As a podcast host, are you asking the right opening interview questions? These are crucial because they will drastically affect how your show will go. Listen to this episode as Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard as they discuss the importance of maintaining control in your introduction and how to pique the interest of your listeners. They explain every powerful tactic and technique that will help you boost your audience and stand out among competitors.
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Top Opening Interview Questions To Ask Your Podcast Guest This Year
We’re going to talk about a topic that should be of interest to every podcast, whoever has interviews or guests on their show of any kind and that is, how to ask the best opening question? I hear, Tracy, from a lot of people that we work with about what questions should I ask? That’s probably one of the most common questions. We’ve addressed that before and there is a masterclass on that but what about asking the opening question?
When you think about it, you’ve got a quick opportunity to hook people and get them like, “This is going to be a great episode. I want to hang on and listen to this whole thing.” I can tell you, I listened to a lot of shows and I find one of the most cliche questions is, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? When you get to the guests. I’m like, “You’ve just relinquished control of this discussion to the guest. You’re not driving the conversation.”
You do have tons of experience in this, Tracy. Even though you and I have a show, I’ve probably recorded somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 to 900 episodes and you’ve done a whole lot more interviews than me because of your experience as an Inc. columnist, as well as you’ve hosted a lot more show than me. This is your mojo and I’m excited to hear what you have to say about it.
We were talking earlier and I think I’m about 3,000 interviews in somewhere around there because I’ve done about 2,700 articles or so and not every show that we’ve done becomes an article. That’s where it’s come from but I wasn’t great at it, to begin with. It wasn’t something I had trained in. I went to art school.
For those of you who don’t remember, We went to Rhode Island School of Design. We went to art school. I didn’t go to journalism school. I didn’t learn about interviewing in any of that processes. This is something that I’ve had to learn both by doing, observing others and learning what works. I have a few people that were my favorites that are my go-to. I listened to them for tactics, techniques and things that they do.
One of those is Veronica Dagher of the Wall Street Journal. She has a podcast called the Secrets of Wealthy Women and her prep is incredible. What she does in advance, how she gets to know the person she’s going to interview and one of the things that I admire the most about the way she does it is she starts in right away with this hard-hitting question because she’s a hard-hitting journalist.
I appreciated that and I said, “How can I learn how to do something like that? These are tactics that I wanted to experience and wanted to figure out.” I started asking around to some other people and another one, which was one of our clients and a good friend, Dustin Mathews. He’s a direct response marketing genius. He’s great with copy and all marketing tactics.
He felt he had to up his game and went training and learning how to interview. When I interviewed him for The Binge Factor, he was telling me his tactics about how he does it and does the same thing of starting right in the middle. This is my straight out of every tactic and every process I’ve tried. The best interview question is one that jumps into something. It doesn’t start at the beginning of something.
Even if you’re doing that historical look at somebody and you want to have a timeline, it doesn’t mean you can’t start with one of these in the middle questions. En Plein milieu, if you’re going to use the French term it. In the middle, it’s a writing technique. When we open up a chapter to a book and it starts right in action, we start a movie and it starts right in the action scene and we don’t know what happened before. We’re going to get there but we’re jumping right into something that’s action-oriented. We’re grasping our audience and pulling them right in.
That’s something that I strive to do in my interviews is I want them to go in without this like, “Let’s get through the boring, get to know you.” I want to get to why they’re here. That’s how I always look at it. I say, “I’ve got this person I’m interviewing. I have a reason I invited them to my show. Now how can I get to that reason at the very beginning and then sustain interest over the term.” I also don’t want to give everything away in the first minute and everybody tunes out as well. How can I do that in some way, shape or form?
The first thing that I want to set up is what Tom was pointing out before. Often inexperienced interviewers give away their authority. They give that to the guest. The reality is, as a host, you are the ultimate authority because you invited that guest on. It’s your audience. You need to maintain that level of authority and control. By doing a proper introduction, you do that.
When you don’t do an introduction and you do this, “Tell us a little bit about your history and yourself.” Because you don’t want to take the time to prep for an introduction, you’ve given away that authority and your audience doesn’t perceive you at a high enough level and a high enough value in the process of it. You might as well have invited the guest on, let them talk and do everything.
