Be interested. Ask great questions. The guest is the star.
“Confidence has a lot to do with interviewing – that, and timing.” – Michael Parkinson
As audiences around the world embrace podcasts, I wonder what makes a ‘good’ podcast? Many are conversations with guests or between hosts, and the style of the interview is crucial to its impact. Likewise, as medical conferences seek more innovative formats, live interviews on stage can be more engaging and informative than a single podium speaker to the audience.
There are fine journalistic and entertainment traditions here – Michael Parkinson (UK), Andrew Denton (Australia) and Oprah Winfrey have different styles, but all manage to make us feel connected to their guests and their messages through their interviews.
So how should we approach interviewing as a podcast host or as a live interviewer on stage?
Only choose guests and topics that are truly interesting to you or your audience. No amount of ‘format’ can make up for a lack of ‘why’.
Andrew Denton was famous for the amount of research he would do before interviewing someone on Enough Rope – “there’s just not too much information I can have.” But….no amount of research could cover the fact that sometimes he just wasn’t that interested in certain people he’d agreed to interview. – Andrew Denton, Enough Rope
Know your stuff
It takes a depth of knowledge of content to ask great questions. This relates to both the guest and the topic. It provides confidence to make connections, and frees up your cognitive bandwidth to truly concentrate and listen to understand.
Prepare yourself and your guest
Get them to consider their actual message, in preparation for your discussion
If you could tell us your message in just one sentence what would it be?
What do you think our listeners can actually do after hearing this?
Most of us have great answers to questions after the fact. Think arguments at work, job interviews etc ????. Give your presenters or guests an outline of 4 or 5 questions that they can prepare answers to, but also make them aware this is ‘improv’ and you will respond to what they say and be flexible. Those prepared questions are also your ‘go to’ list as an interviewer, but don’t be constrained by them.
Consider your format
A live interview on stage will require careful positioning of chairs for audience connection to the host and guest, and will need the host to ensure they are visibly engaged in the conversation. A recorded podcast at home on your computer is much more forgiving, but ensure audio issues are optimized (that’s a separate blog post….)
During the interview….Ask simple questions.
Short, simple, clear
Preview those simple questions
I’d like to talk about….
Use the questions that lead to elaboration, rather than Yes/ No
Why? What? How? What if?
Don’t be afraid to set up your own opinion, or those of others. Contrast is good.
You say this, but I’m thinking that…. How can we reconcile?
Wouldn’t Dr. X say this?
Point out their own inconsistencies, and blind spots – make them curious again
You’ve said X, but also Y… how does that work..?
Listen carefully and use verbal prompts to get more. Reflect back their own words.
Tell me more?
Paraphrase and summarize
So I think you’ve told us X and Y, and given use a practical example of Z…where do we go from here?
Make it personal
But why are you interested in this?
What have you found most difficult/most rewarding/most surprising?
Channel your audience
I think a lot of folks might wonder about….
A lot of our listeners will be thinking….
This might seem like it is all about hypertonic saline in head injury, but what about the referral techniques when talking to neurosurgeons….
See the funny side – but not at your guest’s expense
Be careful here – light moments at your own expense, and amusing analogies are all good, but ‘in jokes’ are tedious for audiences. With large audiences it is easy to offend someone.
Make sure the guest is the star
Ignore your inner narcissist. Choose substance over pure style.
“So much interviewing these days is about the presenter – I’m a clever boy, I’m going to be smart with people; or it’s a trivial… ‘ how do you like your eggs boiled’?” – Michael Parkinson
Victoria Brazil is an emergency physician, medical educator, speaker, and podcast host. She works at Bond University and Gold Coast Health in Australia. Victoria is frequently invited to moderate panel discussions and do live on-stage interviews with guests, including the opening plenary for smaccSydney in March 2019.