How to Ask Better Podcast Questions

About Author Graham Brown

Graham Brown is the founder of Pikkal & Co – performance communication agency responsible for producing Award Winning Podcasts for business brands. Clients including McKinsey, Julius Baer, IBM and the Singapore Government. Investors and Advisors from Netflix, Intel, Apple and iQiYi. He is a published Amazon author covering human communication technologies, marketing and branding. He has produced over 1,000 podcast episodes and webinar shows with notable shows including the Tony Fernandes Podcast. Graham is a graduate in Artificial Intelligence and is currently leading Pikkal & Co to use Machine Learning and Conversation Analytics to automate the heavy lifting of communication to elevate the human touch.

What makes a Good Podcast Anyway?

In this post we’ll talk about
* The difference between a conversation and an interview
* Should you use a set list of questions?
* What makes a good question?

Remember, a podcast is a conversation not an interview.

Some guests will ask for a list of questions beforehand.

Personally, I don’t send them, preferring a more informal conversation. If a guest insists, send a bullet-point outline of what you’ll discuss. They aren’t being difficult, they just want reassurance you’re not going to make them stupid or waste their time.

LEARN TO AVOID THESE PHRASES

1) “So please introduce yourself”

– it’s your job as the host to do the introductions. Headline acts don’t start the gig without a warmup act. Stars don’t walk on stage without an MC introducing them. You know your audience, you are their guide into the world of the guest. Watch my conversation with Tony Fernandes to see how I introduced him.

2) “Next question”

– your job isn’t to steamroll through your question list, and “next question” sound like a job interview. Would you say this over coffee with a colleague at Starbucks? You should know the narrative arc you want to play in the podcast. If you watch my Tony Fernandes conversation, I knew where I wanted to take the conversation and Tony played along gracefully. I also threw in some surprises that he appreciated.

3) “I’m sitting down with”

– let’s stop this “sitting down with”. “I’m with”, “I’m joined by” works fine!

4) “So shall we get started?”

– you have 6 seconds to engage your audience, you have already started.

5) “My name’s Graham Brown” (as an introduction)

– nobody cares you are Graham Brown until they know you care. When I introduce my podcasts and the guest, I often offer a 1-2 minute introducion, then drop the “you’re listening to Asia Tech Podcast, my name’s Graham Brown.”

6) “Tell me about your company”

– this is a difficult one. In shows where advertisers want placement (like our Pitchdeck Asia show), this is a necessity. However, in most cases, I prefer to not ask about their company. In fact, I find that audiences aren’t interested. They are only interested in the person and their journey. When they engage with these human factors, then they are inclined to learn about the company.

7) “Can you speak a bit closer to the microphone?”

– this is poor podcast management. You should always mic-test your guests *before* the show. We do this days in advance at the Podcast Agency. But, if you don’t have the resources, invest 15 minutes in the preamble.

8) “So what are we going to talk about?”

– every podcast is an opportunity to cocreate a narrative with the guest. It’s better to storyboard the narrative in advance. We use our own Storyboarding software with Podcast Clients and their guests. We help them map out the narratives. With the host and guest agree on key talking points, we can create less scripted, more free flowing narrative arcs.

9) “As I said earlier”, “I’d like to echo that point”

– if you said earlier, or it’s an echo, then why are we hearing it again? Less is more… Be confident of staying quiet when necessary.

10) “I’d just like to add”

– this is a common phrase when you have multiple guests. It’s an ugly phrase that appears a lot in Webinars too. Please don’t just “add”. Instead, try something more engaging, “I’m amazed you say that” or “That story made me laugh”

LEARN TO USE THESE PHRASES MORE

1) “Welcome”

The most effective opening word ever. Welcome the guest. Welcome the audience. Set the tone.

2) “How are you doing?”

I’m surprised how many people forget to ask this opening question, possibly the 2nd best opener of any conversation. Remember, your goal is to not to “interview” the guest but to co-create a narrative with them. Asking your podcast guest how they are doing will help them feel relaxed.

3) “The last time we met…”

Create context for the listener and the guest. Create a connection. If you have never met the guest, then find some commonality. The audience wants to know there will be chemistry in this conversation, and commonality will help put your guest at ease. Where possible I use this technique to bring the conversation pace right back to where we left off. If there was no meeting, I find a mutual connection or experience e.g. “I was creeping your Instagram profile and find that you are also training for an Ironman. How is that going?”

4) “Why?”

