An engaging conversation is a great foundation for a podcast episode. And when you have good rapport between the host and the guest, the audience gets a lot from the conversation, too.
But one of the biggest challenges I faced during my earlier days in podcasting was with the opening phase of a podcast interview. During my first few interviews, I stumbled out of the gate. And I found that it was hard to build rapport before getting into the core topic.
So how do you open a podcast interview? How do you create a welcoming environment for your guest and create momentum right after you hit the record button?
In this article, we’ll cover nine ideas to help you craft a great beginning for your podcast conversations. These techniques are all things I’ve tried as a host of nearly 500 podcast episodes. And although all nine might not be the best fit for you, I’m hoping you can get some inspiration from these examples and apply them to your own show.
1. Introduce yourself and your podcast
One of the most straightforward ways to begin the interview is by introducing yourself to the audience and stating the theme of your podcast. This can help establish your credibility and set the tone for the rest of the conversation.
By taking the lead in the beginning, you help provide context for the guest. You set the stage by addressing the audience first and providing guardrails for the dialogue.
I’ve personally found that this technique helps frame up the conversation for the guest and increases the chances the conversation stays on track with the theme of your show.
2. Introduce your guest and their background
One of my biggest pet peeves with podcast hosts is when the host asks, “So, can you tell me about your background?” I believe this approach is lazy and puts a lot of pressure on your guest from the very beginning.
Instead, you can take a different approach and introduce the guest yourself. Then, you can provide some additional background information on the guest.
When the host takes the initiative to provide the guest’s introduction, you demonstrate you’ve done your research. And more importantly, when the host paints the picture of the guest’s background, it gives you the opportunity to keep things brief and make sure it all ties together with your podcast’s theme.
3. Explain the topic and why it's important
When you have a podcast interview, you don’t always have to focus on the guest at first. Sometimes, it’s beneficial to initiate the conversation with a specific challenge and highlight why it’s important to your audience.
Then, you can explore the conflict and identify what’s relevant about your guest’s background along the way. This can help to provide context for the conversation and grab the attention of your listeners right up front.
“I take somewhat of a ‘Star Wars’ approach to my episode. I like to lead with conflict and get right into the action.”
4. Ask an open-ended question
To get the conversation started, ask your guest an open-ended question that relates to the topic of the interview. This can help spark a discussion and give your guest the opportunity to share their perspective about a specific issue early on in the conversation.
One of my favorite examples of this approach is in Erin Balsa’s The Notorious Thought Leader podcast. To start most of her conversations with B2B marketing leaders, Erin begins her podcast interview with the open-ended question “What the f&ck is thought leadership?”
Because Erin initiates the conversation with a compelling question, she uncovers the initial beliefs of her guest and then explores further with follow-up questions.
“What the f%ck is thought leadership?”
Host of The Notorious Thought Leader podcast
5. Provide some context or background information
Depending on the complexity of the topic, you might also want to provide some additional context or background information before diving into the main conversation. This can help to give your listeners a better understanding of the topic and prepare them for the rest of the interview.
I use this technique when I bring on more than one guest. For example, this past year, I led a series of interviews with team members from Descript. The purpose of the series was to uncover new features and determine how Descript’s updates can improve your podcast workflow.
Rather than jumping in to the interview right away, I typically led the conversation with some background information about Descript and the two guests. I felt this was important to set up in the beginning before getting into a Q&A segment of Descript’s features.
6. Share a relevant personal story or experience
Another way to start an interview is to share a personal story or experience that relates to the topic of the conversation. This can help to make the conversation more relatable and engaging for your listeners.
The podcast Accidental Creative is a great example of how this technique can be used. For most episodes with an interview, Todd Henry (host of the show) sets the stage with a personal story. He then draws a connection between his personal story and why the guest is joining him for a conversation.
7. Share an interesting quote or statistic
If you want to start your podcast interview by grabbing your listeners’ attention, try introducing the conversation with an interesting quote or statistic related to the topic of discussion. Not only does this provide some context for the rest of your interview, but it can also spark a discussion and encourage your guests to dive into the core issues.
For instance, when I interviewed Harris Fanaroff on Recorded Content, I started the conversation by sharing a quote I found in one of his LinkedIn posts. In the post, Harris noted that a 4-year old asks approximately 200-300 questions per day.
I used the statistic to jumpstart the podcast episode. I thought it was an interesting angle to the topic we were exploring — why curiosity is important to being a great podcast host.
8. Ask a provocative or controversial question
If the topic of the interview is controversial or provocative, you could start the conversation by asking a question that challenges your guest’s perspective or provokes a strong response. This can help to create a more dynamic and engaging conversation.
And if you’re the host and uncomfortable about challenging your guest directly, try to find a comment on LinkedIn or on the web that counters your guest’s perspective. This way, you can reference someone else’s contrarian view rather than immediately presenting yourself as an adversary in the conversation.
9. Provide a brief overview of the conversation
Finally, you could start the interview by providing a brief overview of the main points or themes that you and your guest plan to discuss. This can help to give your listeners a sense of what to expect and help them to follow along more easily.
When I have an interview on Recorded Content, I use this approach most of the time. I provide an outline of the core conflict of the podcast episode and then establish how the guest helps me explore it.
Want to see how other B2B marketers get the most from their podcasts?
Recorded Content is a show for small, scrappy marketing teams who are looking to launch & grow a successful B2B podcast. In each episode, we provide stories on how to overcome the challenges of launching, running and growing a show. We tackle issues with technology, content marketing, distribution and more. We help you become a B2B podcasting hero with an amazing show.
Get creative with how you open up your podcast episodes
There’s more than one way to podcast. And there are defintely several ways you can open up a podcast interview.
With these 9 techniques, hopefully you can develop your own strategy for opening up a podcast interview and getting your audience engaged from the beginning.
Just remember to have fun with each episode. It’s not always about how you start or finish a conversation. It’s all about the process and whether or not you learned something as a podcast host.
Written by Tristan Pelligrino
Tristan Pelligrino is the Co-Founder of Motion. He’s a serial entrepreneur who started his career as a consultant with large IT companies such as PwC, IBM and Oracle. After getting his MBA, he started and grew one of the fastest video production companies in the country – which was listed on the Inc. 5000. Tristan now enjoys leading the content marketing strategies of some of the most innovative B2B technology companies in the country. You can find him on LinkedIn and Facebook.