You need to maintain control and one of those is a proper introduction. A lot of times, what I do is I’ll do an introduction. I will read it if I need to because you don’t want to mess up somebody’s introduction. It’s the only thing the only time I ever read something but when I hit a point where I want to jump off or I might tease it and say, “I’m coming right back to that so don’t go anywhere.” I finished the introduction.
Now my first question is going to start at that point where I was looking at what was the most exciting thing in that introduction that I did and how can I jump that into a question? This is the one thing that I think clearly about before I start my interview. It’s about the only thing that I take the time to make sure and say, “This is my starting point.”
If I was going to interview Tom on my show here and I’m going to say, “Tom has this great engineering mind. He has 40 patents with the US patent and trademark office pending or issued. He’s got an 86% commercialization rate with those patents. These are some exciting numbers. Do understand that is the elite 2% of innovators in the world.” My first question might then be to Thomas, “Tom, you’ve had so much success with all of this. How do you create that success again and again?”
Now it gives them an opportunity to tie into what he’s was saying and tap into one piece, one tie into a success story. One thing that he’s going to touch on and then I’m going to say, “I loved that, that you said that Tom, I love that you gave us this tip here but you had to start somewhere. What made you file your first patent?” Now we can get to an origin story. We’ve moved from something helpful, exciting into an origin story and more people want to listen to that because now they’re like, “This is how it started and I want to get back to that success again.”
Sometimes, if you take the obvious linear path, Tracy, and you start from the beginning and then you move through it, you don’t know why am I wanting to listen to this? Why do I want to hear the origin? I like that technique by starting with something key, powerful and unexpected. It does a few things. Not only is it going to be of more interest to your readers but it’s also going to be of particular interest to the person you’re interviewing.
What I said earlier, Tracy is if you ask your guests to tell us a little bit about themselves, it’s like, you’re letting them drive the direction of the discussion. You’re giving up some control of it in what’s an obvious way. I think that rookie podcasters often start there because maybe they don’t have a lot of experience. Maybe they haven’t given it a lot of thought about where else to go or how else to start.
There may be a compelling origin story. I think it makes a lot of sense, what you said, which is why I care about this person’s origin story? Why should I care? It may not be the end. It may be somewhere in the middle that you’re highlighting something but for some level of achievement that is notable and impressive.
You might say, “How do you get from here to there?” I’m not trying to toot my own horn here at all. We don’t have to discuss this at all but it’s like, “How does somebody get 40 patents? How does that happen?” That’s mind-boggling than how do you get from here to there. What was the first one? How did you start that?
Your segue is easier to handle from that point forward to go into the more linear story, which people do want to hear. It helps to do that. Some other people like to start with a more personal, like, tell me your story. What’s your why or things like that. I don’t have a fundamental problem with all of those but if you’re going to do that, frame it so that you’re transitioning from that introduction into a frame-up as to why you’re asking them the why?
If you’re making the two things tied together, first off, you’re making this a better transition to understand the expertise of my guests is why I brought them on my show? Here’s a taste of what you’re going to get out of it. That’s the model for that interview question. How you best make that happen is up to you. It needs to be something you’re comfortable with you can do. Not all of us can be the Veronica Dagher of Wall Street Journal, hard-hitting journalists model of it but it will give you your path if you’re thinking it through from this perspective.
One of my favorite ones that Veronica did was she was interviewing one of the financial reporters who had been one of the first women on the trading floor at the stock exchange. She dove right into this question, right after the introduction of saying that she was the first woman who was on the floor interviewing and reporting from the stock exchange in whatever year that was.
She hit that as a point in the bio and immediately asked her the question, “Because it was very public, I know that there was some sexism that happened there. Tell us about how that manifested itself beyond the stock exchange floor? What that was for you to be the first woman there and what you had to go through?” You’re hitting into the heart of the story immediately but her interviews are shorter. She only has like a 30-minute spot overall. The interview is about twenty minutes. You got to get into it and that’s part of why her technique works the way that it does. Maria Bartiromo, that’s who she interviewed.
I always appreciate your perspective because I don’t know anybody who is more well-read than you either. I think a combination of your having done so many interviews is an incredible experience but also you read an insane number of books every year from 150 minimum to 200 to even 300 books. I know because I see it daily.
