Fascinating interviews start with unique voices sharing powerful answers. As host, your first question sets the tone for the rest of the interview. If you ask the wrong question, the whole interview can head in a different direction. Your guest may not share as openly and when you go to publish, listeners might skip ahead or remove their AirPods entirely.
The interview tone gets set at your first question.
The Cue Ball Interview Method ⚪️
Think of your first question like your first shot in a game of pool. If you sink a ball right off the break, your partner pays attention. However if the white balls fails to make an impact on the triangle of balls, or you miss altogether, your partner starts to doubt your credibility in the game.
Interviewing starts with a strong break where the answer you receive from your first question, feels like when you sink a ball of the break. Start strong and then you'll have plenty of questions you can line up next.
In this article, you will deconstruct the four pillars of the first interview question to ask the best first question possible.
For your next podcast episode you will be able to:
☺️gain guest confidence immediately.
🧗♀️let your guest lead the way across the conversation mountain
😇create open space conditions for guests to share more deeply.
"Before anything else, preparation is the key to success." Alexander Graham Bell.
1. Do Your Research Before The Interview
Find four to five areas on your guest that you are curious about. Write these areas down, including what made you curious, the data, the potential questions. A mind map can be great to use as a visual reference while interviewing.
Interview area #1 _______
Interview area #2 _______
Interview area #3 _______
Interview area #4 _______
Pick one area that you’d like to spend most of the interview on (but also be prepared that you won’t be able to cover it at all).
Favourite Interview area #3 _______
Before the interview starts, either in a pre-amble chat or via email in the run up to the interview, sound them out on the area. Are the excited to talk about it? Is there another area they're more interested in talking about? Listen to their tone not just what they say. Be guided by them.
2. Share Previous Guest Interviews
Podcasts have a style and feel that you as the interviewer get to control from the first question. Share with your guest previous interviews, so they get a feel for how the show gets underway.
🎙Share two or three episodes that include starting questions that include an interesting answer and guide your guests to listen to a couple of minutes of each.
This helps construct a 🌉 conversation bridge to meet your guest in the middle of, on interview day.
Hey ____podcast guest,
Here are a couple of the most recent episodes from our show. Have listen to the first couple of minutes to get a feel for the style.
On interview day, you now have something in common to speak about in the pre-amble chat before the interview starts.
"Hey, I'm curious - what was your favourite episode from the ones I sent through?"
🌉 A conversation bridge helps you talk about someone else's business interview as a bridge to talking about theirs. You get to learn about what they like, without your guest sharing awesome answers before you start.
You will also get an indication of their preferred interview style and whether they prepared for the interview by listening to previous guest appearances.
3. Test For Media Familiarity
Many of your guests have a public profile already and are used to answering questions from the media. High profile guests will have a 🖲standard answering procedure (S.A.P). Your first question aims to disrupt disrupt how they usually answer... otherwise your audience might as well listen to previous interviews.
Your job is to know what topic the media have not covered, that you're curious in AND your guest is open to talking about.
Through research, you can uncover potential topic area that haven't been well explored. These areas can contain a number of questions your guest may have rarely been asked about, and would love the opportunity to explore for the benefit of your audience.
Why not stick to standard interview questions that journalist rely on?
Journalists are time constrained and often search for conflict. Podcasts aren't time constrained so you can go much deeper searching for more meaning. Podcast audiences are willing to follow along as you dig further into topics when the opening question draws them in and the topics explored search for meaning.
4. Ask A Simple Question
Simple questions bring your audience along for the ride and give your guest a broad scope on how to answer. From their answer you begin to learn what they feel is important and from there, the interview unfolds.
a) Simple Question About Location
The first question on the first episode of A Kiwi Original (1 mins 10 secs) ask a broad business question about the specific area I had researched:
"What's it like running a business out of Eltham in the West Coast to the North Island of New Zealand?
b) Simple Question About Company Name
Another simple question is to ask about the business name, when it's not immediately obvious. On the second episode of A Kiwi Original (1 mins 15 secs) I asked Christine...
