I am not a strong interviewer. This is at least in part why I don't do an interview-style podcast. But I'm pretty good as an interviewee. Recently, I've been interviewed by a wave of different podcasters—thanks to all of you! And that has me thinking about the art of the interviewee.
Astute listeners who are familiar with my work outside of Podcast Pontifications will be puzzled by my "I don't do interviews" statement, as they've heard me interview people as the host of the second season of the podcast 3 Clips by Castos and even had nice things to say about my interview style.
To that, yes: I've learned to become a better interviewer over time. But that's working against my nature. For the occasions when I'm asked to interview, I've learned to seriously over-prepare rely heavily on producers. I insist on extensive editing to make me sound as close to a good interviewer as possible.
But that isn't my approach when I'm the interviewee. And I'm much more often the interviewee than the interviewer.
Podcasters guesting on other people's podcasts is a time-honored way to gain targeted exposure for you and for your podcast to podcast listeners. It's fishing where the fish are. It's a chance to talk to an audience that is at least tangentially interested in what you have to say on your podcast. Guesting may not be the growth hack of the century as it's often billed (Spoiler: It's not.)
But it is a solid top-of-the-funnel activity likely worth your time. And it's why my default answer is yes when I'm asked to guest on someone else's podcast, (No, I'm not going to ask you about your statistics. I'm just going to say yes to the opportunity.)
I have a working hypothesis that the better you are as an interviewer, the less likely you are to be a great interviewee. I don't have a lot of data—OK, I don't have any data—to back up that claim, but I do have a lot of anecdotes. Not just mine own!
I've seen a few "how to be a great podcast guest" pieces published over the years. And they're fine for someone who's brand new to podcasting or who's never been behind a mic before. But that's not you, dear listener. You know much more than basic mic technique and how to be interesting behind the mic, for sure.
So how do you become a better podcast guest?
I don't have a pat "how to" answer at the ready. I'm not a big fan of one-size-fits-all answers, and "how to" isn't the angle I'm going for on this program.
But I do have four questions you should consider that will help you boost your podcast interviewee skills.
No, these aren't four quick questions to ask yourself five minutes before your guest appearance starts! Instead, these are four questions that will help you understand what type of interviewee you want to be when you next guest on someone else's podcast. There are no right or wrong answers. Just answer that can help you understand yourself a little better.
Should you have an agenda, or should you have an objective?
Please note that, at least in this particular instance, those two are not the same thing. There is a difference, and it's somewhat subtle.
Those who guest on a podcast with an agenda at the ready have a few key talking points or themes they'll continually bring up during the conversation. No, not as their answer to every single question, obviously. They're podcasters, not politicians! But when appropriate, an agenda helps bring most of the possible answers back to a central, common theme.
Having an objective, on the other hand, is much more direct. If you go objective-first, then you see all of your guest appearances as a means to an end. Not that there's anything wrong with that! And that objective is something quantifiable, like a call to action. You can't—or you at least probably shouldn't—push that call to action with every single answer you give. You still want to give a good interview that's enjoyable to the listeners! But you're not going to shy away from dropping that call to action at every relevant opportunity.
Should you prepare or should you go in cold?
Keep in mind that guesting on a podcast means you're not the host, so how you prepare for your podcast may have little to do with how you prepare to guest on a podcast. Agenda/objective aside, you want to be a good interviewee, right?
Prepping for your guest appearances ahead of time can be done by listening to previous interviews from that podcaster. Or you can read the About page for the host. And, if you can pull it off, understanding as much—or inferring as much—as you can about the show's audience can certainly help inform how you answer questions. Bonus: lots of prep work is great if you're the kind of person who hates being put on the spot with questions like, What are the last three books you read? (For the record, I'm the kind of person that hates lightning-round questions. YMMV.)
But there are merits to going into an interview cold. Your answers and your reactions will be much more spontaneous and natural if that's important to you. It also lets you only pay attention to each question asked, getting you out of your head. That often helps you stop worrying about what you've already said and what you've yet to tell. And after all, they invited you to be on their show. The prep work is really up to the interviewer, right? If they ask you a question that really isn't relevant and you don't have a good answer, they can always edit that out before they publish it.
Should you keep your answers short, or should you go long?
By short, I don't mean single-sentence answers. You're on the show to have a conversation with the host; you're not taking a quiz. By short answers, I mean more direct answers. The equivalent of maybe a paragraph or so if you wrote out your answers. Answers that are on point and don't meander (or at least not very far). Answers that don't take you three to four minutes to build up to your answer (which is my reality).
In contrast, going long means that meanders are welcome! As are "You know... that reminds me of an interesting story" anecdotes that answer the question through a well-told story. Oftentimes, how an answer is told is even more important than the answer itself. But beware: people who like to answer long—that'd be me—fully expect our long-winded replies to be edited down by the podcaster, and we're OK with that.
How accommodating will you be?
Or how accommodating can you be? You have a life. A life that comes with commitments beyond your podcast. So you may only have a narrow window availability when you're available to guest on another show. Or you might have certain days or times when you absolutely cannot carve out an hour to be a guest on someone's show. That's life. And you know that if the show really wants you as a guest, they can make accommodations to fit their request better into your schedule. (I mean, this is podcasting, right? Not appointment-based broadcast media.)
Or do you have ultimate flexibility and can say "Whenever is good for you" to all requests, moving your schedule around as necessary? Bonus points if you're willing to dip into your early mornings, late evenings, and even open up your weekends. That'll give you many more opportunities beyond your current time zone. And it also requires you to be locked into your calendar, setting reminders for yourself, so you don't accidentally schedule a guest appearance while you're supposed to be at your kid's ball game.
Now, as I said, there aren't right or wrong answers to any of those questions. If you're curious how I'd answer:
- I almost always have an agenda, but rarely an objective
- I prepare for every guesting opportunity, but not obsessively
- I give way too long answers but am working on going shorter
- I'm very accommodating, but I have some hard blocks on my calendar so I can get things done
So I hope that helps you become a better podcast interviewee.
I shall be back directly with yet another Podcast Pontifications.