10 Commandments of Guest Interviews

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10 Commandments of Guest Interviews

(By Jeff McHugh) Have you ever seen an amateur try to do the work of an expert? Imagine a surgeon inviting an ordinary person to try their hand at a scalpel, or a World Cup soccer team bringing a fan onto the pitch to play goalie. Interviews on a radio show or podcast can be like that.

Great shows can be not so great when they broadcast the program to guests who are not trained in how to be funny, and most interviews rank low on PPM.

Actors, musicians, authors, local business owners and charity representatives are good at what they dobut most are you are not good at what you do — creating entertaining audio content.

There are successful shows that specialize in interviews like The Breakfast Club, The Howard Stern Show on Sirius XM and NPR Fresh air with Terry Gross. These hosts, producers and staff work long hours in preparation to ensure that every interview results in killer content.

If your show doesn’t have that kind of time and resources, you can still create fun guest segments with my very funny name The Ten Commandments of Guest Interviews.

  1. Sky filter for guests. Think about the reasons no to have a guest. The ideal guest is versatile familiar to listeners – you don’t need to explain who they are. They are relevant to your audience and they have a reputation as such fun. If you get an offer to interview the likes of Tom Hanks, Taylor Swift, or Samuel L. Jackson, say yes.
  1. Guests should bring stories. If your sales department sold a package to Bob’s Hardware Store and now you need to interview Bob, the owner (yes, these things still happen) work with the seller to prompt the guest for stories in advance. Is there an interesting story behind the origin of the store? What’s the biggest home improvement disaster you’ve seen? Give us an extreme example of difficult customer behavior.
  1. Save and edit. Never give live interviews. Play selectively edited clips of the interview on air and podcast, and you may publish the unedited version elsewhere. Don’t rush to broadcast it. Veteran interviewer Steve Inskeep of NPR News says, “There’s no story that can’t be improved by holding it for a day.”
  1. Make guests feel safe. Fresh air Terry Gross tells all the guests:
  • While you’re talking, if you want to stop and repeat what you’re saying, do so. Interviews are recorded so we can edit and make you look good.
  • If I ask something that’s too personal, let me know and I’ll move on.
  1. Annoying great interviews. Practice horizontal teasing for the segment at the same time the day before, repeated teasing until airtime, and teasing with clips from the interview to help build interest.
  2. Start strong. After recording the interview, find the most provocative, interesting moment and open the segment with it. Dramatic audio of an actor or musician’s work is another great way to start an interview.
  3. Make guests part of the show. Consider Jimmy Kimmel’s Mean tweets segment or the pranks Ellen Degeneres pulled on the guests. Consider a gimmick like The Breakfast Club Bowl, where guests choose an awkward question to answer. (You can clarify questions with guests before airtime to avoid real awkwardness.) Or ask guests to play a game like Spit out or swallow with Kyle and Jackie O on KIIS Sydney: Guests either ‘spit’ an answer to provocative questions or gobble things like fish eye, raw kidney or pickle smoothie. Here’s a harsh truth: Some guests are at their best when they briefly engage in a show or game theme—and then are quickly escorted out.
  • Also: if you have a multi-host show, all hosts participate in the interview. Don’t abandon your winning acting chemistry for a guest.
  1. Ask open-ended questions. Instead of binary yes/no questions, explore and get personal with open-ended questions that get your guest talking. Ask about their life, challenges, family, failures and mistakes.
  1. Keep your questions short. In the coming days, notice the TV, radio and podcast hosts who are clearly more interested in talking than listening. Also, notice the hosts who allow guests to walk around without a guide. Keep the word count balance between host(s) and guests roughly equal.
  1. De-emphasize weak guest content.
  • Community service/charity interviews are best in social media videos. Sherman and Tingle at 971 The Drive in Chicago brought in a representative from Illinois Heart Rescue and videotaped a fun CPR demonstration on a mannequin on the studio floor. Animal rescue groups get better adoption results with cute puppy and kitten videos on social media.
  • Separate segments for customer interviews. Don’t replace entertainment content in front of ads with paid advertising talk. Move them to the back of the stop kits.
  • Kill bad interviews. When a guest segment does not meet the show’s standards, put it off. On NPR’s Fresh Air, they sometimes contact the guest and politely inform them that the interview will never air.

Jeff McHugh is known for developing a remarkable talent for both morning and afternoon drives. He brings an unusual combination of positivity, creativity and strategy to the shows he directs. He is a member of the Randy Lane Company team. Contact Jeff at [email protected] and read his Radio Ink archives here.

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