Mastering Interviews

Essential Guide & Expert Tips


Welcome to an insightful journey into interviewing guests, where each conversation is an opportunity to explore, connect, and captivate. This guide is crafted to enhance your skills as an interview host, taking you through the nuances and intricacies of conducting memorable and impactful interviews.

Section 1, "Designing Impactful Questions," lays the foundation for engaging interviews. Here, the focus is on crafting open-ended, personalized, and storytelling-focused questions. This section sets the tone for a dialogue that engages your guest and captivates your audience from the start.

Section 2, "Clarifying and Deepening the Dialogue," delves into the subtle art of enriching the conversation. Emphasizing the strategic use of silence, navigating sensitive topics with empathy, and balancing curiosity with respect are key elements. These skills are crucial for creating an environment where guests feel comfortable and encouraged to share their insights and stories.

Section 3, "Avoiding Common Interviewing Mistakes," guides us through potential pitfalls in interviewing. This section serves as a reminder that even seasoned hosts can benefit from revisiting the basics. It focuses on refining techniques to ensure that each interview remains fresh, respectful, and enlightening.

Section 4, "Advanced Interviewing Techniques," explores nuanced strategies that elevate an interview from good to exceptional. Understanding the dynamics of 'Rat Holes' and 'Horizontal Tunnels,' reading between the lines, and balancing thorough research with the spontaneity of natural conversation are skills that enhance the depth and quality of your interviews.

Section 5, "Elevating Your Interview’s Impact and Engagement," brings it all together. It focuses on creating a lasting impact and strong engagement through signature questions, understanding the mutual influence between host and guest, and ensuring a positive guest experience. This section is about making your interviews stand out in an increasingly crowded field.

Interviewing is both an art and a science. It requires meticulous preparation, intuitive conversational skills, and a genuine passion for storytelling and connection. Each interview is a new adventure, an opportunity to learn and grow, and a chance to create meaningful connections with both your guests and your audience. Your program is more than just a platform for voices; it is a space where ideas, experiences, and perspectives are shared and celebrated, enriching everyone involved.

Section 1: Designing Impactful Questions

1.1 The Power of Open-ended Questions

Open-ended questions are essential for eliciting rich, detailed responses. They encourage guests to delve into their experiences and offer thoughtful insights. Questions like, "What pivotal moments shaped your entrepreneurial journey?" or "How do you balance creativity with the practicalities of running a small business?" can unlock engaging narratives and provide valuable lessons for listeners.
Example for Entrepreneurs: "Can you describe a critical decision you made in the early stages of your startup and its impact?"

1.2 Venturing into Uncharted Territories

Exploring lesser-known aspects of a guest's life can uncover fresh and compelling content. Inquiring about a guest's hobbies, personal challenges, or unique approaches to their craft offers a new perspective to the audience. This approach is particularly engaging for creatives and musicians, whose personal experiences often deeply influence their work.
Example for Musicians: "What non-musical influences do you draw inspiration from for your compositions?"

1.3 Tailoring Questions for Each Guest

Customizing questions to align with a guest's background and area of expertise adds depth to the conversation. For small business owners or politicians, questions should focus on their specific experiences, challenges, and successes. This personalization demonstrates the host's interest in the guest's unique story.
Example for Small Business Owners:"What unconventional strategies have you employed to overcome market challenges in your business?"

1.4 Embracing Storytelling in Interviews

Incorporating storytelling into interviews creates a deeper connection with the audience. It's particularly effective with creatives and entrepreneurs whose journeys are often filled with compelling narratives. Story-driven questions can transform a conversation into an inspiring and relatable experience.
Example for Creatives:"Could you share a story about a project that significantly challenged and enhanced your creative skills?"

1.5 Exploring Questions Without Known Answers

Asking questions without predetermined answers fosters spontaneity and discovery. This approach is invaluable in discussions with entrepreneurs and politicians, where unexpected insights can emerge. It encourages guests to share thoughts and experiences that might not surface in a more structured interview.
Example for Politicians: "What surprising lessons have you learned from interacting with your constituents?"

