This article was originally published at Ideas on Fire on November 8, 2016.
At Ideas on Fire, I have a blast hosting and producing the Imagine Otherwise podcast which features people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Podcasts like this are a fantastic way for authors, artists, and cultural workers to get the word out about their work, market their books, and connect with new audiences. They’re also a great opportunity for podcast hosts to introduce their audiences to new people and projects. Through Imagine Otherwise, I’ve gotten to interview some amazing folks about their books, films, organizations, and performances. In the process, I’ve also had a lot of questions from guests and listeners about how to be a good podcast guest or how to best prepare for a podcast interview. Below are some of the tips I recommend.
Before the Interview
Do Your Homework
Research the topic of the show (what topics does it cover and what topics does it not cover), listen to 4-5 episodes to get a sense of how they work, research the show’s host, look at the other guests that have appeared on the show and see what they have in common (in other words, who does this show feature and who does it not feature), and note the show format (is it a highly edited storytelling show like those put out by Radiotopia and NPR? Is it an interview-based show in which the host asks the guest a pre-arranged set of questions? Is it a friends gabbing show in which the hosts and guests just chat about a variety of topics without any set interview questions?). This will give you a sense of what the interview will be like and how your work fits with the show and its audience.
Choose 1–2 Points to Make
Podcast interviews are usually short (10–30 min.). You really only have time to make 1-2 points well. Trying to cram more ideas into a short interview muddles your message and makes it difficult for listeners to follow. Instead, identify your 1-2 most important points ahead of time, and keep coming back to those in the interview. Both the host and listeners will appreciate it, as interviews work well when they are clear and focused.
If You Have the Interview Questions Beforehand, Prep Your Answers
No need to write out full paragraphs to read aloud (an interview isn’t a lecture), but jot down 1-2 main points you want to cover. Podcast interviews are conversations, so you probably won’t get to all of the planned material or questions because the conversation can take off in different directions. This is where your 1-2 main points come in handy. Keep coming back to those points to ensure your message gets across and you and your host have a great conversation.
During the Interview
Sound Quality is Key
Podcasting is an auditory medium. Thus, sound quality is of utmost importance. You can do your interview in your pajamas if you want and nobody but your cat will know, but bad audio quality can cause your podcast host to need to re-record the interview or cut your episode entirely. Even the best editing cannot fix terrible audio quality, so do what you can to ensure your voice comes through clearly.
Ensure you have a great phone or Internet connection. If you are being interviewed over Skype, Google Voice, or Google Hangout and have spotty wi-fi, go somewhere else with a rock-solid Internet connection. If you are being interviewed over the phone, use a landline if possible. If you must use a cell phone, do so in a place where you know you get full coverage, no background noise, and no dropped calls.
Do your interview in a small, quiet room and close the door. Any sound on your end will be picked up by your microphone and recorded. That means barking dogs, construction or voices outside your window, your roommates talking in the next room, kids playing, overhead fans or AC units, phone or email notifications, and you fidgeting with stuff while you are being interviewed are all recorded and crowd out your voice. Put a sign on your closed door telling people not to knock or open it. Small rooms are better because large rooms, empty rooms, hallways, and tall ceilings cause echo. If you can find a carpeted room or a room with lots of blankets or furniture, even better. In a pinch, a closets can be a great place (yes, seriously). Public areas like coffee shops or parks are horrible for interviews, even if you’re using headphones: every single sound will be picked up and will render your interview next to useless.
Turn off all notifications during your interview: on your phone, tablet, email platform, computer, alarm clock, microwave, etc. If you prefer to turn your phone on vibrate instead of turning it off entirely, bury it under a blanket in the next room because the vibration sound will be picked up by the microphone.
Wear headphones (borrow a pair if you don’t have one). Again, this is about limiting the sounds the recording picks up and not wearing headphones will cause your interviewer’s voice to echo back through your speakers when recorded.
If you have one, use a microphone. This can be as simple as the built-in mic in your headphones. No need to go out and buy anything special for an interview, but if you have a mic, use it.
If you can’t find a quiet place, you should reschedule the interview for a time when you can. If you have an unexpected noisy interruption like a dog that starts barking or a partner who comes home and starts making noise, ask your podcast host if they would prefer to do that part of the interview over, or reschedule the interview if the unexpected noise isn’t going away anytime soon (this often happens with construction).
The podcast format lends itself to conversation. So speak how you normally speak. If you are naturally humorous and often crack jokes, don’t be afraid to show some humor (it’s a good idea to keep the jokes clean though!), but don’t force it if that’s not your usual thing. Trying to adopt a brand-new speaking style in an interview because you want to sound smarter or more fun is always a bad idea. You’ll sound stilted and you will be more focused on your speaking style than what you’re saying. Your ideas are what matters, they’re why the podcast host invited you—focus on those and your natural voice will allow them to shine.
After the Interview
Send Any Show Notes Links or Images Promptly
Most podcast hosts post show notes on their websites, which describe the content of each episode and often include photos and/or links to the people, projects, and organizations discussed in the episode. See some examples here, here, and here. Your podcast host will let you know if they need any photos or links from you. Promptly send links to your website and work, as well as anything you discussed that you think the podcast listeners would find useful.
Confirm When the Episode Will Air and How You Can Get a Link to Share
When the episode comes out, you should share the link with your networks. Be sure to ask the host how and when you can get that link.
Podcast interviews are a great way to get the word out about your new book or project, chat with the host about a topic you and the host are passionate about, and connect with a new (or maybe already familiar) audience.