It works for you so you have a lot of experience. That was a great example of what you could do to ask an opening question and it’s something that you could do in every show that is still going to be unique because each person and story are unique. What makes them interesting is unique. Is there another technique that you can also provide us an example or a tip for our readers?
This is also another one that gives away your authority because it starts on a weak point. It has a weak start to it and you never hear this on any of the news shows or anything like that. They welcome people to the show but they welcome them and then they go right into the questions so there’s no opportunity for you to respond. They don’t say, “Tom, thanks for showing up.” You respond and you might commandeer the conversation at that point.The best interview question is one that jumps into something. It doesn't start at the beginning of something. Click To Tweet
Instead, what we do is we say, “I’m so glad to have you on the show because I want to get to finding this out.” I ask my question immediately. A good interview subject might say, “I’m so glad to be here as well and I can’t wait to tell you about this. Let’s dive in.” I’ll answer the question immediately. I am acknowledging the gratefulness of being here but I am immediately going in and serving the listenership and answering the question.
That’s important because that chit-chatty stuff while sometimes fun and sometimes great, if we want to capture attention, grasp it, get people moving through the episode and get deep enough into it that they won’t leave. We need to get right into the meat of what we’re talking about. To the heart of what it is that you want to get to. The faster you get past that chitchat stage, the better off it is. Often we do see a lot of people do that like, “Thanks for coming.”
I’m having calls with existing podcasters daily and anywhere from 2 to 3 to 6 or 8. Especially Podcast Audit because it’s one of the newest things that we’re doing to help people get more out of their show. It’s very new. The audit thing is a new thing and I listen to everybody’s show at least one episode. Many have that greeting welcoming the guest as the first thing, “Thank you for being on the show.” They’re waiting for them to reply and they said, “Thank you for having me.” It is repetitive. Not only within certain podcasts episode to episode but show to show.
If you looked at your blogs starting that way, that’s not the way you want it to start. That’s why we write those leading paragraphs, they call them, which is your episode description. At the end of the day, you would put that in as an episode description. If you were using straight transcription, it would be like, “Welcome to the show.” It’s the same every single time. You are going to see that you’re doing something repetitive.
Unless you’re recording your episode live, which admittedly some people do. They record it live and they’re repurposing it. It is what it is and you have the opportunity to edit it before you publish it as a podcast. What I mean by recording it live is like they’re streaming it live like Facebook, LinkedIn or wherever. If you’re prerecording it, as most people are, “Have that chitchat. Welcome your guest. Thank them for being on the show.” That’s not what you’re recording as a part of the episode. You have the opportunity to have more of a start that grabs your attention.
When I record, I’ve done that in the process with my interview subjects. We come on, the recording is not on when we get started. The recording is paused or it’s off because I want to give them that comfort zone of they’re not on so that they could say something off the record if they need to. This is a tactic I learned from being an Inc. columnist.
You can’t get them in a comfort zone to start talking to you if you start with a recording immediately. It’s not something that I do. I come in, I say, “I’m so glad we’re finally connecting. This is going to be a great conversation. Do you have any questions for me?” I’m going to explain the process of how it works and I get past that chitchat stage that they need in the process to make them comfortable.
I say, “I’m going to turn the recording on and we’re going to dive right in. You aren’t even going to hear my introduction of you.” I already know what I’m going to say because I have the bio and everything that I need. I’ve already prepared what my first question and my tie-off of that bio are going to be. I don’t write out the question but I bullet-pointed it. When I dive in, I’m truly diving in.
They expect it because I warned them it was going to happen. That’s worst for them. Now, this tactic of diving in like that is something I’m comfortable doing. Trial by fire when I was doing the interview sometimes I would get 3 to 5 minutes with some people if I were live like I got to interview Steve Wozniak and they gave me five minutes. Here you are. You’ve got this incredible founder of Apple. I want to have an hour-long conversation with them but I’ve only got five minutes. I better ask them the best questions in that five minutes and I better start immediately with that. That’s a tactic.
If I remember properly because I was there, I got to be the cameraman holding live streaming, the interview with Steve Wozniak, which is fun. You ended up getting more than five minutes because you asked some good questions. You latched on to something that clearly he was passionate about so he kept talking. You did give him the hook at some point because you got maybe twice as long as they expected to give you.
