics and getting great content that was completely unplanned. So, listen up and think before you continue with your planned questions.
PAUSE FOR A GOOD CAUSE
If you think your interviewee has finished their answer, don’t immediately leap in with the next question. Pause for a few seconds. Your guest might use the pause to think of more things to say and these can often be the best things they say during the entire interview…!
If they end up saying nothing, then don’t worry. The pause can always be edited out.
RAISING INTEREST RATES
Look interested and sound interested in what your interviewee has to say. Be genuinely enthused and you’ll get more out of them.
As part of your research, don’t just look into the subject, look into the interviewee. Find out what they’re interested in. When you’re making small talk before recording, discuss some of their non-work interests and find some common ground. By the time you get to recording, you’ll be getting on like a house on fire.
PAUSE FOR THOUGHT
Incidentally, seven years after his infamous Newsnight appearance, Michael Howard was interviewed on the show once more by Jeremy Paxman. He asked Howard that question again. “Are you really going back over that again? As it happens, I didn’t”.
So, he finally got his answer. Although, a seven years’ pause was perhaps a bit longer than the pauses we’ve suggested here.
Of course, every interview is different and you might have your own thoughts, tips and advice on how to carry out an effective interview. If so, let us know…!