How to host live shows and interview guests

Interviewing a guest for a podcast, radio, or a livestream is difficult. While it does take experience to get right, there are a few strategies that are helpful to know. If you’re seeking a better understanding of how to host live shows and interview guests, this is for you.

I’ve interviewed Presidential candidates on live radio for hundreds of thousands of people, hosted live panel discussions, and I’ve hosted the Global Peter Drucker Forum‘s media channel. One question I got quite a bit was, “how do you fit your content perfectly into your time slots?” A few people watching from the studio wanted to know how I closed every segment to the second.

The stream was live for two days. Guests were in the studio, there were red-carpet interviews, numerous live hits from around the world, and pre-programmed video clips. I had the honor of anchoring and had to keep my slots to three, five, or as-assigned time slots, sometimes with only a 30 seconds notice. That means ending the very second the countdown clock hit 00:00.

How to manage a live timeclock

Here’s the secret to managing a live time clock for a live stream, TV channel or radio show. Create more content than you need, and create short “bonus topics” as filler. Get the important stuff in first, then add color if you have the time.

I even put obvious information in my outline, like my name, and any other stuff I need to hit. Like, the name of the show, the name of the network, or a topic tease idea. At least in my case, I will absolutely forget that stuff if I don’t write it down.

I use a detailed outline and manage content via what I call the “F” method. If you’re working on how to host live shows and interview guests, this works like a dream.

Drucker Forum TV time clock is visible above the left monitor.

The “F” Method

The “F” Method

To summarize the “F” Method, the top content on my outline is vital. As I work down the outline, topics become less important. Also, the further the indent to the right, the less important. My content prioritization resembles a giant letter “F” being placed onto my outline.

Although I’m fairly good at this point at managing my clock to fit all content in, it wasn’t always internalized. Using this method, you can check your time clock throughout your show and start to prioritize content in real-time.

If you’re running behind, you can expand by delving into further indented detail, taking up more of your clock. If you’re running over time, fearful you’ll fit relevant content into the show, you can begin to skip indented detail covering topics broadly.

“Bonus Round” filler content

It’s also important to add “Bonus Round” content. This can come in handy if you go through your content too quickly, or need to fill a shorter space. Depending on the show format, I keep this content on a separate sheet, or I may give this its own section on a page. Filler is not bad or useless content, it is great or fun information that is short in delivery. Quick announcements, fun quotes, news updates, etc.

Bonus round content is also great when you complete a major topic but are quickly approaching a hard break and/or lack the time to jump into another big topic. In my live radio days, if I finished a topic early or misjudged time, I’d be left with 1 min or 2 minutes. That’s not enough to start a new 10-15 segment, but too much time to stretch my existing topic. This is when bonus topics are needed. How to host live shows and interview guests is about knowing what to do with awkward space.

The Last 30 Seconds

When you get down to your last 30 seconds, you have a choice to make depending on the platform and format. You can give a call to action like “follow me on Twitter.” You can thank people for listening, give your website out, or tell them how to connect with you, download an app, or whatever.

If you’re a part of a larger project, this is also a good time to tease an upcoming segment. People have extremely limited attention spans, so teasing upcoming segments is a must. In the case of Drucker Forum TV, I’d close whatever topic I was on and immediately skip to tease the very next topic after me. “…right now, Jyoti Guptara interviews Julia Hobsbawm about the Nowhere Office. Is hybrid better? Remote work? Is office work superior? That’s next!”

How to cut off a live guest

Floating and hard breaks in radio and TV.

During my live radio days, I’d interview guests at the top of the hour, giving me flexibility for a “floating” break. Floating breaks give a little bit more flexibility on “out” times. Hard breaks are usually a requirement for nationally syndicated content, news, or live coverage. But I’d often have to work around hard breaks with guests and callers too.

First, it’s important to give guests an indication of how much time you need before the interview starts. When push comes to shove, however, it’s up to you to manage the time clock. That can be tricky when a guest is speaking, and you’re running out of time. Here are a few tactics I use. You can see all of these on display at the 5:49:10 mark on my recent Drucker Forum TV interview below.

Justin Brady hosts Drucker Forum TV live at The 15th Annual Global Peter Drucker Forum

Set time expectations with your guests

Before any interview it’s important to communicate expectations for the interview by telling the guest precisely how long the interview is. But there may come a point when a guest wraps up a question, and you face the tough decision of how to fit in the remaining question.

Perhaps you have 2 minutes left. In the case of my interview with Robert Kaplan in the clip, I asked a question and gave him a prompt on how much time he had. “In our final 2 minutes, tell me about ____.”

You can also remind the listeners with a brief audience address during the show, “as a reminder our show is every Monday through Friday from eight to nine eastern.” Your job as a host or interviewer is not just to extract the best ideas, but manage the clock.

Increase feedback

Generally, you want to limit “uh huh” or “oh” comments when speaking to a guest. If you want them to wrap up, however, increasing the frequency of polite interruptions with closure words can help. Closure words like “that makes sense” or “yes” or “thank you for that” when used right can be a subtle nudge to wrap up. You can watch in the clip below, I start to increase the frequency of these words with with Professor Kaplan. In many cases, guests will break focus and let you close out.

You can also increase feedback by using a soft cutoff.

The soft cutoff

Sometimes people have a tendency to ramble, especially if they’re nervous. In these cases it may be appropriate to use a soft cutoff to avoid the appearance of being disrespectful. I also call this the polite cutoff. It works by using a compliment to cut them off. You may say, “Sarah, I love the point you brought up about X. That’s very well said. I’d like to shift gears if I may and ask you about _______.”

In the case of Twitter Spaces this works wonders if someone is monopolizing the conversation. “Tom, that’s brings up a great point about ______. Rob what do you think about _______?”

The hard cutoff

When you are quickly running out of time, and the guest is still answering the question, it might be time to completely cut them off. Yes, this can be awkward, but it’s vital if you’re on a live clock. The easiest way is to say their name, thank them for their time, and quickly close the segment. You can watch how I politely cut off Professor Kaplan in the clip.

In some previous live shows, especially with live callers, I’ve had to completely just cut off guests in the past that didn’t want to stop talking. Of course, people don’t like that even if you give them warnings, but when dealing with a live clock, you have no choice.

Know Your Guests and Know Your Stuff

Using the “F” method also works with guest interviews, but it’s advisable to keep it much more simple for easy scanning. You can see my template on how to prepare for a podcast interview, and how to prepare podcast guests as well.

Figuring out how to host live shows and interview guests, while using a teleprompter is difficult or impossible, especially if you don’t have a huge team. Instead, you should know your topic inside and out, so you can talk freely about it. The outline is just your guide and is used for important data that is difficult to memorize.

When interviewing guests, I will often read their entire book, past year’s worth of articles, and other research. I know their topics. I’m prepared to jump around the interview with them comfortably. This is non-negotiable if you want to learn how to host live shows and interview guests.

The basics for live programming are this: create more content than you need, and have several short “bonus topics” or filler on hand if you need them. During my radio days, when I had 3-hour shows, I never got through more than two-thirds of my content.

Thank you for contacting me!