I STILL remember conducting my first interviews as a junior reporter. I was just 16 years-old and cutting my journalistic teeth with a regional newspaper group in Leicestershire.

It was 1990. My desk was in the middle of a bustling newsroom and my kit consisted of an old-fashioned push-button phone, wired into the telecoms system, a notepad and an Amstrad word processor with a black screen and green typeface.

At first, I was tasked with re-writing press releases and accompanying a ‘grown up’ reporter to cover court proceedings but, as my confidence and writing skills grew, I started to feel that uneasy stretching sensation in my comfort zone (nope, not a euphemism)!

I needed to interview people.

Over the telephone.

In the open office!

HORRORS!

What if I messed it up?

What if the other journalists listened in and laughed at me?

What if I got distracted?

That little voice in my head was turning into a gigantic worry monster.

At first, I’d write down questions I knew I needed to ask and run through them with my interviewee, one by one.

Sometimes, if I missed something out, I’d need to call back and clarify.

On the days where my nerves really got the better of me, I’d sneak out of the newsroom and use the telephone in one of the back offices nobody ever used.

I stayed with that newspaper group for four years. By the time I left, I’d made it to the lofty heights of news editor — at the ridiculously young age of 20. I always was quite driven!

I’m telling you this because it’s important to set the scene — and even more important to acknowledge that we all need to start somewhere.

I’m telling you this because it’s important to set the scene — and even more important to acknowledge that we all need to start somewhere.

Today, having worked across numerous newspapers and magazines in the print and digital space (as well as launching my own), I’ve interviewed everyone from parish council clerks to celebrities and ‘big name’ politicians.

What’s more, as an author, trainer and award-winning coach in my own right, I’ve been interviewed countless times for newspapers, magazines and radio, made a few TV appearances, and guested on more livestream interviews and podcasts than I can remember.

What does this have to do with you? EVERYTHING!

If you’re thinking of launching a podcast — or you’re already running one — OR you’re wanting to interview people for your YouTube channel, or social media livestream, I’ve got plenty of experience to help you create engaging content and show up like a pro.

You ready? Buckle up… here are my top dos and don’ts for social media and podcast interviews.

1) DON’T BE TEMPTED TO SEND YOUR INTERVIEWEES A LIST OF QUESTIONS IN ADVANCE

Trust me on this one. Pre-scripting your interview, in any way, will only create a stilted discussion that sounds far too rehearsed. This isn’t like my early days as a reporter — you’re not ‘The Media’. This is SOCIAL media, remember?

Far more power-full than sticking to a rigid question list (unless your particular show has a ‘20 Questions’ format or similar, of course) is to come up with the topics you’d like to discuss and give your guest those topic areas as a guide.

Sometimes, particularly if you’re interviewing someone from the corporate world, you might find them asking you to provide questions in advance. This is usually because they’ve been through media training, but that’s designed to keep the brand safe and spot any potential pitfalls coming out of sneaky journalistic questioning — it’s not meant for podcast/social interviews with no ‘underhand’ agenda.

In this case, I’d be reassuring your guest by telling them it’s a dynamic, two-way conversation, covering topics A, B and C; you might also want to ask them if there are any points they’d particularly like to get across, any questions they’d really like you to ask them, or any topic they’d like you to avoid. That’s usually enough to allay any fears.

As a podcast guest, I hate being sent a list of questions and, if I’m asked to provide some, I politely decline and say I’d much rather the interview was free-flowing. It generally makes for a much more interesting end result.

2) KEEP IT CLEAN — DON’T USE YOUR PODCAST/LIVESTREAM AS A PLATFORM FOR YOUR GUESTS TO PLUG THEIR PRODUCTS

You might choose to give your guests the opportunity to talk about what’s coming up for them, what they’re working on, and let them share where people can find them online, but if you allow your show to become a regular promo wagon, don’t be surprised if you lose your audience.

3) KNOW HOW LONG YOU’RE BROADCASTING FOR

Have an idea of how long you want your interview to go on for and let your guest know in advance. If you’re both keeping an eye on the time, it’s much easier to keep your conversation encapsulated in that time bubble.

4) BE CLEAR ABOUT LANGUAGE GUIDELINES

Where are you with naughty words? Is your guest allowed to swear? Do you need to keep it clean? This really can vary according to the host, the channel and the audience, so make sure your guest knows what the parameters are before going on air.

5) WILL THERE BE OTHER GUESTS ON THE SAME SHOW?

If you’re inviting other people in as interviewees at the same time, please, please make this clear to your guest at the time of booking. It might sound obvious, but I’ve seen people being invited onto livestreams without being told they’d be speaking alongside a ‘competitor’, and I once had my own awful experience when I was asked to speak about LGBTQIA issues on radio, only to discover they were bringing a homophobic, religious preacher on, directly after me, to dissect everything I’d said. That was painful!

6) DON’T BE AFRAID TO INTERRUPT… OR TO LIFT THE ENERGY

Sometimes you’ll get an interviewee who either goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on… please, be brave enough to interrupt and move the conversation on. You can be polite and blunt at the same time: “Sorry, X, I need to interrupt you there and move us on, or we’ll be out of time before we’ve covered all our topics.” Deliver it with a smile, and lashings of respect and gratitude, and you’ll be fine.