That’s a great thing when that happens. It has happened to me again and again, where people who said, I only have twenty minutes gave me a lot longer. I only had five minutes and they gave me longer or offered to do a follow-up interview because they enjoyed that process of getting to something that they wanted to talk to and not having to brag. They have to push the soundbites in because they don’t have a lot of time or it drags out and they never get to have their point, which is what they came to deliver on the episode or on the show.
If you’ll allow me in this episode, especially for the newer podcasters that are reading, I want to make a comment on a tactical thing because what you said you do of not starting the recording from the beginning of your connecting with them. You’re connected with them virtually over a tool like Zoom. I want to make sure people understand that it’s not always in person. Although, Steve Wozniak was in person.
Most podcasters get an opportunity at some point to interview someone in person and that’s a different dynamic and a different situation that we’re not going into deeply now. It’s maybe a good topic for another episode at some point. You mentioned not turning on the recording to put that guest at ease and I appreciate that.
However, I do want to mention. For the newbie and less experienced podcasters, we had often had people call us up practically in tears, very distraught when they conducted this amazing interview with one of their very first guests and they forgot to hit the record button when they did it. We often recommend for new podcasters to use a tool like Zoom or whatever that when you connect with them, it is recording from the get-go.
It’s horrible when I have to tell somebody, “I’m sorry, there’s no way to recover it if you didn’t hit record.” We do provide our customers with a checklist when they get their microphones from us. Here’s a checklist of things you do before you start that interview and one of them is press record. If you have that checklist, hopefully, you remember.
My personal meeting room is not set to record and I do have to turn it on. I record a couple of podcasts every week, first thing in the morning at 6:00 AM because that’s when me and my colleagues like to record on one of our shows and it’s never on. We have our beginning chitchat, talk about what our subject is, what we’re going to talk about and then I turn on the recording but I’ve done it so much I never forget. I do think that it is very hard to oftentimes for a new podcaster recommended to record everything until you’re more experienced and you’re never going to forget to turn on record. It’s a big rookie error.
My process of it is, “Are you ready to get going? I’m going to press record.” I’m alerting you of it, which also triggers that in my brain to do it. It’s my repetitive process. I’ve never forgotten to because I’m announcing it as a part of the process that I’m going through at the time. I want to recap where we left off. The idea of the best interview question is up to you but here’s what it is. It’s the one that captures your audience, does attention, pulls them into the episode with you as fast as possible, gives context as to why you’re there and that guest is there? Why the two things are combined? Why do your show’s purposes and the guests fit that is?
It’s not repetitive. It’s unique because all of those things are going to give you the highest authority possible as a good interviewer, as a show worth listening to, a show worth recommending and a show worth coming back and bingeing on again. That’s why we don’t like the repetitiveness of things is we don’t necessarily want that to recur right at the beginning of everything we want it to. Recurring segments are great but let’s not make them at the beginning always because we want to have that differentiator. You’re driving them into. Make sure they feel this episode and this particular one is worth reading now.
We don’t want them to feel like, “It’s the same old, same old.” We want them to feel that differentiation from moment one of the interview process. Those segments are wonderful. They give people a lot of comforts that they’re in the right show that they’re going to get something delivered to them but I don’t always give them at the same point. That’s my personal viewpoint on it. It’s how I do it because I deliver everybody’s binge factor on The Binge Factor show.
I do it at the right moment when it comes up and I can properly discuss it rather than say, “Okay and now we’re going to do analyze The Binge Factor. It’s a different process. You can choose your process for it but it is not my recommendation to do it at the opening because it loses that unique driver pull and that’s our whole goal with our opening question is to get somebody into that episode they will not leave.
You’ve been a guest on a lot of people’s shows too. What’s the worst opening question you’ve ever heard?
I don’t want to out somebody but the worst ones are the ones who didn’t bother with anything, “Tell us your background.” The problem with that is if I didn’t do my homework on your show, I didn’t know who your audience is and what your show is, what am I going to do is like, “I was born. I have two parents.” How far back are you going to go? You’d be shocked at how much people do go back.
They give you their whole resume, their whole history of where they went to college and what they did. That question could last forever and be extremely boring. If somebody asks me the question, Tom, that I don’t like, I won’t answer it quite that way. I’ll be like, “I hear you asking me about my origin story but I think what you want is this.”
You help maybe inexperienced podcast interviewers make that interview better because you have this experience. You’ll pivot it because you want to help make it more engaging.
