Interviews can create good content and share powerful stories across all media. Podcasting is full of interviews with problems, here's how to fix them.
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Before anything, respect your guest
Regardless of whom you interview, make it easy for them! Don't give them a multipage checklist or require them to do complicated things to be on your podcast. Whatever problems you face, remember to respect your guest, their time, and choose wisely what is really worth inconveniencing your guest to fix or prevent.
1. Poor audio quality
Unless you're interviewing other podcasters, it's very likely that your guest is not as passionate and knowledgeable about audio quality as you are.
Before I help you understand and fix poor audio quality, you should know that content and presentation are far more important than production. As long as people can hear, understand, and get value from what your guest says, your guest's audio doesn't have to be as good as yours. In fact, most people will forgive lower audio quality from your guest, but expect higher audio quality from you.
The following three things affect your guest's audio quality the most, even more than the particular technology they use.
Ensure your guest knows how to use a microphone. Generally, this means doing only three things: talk into the mic, stay a consistent distance away (a fist-width away is usually ideal), and don't touch the mic or anything connected to it.
Thus, instead of their using their computer and it's built-in mic, consider suggesting they connect with you over their smartphone (via Skype, or whatever tool you use). The reason for this is smartphone mics are often pretty good, especially when they remain a consistent and short distance from the voice.
Ensure your guest is in a quiet and low-reverb space for recording. This should also be somewhere with a good Internet or cellular connection (wired is best if talking over a telephone line or a computer).
This responsibility is yours. Regardless of the technology you use to communicate with and record your guest, you will probably need a little audio processing afterward. Usually, the only things you need are loudness normalization (to get your guest's volume level to match yours) and maybe compression (to reduce the difference between loud and quiet spots).
If your guest is more tech-savvy or willing to try better things, consider more advanced call-recording solutions such as Cast, Zencastr, or Ringr.
Getting availabilities to align can be almost as hard as aligning the planets! But here are some general tips for fixing scheduling problems.
- Suggest specific times—Even if you have a scheduling system, it may be most convenient for your guest if you simply suggest a couple specific times that you know will work.
- Always use time zones—Your guest might be anywhere in the world, so always ensure you're talking about the same time. If you know their location, it may be best to speak according to their time zone, but still include the time zone in case they are traveling. (Sidenote and pet peeve: American time zone abbreviations change with Daylight Saving Time, and so do GMT/UTC offsets. So make sure you're either using the correct abbreviation—such as “EDT” versus “EST”—or keep it universal—such as “ET” or “Eastern Time.”)
- Prioritize your guest's schedule—Unless you're famous, be flexible to accommodate your guest instead of forcing them to fit your schedule, especially for really important guests.
- Use a scheduling system—Avoid the back-and-forth emails with trying to pick a schedule. Use a tool like Appointlet, ScheduleOnce, Calendly, or one of the many other online-scheduling tools that make it as easy as possible for your guest to pick a time that works for both of you. Remember to make it easy and simple. Don't force them to create an account or complete a long form!
“Tell me about yourself” communicates one unfortunate thing about you: you're lazy. (I know that probably hurts a little. Please hear me out.)
As a interviewer, a guest, and a listener, I think it shows far more respect and communicates more relevance when you are the one who introduces your guest. And you do so without merely reading their bio.
This means you need to do at least a little research on your guest. The better you know them, the better you can introduce them.
Another common problem I hear in podcast interviews is a double introduction. The host will often pre-record the interview with an introduction in it, and then they record their episode opening with an introduction in it, too. Consider whether what you're saying leading into the interview is redundant with the interview's opening itself. Sometimes, this may mean removing whatever introduction you recording into the interview.
4. Weak questions and answers
The burden of a quality interview rests on you, not on your guest. I recently heard an interview with Gary Vaynerchuck, who has all kinds of amazing insight and value to give. But the interview was horrible! It wasn't Gary's fault, it was the interviewer's fault.
- Research your guest and their industry—Ask questions you know your guest will be good at answering. You may get ideas based on other interviews or things they've been doing lately. Those ideas could be for questions to ask, to avoid, or quality questions no one else has asked them.
- Avoid questions that lead to simple yes/no answers—”Does,” “did,” and “are,” at the beginning of your questions are usually signs of yes/no question.
- Don't try to be the expert with your questions—Let your guest fill in the details, especially if you know the answers.
- Don't force your outline—Some questions will be irrelevant to your guest, or they may have already answered the question.
