How to prepare for a podcast interview

A great interview on a podcast is nothing like a natural conversation. It should sound natural to listeners, but that only happens with proper preparation, fresh perspective, well-structured notes and landing questions. Here are 4 core components that will teach you how to prepare for a podcast interview and sound like a pro.

As a professional podcaster (I can back that up), I’ve interviewed thousands of people and hundreds of high-profile guests (you can too). My first dozen or more interviews were rough. My awkwardness was apparent. Over time, however, I learned lessons that are repeatable for a podcast host of any experience level.

Podcast interview preparation for the host

Intense preparation is the difference between a great interview and a boring average interview—especially if you have the opportunity to interview a more famous person. This makes you stand out because many media professionals don’t do the work.

In preparation for my interview with Andrew Yang, I asked him about UBI economics and presented challenges to his positions. I dug into VAT, UBI, and various countries that had tried these measures. His fans and Mr. Yang himself noticed. At the conclusion of my interview with him, he remarked, “That was very well researched, I appreciate it a lot.” His fans agreed, spreading the interview like wildfire. I received a similar comment from the founder of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, at the conclusion of our interview.

How to research for a podcast interview

Digging into the facts and figures is vital. For my guests, that looks like reading past news coverage of them, reading their book if they have one, reading their LinkedIn profile and past posts, and – if they have a personal website – reading every page. I also ask many guests about fascinating aspects of their business that even their biggest fans might not know. If this sounds like quite the time commitment and you’re not up to the task, you’re not ready to do an interview.

What happens if you don’t prepare properly? Years ago, I was preparing to interview Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman and didn’t put in the time and effort necessary. I hoped my ability to think on my feet and listen would be good enough. Dr. Kaufman was fantastic, as always, but you can clearly hear me struggle through the interview.

Failure to prepare doesn’t just hurt your podcast, it hurts others who gave you their valuable time. To his credit, Dr. Kaufman was very kind and understanding. You should certainly buy his book and subscribe to his podcast.

The irony of intense preparation is how unscripted and natural the resulting interview sounds. If you want to know how to prepare for a podcast interview, it starts with expert research and preparation. This works because preparation makes it effortless to move from one topic to the next, by allowing you to structure notes for easy scanning.

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How to structure your podcast notes for easy scanning

Many guests and listeners are surprised at how natural my interviews sound as I move from topic to topic. While it’s true my strengths include communication and relator, I also do thorough research and prepare with well-structured notes for easy scanning.

Detailed example of how to create podcast notes for a guest interview using indents, bullets, and emojis.
Use this easy podcast note template.

Despite thorough research, I can’t possibly remember all topics I want to hit. That’s why having scannable notes to guide your interview is absolutely critical. Structuring your notes can trip you up, rather than help you, however. The notes can be too detailed, making it hard to easily scan and pulling your awareness away from your guest. Your notes can also be too minimal, making you sound unprepared.

In the past, I’d miss easy interview opportunities and follow-up questions because my nose was in my notes and I was mentally preparing for my next question. I knew something had to change, so I structured my notes for easy scanning, allowing me to “hop” to any major topic I knew the guest would likely hit on. Let me show you how this works.

If my guest was a landscaper who knew about tree care, lawn care and necessary tools, I’d use those major categories as BIG word entries, perhaps even denoted with emojis for easy visual scanning. Because I did my research, I could use shorthand and write only enough words to use as “brain bookmarks.” In this way, if a landscaper was discussing mowing the lawn, I might use that as a good transition to lawn mower care.

When you structure your podcast notes for easy scanning, you will find it easier to jump from topic to topic. How to prepare for a podcast interview like a pro is about giving yourself the flexibility to move in and out of topics in a non-linear fashion.

Podcast interview preparation for the guest

When many budding pod-pros consider how to prepare for a podcast interview, they forget a key component: helping the guest prepare! Unless you’re a gotcha journalist, it’s wise to not just prepare yourself for the interview, but prepare your guest as well. Giving them information upfront helps them more eloquently answer your questions, plus it puts them at ease making the interview better.

I’m not suggesting you tell them all your questions in advance, that may risk them sounding scripted. But I do give them a general indication of what I ask, the format, past interview examples and who my audience is. Digital marketer Andrew Sumitani told me a big chunk of business for him is recording founder/CEOs. “A lot of them think they’re not good at speaking on camera, nervous, etc.” Easing these nerves makes a better interview. Here’s how to do that.

What to ask in a podcast interview

In my experience, I give guests an idea of what I will ask them in the background information I request. For example, you may ask “What are 5 fascinating aspects in lawn care most homeowners would be stunned to know?” This is a great question because it informs you of topics to ask, that may otherwise be off your radar all while giving the guest an indication of what you will ask.

Tell guests your podcast format

Tell guests what it will be like to be on your show. Tell them the time involved, if your interview will be combative, constructive, conversational, etc. When I requested an interview with Scott McLeod, Chief of Staff at Resident (the Nectar Sleep folks), I was clear that I disagreed with him on the issue of remote workplaces.

When reaching out to McLeod, I said I’d love to interview him about remote workplaces, that I disagreed with his perspective, but I thought my listeners could learn from his point of view. He came on and the interview was fantastic. You can listen to it here. Understanding how to prepare for a podcast interview is just as much about making sure guests are at their best, not just you.

Provide past interview examples to guests

Whenever I schedule a new guest or send out a request I make sure to email a link to the podcast, but I’ll also send them relevant interviews. If I email an author, for example, I’ll send them my interview with Dan Pink, Francesca Gino or Dan Ariely. I do this for two reasons; it tells them my podcast is reputable and trustworthy but also gives them a real example of what to expect.

Listening to previous examples will put a guest more at ease with you, the host and the show format. If you want to know how to prepare for a podcast interview, it starts with preparing your guest. The more at ease they are, the better the interview.

Tell podcast guests who your audience is

Would you feel comfortable talking to someone you knew nothing about, whom you couldn’t see or interact with? Of course not. Great communication is about understanding who you’re speaking to, and how you can give them value. This is why you must give your guests an indication of who your audience is.

Sharing demographic details is a start, but go deeper. Share your listener’s life experiences and what keeps them up at night. Do your best to humanize your guests and build a profile. You may say, “my listener is a 20-something mom who has a few kids and makes $120k a year.”

How to ask podcast guests great questions

If you forget everything else, don’t forget the #1 most important aspect of how to prepare for a podcast interview: ask amazing questions. It makes a better interviewer, gets more listeners and increases shareability.

When I was preparing for my interview with Andrew Yang, I noticed most TV journalists and anchors who interviewed him asked the same obvious questions… “so, you really want to give everyone $1000 per month?” It’s not an effective line of questioning, because it’s not unique. Both their audience and his audience (should he share the interview) have already heard his answer. They may get a few live, curious viewers, but there’s no shareability factor. No one was asking amazing questions.

When you begin preparing for an interview, it’s difficult to think of unique questions, but once you push far enough, you begin to notice gaps that need more clarity. Keep a paper notepad handy (here’s why), write all questions and position yourself as naturally curious. Question everything the guest believes and take a respectful, yet oppositional, perspective. You don’t have to oppose them in the interview, but the oppositional perspective is helpful in question development.

Remember, if your guest is an expert in their field, they will have no problem fielding difficult questions. This may seem obvious, but in an interview, the pressure mounts to “protect” the guest with softball questions. Don’t do it. They are the expert; treat them like one.

Lastly, and most importantly, focus primarily on your listeners. What questions would they ask? What concerns do they have that this guest could address? Knowing how to prepare for a podcast interview is knowing how to connect your guest’s knowledge to your listeners in a way that changes their life.

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