How prepared should you be when interviewing someone for your podcast?
This is your podcast. You are the guide, leading your audience through the expertise or experience that your interviewee has.
And like any guide, you should be reasonably familiar with the trail you’ll be taking in order to get the most out of your followers time. If there are side paths you want to take for a greater view, you should know when and how you’ll be getting back to the main trail. You should know which paths will lead to the most relevant and interesting sights. And above all, you should know when and where the trail ends.
But no one wants a mechanical, obligatory guide that’s just there to do a job.
Which is exactly how it might sound if you’ve spent too much time memorizing every little turn and detail. It is not your job to be as knowledgeable as the person you’re interviewing; you should be learning along the way, too.
You should be curious and engaged, reflecting how you want your audience to feel while listening to the interview.
But how could you possibly lead anyone, anywhere, without first knowing where you’re going? Without any knowledge of who you’re interviewing or their expertise, you might only be asking the easy questions that one could get from a quick 2 minute google search. Worse still, you might accidentally rephrase and ask the same questions, thus going in circles, or else forget major topic points altogether! What a frustrating experience that would be as a listener.
On the other hand, being overly familiar with the topic and your interviewee can lead to monotonous and robotic story telling. Once again, no one’s interested in a contrived yawnfest with no real interest on your part.
You reflect your audience’s voice; their questions, their curiosity, their excitement.
So we ask again; how much information should you be armed with before going into an interview?
Beyond just having prepared a list of good questions, generally knowing where an answer will lead will enable you to have relevant follow-up questions. Knowing which answers will lead you to hot-button topics that you want to focus on will keep the interview engaging. Having a map of the conversational trail in your mind will keep you from getting lost on long tangents or over-focusing on the same points that you’ve already made.
All of this is not to say that spontaneity is a bad thing. If an answer leads to a new question that occurs to you in the moment, great! Genuine intrigue keeps things fresh. But knowing your way back to the main topic will keep things moving forward, thus keeping the interview fresh and relevant.
The answer, in short, is to know enough to have a general outline of your conversation ready to go while also maintaining your own curiosity in listening to the answers of the person you’re interviewing.