Let’s make one thing clear at the beginning. The best podcast interview questions will never be generic ones like those outlined below. You need to do your research and carefully tailor your approach to each guest.
Don’t go through the motions and ask them the same questions every other host does. Dig a bit deeper. Channel your inner Nardwuar. Because that’s what it takes if you’re serious about capturing great content.
Last year we spoke to Skye Pillsbury, host of Inside Podcasting, and she offered some great advice on forming better interview questions:
If you ask the same questions everyone else does, you’re going to get a rehearsed answer. Personally, I try to take the questions they’ve been asked before and take them one step further. For example, ‘I’ve heard you say X, but I didn’t really get a sense of Y. Could you talk a bit more about that?’
Forming your questions in this way achieves two things. First, by conveying what they’ve already said elsewhere, you immediately move the conversation into more interesting territory. And second, you’re showing your guests that you actually pay attention to what they’re doing.
With that said, there are still some interesting and clever generic podcast interview questions you can reuse in each conversation. We’ve outlined 31 of the best below to help you capture some fresh and interesting material in your next recording.
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1. What did your parents do for a living?
You’re probably thinking this is an odd question to ask. But that’s exactly the point. If your guest has done plenty of interviews before, they’ll be expecting you to kick off by asking something like “Could you tell me about your background and what you do?”. There’s nothing wrong with that question in principle. But guests will have answered it countless times before. They’ll have a pre-prepared script they’ll launch into in response.
By starting your interview asking what their parents did for a living instead, you’re shaking things up. Guests will have to drop their standard spiel and think on the spot to respond - making them more engaged in the conversation as a result. It sets them up perfectly to tell a story about their childhood and upbringing. This question might not be right for every guest, but you should try to avoid predictable opening questions when you can.
2. In your own words, what does the phrase [insert phrase related to your guest’s niche] mean to you?
Your guest’s area of expertise is likely a deep source of meaning in their lives. They’ve devoted countless hours to it. And it’s influence likely extends into many facets of their life. By asking them what a particular phrase means to them, you’re guaranteed to get a unique response. They have to answer by viewing the topic through the lens of their own experiences, intuitions, and opinions. That’s much more interesting than a matter-of-fact description of something.
3. What are you not very good at?
Again, your guests will be used to talking about their strengths and areas of expertise. By asking them about the things they struggle with, it can keep the conversation fresh and interesting. Their response will help paint a more complete and accurate picture of them as a person - making them more relatable for listeners. Nobody is brilliant at everything. And it’s always nice to be reminded of that.
4. What’s your favourite book, and why?
Although your guest is probably coming onto your podcast to talk business, it’s good to quiz them about their personal interests as well. Maybe it’s one of George Orwell’s many dystopian worlds, or something a bit more uplifting, like Michelle Obama’s Becoming. It’s also just a great way of getting the conversation started. A way of easing them in, if you like.
5. How did you meet your other half?
Obviously double check that your guest does have a partner before asking this one. If they do, it’s a good opener to include towards the start of your interview. It’s an easy way of immediately helping the listener feel like they know the guest on a more personal level. It might also uncover a funny or interesting anecdote - definitely has potential.
6. Who would you like to play you in a movie?
Quite a few of us have mentally nominated a specific actor or actress to play us in the Hollywood adaptation of our life. Adding in this question can tell you a lot about how your guest sees themselves. They might even surprise you and make a rogue choice. Make sure you follow up on it, to really get to the bottom of their decision. Do they look similar? Do they have certain things in common, and if so, what? Asking this question is a nice, light-hearted way of opening up an entertaining line of conversation.
7. What does your morning routine look like?
Have you ever seen two people have completely identical morning routines? It’s a rare occurrence. And if your guest is a high-performer, chances are they have certain morning rituals they perform religiously in an effort to “win the day”. What do they make time for that others don’t? And why is doing so important to them? It could be squeezing in a 5AM workout, meditating, or just leaving enough time to whip up their go-to breakfast.
Podcaster Joe Rogan has previously divulged his morning routine on his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience - 3AM wake-up calls and fasted cardio? No thanks, Joe.
8. What makes you feel inspired or motivated?
Inspiration comes in many forms. It’s an essential prerequisite to become truly successful at anything. And it often comes from places you wouldn’t expect. By asking guests what motivates or inspires them, it’ll reveal what has kept their passion alive over the years. You’ll get a sense of why they kept going where others would have stopped.
9. What’s one thing that people are generally surprised to find out about you?
By asking them if there’s something surprising that people aren’t already aware of, you’re immediately inviting them to tell you something fresh and unique. It could be a funny childhood story, an out-of-the-box hobby, or just a peculiar habit. A lot of guests (especially bigger name ones) tend to get the same questions asked in every interview too, so they’ll probably appreciate the opportunity to share something different.
10. If you were going to live on a desert island but could only take one thing with you, what would it be?
If you’re a fan of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs podcast, you’ll be familiar with this type of question. It’s an interesting one, because what you’re really asking is - what’s one thing you couldn’t live without? And that’s something that can prompt literally any answer from your guest.