1.6 The Power of 'Why' Questions

'Why' questions are potent tools in uncovering the deeper motivations and thought processes of guests. They prompt introspection and detailed explanations, often revealing the core reasons behind actions, opinions, or decisions. These questions can transform a simple response into a rich narrative, adding significant depth to the interview.

1.7 Understanding 'Rat Holes' and 'Horizontal Tunnels'

'Rat Holes' are preliminary questions that establish the baseline of the conversation, covering essential topics and providing context. They serve as an entry point, helping the guest ease into the conversation. 'Horizontal Tunnels' are deep-diving inquiries that explore complex ideas, personal experiences, or nuanced opinions. Navigating from Rat Holes to Horizontal Tunnels enriches the conversation with detailed insights and unforeseen revelations.
Example for Entrepreneurs: An initial 'Rat Hole' question could be about the genesis of their business idea, followed by a 'Horizontal Tunnel' question like, "What was a pivotal turning point that significantly shaped your business's growth?"

1.8 Selective Exploration of Horizontal Tunnels

Choosing which 'Horizontal Tunnels' to explore is a critical skill. It involves gauging the potential value of each deep-dive topic and balancing it against time constraints and the guest's comfort. This selectivity ensures that the conversation remains focused and impactful, exploring areas that offer the most insight while respecting the natural progression of the dialogue.

Section 2: Clarifying and Deepening the Dialogue

2.1 Mastering the Art of Clarification

Clarifying questions is pivotal in enhancing audience comprehension and enriching the conversation. These questions, like "Could you elaborate on that strategy?" or "What motivated that particular political stance?", help clarify complex ideas and prompt guests to delve deeper into their narratives. They are especially beneficial for small business owners and politicians, whose experiences often involve intricate decisions and policies.
Example for Small Business Owners: "Can you walk us through the thought process behind your latest marketing campaign?"

2.2 The Strategic Use of Silence

Silence, when used strategically, can lead to revealing insights. A thoughtful pause after a guest's response encourages them to reflect and share deeper thoughts, often uncovering valuable information. This technique is effective across all guest types, from entrepreneurs to musicians, as it allows them to articulate their ideas more fully.
Example for Musicians: After a musician describes their songwriting process, a pause might prompt them to share deeper insights into their creative inspirations.

2.3 Crafting Guest-Specific Questions

Tailoring questions to each guest's unique journey adds depth and relevance to the dialogue. For entrepreneurs and creatives, questions can explore their specific challenges and triumphs. This personal touch shows respect for the guest's experiences and makes the conversation more engaging for the audience.
Example for Entrepreneurs: "In what ways did your initial business vision evolve as you navigated the entrepreneurial landscape?"

2.4 Avoiding Overly Familiar Questions

Steering away from questions frequently asked in other interviews keeps the conversation fresh and intriguing. Finding unique angles or less-explored aspects of the guest's work or life can transform a routine interview into a fascinating discussion. This approach is particularly beneficial for guests like politicians or creatives, who often face repetitive queries.
Example for Politicians: Instead of asking about common political issues, inquire about how their personal experiences have shaped their political views.

2.5 Importance of Engaging Content for Listeners

Engaging content is crucial in maintaining listener interest. Hosts should focus on creating discussions that spark curiosity and hold attention. This involves the choice of questions and how they are framed and followed up. Questions that invoke storytelling or personal experiences are particularly effective in engaging listeners, regardless of the guest's profession.
Example for Small Business Owners: "Could you share a defining moment when you felt your business truly made an impact on the community?"

1.6 The Concept of Rat Holes and Horizontal Tunnels

'Rat Holes' lay the foundation of the conversation, while 'Horizontal Tunnels' allow for deeper exploration. This structure ensures a well-rounded interview, combining essential background with in-depth, personalized discussions. It’s particularly useful for delving into the diverse experiences of small business owners, musicians, and creatives.
Example for Entrepreneurs: An initial 'Rat Hole' question could be about the genesis of their business idea, followed by a 'Horizontal Tunnel' question like, "What was a pivotal turning point that significantly shaped your business's growth?"

