One of the secrets of a great podcast is the quality of the interviews. A lousy interview with a poorly prepared subject is a nightmare to edit, and even the best editor can’t spin interview garbage into podcasting gold. And, unlike the written word, you can’t just “massage” a quote after the fact. That’s why audio is more authentic than print – and why it’s so important to bring out the real voice of your interview subject.
Study these steps before you hit the ‘record’ button and you’ll save yourself, and your podcast listeners, a big earache.
Before the interview:
- Scout the location to make sure there is no obtrusive echo or distracting background noise such as construction, a loud fan or refrigerator.
- Test your technology. If it's a remote interview using a platform like Skype, be sure you run a test to make sure your recording setup works.
- Do a short pre-interview with the subject to go over what you’re trying to accomplish, set his or her mind at ease and give yourself an idea of what you’re getting into.
- Don’t share specific questions ahead of time or you’ll get stilted, memorized answers. Talk about the communication goals of the interview, the context in which it’s being shared, what general topic areas are going to be covered, and the general tone or feeling you hope to convey.
- Be sure you leave enough time for setup – at least 15 minutes before the interview time, but sometimes more if there are special challenges related to sound.
- Warm up your voice before the interview. Make funny faces to stretch your facial muscles. Recite your favorite tongue twister and vocalize with an open mouth (ay, eee, eye, oh, you) to exercise your voice and help you relax.
At the start of the interview:
- Make small talk to make the subject comfortable and allow you to do a sound check.
- Reassure them that everyone is nervous, it’s natural, they’ll get more comfortable as the interview goes on, and that if they stumble there’s lots of time to re-do anything.
- Go over the goals of the interview, just to remind them.
- Make sure they’re clear on their specific part of the story – the exact role they’re meant to play.
- Have glasses of water on hand for you and your interview subject (no ice – cold water can tighten the throat).
- Tell the subject to take a big deep breath if they seem nervous.
- Remind them to not be afraid to smile while they’re talking, and to use their hands – what you want is for them to share their excitement and passion for the subject, and to even amplify that passion as much as possible without feeling uncomfortable.
- Be on the lookout for rings, bracelets or necklaces that might jangle or clank, and ask your subject to take them off for the interview.
When the audio recorder is rolling:
- Ask the subject to state and spell their name, their title and location (this is for the sake of the editor so he/she has that information handy for doing the titles.)
How to ask questions:
- Ask open-ended questions. The best questions start with these kinds of phrases:
“Tell me about…”
“How do you feel….”
“What was it like….”
“What did you learn from this?”
“Describe the moment you realized….”
“What was the most fun/hardest/most satisfying thing about…..”
“Take me back to the time when….”
“Why is this important to you?”
“Why is this important to the organization/team/community?”
“If there was one thing you want our listeners to remember, what would that be?”
“What would you say to someone who is faced with a similar challenge?”
- Read the person’s style. The more nervous they are, the less coaching they can deal with -- just try to make them comfortable and let them talk.
- Try not to interrupt, even if you’re not getting what you want. Let your subject finish talking, then say, “That was good, could you please repeat that, but just a little bit shorter?”
- Be conversational. Go with the flow. If they’re heading off in a direction that’s 10 questions down in your list, let them talk, and then get back to your line of questioning after they’ve finished their thoughts.
- Always re-ask the first couple of questions at the end of the interview, and you’re sure to get more relaxed answers. Sometimes it even works to repeat the entire interview if there’s time.
- Listen. Really listen. And, if it’s an important or difficult answer, let there be a pregnant pause without interruption … afterthoughts are often the best clips.
- Always ask if you’ve left anything out – “Have I missed anything? Is there something else you’d like to add?”
After the interview is over:
- Always compliment the subject on his or her performance.
- Don’t forget to get them to sign a waiver/release.
- Let them know when they can expect to see a draft of the audio (if that’s appropriate), and make sure they get a copy of, or a link to, the finished product.
- If you need them, take some still photos of the interview subject (and you with the interview subject, if appropriate) before you go.
- Record some “B-roll” -- the sounds of the person doing his or her job, at his or her desk, on the phone, typing at a computer, operating some equipment, chatting with colleagues, etc.
- Make sure to get appropriate “room tone” – at the very least get 30 seconds of the sound of the room with no other sounds to interrupt it.
- Send a thank-you email thanking the subject for his or her time and complimenting them on their performance.
- Bonus tip: If you have to turn off a fridge to reduce room noise, put your keys inside so you can’t forget to turn it back on before you leave.
Of course, many of these tips can be used to get a great print or video interview. Start incorporating them in your world today.
One more thing. When it comes to getting good interviews, practice makes perfect, both for you and your subjects. The more you do it, the easier it will be to capture and share the voices, the stories and the spirit of your organization.
Master Communicator Ron Shewchuk is the host of the TV@Work podcast on the FIR Podcast Network and Executive Producer at Purpose-Built Productions, an audio studio specializing in podcasts for corporate communicators and marketers. He lives in North Vancouver, British Columbia.