Media Relations: How Not to Screw Up a Podcast Interview

podcast mic

Over the past four years, I’ve conducted over 225 interviews for my podcast called Shaping Opinion, and prior that, I’ve spent decades handling media relations, conducting media coaching and training and working with clients on the full range of public relations activities. After all of that, I can honestly say, the public relations profession is dropping the ball on podcast interviewing.

The Routine

Here’s how it typically goes. The PR person handles a podcast interview request like all other media requests. She determines a match between the podcast and the guest (their client). Then, she finds a time that works for both the podcaster and the guest. She provides all of the necessary logistical support to make sure the two connect, and then, done.

This tends to work for most interviews, particularly non-audio or non-video interviews. But it doesn’t work for television and it doesn’t work for podcasts.

Since TV has been around forever, most PR pros know the differences, and they tend to treat TV interview arrangements with more care. They make sure the interviewee is prepared, coached, ready with key messages, he knows how to dress, what to expect, and above all, how the interview will be conducted from a technical standpoint. Will it be in person? Will it be via Zoom or some other video connection? Any PR person worth his or her salt will consider all of these details and address them with the guest.

Not so, for podcast interviews, however. Most PR people think of podcast interviews as glorified radio interviews, and that’s where the screw-up begins.

Screwing Up a Podcast Interview in Two Parts

Part One – Applying the sound-bite strategy

The first and most common misstep media relations pros make is not considering the difference between long-form podcast formats and the typical three-minute TV report or one-minute radio report. In these other formats, it’s critical to speak in 20-40-second sound bites to get your message out, considering the time constraints of the medium.

But podcasting is not only long-form in terms of the time you have, but it requires longer answers. It requires full-blown stories that support your messaging.  In podcasting, time is not just a luxury, it’s one of the most critical differentiators and advantages of the medium. Audiences want and expect longer, more detailed answers and nuanced conversation. To ignore this is to assure you will come off as boring, dull, uninteresting, and unrelatable to the podcast audience.

If you’ve been media-coached, chances are you were taught to speak in sound bites. You were taught not to reveal anything personal about yourself in your answers. When you do a podcast interview, you have to forget some of that. Instead, think of the sound bite you want to deliver as the starting point for a much more detailed, interesting and longer answer.

Case in point, if you’re on a podcast to plug a book. You may have mastered the art of summarizing what the book is about in 30 seconds. You can do this and then wait for the next question, knowing that your answers will be edited into neat little modules for radio or TV, or as pithy quotes in a news article.

If you’re going to be talking about that book on an hour-long podcast, give yourself time. Don’t just summarize the book, but instead tell the story behind the book itself. If the podcast host asks what the book is about, the best response might be to tell the host about one story from the book best epitomizes the whole book itself. Don’t cut yourself short. If it’s three to five minutes long, take the time to tell it. And then be prepared to converse with the host as you do.

Some podcasters can fall into the trap of making an interview nothing more than a pre-planned Q&A, which can sound stilted and superficial. But the better hosts know how to listen and converse, which makes for a much more interesting interview. If you want to sound good on your next podcast interview, think of it as a chance to tell stories and converse, not just a long Q&A.  If you’re a publicist, you need to prepare your client or spokesperson in this way.

Part Two – Failing to Understand Technical Needs

The fundamental problem here is that publicists and guests alike underestimate what it takes to technically (your equipment) and mechanically (you) sound good. Exacerbating this problem is a large number of podcasters and producers who simply don’t care what the guest sounds like. So, in the end, you have guests who sound hollow and tinny and almost amateurish.

If you plan on doing just one important podcast interview, invest in an external USB microphone (I’m not getting paid for the link to the Audio Technica mic featured in this link, but it is the one I use.) for your computer. Or, invest in a USB microphone headset. The low-end headsets cost less than $50.  Still, I would recommend a better external microphone for studio quality sound. If you do buy a mic, make sure it is not a condenser mic. Many make the mistake of buying a condenser mic, which is really only for a studio environment. They tend to sound tinny and hollow when used in an office or home environment. Buy a dynamic mic, which is built to reduce that hollow sound.

Buying the equipment and knowing how to use it are two different things. Take the time to learn how to use the microphone and make it sound as it should. Learn how to keep your face within 6 inches of the mic at all times during the interview. Never sit back or turn your head to the side during interviews. Don’t move papers or lift and drop hands and fingers on the desk in front of you during the interview. The mic will pick up all of that and it will be a distraction for the listeners.

If the podcaster is using a video format like Zoom, everything above still applies, but please make sure you have your camera at eye level, so the viewers are not looking up your nose, or seeing more of your ceiling than of you.

Pay attention to your background. The best backgrounds are clean, professional office environments, and not bedrooms, living rooms or kitchens. Bookshelves are better than having doors or windows in the background, which in a subtle way are distractions. Make sure that whatever is in the picture is something acceptable for public scrutiny.

Eliminate distractions. Put the dog outside. Close doors and windows. Silence your smart phone. Turn off computer notification bells and noises. Turn off fans even if they don’t sound loud to you. They do sound loud to the microphone. Tell anyone in your office or your home that you shouldn’t be interrupted during the interview.

Once your podcast interview starts, it’s just you, the host and the audience. Do everything you can to sound like you’re in the room with them, and not in a little hollow computer box. And then take the time to help listeners immerse themselves in the story you have to tell.

If you’d like some individual attention in this area, it’s one of my favorite things. Get in touch!

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