Section 3: Avoiding Common Interviewing Mistakes

3.1 Steering Clear of Closed Questions

Closed, yes-or-no questions, while sometimes necessary for clarity, generally limit the depth of the conversation. They often provide little insight and do not encourage guests to elaborate. For a more dynamic and informative interview, especially with diverse guests like small business owners or creatives, focus on open-ended questions that encourage detailed responses and storytelling.
Example for Entrepreneurs: Instead of asking, "Was starting your business challenging?" opt for, "Can you describe the challenges you faced when starting your business and how you overcame them?"

3.2 Handling Sensitive Topics with Sensitivity

If relevant to the discussion, sensitive topics must be approached with utmost care and respect for the guest's comfort and privacy. This is particularly important for politicians or public figures who may be navigating complex and potentially controversial issues. Gaining consent before touching on such topics and maintaining a tone of empathy and respect creates a safe space for open and honest dialogue.
Example for Politicians: When discussing potentially divisive policies or decisions, frame questions to allow for explanation and perspective, such as, "Can you share your thought process behind this policy decision?"

3.3 Navigating Invasive Questions

In-depth interviews often venture into personal territory, offering valuable insights into the guest's motivations and experiences. However, it's crucial to build rapport and trust first. For guests like musicians or creatives, whose work is often deeply personal, ensure they are comfortable sharing before delving into more intimate details. Be prepared to respect their boundaries and edit out parts of the conversation post-interview if requested.
Example for Musicians: When discussing personal experiences that influence their work, be mindful and respectful, asking, "Would you be comfortable sharing how your personal experiences have influenced your music?"

3.4 Balancing Information and Entertainment

The ideal interview strikes a balance between being informative and entertaining. This is achieved through thoughtful, well-researched questions, active listening, and a willingness to let the conversation flow organically. Avoid overly scripted interactions; instead, allow the dialogue to evolve naturally, making it more engaging for both the audience and the guest. This approach is especially effective with entrepreneurs and small business owners, whose stories can be educational and inspiring.
Example for Small Business Owners: Instead of strictly adhering to a pre-planned set of questions, be open to exploring tangents that arise naturally, such as unexpected challenges or unique success stories that add an entertaining element to the conversation.

Section 4: Advanced Interviewing Techniques

4.1 Beyond the Questions: Reading Between the Lines

An adept interviewer not only listens to what is said but also how it's said, interpreting non-verbal cues and emotional undercurrents. This skill is vital for understanding the guest's true sentiments and steering the interview in a direction that resonates more deeply with them. By reading between the lines, a host can uncover stories or perspectives that the guest may not initially intend to share, thereby enriching the interview with unexpected depth.

4.2 Balancing Curiosity with Respect

Curiosity is the driving force of engaging interviews, but it must be tempered with respect for the guest's boundaries. An interviewer's role is to probe without intruding, asking challenging questions while being mindful of the guest's comfort level. This balance is especially crucial when discussing sensitive or personal topics, as it ensures a safe and respectful environment that encourages open sharing.

4.3 The Importance of Research and Preparation

In-depth research and preparation are foundational to successful interviewing. Understanding a guest's background, achievements, and current endeavors allows for more meaningful and targeted questions. This preparation goes beyond professional accomplishments, delving into personal interests or recent social media posts to gain a holistic view of the guest. Well-prepared hosts can create a more dynamic and personalized interview experience.

4.4 Cultivating Curiosity and Spontaneity

Curiosity is the driving force of engaging interviews, but it must be tempered with respect for the guest's boundaries. An interviewer's role is to probe without intruding, asking challenging questions while being mindful of the guest's comfort level. This balance is especially crucial when discussing sensitive or personal topics, as it ensures a safe and respectful environment that encourages open sharing.

4.5 Implementing Active Listening

Active listening is integral to effective interviewing. It involves fully focusing on the guest, understanding their message, and responding thoughtfully. Active listeners pick up on subtle nuances in the conversation, allowing them to ask follow-up questions that delve deeper or clarify points of interest. This engagement not only builds rapport with the guest but also creates a more enriching experience for the audience.

4.6 Mirroring Listener Curiosity

Reflecting the audience's curiosity in the interview questions bridges the gap between the listener and the guest. By asking questions that the audience is likely pondering, the host aligns the interview with the listeners' interests, creating a more relatable and engaging experience. This approach ensures that the content resonates with the audience and keeps them invested in the conversation.