On the flip side, sometimes you’ll get a monosyllabic interviewee and feel like you’re trying to get blood out of a stone. Very often, this is a confidence issue, so try to find a topic they’re passionate about and feel comfortable discussing and that can really break the ice for you. Do they have pets? Do they love music? Build in a few minutes’ chat time before actually going live, so you can warm ’em up a bit first.

7) DON’T TRY TO TAKE TOO MUCH OF THEIR TIME

I say this from the place of an interviewee AND someone who’s interviewed thousands of people.

Please, please, please, if someone agrees to guest on your podcast/livestream, DO NOT expect them to give you an additional time slot to ‘discuss the show’ beforehand. If they ask for this, that’s one thing, but expecting someone to not only give you time for your show, but to also give you an unnecessary chunk of time beforehand is a step too far.

I’m seeing this happen more and more and, as someone with a really busy schedule, it’s a massive annoyance. If someone insists on this, I’m likely to decline the invite altogether.

If you really need to run through things before the show, build in an extra 10 minutes at the beginning, and let them know you’ll have a short time to chat through anything they need before going live/recording.

Here’s another thought… if you really are concerned that you need to tell them everything they need to know about your show before the interview, consider creating a short information sheet (no more than a single side of A4) and send that to them at the time of booking.

Don’t ask them for another call to discuss your products and services afterwards either — massive turn off!

Let’s respect people’s time, energy and generosity. They’re already doing something awesome for you by agreeing to guest on your show. That should be enough for you.

8) DO ASK THEM TO HELP YOU SHARE THE SHOW

Tell them you’ll send on a link, maybe even some graphics, ahead of the show going live, and ask if they’ll be willing to share the link on their own channels to make their audience aware of their guest star appearance. Most will be happy to do this and it’ll help widen your audience.

9) GET YOUR PR MACHINE ROLLING

If it’s been a really good interview with a guest of note, consider sharing an audio clip with BBC Upload — you might find your show gets mentioned on BBC Radio that way.

When I ran my TazTalks show, this led to an awful lot of mentions and parts of my show being aired on BBC.

You might also want to consider sending out a press release if you have anything of note popping up on your show, or if you’re discussing topical issues journalists might be interested in. Twitter’s a great place for connecting with relevant journalists — start building your connections and relationships now, so you’re known to the news teams when it’s your moment to shine.

10) MAKE SURE YOUR TECH IS GOOD TO GO

This might sound like a really obvious one but, precisely because it’s so obvious and basic, it’s easy to miss things and for cock-ups to happen.

My most cringeworthy tech mishap moment? I’ve finally pinned down Stephen Fry for a video interview, after months of asking. He’s on a really tight schedule and has agreed to a secret interview in the basement of a bookshop.

It’s way back in the day, before the joy and ease of HD smartphone capabilities, so we’re conducting our interview with a good old FlipCam (remember those?)

Imagine my horror when, half way through the interview, I realise the FlipCam has run out of memory!

Luckily, despite a few slightly sarcastic words about always making sure he’s downloaded his FlipCam data and cleared the memory before the next use, Stephen was frightfully accommodating. He re-recorded a big chunk of the interview with us and stayed there even when his taxi was beeping its horn outside!

11) MY FINAL TIP: BE BRAVE — IF YOU DON’T ASK, YOU DON’T GET

Sometimes people ask how I manage to score interviews with some of my celebrity guests. The simple answer? I ask.

Make sure, before you make your request, you’re clear about what you want to talk about and why, and then just ask.

Extra tip for free… I’ve never scored an interview through an agent. About 90% of the celebrity interviews I’ve conducted have been agreed, direct with the ‘sleb’, through the wonders of Twitter.

That’s it. I hope these tips have been helpful. If you have extra tips up your own sleeve, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Oh, and if you’ve taken all this on board and then used the help here to get your own online show up and running, please do tag me into a post about it — I’d love to hear more and support your success.

Until next time,

#UnleashYourAwesome,

Taz

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Taz Thornton is the creator of Awesome Sauce — a free, weekly positive life and business round-up, with good news stories, positivity tips and visibility hacks for your brand. In a few minutes each week, you get a dose of optimism and some awesome advice to get seen and stay happy.

Taz is a best-selling author, inspirational business speaker and multiple TEDx speaker, consultant on confidence, personal brand and visibility, and an award-winning coach (UK’s Best Female Coach 2018 — Best Business Woman Awards, Female Professional Of The Year, Central England, 2020, Most Influential Woman In Business And Visibility coaching, 2021, World’s 10 Most Influential Business Leaders, 2021). She is also the creator of the #UnleashYourAwesome#BrandMastery and #ProjectArtemis personal and business development programmes, as well as exclusive #HeartOfSpeaking speaker training retreats.

For those on a budget, Taz is also behind #UNLEASHED — an affordable confidence, content and cashflow building programme for coaches, healers and therapists.

Taz has been featured on BBC, ITV, in HuffPost, Diva, Metro, The Daily Mail and countless other newspapers, magazines and podcasts. Taz is also a regular columnist for the America Out Loud talkshow network. In 2019, she was named as one of the most inspirational businesswomen in the UK and, in 2020, she was named as one of the world’s top 50 women in marketing to follow.

Find her on FacebookLinkedInTwitterInstaKo-FiTikTok, Clubhouse and TazThornton.com.