“Why?” is a powerful question. “Why did you refuse to sell the company when you could have sailed off into the sunset?” is a question that audiences want to know the answer to. “Why did you leave your job and go risk it all on a startup?” Why? helps us understand the motivations behind every decision. Why? is the beginning of all journeys.

5) “I was reading an article you wrote about…’

If your guest has already written a lot or been in the news, then give them the hooks to activate that gold mine of content. This could be another podcast they were in, or a blog post or a press interview. Not only does this show the guest you have done your research, but also allows them to play on safe ground. They know what the subject matter is about and how that contributes to the narrative.

6) “Take us back to the time when…”

“Take us back to the time when you bought AirAsia for 1 Ringgit. What was going on in your mind back then?”

Good podcasts are conversations not interviews. The best podcasts are co-created narratives between the host and the guest. The host is encouraging the host to “take us” back on a journey. Everyone enjoys a journey they can relate to. “Us” is everyone including the audience. The audience is sitting on this magic carpet too.

7) “…”

I have found that one of the most effective things to say in a Podcast is nothing at all. I’m not saying 45 minutes of dead air, but being able to sometimes not fire back a response and allow the guest to keep talking. This goes hand in hand with being able to vary your answers from short to long, mixing up the cadence to keep the conversation going.

Moving from rigid to flexible

Many podcasters start out with rigid scripts, and as they get better they work with a looser structure of key points / questions, allowing the conversation to flow more as they feel more confident.

The more questions you have, the more pressure you’ll be under to get to the end, the less you can have a good conversation.

It’s better to work with a few bullet points or questions rather than a rigid script.

As you get more comfortable at podcasting, you’ll also work with a looser structure. Some hosts look for a “story arc” or “narrative” that they’d like to explore with a guest. That doesn’t always work especially if you’ve never spoken to your guest before. When it does work, though, it can create magic.

I’ve seen this play out in most of our Podcast Clients. It’s progression; it’s evolution; it’s Agile Storytelling in practise.

Define: Agile Storytelling

Agile Storytelling – you don’t need a finished book to have a story worth telling. The best stories are journeys which engage and invite the audience to take part, evolving as they add key talking points and refine their thought architecture. agile storytelling

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The best podcast hosts do the research. They research angles and narrative structures that sync with their guest. They then bring these talking points to the podcast giving them both the flexibility of having interesting angles to pursue and all bases covered.

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Practise follow up questions

When a guest says something interesting, it’s better to hold that conversation and indulge the listener than steamroll the conversation to the next question.

“Tell me more about X”
“Why did you say that?”

These can lead to good conversations. Don’t be afraid of going “off script”. Remember, your listeners want to feel like they are part of an interesting conversation, rather than looking for specific information commando-style. You’re delivering what cannot be Googled.

Make note of interesting points

If a guest says something interesting, note it down on paper and come back to it later. Better to let the guest run with the conversation and go with the flow then keep breaking them up to challenge every point. A good host will arc back to a point later on to keep the arrow of the narrative going.

Storyboard

Remember that a Podcast is a Conversation not an Interview. What I mean by this is that your goal is to engage, inform, entertain and inspire your audience, not find a journalistic hook to trap your guest. Your is to cocreate that conversation with the guest. She is your partner in the process, not adversary.

Define: Podcast Storyboarding

Podcast Storyboarding – at our Podcast Agency we see every podcast as a co-created narrative between the host and the guest(s). That’s why it’s important to help structure the narrative as a team rather than set the podcast up as an “interview”. The most authentic and spontaneous podcasts are also the ones that have an outline narrative arc for the speakers to follow.

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That’s why a key planning step in our Podcast Agency process is Storyboarding. We use our own internal storyboarding software with clients and guests in the preamble days to weeks before the recording to synchronize key talking points, develop meta messages and build the all-important chemistry of the conversation that will keep audiences coming back for part 2.

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About Author Graham Brown

Graham Brown is the founder of Pikkal & Co – performance communication agency responsible for producing Award Winning Podcasts for business brands. Clients including McKinsey, Julius Baer, IBM and the Singapore Government. Investors and Advisors from Netflix, Intel, Apple and iQiYi. He is a published Amazon author covering human communication technologies, marketing and branding. He has produced over 1,000 podcast episodes and webinar shows with notable shows including the Tony Fernandes Podcast. Graham is a graduate in Artificial Intelligence and is currently leading Pikkal & Co to use Machine Learning and Conversation Analytics to automate the heavy lifting of communication to elevate the human touch.
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