4.7 Scripted Interviews vs. Organic Conversations

Balancing preparedness with spontaneity is key to engaging interviews. Overly scripted interviews can lack the organic feel that makes conversations compelling. The most engaging interviews often occur when the host is prepared to diverge from their script in response to the guest's answers, embracing the natural flow of conversation. This balance between preparedness and spontaneity fosters a dynamic and authentic interviewing environment.

Section 5: Elevating Your Interview’s Impact and Engagement

5.1 Crafting a Signature Question

A well-thought-out signature question can become a trademark of your show. It should reflect the core theme of your show and be open-ended enough to allow a wide range of responses. This question adds consistency across episodes and provides unique insights from each guest. Consider introspective or wisdom-sharing questions, such as "What is one piece of advice you wish you had received early in your career?" or "Can you share a turning point in your life that shaped who you are today?" These questions can elicit profound responses that resonate with the audience.

5.2 Why Signature Questions Are a Game-Changer

Curiosity is the driving force of engaging interviews, but it must be tempered with respect for the guest's boundaries. An interviewer's role is to probe without intruding, asking challenging questions while being mindful of the guest's comfort level. This balance is especially crucial when discussing sensitive or personal topics, as it ensures a safe and respectful environment that encourages open sharing.

5.3 Your Guest Mirrors Your Mental State

The mental state and body language of the host significantly influence the guest's comfort and response. A host's nervousness or apathy can adversely affect the guest's openness, while being well-prepared, confident, and curious encourages deeper engagement. Pre-interview tactics like ice baths, banter, and setting intentions can help the host attain an optimal mental state. The host's demeanor sets the tone for the interview, impacting the guest's willingness to share and the overall quality of the conversation.

5.4 Prioritizing a Good Guest Experience

The quality of a interview stems from the guest's experience. A positive experience translates to richer, more animated content and increased likelihood of the guest promoting the episode. Focusing on making the interview enjoyable rather than a chore can significantly enhance the interaction and subsequent content. Minimizing the introduction phase and focusing on engaging conversations helps create an environment conducive to a better guest experience.

5.5 Not Overly Focusing on the Audience

While understanding the audience is important, a host should not be overly constrained by perceived audience expectations. Relying too much on audience intelligence can limit the interview's scope and potentially bore listeners. Hosts should let their own curiosities and interests guide the interview, leading to more authentic and engaging content. This approach ensures the conversation remains interesting and dynamic.

5.6 Arguing with Opinionated Guests

For guests who enjoy debate, playing devil's advocate or presenting contrarian views can invigorate the conversation. This approach creates tension and can lead to more in-depth discussions. It should be used judiciously to maintain respect and avoid discomfort.

5.7 Authenticity and Self-Deprecation in Interviews

A host's authenticity and willingness to be vulnerable can encourage similar openness in the guest. Asking simple or "dumb" questions and admitting gaps in understanding can make the guest feel more comfortable and willing to share their knowledge. This approach creates a more genuine and relatable conversation, enhancing the listener's experience.

5.8 Incorporating Calls to Action

End the interview with a call to action, allowing the guest to share where the audience can find more about them or their work. This adds value for the audience and strengthens the relationship with the guest.

Conclusion: Embarking on Your Interviewing Journey

As we conclude this guide, you are now equipped with the knowledge and tools to elevate your podcast interviewing skills. From understanding how to craft engaging questions to navigating the subtleties of a meaningful conversation, you're set to create interviews that resonate with your audience and leave a lasting impact.

Remember, the art of interviewing is a continuous learning process filled with opportunities to explore, connect, and grow. Each interview is a unique journey, not just for you and your guest, but for your listeners as well.

To further enhance your interviewing toolkit, we invite you to explore Interview Questions.  This resource offers a diverse range of questions, complete with practical examples, to inspire and guide you in crafting insightful and captivating conversations. Whether you're interviewing entrepreneurs, creatives, or experts from various fields, these questions will help you delve deeper into your guests' stories and experiences.