Fire Away, Fire Away: 5 Questions Every Podcast Host Should Ask Their Guests
Podcast interviews aren’t so different from any other kind of interview. The long-form nature of a podcast gives your guests a chance to offer in-depth, insightful responses. As a host, you can set them up for success – and provide an entertaining listen for your audience – by researching them well, asking engaging podcast interview questions and follow-ups, and letting your guests share their stories without interjecting too frequently.
Take NPR’s Terry Gross, for example. She’s been the host of Fresh Air on NPR for 42 years. Part of the reason for her long-lasting success? Asking intelligent, engaging questions and then getting the heck out of the way.
“People think when you interview that you talk a lot,” she said in a recent interview. “Actually, I listen a lot. I talk very little.”
Podcast interviews also allow you to build relationships with your audience. You’re providing an outside view, an expert on a topic, and offering new stories to your listeners. But an interview can stop dead in its tracks if you don’t do your homework and only ask dry, boring questions.
Not sure where to start with your questions? These five are good guides to get the ball rolling. They’ll provide some pretty wonderful answers, to boot.
“What’s your go-to order at your favorite hometown restaurant?”
Objective: Put your guest at ease and get some insight into their background.
Your interview questions should be open-ended so guests can expand on their answers. Having them reminisce about their childhood is a good way to both warm them up for the rest of the episode while also getting a glimpse into how they developed into the person they are today.
Your guest may like a deli because they serve a killer pastrami sandwich. Or they might prefer a quirky diner filled with kitschy charm. You’ll get them more comfortable for the rest of the episode while giving them a chance to showcase their personality and interests – which audience members always like to hear.
“What do you wish you had known when you started out?”
Objective: Showcase the value of learning on the job.
Think back to your first day in school. You were probably a mix of excited and terrified, ready to enter a new environment while being acutely aware there was plenty of education you had yet to master.
It’s highly unlikely your guest was an expert in their current field from the get-go. Rather, they needed to learn along the way, improving their skills and knowledge.
Simran Preeti Sethi hosts The Slow Melt, a podcast about chocolate, and asked this question to every single guest she had during her series on makers. “The answers surprised me,” she said, “And I got a lot of feedback that they were extremely useful to those who were actually embarking on their careers.”
“What are you curious about right now?”
Objective: Let your guest speak about their passions.
This is a favorite question of Derek Loudermilk, host of The Art of Adventure podcast. Derek is a big fan of letting his guests reflect on their experiences. Having them share their curiosities is a great way to do just that.
This question has an added benefit of ramping up the energy of your podcast. Some guests may be more timid than others, but just about everyone perks up when they’re speaking about their passions. You’ll notice a more enthusiastic, engaging tone coming from your guest.
“What’s something you’ve failed at?”
Objective: Demonstrate how your audience can overcome challenges.
This isn’t supposed to be a “gotcha” question; instead, the goal is to get your guest to think of a roadblock or obstacle and how they fought through it on the road to success. Though it’s tough to admit, everyone fails throughout their life. Your guest can establish credibility by speaking candidly about those failures and offering advice that your audience can apply to their own situations.
“Is there anything I should have asked, but didn’t?”
Objective: Dig up an interesting story you haven’t yet uncovered.
This is a wrap-up interview question I learned from David Hochman, founder of Upod, a group of writers across the world who share advice, sources, and success stories. Some interviewees are more than happy to go into detail about projects they’re working on. Others need an additional push.
You very well may get a “no, you’ve covered it all” as a reply – in which case, good job! – but this question can also lead down an entirely unexpected and entertaining road. And when it does, your interview is that much stronger.
These questions can help establish a welcoming environment for your guest while also providing an entertaining listen for your audience. Make sure you’re doing solid research beforehand to supplement the conversation and you’ll be well on your way to a fantastic episode.