The other part is I don’t go on a show that I haven’t done a little research on. If I didn’t listen to the show, read through their description, get a sense of what their audiences are. If they gave me an opportunity and I still didn’t understand it, I would clarify that before we started the interview. Now, if you’re doing a live stream, I don’t have an opportunity to always ask that question ahead of time. If they gave me that opportunity, I would have asked them that question before they started interviewing me so at least I could provide the tightest context possible with an understanding of the audience.
I’m picking and choosing my case studies, my stories, everything in relation to, “This is an audience of all professional doctors. I’m going to tell a lot of healthcare stories.” That’s fine. I’ll think that through in my head and come up with the ideas and make sure that I’ve got the right examples but that is because I’m experienced both as an interviewer and an interviewee.
Different types of interviews as well as interviewing people for written articles that weren’t intended to be a podcast first is valuable stuff. I’m sure our readers are getting a lot out of this as well. Do you have anything you want to add?As a host, you are the ultimate authority because you invited that guest on. It's your audience. You need to maintain that level of authority and control. Click To Tweet
The last thing that I want to add is that remember, for most of us, we are repurposing everything that we do. It’s not just a podcast. It’s a blog and in all those formats. That’s why my recommendation here to you on the uniqueness matters because it does matter in every one of those formats. In the video, one of the hardest things to do is get past the first minute. Every minute of video, your viewership declines almost 70% past the first minute. That’s serious. If you’re losing 70% of your audience on video, every minute that goes by, you need to get to the point quickly.
In audio, it’s longer than that. You have more time. People don’t turn on audio without the intention that it’s a long tail media type that people are more comfortable with but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to stick around if they aren’t getting what they want. They’ll go find another episode. You do still need to get to that, capturing their interest within the first five minutes of the show.
That’s a good point, Tracy, and you’re right. We can also share that as a company. We’ve been engaging in social media marketing of a few different kinds and our social media team for promoting us, in general, is engaging in more video. We’re going to be experimenting with TikTok, among other things, which is not my platform but the video is the point.
Especially when we’re creating ads for video and I did this to create ads for our podcast audits that are 30 seconds or 1 minute long at most. The marketing company was pointing out. You’ve got to engage them in the first few seconds because on social media if they’re not interested or hooked, they’re not going to stay.
In doing this, I made sure I didn’t do the common thing of introducing myself, who I am and where I’m from first. I’m immediately jumping in with a key-value point that the right audience would be interested in, that will hook them and say, “What is this about? I want to pay attention to that.” If I introduced myself at all, it’s later after they’re already hooked, “I’m Tom Hazzard of Podetize and here’s where you can take action to get this value.” That’s at the end after I’ve hooked them on the what, why and whatever.
Uniqueness is rewarded everywhere and that’s something that you need to remember is that when you are pointing out that uniqueness, that story that’s going to happen and that key factor of success that you’re going to discuss in this episode. When you get to the uniqueness, every single media type, all of that repurposing, the audience sticks around when it’s something they haven’t heard before.
They think this is going to be the same interview because this is their favorite guy that they’ve heard on a lot of other episodes but if they feel like it’s going to be the same interview, they’re not going to stick around. They feel like, “I already heard him say that before. They want to find you getting to something new that they haven’t heard before. That’s why they’re tuning in again to their favorite person.
Google in blogging will reward unique content. We know again and again that uniqueness is a value factor and truly a binge factor of someone’s going to stick around and stay with you. That’s why I look for that, strive for that, up my game and continually listen to new podcasters, check out their tactics and you should too.
Why don’t we drop the mic there so to speak and I hope everybody has gotten some good value from this episode. If you haven’t listened to the episode about asking the best podcast interview questions or I think it’s called Structuring The Best Podcast Interview Questions. You can go find that episode and read it. Get a lot more detail on, not that asking that first question but how you structure all the questions of an interview. You can find that episode on Podetize, go to the Feed Your Brand section. It’s one of our featured episodes.
It’s one of our top featured. It’s one of the masterclasses that we send out to people as well. Thanks, everyone, for reading. We appreciate you being here for our episode. We look forward to bringing you more great episodes and great topics. As always, you can reach out to us anywhere on social media at Podetize. You can share with us questions and things that you would like us to cover in future episodes.