- Listen—This was Marc Maron's single-word advice from Podcast Movement 2015. Listen to everything your guest says and communicates through their emotions and you may discover more value than you ever anticipated.
Unless your guest is an expert interviewee and decides to work harder than you in the interview, the general rule is bad questions lead to bad answers.
5. Legal issues
How are you protecting yourself and your podcast if your guest doesn't like their interview, you don't use the interview, or some other issue comes up? You really should have a legal release form your guest signs (not only records verbal acceptance) before you record. This should cover some basic things:
- Compensation—Will they get paid? What if you later charge for this episode or make a product from it?
- Release—What are they letting you do with their recording, their imagery, and the content they share? Do they have rights over their episode?
There are more legal issues about podcast interviews that you need to consider. In fact, there are big legal issues all around podcasting! That's why I'm thrilled to have entertainment lawyer Gordon Firemark as my guest in a free webinar on Thursday, August 25 at 3:00 pm (EDT/GMT-4)! We'll discuss copyrights, trademarks, releases, contracts, and more! Click here to register for the free webinar. (A free replay will be available for a limited time afterward before the webinar is exclusive to members of Podcasters' Society.)
6. Irrelevant value
People live interesting lives, and you may bring some of that out in your podcast. But does that really matter to your audience? If you're going to get off-topic (or spend too much time getting to know your guest), I suggest you move that to the end of the interview (even if through editing) or save it for an opt-in bonus.
I'm not saying that content has no value—it could be even more value than the interview itself! But is that value relevant to your audience? Maybe, or maybe not. That's for you to decide.
7. Wasted words
Remember that, generally, bad questions lead to bad answers. But even good questions may return wasted words.
Wasted words could be on your guest's part as they are forming their answer in their mind. They may also be wasted because they're giving a verbose answer to a simple question.
You could also be wasting words by asking unnecessarily complex questions or giving possible answers in your questions.
Much of this can be removed in editing, but it's far better to refine your skills so you won't have to edit later.
8. Bad or no transitions
An outline is great for keeping a structure to your content. But don't be so rigid with that outline that you have bad transitions or no transitions whatsoever.
For example, a guest could end their response with, “and that's when I discovered I have cancer and only three months left to live,” and then you, focused on your outline, say, “How did you grow your business?”
This goes back to Marc Maron's advice, “LISTEN!” Listen to what your guest says more than you focus on your outline. Listen for followup questions. Listen for potential transitions.
Erik K. Johnson, from Podcast Talent Coach, often points out that no one says, “And now it's time for …” in real conversations.
Transitioning well is a skill that takes practice.
What podcast interview problems have you faced, and how have you fixed them?
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I might suggest another way to connect guests in a fashion that delivers audio quality beyond a traditional phone call; a smart conference service.
I work with the company (http://www.zipdx.info) that invented HDVoice conferencing. At the time achieving HDVoice meant complication. It required using what were then new, high-end IP phones, or installing & configuring a soft phone. Headaches.
With the rise of WebRTC things have become a LOT easier. Now our customers can join a ZipDX conference in HDVoice using Chrome or Firefox. We make it really easy for the host to offer each participant a simple URL to join the call.
It’s best if participants joining in this manner were a headset. The common smart phone ear buds are adequate in many cases.
The service is not free, but it is inexpensive. Connecting via the web phone costs 50% less than connecting via a normal telephone number. Further, since it’s a paid service we offer support. We can help you get started and show you how to make the best of the service to improve your podcast.
Incidentally, ZipDX sponsors a weekly podcast (http://vuc.me) that I have co-produced for the past 8 years. We’re coming upon episode #607 this week. Our show happens live every week. People can join the Hangout, call in to the conference bridge for audio-only participation, watch YouTube stream or listen to a live MP3 stream.
Pure gold, Daniel! Couldn’t agree more with your points. I can’t stand listening to bad interviews! With being subscribed to over 350 shows, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suffered through a terrible interview simply because I was interested in the guest. I stuck with it even though the host was doing a horrendous job, but I’m sure that many folks won’t do that.
About audio quality: after using Zencastr, I had a very great audio quality jump. My fellow podcasters uses not-so-good mics (the better are me and other guy that use Microsoft LX3000 headsets), but for our needs, Zencastr do a great job, and is very easy to download the tracks (just open Dropbox and voila) and record. I had some interviews using it and in just a time I had problems (I recorded and, just in the end I noted one of the interviewed was not being recorded and we lost everything). For my podcasts (Fate Masters and Rolando +4 – Portuguese Only, sorry) it worked very good.