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.
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 10 of the best below to help you capture some fresh and interesting material in your next recording.
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.
Note: If you get the sense your guest isn’t the kind of person that will be open about their weaknesses (think Donald Trump), it’s probably best to avoid this question.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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:
8. 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.
9. 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.
Note: This question was inspired by ABC news anchor and host of the 10% Happier podcast, Dan Harris. He frequently asks this at the end of interviews.
10. 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, let’s all his guests plug whatever they’d 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.
Book Perfect Podcast Guests on MatchMaker.fm
Ready to try out the questions? Book your next guest today using MatchMaker.fm - it’s an online platform that connects podcasters with great guests (and it’s completely free to use). After creating your profile you can browse and message a database of more than 25,000 qualified experts and speakers. Save yourself the hassle of booking and do it the easy way.
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: