Asking the right questions can mean the difference between an engaging conversation and a podcast episode that falls flat.
Interviewing guests can be one of the more stressful parts of hosting a podcast. However, when you prepare the right way, you can ask tailored questions that naturally flow into a conversation that your podcast listeners will enjoy.
How to get the best story out of a podcast guest
Researching your podcast guests is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for your show. This means you need to be familiar with each guest’s work, their current projects and any other relevant information that might be covered in the episode. For example, if your guest recently published a book, you should at least read a couple of chapters, if not the whole thing.
It’s a good idea to listen to any other recent interviews your guest has given. This will not only give you a deeper insight into their personal and professional life, but also show you where you can add to the conversation.
Always consider your audience when researching a guest. What will your listeners want to know about the interviewee? This can help you formulate engaging questions that resonate with your audience. For example, the same guest might talk about their personal experiences on a magazine-style podcast, but they might focus more on their preferred style of working when speaking on a business-focused podcast.
In addition to preparing questions ahead of time, you’ll also need to formulate new questions as the conversation progresses. If you’re too focused on your pre-written questions, the conversation could become stilted and awkward. Hone your listening skills so that you can ask follow-up questions.
One way to stop the conversation from becoming too formulaic is to avoid yes/no questions. If an interviewee can answer a question with a single word, it’s probably not an interesting question to begin with. Ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation moving along smoothly.
10 great podcast interview questions
Your research should help you formulate unique questions that your target audience will find engaging. The following examples are a shortcut to get started, but keep in mind that, as the conversation progresses naturally, you may come up with more poignant questions. Use your list of questions to frame the conversation, but don’t be afraid to leave the beaten path if it means a more powerful conversation.
1. What’s something about you that most people familiar with your work wouldn’t know?
This is a great podcast interview question because it serves as an icebreaker. It helps listeners who are familiar with the guest learn something new. Alternatively, if listeners are not familiar with the guest, they’ll get a personal anecdote that provides them with a little more context.
An icebreaker question will also make the guest feel a little more comfortable. Unless you’re interviewing someone you already know, a question like this one will establish a personal connection that will support a strong conversation.
2. What’s the biggest challenge facing you right now? In X years?
Chances are your listeners are tuning in to your podcast to learn more about their industry and the current trends impacting their field. The best podcasts give their listeners deep insights that they can’t get elsewhere. By asking your guests about their challenges, you will provide them with an opportunity to share the methods, processes and tools they use to solve complex processes.
Asking about the future enables your guest to speculate about what’s coming over the horizon. You can use this question as a lead into a conversation about the issues that most concern your audience.
3. What advice would you give to someone pursuing a career path similar to your own?
This question gives your interviewee a chance to speak directly to your audience. A great interview should not only provide an insight into the life of the guest, but also provide the audience with actionable advice they can use to pursue their own passions.
Although not everyone can take the same career path, this question can help your listeners to gain a better understanding of their industry or field. Plus, it can open up the conversation to topics related to current trends and/or marketplace needs.
4. Who has been your biggest supporter/mentor/role model over the course of your career?
This type of interview question encourages the interviewee to tell a story or anecdote from their past. So many of today’s leaders stand on the shoulders of those who came before them. This question provides an opportunity for your guest to give a shout-out to their mentors and anyone else who helped them along the way.
It’s common to assume that successful people forged their own paths without outside help, but that’s rarely the case. Asking about your guest’s influences can provide a broader context for their achievements.
5. What motivates you to get up in the morning and go to work?
Podcast audiences love to listen to people discuss their passions. You probably wouldn’t want to interview someone who views their work as boring or as a tedious obligation. Rather, you want to interview people who love what they do.
A discussion around motivations can help your listeners understand more about the factors that drive successful people to take impactful actions. Plus, it might help to motivate members of your audience to take the next step in their own careers.
6. What do most people misunderstand about your field of work?
Open-ended questions like this one give your guest a chance to delve deeper into an aspect of their work that they’re most passionate about. Considering the fast-paced nature of the internet, there’s a good chance that a general audience has misconceptions about a particular topic. Taking the time to acknowledge that a topic isn’t black and white allows you to add some depth to your conversation.
This is an especially great question to ask when discussing a trending topic. Go behind the headline and allow your guest to explain concepts that might otherwise elude your audience.
7. When did you first become passionate about your chosen field?
If you can get your guest to talk about their passions, you might not even need any more questions. Passionate people enjoy talking about their pet projects, upcoming events and the backstory behind popular topics.
This question in particular asks your guests to cast their minds back to an earlier time. It can be interesting to hear the story of how they went from a novice to an expert. Podcast audiences looking for inspiration will want to draw comparisons to their own lives.
8. If you could give advice to your 16-year-old self, what would it be?
This is a good interview question that provides some insight into the personal life of your guest. Their answer will show your audience what’s really important to the interviewee. The question gives the guest the option to discuss their industry in greater depth or pivot and discuss another topic that is important to them.
At the same time, the guest’s answer will likely apply to some members of your audience, regardless of their actual age.
9. What’s an example of a mistake or failure that you experienced, and what did you learn from it?
Every industry leader has made mistakes in the past. It’s the learning process that follows that enables the insights necessary to eventually succeed. Asking about a guest’s previous mistakes can show off their personality a little more.
This also shows your audience that it’s OK to make mistakes. In fact, it’s a part of the process of becoming an expert in a given field. Plus, there’s usually a good story behind an embarrassing mistake — just make sure that you’re asking the question from a place of respect and humility.
10. How can our listeners connect with you online?
It’s always a good idea to end a podcast interview with this question. Not only is this a sort of reciprocity for taking the time to appear on your podcast, but it also gives your audience the chance to learn more about your guest. Consider this question a sign of respect — your guest has lent their name and expertise to your show, so you should return the favor by letting them promote their social media profiles.
Be sure to check out the Above the Fold archives to listen to our very own Francis Ma and Jeff Baker speak with influential marketing leaders from around the world.