10. The first phase: Permission

The first phase of your Talkshow is getting your guest in a state of mind that permits you to ask prodding questions. By prodding, I mean digging a little deeper by asking reflective questions that require your guest to clarify their thoughts and ideas. It’s an art we will soon address. 

How do you get permission? First off, you will need to get guests to come on your Talkshow, Podcast, or another form you are using. Some people will be eager, no questions asked. Others, perhaps some of the popular or busy people you want to meet, might be hesitant or simply say they don’t have the time. It’d be nice to have a production staff do the hard part of chasing guests down that may be difficult to get in touch with, but if you are the amateur level, then that is work you will have to do on your own.

If you are just starting, stay within the network you already have to practice doing your interviews in order to get a couple of pilots out there for people to see. Interview people, you know or are recommended by a colleague or friend. Get feedback from people you trust.

Invite. Explain the purpose of your show. Explain a bit how it will work – time length, what you will focus on and how you think the sharing of their experiences or expertise will help others. In your first phone call or e-mail, or invitation, explain that you are curious, want to learn, and appreciate their contributions. Explain the process – structure, place, and technology (live or virtual). Be friendly and encouraging but also be persistent. Make sure they know that they are very important to you and you value their perspective or advice. Let them know how you can spread the word about what they do and have an important message for listeners.

Not everyone will agree to be on your show every time, but explaining the purpose, process, and importance will, in the overwhelming number of cases, get people to say yes. Make it easy for them to say yes. On my radio show, I send live, but otherwise, I ”tape” and promise to send a copy for approval before putting it up on YouTube or my website. It comforts people to be able to say No. Now, journalists cannot always do that, but if you are starting out as a Talkshow host, that may help people with their decision to be on your show or not. Even journalists do this sometimes. I ask to read what they write about what I do before it goes to press, and almost always, they will share beforehand and let me make a few corrections I think are necessary. Again, a hard-core, hard news journalist cannot permit their interview object to dictate the terms of participation, but if you can, it is not a bad idea to give your guest the option of viewing, reading, or listening before you go ”online.” 

If you have handled the invitation well, the guest understands the purpose and process and will have a good feeling and understanding of what will happen.

You have your date, time, technology in place, etc., so now it is time to meet and greet. Live – almost always easier – you know what to do. Meet at least twenty minutes before you start the interview and just make them feel comfortable. Go through the purpose and process again. 

Test the technology or show them around the studio. Do your darndest to make sure everything works smoothly. Make a checklist.

–       Welcome and comfort your guest

–       Sound

–       Lighting

–       Water

–       Notepaper

–       Outline for your questions

–       Introduction notes

–       Sponsor information, if you are lucky to find a sponsor

–       Computer

–       Wifi

–       Hard drive and platform for saving your interview

–       Upload to platform

–       De-brief your guest – talk about the experience

– Follow up with your guest in the next two days

Etc. Add to this list.

Time to start? You are still in the permission phase. Some guests are experienced and at ease from the beginning. Others will be nervous and uncomfortable. Everyone will need some kind of comforting. You want them to trust you, and you do that through reassurance, encouragement, and making sure they understand what will happen. 

The more you practice, the more comfortable you will be, which helps you focus more on your guest than on your own feelings or uncertainties. I am a nervous type myself – I treasure professionalism and do not want glitches. When something goes wrong, like with the tech, I get stressed, but with experience, I have learned that I must calm down, and things usually will work out. I am just saying that your state of mind affects your guest’s state of mind.

Think through your introduction. Tell them (and your audience) why you are looking forward to your conversation. Ask your guest a relatively easy question to get them started, such as saying a few words about their work, their experience of the book, film, recipe, or idea they will share. 

Get your guest to smile. Share your connection. Share what you are curious about.

Watch for the body language that shows that your guest is starting to relax. They will often breathe more easily and slowly, ease the tension in their bodies as they sit more relaxed in their chair, or still better laugh at one of your comments. They will raise their eyes and look more directly at you. Sometimes, they will speed up and talk more intensely, but the opposite will often happen – their voice tempo will be reduced, indicating less stress.

You will want to be able to ask more prodding or difficult questions, of course, but that will be easier when your guest feels that you’ve made an effort to make them feel welcome and you demonstrate your curiosity – and calm focus.

There is a lot going on in this first phase, from how you make your invitation to participate to how you meet and greet to how you get your guests to feel welcome and ready to talk. 

Watch the start of this interview example with Maria W. 

Maria is a teacher in Sweden, so the interview is in Swedish, but I just want you to focus on the first 20 seconds. Sure, you can watch the whole interview (about 3.5 minutes) if you wish and understand Swedish, but it’s the particulars of body language I ask you to focus on. Why is it important to make the other person comfortable and even to smile or laugh at the beginning? (Oh, by the way, she is also talking about her dog.)

Technologically this is not a masterpiece, using my cell phone in a room at Maria’s school, this time having the camera at an angle from the side. Once again, my point is getting that first-minute right shows that your guest feels comfortable and is willing to share.