"First of all, let's start with... what is the 'Good Registry'?"
c) Simple Question About The Need For The Company
One more simple question to start the interview with Stuart Wilson, CEO Modica Group (1mins 34 secs).
"Modica Group. What does the company do and why do you exist?
c) Simple Question About Company Purchase
I interviewed Sophie Cooper from Anihana (was Ahhh!). I already knew from my research that Sophie had purchased the business recently, but didn’t know about how the purchase came about or why she decided to purchase the purchase.
In our pre-amble chat it became obvious that asking around this area was going to be safe because Sophie was excited to talk about the business. I asked the question by including background to provide context for the audience up front.
“So I’m going to ask my first question….you actually purchased this business from someone else. What was the thing that attracted you to this soap manufacturing business that turned it in to the brand it now is?”
☂️ An umbrella question allowed Sophie to answer a whole bunch of questions related to the umbrella question of why she decided to buy the business, crucially with me having to ask them. These answered many short answer questions including:
When did you buy the business?
What were you doing before buying the business?
Why was the person selling the business to you?
How did you feel about deciding to buy the business?
Did you have any experience in making these products?
What else was going on for you when you bought the business?
d) Simple Question About The Customers
With Ethan Todd I wanted to ask a question about his customers to avoid getting into the technical nature of the product too early that may have lost listeners. Lots of New Zealanders are hunters so a question about why they love hunting felt more audience connected.
"Backlanz is a business. What do you guys do? And, you know, why do people buy your products?"
Recap On Simple Question Types
When interviewing business owners, your simple question types can include:
🔋Company Location - What is like running a company in ____location___?
🔋Company Name - What does your company ___name___ do?
🔋Need For Company - Why does your company exist?
🔋Company Purchase - what attracted you to the company?
🔋About The Customers - why do people buy __product name___?
A common thread with broad first interviews questions is they start with a what or a why. These ☂️umbrella questions help your guest answer lots of short answer questions that start with who, when, where, crucially, without you having to ask them.
By asking a broad first interview question you'll often get an answer that lasts up to a minute or more...helping your guest relax as you cross the 🧗conversation mountain together.
As they talk they'll gain confidence, forget about the cameras and a long answer helps you understand their conversation style. You also get longer to prepare your next question from the many who, when and where answers they give, each providing you a potential path across open space to follow up with another question that goes deeper on a topic that they have initiated on.
An Alternative Interview Preparation Approach
There is more than one way to prepare for your podcast interview. Research has many levels of depth if you want to go much deeper. Debbie Millman researches until she has around 50 pages of notes, before editing down to 10 pages of questions covering the guests accomplishments, failures, personal life, and responses in previous interviews. She halves the questions down to five pages creating the most powerful arc of questions for her one hour interview. That's preparation right there.
“As an interviewer, your question is the cue ball: It should land an awesome response and spark many other conversational directions.” Debbie Millman.
Debbie views her question technique like a game of billiards "you want to get the billiard balls in a hole, but you also want to leave the rest of the balls on the table, so you can continue to get more billiard balls in more holes." she says. Comparing billiards to pool, The Cue Ball Interview Method ⚪️ is about creating opportunities by lining up the white ball to sink a ball right off the break. Sinking your first ball off the break is about giving yourself options from the first question you ask, then letting your break create a number of angles for follow up questions.
Podcast First Question Priming Summary
We have now deconstructed together the four pillars of priming your first podcast question. Let's recap:
- Do Your Research Before The Interview
- Find 4 - 5 question areas and one strong area.
- Share Previous Guest Interviews
- Construct A 🌉 Conversation Bridge
- Test For Media Familiarity
- Avoid 🖲Standard Answering Procedure (S.A.P)
- Ask A Simple Question About...
- Company Name
- The Need For The Company
- Company Purchase
- The Customers
Wow. Has Caché Helped You Ask Better Questions?
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