Desert Island Discs asks guests to discuss which five records they would take with them to a desert island. When Charlie Brooker (creator of the Emmy Award winning series Black Mirror) appeared on an episode and named Eric Thompson’s Florence’s Sad Song as one of his picks, he followed it up with an anecdote from his childhood. He said:
When I was a kid, I used to listen to it (the song) over and over again. I was fascinated by it, but also utterly terrified because the whole thing is creepy and eerie. I remember knowing relatively early on that nuclear war was a real thing, and I remember watching it on the news and not being able to process what that meant, and not understanding how society kept going.
Dark. But given the premise of Black Mirror, not surprisingly dark.
11. What keeps you up at night?
We all have fears and anxieties we replay over and over in our minds. We can distract ourselves during the day. But those thoughts tend to surface when we’re in bed at night. Asking guests this question can often open up interesting tangential discussions - sometimes what guests are most worried about is completely removed from their area of expertise. Again, be tactful here. This question won’t be right for every guest, especially if they come across as being more shy or introverted.
12. What’s your biggest fear?
From spiders to confined spaces, and holes to the colour purple, there’s certainly a wide array of phobias out there. Some are more interesting than others, too. And your guest might have an intriguing one to talk about. Even if their fear isn’t anything particularly obscure, getting an idea of what they’re not comfortable around can give you and your listeners a good insight into their mindset. If they start profusely sweating however, it might be wise to abort your line of questioning and move swiftly on with the next one.
13. Who’s your favourite podcaster right now?
Even if your guest isn’t a podcaster themselves, they’ve still taken time out of their day to appear on yours. So they must have at least some interest in them. If you ask your guest who their current favourite podcast host is, they’ll give you a name and probably a justification as to why they chose them. Their reasoning will likely give you an insight into their personal life or specific interests. Are they a Rogan-listening libertarian or a Red Scare-listening socialist?
14. Tell me something you think is true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
Controversy usually makes great content. And this question can help you bring it to the fore in your interviews. Whatever the response is, your guest will likely have deeply entrenched reasons for holding that particular belief. Will they claim global warming is a myth? Aliens are real? Smoking DMT allows you to communicate with intelligent beings from another dimension? You never know what you’re going to get. The more outlandish, the better.
15. If you could have dinner with any 3 people dead or alive, who would it be and why?
This is a fun question to throw in towards the end of your interviews. It puts guests on the spot and you’ll often get some pretty unusual or quirky names. Maybe they’d like to sit down for a sombre and philosophical debate with Neitzsche and Kierkegaard. Or maybe they’d opt for Elvis and The Elephant Man like Karl Pilkington in the video below:
16. Who do you look up to the most?
They might reply with a certain celebrity, a memorable high school teacher, or just a family member. Or maybe they’ll name drop someone completely unexpected. Whoever they choose, make sure you dig deeper and ask them why this individual means so much to them.
17. How big is your inner circle?
No matter how many acquaintances your guest has, there’s likely to be an inner circle of friends they spend the most time with. The same circle that they share the most intimate details of their life with. How many people do they consider to be in it? And are they friends from school, or people they’ve met in recent years? Audiences love partaking in a bit of voyeurism, so getting your guest to share some of this “behind-the-scenes” type of stuff usually makes for engaging content.
18. What was the last thing you Googled?
We’ve all needed a quick answer at some point. And what better place to go for it than Google? However weird or wonderful the response you get is, this question is a fun one and can provide some light-hearted relief. There’s really no saying what your guest’s answer will be, which is exactly what you want. The more outlandish the better.
19. If you could turn back the time and talk to your 18-year old self, what would you tell him/her?
Hindsight is 20/20. We could all save ourselves a lot of trouble if we could go back and give our former selves some prescient advice. This is a fun question to answer, and you’ll often hear some pretty unexpected things from your guests. Whether it’s a warning to steer clear of a potential disaster on the horizon, or simply a reminder to relax and not take things so seriously, guests will often unearth some pearls of wisdom.
20. What was your first job?
There’s nothing like reminiscing about old times with someone. Quizzing your guest about their first job will probably evoke some fond memories or experiences from their younger years. And whether they worked as a shop assistant, waiter/waitress, or just had a horribly-early paper round, it’s fun, relatable content.
21. What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out as a [insert your guest’s job role]?
Retrospect is a wonderful thing. Especially when it comes to giving out career advice. As mentioned previously, your guest will have dedicated a lot of time to their specific field, so they’re likely to be very passionate about their experiences, regrets, and triumphs. It’s important to know your listeners' intent, too. If you know they’re looking for advice, it’s a great question to ask. If they’re not, it’ll still make for a thought-provoking conversation. Either way, it’s inspiring content. And that’s always a hit with audiences.
