11. The second phase: Content

What are you going to talk about? We’ll get to that in a second—first, a few words about the form and structure of your conversation/interview.

How many guests should you have? I would suggest limiting it to one or two at the same session. Why? It’s simply easier to handle that than with three or more people in your studio or online. It lets you focus, and it allows your audience to focus. That is not to say that this is impossible to do with small groups. I am simply saying that if you are new to this, you have less to deal with.

Short or long-form? Long-form is a bit easier because you don’t have to worry as much about time, and you can explore several issues. However, you need to think about your audience. Will they want to sit for 30, 45, or 60 minutes and listen? Will they like and appreciate in-depth interviews? Many excellent podcasts are long-form podcasts of about 45-60 minutes. I particularly enjoy NPR’s How I built this with Guy Raz and Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics podcast, People I mostly admire. I listen in my car or when jogging or taking long walks. 

If you are using video, doing a long-form interview is more challenging. Audio permits people to move around – clean, jog, drive, and fix things, but video requires the viewer to mostly remain in one place. It can work, of course, but it places more demands on your competence to do an interview that retains people’s attention.

By the way, if you record on Zoom and some other programs or platforms, you can get both the video and the audio files. That means that from one recording you can add to your vlog or turn it into a podcast. 

Short-form interviews (3 – 20 minutes) also have their advantages and disadvantages. Short is easier to consume and helps you focus on one or two issues, but that means you have to leave out some questions you want to ask. It also means you must refrain from taking up too much space and time during this short time frame. Even more, your guest has to be the focus of attention. 

I enjoy the challenge of a short conversation/interview/coaching session and will go through that process with you. I am just saying that the form you choose will depend on your personal preferences, your time frame, and your audience. Just be aware of the various challenges of each form and time frame. 

So, what should you talk about?

I wish I could say, well, here’s a list. That, of course, is ridiculous because it depends on your interests, the interests of your guests, and the interests of your audience.

But here’s my more opened-ended list, anyway:

–       What you are curious about

–       What you want to learn

–       What your experts want to share

–       What your guests feel strongly about

–       What your guests have experienced

–       What your guests have tried to fix

–       How to…. (well, how to do most anything)

–       Where to…. next step towards the future or just literally where to find something (best restaurants, best people, best places, etc.)

–       Why… analysis, cause, and effect, history

–       Ideas… plans, hopes, expectations, solutions

–       Opinions – yes, but be careful here. Opinion shows are a dime a dozen.

Make your own list!

How prepared should you be? That is an interesting question, and again there are different philosophies. Some Talkshow hosts want to control from start to finish. They have a strict time schedule, a detailed plan, and sometimes a written script. A script can be helpful if you are new at this or simply want to make sure you give a good introduction and conclusion or remember what you want to ask. I wouldn’t say I like scripts but need some keyword notes or sometimes a PowerPoint on my computer, flip-over, cue cards, or notes to remind me of key points. You do know that most late-night Talkshow hosts use cue cards for their jokes. 

However, using cue cards does need practice because your viewing audience may be distracted by how you use your eyes or like reading and not spontaneous. There are, these days, cue card programs for your mobile phone, and some studios are able to plant the cameras behind a screen, so as you look into the camera, you can also see your notes or PowerPoint presentations.

Prepare for your guests. Read their book. Watch their film. Check out your guests’ social media posts. Do a pre-interview to agree on key points. Good preparation helps, especially because that will help you feel comfortable – and again, your comfort is key to the comfort of your guests.

But…. And there is a big but. Some Talkshow hosts do a better job when they don’t prepare. Their Talkshows are more spontaneous and give both the host and the audience a sense of discovery. This fits my personality. I do lots of interviews with very little preparation. Why? Well, some part of me is lazy, and some part of me just plain enjoys not knowing exactly what will happen. I love the suspense of it all, and this is one reason I do non-scripted interviews. Sure, I have key points, and also ask discovery questions about their projects, manuscripts, lectures, or ideas. See the template I use in the last segment of this course. 

One size does not fit all. If you want to prepare in detail – fine – do that. If you are willing to take a bit more of a risk to make the interview sound more spontaneous, well, then do that. As always, I urge you to try out different things as you set out and see, hear and feel what you think fits you best – and your guests, themes, and audience.

For me, I thought over-preparing was a necessity, but I soon discovered the opposite was true. Be true to yourself, and you will find an approach that works.

Watch the interview example with Mike.

I want to share one of my mentors, Mike Pegg, who lives in the United Kingdom. Rarely will you meet a person who follows his vision and purpose so loyally and who is also able to support that with a specific methodology. The content of the interview takes care of itself because Mike can quickly and confidently point out how to support other people’s learning, visions, and life purposes. Stop the film once in a while to think about Mike’s philosophy and approach. He surely has made a great impact on my way of thinking. 

Most successful people – leaders and mentors – have a very clear concept of their purpose, values, and strategies.