Here at Ideas on Fire, we have a blast 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.
Do your homework
Research the show to get a sense of what topics it covers and what topics it does not cover, and also take a look at how the show’s host organizes the conversations. Listen to 4 or 5 episodes to get a sense of how they work. Look at the other guests who 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?
Also pay attention to 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? Figuring this out will give you a sense of what your interview will be like and how your work fits with the show and its audience.
Choose 1–2 key points
Podcast interviews are usually fairly short—for instance, at Imagine Otherwise we aim for a 30 minute conversation. 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.
Prepare your answers
You don’t need to write out full paragraphs to read aloud (an interview isn’t a lecture), but do 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.
Sound quality is key
Podcasting is an auditory medium. Thus, sound quality is of utmost importance. For remote interviews, you can do your interview in your pajamas if you want and nobody but your cat will know, but bad audio quality is difficult and sometimes impossible to fix.
A poor recording 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, unfortunately, so do what you can to ensure your voice comes through clearly. Here are a few ways you can help:
Ensure you have a great phone or internet connection
If you are being interviewed over Zoom and know you often have spotty wifi in the location you’ll be recording, go somewhere else with a more 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 and a place you can count on no background noise and no dropped calls.
Record 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 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.
Obviously, life is life and we can’t always control our environments the way we might like. But do what you can to cut down on competing noise during your recording. For instance, put a sign on your closed door telling people not to knock or open it.
Small rooms tend to be better for recording because large rooms, empty rooms, hallways, and tall ceilings cause echo. If you can find a small, carpeted room or a room with lots of blankets or furniture, even better—soft fabrics absorb sound.
In a pinch, a closets can be a great place (yes, seriously).
Public areas like coffee shops or parks are generally horrible for interviews due to ambient noise. Even if you’re using headphones, the ambient noise will be picked up by your microphone and this can render your recording unfixable.
Turn off your notifications
Make sure to check 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 so that the vibration sound won’t be picked up by your microphone.
Headphones help limit the sounds picked up by your microphone. Not wearing headphones can cause your interviewer’s voice to echo back through your speakers, which is hard to fix in editing later on.
Use a microphone if possible
If you have access to a microphone, please use it. 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 don’t have a separate microphone, make sure you know where the built-in microphone is on your recording device, whether that is your laptop, phone, or desktop. Position your mouth a few inches away from that microphone when speaking to ensure your voice is clear.
Don’t be afraid to reschedule
If you have an unexpected noisy interruption—like a dog that won’t stop barking or a construction crew that starts jackhammering outside your window (both have happened to me)—ask your podcast host if they would prefer to do that part of the interview over or reschedule.
Life happens after all, and most podcast hosts are happy to reschedule if it means better sound quality.
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 not a great idea. You run the risk of sounding stilted and being more focused on your speaking style than on what you’re saying.
Your ideas are what matters and they’re why the podcast host invited you—focus on those and your natural voice will allow them to shine.
Send materials promptly
Most podcast hosts post show notes on their websites, which describe the content of each episode and often include photos, bios, 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, bios, 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 the air date and link
When the episode comes out, you should share the link and social media promotional images with your networks. Be sure to ask the host how and when you can get that link.
If you published a book, send the link to your publisher with a request that they add the link to their site. Most book publishers are quite happy to do this, as well as promote any of your social media posts about your book and your interview (be sure to tag the publisher in your posts so they can find them).
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.