Gary Vaynerchuk (Entrepreneur, Author, and Internet Personality) was recently asked what advice he’d give to millennials just starting out on his podcast, The #AskGaryVee Show. Check out what he had to say below:
22. How would your parents describe what you do?
Have you ever struggled to communicate what you do for a living with your parents? You’re certainly not alone. Chances are your guest has had a similar experience at some point, so asking them about it has potential for a good story. This won’t be an appropriate question for every guest however, for example if they’re a gardener, because what they do is obvious. Try to save this one for guests with unusual jobs, like paper towel sniffing (yeah, apparently, it’s a thing).
Anatoly Spektor, host of The Unusual Jobs Show, has built a podcast around trying to understand his guest’s unusual jobs. From scavenger hunt architects to the person who writes Jimmy Fallon’s monologue jokes, Anatoly basically acts as the parent in the above role play. Check out one of the episodes below:
23. What’s been the most memorable moment of your career so far?
If you think back on your career to date, there’s probably one moment that sticks out more than others. Right? It’s the same for your guest, and asking them to define it can make for a good story. It might not be what you’re expecting them to say either. They might have recently won a prestigious award in their field, but really, the time they worked with a certain person was a bigger milestone for them. Adding in this question can help you (and your audience) get an idea of what truly matters to your guest, and what they’re most proud of.
24. If you could give one piece of advice to your previous boss, what would it be?
Ah, we’ve all dreamt about this one at some point or another. We wouldn’t recommend slating or targeting certain people, but it’s definitely a question with potential for an entertaining response. And whether your guest had a good or bad relationship with their former boss, you’ll be giving them an opportunity to say something they might not have had the chance to anywhere else.
25. What do you hope the world will look like in 10 years?
Quizzing your guest about their utopian fantasy is bound to spark a unique response. We all have different ideals, especially when it comes to society. Will they be championing world peace (hopefully), manifesting flying Teslas, or something a bit more problematic? Obviously, we wouldn’t recommend probing a blatantly outrageous response and angering anyone. But contrarian views do tend to make more compelling content. There’s no denying that.
26. Would you rather have more time or more money?
It’s an age-old question. What matters more to your guest, more time on earth or a never-ending amount of money? Their response will give you a good insight into what they value in life, and what they deem to be more worthwhile. It’d be good to ask them what their reasoning is too. Maybe they struggled financially growing up, or maybe they lost a loved one early on and recognise the importance of staying connected to family.
27. Have you had your “I’ve made it” moment yet?
Asking your guest if they’ve had their “I’ve made it'' moment can make for a thought-provoking response. That specific moment is subjective to everyone, of course, because different things make different people tick. But dropping this one in can help you get a good idea of where their head’s at, and it could even lead your conversation down a more philosophical route regarding the right things to value in life.
28. What are you looking forward to in the future - personally, or professionally?
This could be anything, it doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to their career. Maybe they’re excited to reach a certain milestone, get married, or visit a country they’ve always dreamed of seeing. Humans tend to focus a lot of time and energy on past experiences and regrets, so this question might prompt your guest to project their mind into the future. And that results in unique, fresh conversation.
29. How do you want to be remembered?
This is quite a big question, and it might take your guest by surprise slightly. That’s not a bad thing though, because it means you’ll get an unrehearsed answer, which is what you want. Asking this question is bound to provoke some deep thinking from your guest. You’re essentially asking them what legacy they want to leave behind. Asking raw questions can add a vulnerability aspect to your content, which can help make it much more engaging.
30. What should I have asked you but didn’t?
This is a great way to wrap up your interviews. Your guest might have been keen to touch on a topic you left out of your other questions. Asking this simple question at the end gives them a window to talk about it. Some guests spend time preparing in advance of interviews, and they may have a few last minute gems they can share with your audience. Often your guest will let you know you’ve already covered the important stuff. But it’s always good to double check.
31. Where can people go to find out more about you and your work?
Most guests typically do podcast interviews for a reason. They might have published a new book, they may be running an online course, or they may be the founder of a startup. Whatever it is, they’re giving up their time to speak with you to help spread the word about something. So it’s only fair you give them an opportunity to plug whatever they’d like during conversation.
Asking this question at the end of every interview is a good way to close. If they mention any specific websites or social media handles, you should include those in your episode descriptions and show notes so listeners can find them easily. Remember, guests will be far more likely to share the episode and help promote your podcast if you give them the opportunity to plug what they’d like.
You may even want to consider asking this question at the beginning of your interviews. Comedian and host of The Honey Dew podcast, Ryan Sickler, lets all his guests plug whatever they’d like to at the beginning of every interview. It comes across as polite, kind, and respectful. And it may even help enhance the content because guests can then fully engage in the conversation without worrying about when they’re going to mention their product, service, or social channels.
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For more tips and tricks on how to come up with great podcast interview questions, check out the video below from MatchMaker founder James Mulvany. He shares two online resources you can use to make sure the questions you come up with are on point:
Book your next guest the easy way
With more than 40,000 members, MatchMaker.fm is the largest online community connecting podcasters & guests.Join MatchMaker today
It's free to join!