Lessons Learned As A Rookie Podcast Host: 5 mistakes I Made During My First Interview

Zachary Walston

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”
— Arthur Ashe

I had run through the interview in my head dozens of times. Everything was in place. I had a great initial guest with a wealth of knowledge in a target area for the podcast. My calendar was light that day, minimizing distractions. I ran two trial runs to ensure the sound quality was good and the recording worked. But, like many first endeavors, a lack of experience ultimately got the best of me.

Let me preface by saying my first podcast interview turned out well overall. Dale, my first guest, was outstanding. He was also a great sport about the amateur hour he participated in. I firmly believe podcasting is an outstanding platform for spreading your message and connecting with more people. My hope is the mistakes I am about to share are as valuable to you and they have been to me. Nothing teaches better than reflecting on personal mistakes.

Mistake #1: I dropped the call.

Yep, I committed the cardinal sin of podcasting; I dropped the call. Don’t worry it gets better. Not only did I drop the call in the middle of Dale introducing himself and discussing his research, but I also did it a second time only 30 seconds into round two. Luckily, T-Mobile was able to save the day with a hotspot. Granted their coverage was mediocre and I had to edit two sections when the signal lagged for a couple of seconds later in the interview. Good times.

Maybe you don’t have much of an option regarding providers (I don’t) and are stuck with who you have. You can still plan ahead. Sometimes luck simply isn’t on your side. It turns out, a technician was working in my neighborhood which caused a couple of temporary disruptions during the day. While this is an anomaly, it points to the need to have multiple options at your disposal. Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Use an ethernet to connect your computer directly to the router.
  2. Have a backup option on standby (hotspot)
  3. Sign up for service alerts from your local provider
  4. Only host a podcast from your house if your connection is fast and strong
  5. Consider audio-only options, as the video may slow the connection

Mistake #2: The interview was my first conversation with my guest.

Dale is a great guy and I learned a lot from him. I look forward to opportunities for future collaboration. He should not have been my first guest, though. When you are fumbling through inefficiencies and learning the ropes of conducting an interview, it helps to have a close relationship on the other side. Why? Several reasons.

Side conversations, inside jokes, and little anecdotes are more common. While these can be distracting if not contained, they lighten the mood and often provide more entertainment for the listeners. You can draw on past experiences, throw in personal stories and past interactions, and employ a more conversational tone. My interview with Dale was a combination of interviewing him for the listeners and getting to know him for the first time.

Solution: Choose people you know well for your first guests

Mistake #3: I did a poor job engaging in conversation before and after the recording.

As mentioned earlier, I am typically introverted, and I suck at small talk. I can dive into a conversation and talk for hours if the subject has been established. I felt I could have interviewed Dale for another hour at least. But starting and maintaining light conversation is not a strong suit. This is another reason why I should have started with guests I have a better relationship with.

The 5–10 minutes prior to the recording should be a light conversation to “warm-up” for the podcast. And it should be just that, a warm-up. Keep the conversation light and get comfortable with the setting. Don’t ask questions you wish were recorded. Naturally, I did just that. I asked Dale about his research prior to the recording and he gave an insightful answer. Later in the show, he made reference to our previous conversation. I followed along fine, but listeners are not able to connect the dots. Not Dale’s fault. I did a poor job structuring and timing the questions.

The end is important too. When the interview is over, thank your guest for their time, end the recording, and then engage in a conversation. Don’t end the conversation like you end a phone call. That is what I did. Are you sensing a theme here?. I hit ‘end recording’ and we proceeded to complete the awkward goodbye dance of “take-care-nice-talking-to-you-ok-bye-bye.” I tried to salvage it, but the damage was done, and we ended the Zoom meeting. The ‘thank you email’ is not the same as a genuine thank you on phone or camera with time to reflect.

Solution: Have a conversation outside the recordings

Mistake #4: I did not extensively research my guest before inviting him on the show.

Dale was a great guest and I have no regrets. I want to make that clear. I mention this as a mistake because I invited him onto the show and sent a proposed topic before doing my homework. The topic was on heuristics and bias in physical therapy practice. I chose this because we first connected on a #Physiotalk Tweetchat about this very topic. He had published a paper on heuristics and I was eager to learn more. When I suggested this as a topic, he agreed. It wasn’t until the interview that I realized how eager he was to talk about his primary field of study.

A few days prior to the interview — when I finally did substantial research into his background to prepare for the interview — I came to realize heuristics was a secondary line of research for Dale. His primary research concerned sleep. The research on heuristics and bias stemmed from his original focus on sleep. He found poor sleep habits impaired decision making and let to improper use of heuristics and falling victim to cognitive bias in medical and physical therapy practice.

Making this discovery was both good and bad. It was good because I love talking about sleep and think that would be a great topic for my listeners. Bad because I seemingly brushed aside his passion and primary Ph.D. research. When I brought up sleep before the interview started, his eyes lit up. Lucky for me, I caught this mistake before the interview, as bring sleep into the fold significantly enhanced the conversation.

Solution: Research your interviewee before inviting them on the show

Mistake #5: My office sounds like a cave.

Unless my face is pressed up against the microphone, the echo is substantial. My office is devoid of curtains, carpets, or anything that will absorb sound waves. You can use one of two strategies here. Either find a new space or prepare your desired location accordingly. I have chosen the latter.

Having a quality mic is a must and I recommend using Zoom for calls as the quality is solid. You can also run your audio file through different software to clean up the sound after the fact. Let’s say you are doing all of that, the room can still undermine your efforts. Test your audio beforehand. Determine ideal mic placement and settings, organize the room appropriately, and soundproof as needed. This can be completed by adding a carpet and hanging curtains (or a heavy blanket temporarily). Whatever you decide to do, test it afterward.

What I think I did well:

By no means was the interview a disaster. Overall, I would give it a solid B. There were two things, in particular, I was pleased about. First, I let the conversation flow. I asked follow-up questions and occasionally veered off course, but still hit the main questions I wanted from my outline. I didn’t force a specific order but let it happen organically.

Second, I added some personal anecdotes and responded to his remarks rather than strictly saying “that’s great” and moving on to the next question. I have listened to podcasts where the interviewer essentially only asks questions and I find those far less engaging. This goes back to doing your homework. While I was late to the party, having read Dale’s papers and having studied sleep previously allowed me to dive deeper into the conversation.

Overall, I am pleased with the product I produced. I am sure when I reflect on this show a year from now and I have 50+ episodes under my belt, I will cringe more often and expand my list of mistakes. I actually hope that happens. If not, that means I haven’t grown as a podcaster. Mistakes and failures help us learn, but only if we reflect and make adjustments. Failure alone is useless. It is our response to failure, the changes we make, that fosters growth and improvement.

I am excited about the podcast and future interviews. I have already seen significant improvement over the first six interviews. If you are interested in starting a podcast, do it. It’s that simple. Get started, do your homework, and learn along the way. Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back.

“The greatest mistake a man can ever make is to be afraid of making one.”
— Elbert Hubbard

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I am a physical therapist, researcher, and educator whose mission is to challenge health misinformation. You will find articles about health, fitness, medical care, psychology, and professional development on my site. As the husband of a real estate agent, you will also find real estate and housing tips.

Atlanta, GA

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