Ben Adam-Smith describes 8 steps to help you achieve a better podcast interview.
Before I suggest some practical ways to improve, there is one thing worth mentioning that you may already possess that will put you far ahead of the crowd. This is not something you can be taught, but it’s a passion for finding out new things and learning. Don’t underestimate how powerful this is. Listeners can get beyond your interviewing skills if they believe in you and your desire to uncover great content. Hopefully this is good news if you’re creating content for your business because you will have that drive and ambition.
Here are the 8 steps:
Some preparation is always a good idea. There are people who like to go in cold and uncover things during the interview. Unless this is your style, you can miss great opportunities because you hadn’t got enough background information or weren’t aware of connections. So read a profile about your guest, do some background reading on the subject, watch any You Tube videos that might be relevant and look for things you have in common with the interviewee. Set yourself a time limit for this as you can quickly find the time flying by! All of this information is useful, even if it doesn’t directly impact on the interview – it’s information you have at your finger tips. Best of all is that spending time in this research often leads to your thoughts on the topic… and thoughts lead to questions. Don’t censor yourself too much at this stage. All questions are good questions! Make a list of everything you want to know and everything you think your listener might want to know.
When you have your questions, you need to put them into a logical order. Your interview will have a beginning, middle and end, so consider what the natural sequence should be. Often interviews first establish a guest, then introduce the topic, go into depth about something in particular, and finish on a few resources and tips to help the listener take further action. Niche podcast interviews are all about delivering great content so it may help you if you have an aim for the session. For example: “Today we’ll learn how to use a cross stitch when knitting a scarf.” This should make it easy to spot when you have got all the material you need.
3. Sound Quality is Important
It’s simple, listeners switch off if the quality of the recording isn’t up to scratch. Be critical when listening to your audio – is it good enough? Perhaps it’s worth checking how your sound compares with other podcasts. If you think it’s time to invest in more kit, these affiliate links could be handy… The Tascam DR05 is an inexpensive and great portable recorder. If you’re looking for a USB microphone to plug into your computer, the Blue Yeti is very popular and worth investigating. The professional kit I use is more expensive but I believe it is worth it. I take a Yellowtec iXm with cardioid mic head with me when I’m out on location and if I’m recording with my Mac, I use an Audio Technica AT4033a working in conjunction with a DBX286S processor and a Focus rite Sapphire pro 14 audio interface.
Of course it’s not just the equipment, but how you use it that will impact on the sound quality. If you’re too far away from the microphone you’ll lose that crispness and prominence. If you’re too close it will distort the recording. Wearing headphones will really allow you to judge this distance just right.
When on location and using handheld kit, try to minimise microphone movement as much as possible. One way to do this is to sit right beside your interviewee, like you would on a bench.
4. The Recording Environment
For any recording you want it to be quiet. Our ears do a brilliant job of filtering out unwanted sounds but microphones will pick them up. Take a moment to listen to your surroundings to see what you’re up against and if there’s anything you can do about it. Close windows, shut doors and turn off noisy air conditioning units. Avoid the squeaky swivel chairs! If you’re outdoors you have the added factor of the wind with which to contend. Next, look for interruptions. Are all mobile phones switched off? Are people aware not to disturb you for the next few minutes?
If you’re recording onto your computer, close down all the unused programs and make sure you’re not going to get any notification noises. Also check in advance whether your interviewee’s microphone kit is up to your standard. It might stick out like a sore thumb otherwise, if you sound fantastic and they don’t! It’s probably worth asking them whether they have access to a better microphone. Perhaps the office or the neighbour has a better set up? Taking the time to investigate may pay off in a big way in the professionalism of your interview.
It sounds obvious but it’s likely to be a mistake that every beginner makes at some point. You’re so wrapped up in your list of questions and what you’ve got to do that you don’t give your full attention to what the interviewee is saying. At best you will lose some natural flow of the conversation, while at worst you find yourself asking questions that have already been answered. It does demand concentration but we can all do this. I find reducing distractions helps me. That’s one reason why I don’t like to use my list of questions because it can constrain the conversation whereas under normal circumstances it would go wherever it needs to go.
6. Let Your Guest Speak
Although a conversation is a two way process, an interview is normally more focussed on the guest so don’t be afraid to let them dominate the time (particularly if what they’re saying is good). After you ask a question, listen to the answer and let them finish what they are saying. It can be tempting to interject – particularly if you have a strong opinion or another burning question has popped into your mind – but try not to. This will also aid you should you come to edit the material and need to chop out whole questions. The exception to this rule is when your interviewee is rambling or missing the point of the question. Then your listener might be pleased you’ve interrupted!
7. Experiment with Not Using Your Questions!
It sounds crazy but I like to write my questions and then put them to one side. I think the reason for this is because I take in a lot of information during my preparation and I have learnt that it’s all there in my brain! I know I have done the groundwork, I know a rough order of the questions and then I just see what happens. This normally creates a much more organic sound to the interview, even though it does have a structure beneath it. Before you stop the recording you can always check your list of questions to see if you’ve missed anything important, which you can then edit in afterwards if necessary. If you do use your questions, be aware of how they can lock you into a path.
Certainly before the interview you want to have a moment of calm. If you’re doing something stressful before you begin recording you are likely to bring that stress with you into the interview! Take a deep breath and talk slowly and clearly. When you are recording, if you are genuinely interested in the topic, this should be fun. So enjoy the experience.
Ben Adam-Smith’s eBook, Radio Interview Techniques Revealed, gives you all the tricks of what the professionals do, along with a troubleshooting guide and how editing can improve the overall sound.