Conducting An Interview


(By Mike McVay) The folks at Beasley Media Group, Benztown, and McVay Media have been working with the Library of American Broadcast Foundation to teach a class on podcasting to Clark Howard University in Atlanta. During our teaching sessions, one of the things that came to light is, that based on the listening experience of our students, very few people know how to conduct an interview. The students, parroting back what they’ve heard on the radio or on podcasts, indicates that many on-air talents fail to be great at interviewing a guest and that makes them a poor example for modeling.


This is most particularly true for personalities on music radio. I’ve heard interviewers talk more about themselves than the guest, sound uninformed in regard as to the “why” that a guest is a guest, fail to listen to the guests answers and not be prepared to adlib a follow-up question. This could be because few hosts regularly have on-air guests. It may be because modern era talent believes an interview is what they see on Talk TV. Not true. That’s commentary.

Start by doing the research. What’s the topic that you’re presenting and how does the guest fit into that topic? What’s the purpose of the interview? This is a two-fold question as there is the reason that the guest is on the show and the reason as to why you have them on your show. They may be there to promote a movie, a book, a new song. You should want them there to ask the questions that your audience wants to know the answers to, while they’re there to further their brand or project.

Craft questions that get to the answers that you’re after. To do that, you have to know a lot about your guest. Put in the time to know who they are, long before they join your show. Think about what’s unique about your guest or their reason for being a guest, and ask questions that explore the “why” of them being a guest. If you have time, solicit questions from your audience in advance, and look for that one question that surfaces repeatedly.

Larry King was lauded as an amazing interviewer, which is an opinion that I can appreciate, and he certainly interviewed everyone who was anyone. Although, it used to make me crazy when he’d interview someone about their book, and he’d say “I’ve not read the book. What’s it about?” I always felt that if Larry had at least skimmed the book, his questions might have chummed up some answers no one expected.

Don’t make your questions about you. We’ve all heard the on-air personality who will say “your story was relatable to me because …” And then we hear something from the on-air host that may or may not be interesting to the audience. I mean, think about it, as the host has all of the time when there isn’t a guest to talk about themselves. Why do it when you have a guest in the studio?

Allow your guest to speak. Listen closely to what they say. You may have your questions written, and numbered as to the order you want to ask them, but be prepared to throw them out the window. If the guest says something that warrants a follow-up question, ask it. If they say something unexpected, think on your feet and satisfy your audiences curiosity by asking a follow-up question.

Every interview should have a conclusion. Don’t suddenly wrap-up an interview, because you back-timed poorly, or you’re “up against it.” Bring your interview to a logical conclusion. What’s the guest’s message? In a movie or book, you’d refer to it as the author’s message. Interviews that are memorable conclude with the guests, or the hosts, message in regard to the topic discussed.

Ten Quick Tips for Conducting an Interview:

  • What’s the Topic? Do your research on the topic.
  • Why this Guest? Do your research on the guest.
  • What’s the Purpose of your Interview?
  • What’s the “takeaway” for the audience?
  • Craft questions that get to the answers that you’re after … that your audience wants to know
  • Listen closely to what the answers are from your guest.
  • Be prepared to throw away your questions and be responsive to unexpected answers.
  • Allow the guest to speak. Don’t make the interview about you.
    There should be a conclusion to your interview. That conclusion could be the Authors Message.
  • When you edit the interview (If you edit the interview for replay) be sure that what remains answers the most important question that the audience wants an answer to.

Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Great info Mike. One complaint I’ve had for years and it’s done even more today, the host will have a 3 minute question to a 30 second answer. They’ll state a bunch of facts and toss in their thoughts on the subject, opinionators, and take most of the time that should be given to the guest.

  2. Mike…your prescription is the same prescription I’d offer to sales people. It’s not about the station (you)…be a great listener…go prepared…and walk away with a conclusion. Maybe good sales people would be better interviewers than the existing on-air talent?

  3. Beasley has some of the worst personalities in the country. Also, Caroline’s podcast is an abysmal embarrassment. The Board must laugh when they hear it. I hope you can help them, Mike. They need it.


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