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Marketing Showrunners

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By: Tallie Gabriel on December 27th, 2019

A Genius Twist on the Typical Interview Show from an Apple Top Podcast Winner

When it comes to creating a successful branded podcast show, marketers face a fair few challenges. 

Getting buy-in? That’s up there. Finding the right host? Definitely important. Identifying the specific angle that will set your show apart from the others that are already out there? A must.

But perhaps the biggest problem marketers face when they set out to create a podcast? Getting trapped in the same Q&A interview format that defines countless other existing podcasts. In short, creating yet another interview show that could be called “Talking Topics with Experts.” That kind of show isn’t exciting. It isn’t memorable. It doesn’t make a listener want to stay

We’ve all heard them — shows that feature what seems like the same three guests with the set of copy-paste, generic interview questions. (How did you get into your current field? What was the biggest challenge you faced along the way? I could go on, but I actually want you to read this post and not tune out 😉.) 

Why is this such a common problem? Because it makes sense that the allure of the interview style traps so many well-intended showrunners. Interviewing guests alleviates some pressure for the host, who doesn’t need  to worry about the time and budget a narrative show might demand, or fear that a bold creative choice that might come across as gimmicky. The format is tried and true for an informative show. It’s safe. And sometimes (actually, all too often) safe can mean…kinda boring.

So how can you create an interview show without putting your audience to sleep? For that, we turn to Neil Pasricha, host of the Apple Top Podcast-winning show 3 Books.

Create a captivating concept

How did Neil differentiate his interview-style show, without actually doing any additional production? 

For starters, his show itself takes a unique approach to the interview concept. Instead of asking a slew of “expert” guests general interview questions, he asks his guests about the three books that had the biggest impact on their life and work. This is part of his overarching quest to find the 1,000 most transformative books in the world by interviewing 333 of the most influential people currently alive. 

Why 1,000? “The average person is alive for 1,000 months,” Neil told us. “And the average person is awake for 1,000 minutes. This number 1,000 has a lot of frequency in our lives that we don’t really see. And I love the idea that [the show is] finite. By keeping something finite, you force yourself to be more quality-conscious and quality-oriented.”

If you’re any good at math, you may have realized that 3 books multiplied by 333 guests is only 999 books. As for that final most formative book? Neil has a few ideas for that show-stopping episode, and you’ll just have to tune in to see how he does it.

Sound intriguing? Of course it does. Neil has created an objectively interesting show concept that allows him to hook his  audiences with just a sentence or two. His recipe for an engaging interview show is already cooking, and he hasn’t added any more budget or production to the mix.

Hone your techniques and cultivate honesty

Neil is great at signposting. Signposting is this concept in audio storytelling where the host makes sure you’re paying attention to information that’s soon to be given, or where a host circles back to information that a guest just delivered with a summarizing, “Did you catch that?” 

In Neil’s episode (or “chapter” as Neil cheekily calls them) with Tim Urban, Tim funnily mentions that he was “an only child until he was five,” which is…not how someone usually references the addition of a new sibling to their family. Neil catches that idiosyncrasy right away and uses a signpost to draw both Tim’s and the listener’s attention back to that moment. This is a key example of good interviewing–great hosts are so fully present in their interviews and so flexible that they can deviate from their plans and capture organic moments that could become defining features of the episode.

While you’re sharpening your audio storytelling techniques (allow me to recommend graphic novel Out on The Wire for your studies), there’s one key to great interviews that requires no additional research: be your whole, human self. No one wants to listen to an interview that’s conducted by a robot, so allow your honest emotions to show, interrupt the way you would a friend, and allow the conversation to surprise you. Or as Neil phrased it: “Be human, interrupt naturally — be okay with the haters.”

In accordance with his spirit of authenticity, Neil begins most of his episodes by telling his guests why he wanted to interview them in the first place. Part of the conceit of his show is that he won’t just interview the hottest guests of the moment; he has to really think about who some of the most influential people have been to him and have a clear idea of what he stands to learn from them (like famed author Judy Blume, whose books played a formative role in his own drive to be an author). 

Neil is also a vivaciously enthusiastic person. You have to be enthusiastic as an interviewer, or at least deeply interested in your guests, in order for your audience to care at all about listening to you talk to them. That passion can help in the off-air elements of show production as well. In Neil’s case, his genuine enthusiasm for booking his guests helps ensure he has the ability to speak with them on-air. For example, Neil’s original request for an interview with the legendary Judy Blume was initially declined. Undaunted, Neil made a second request — and his persuasion and specificity (he agreed to meet her for twenty minutes at the bookstore he knew she’d be in) landed him an interview of his dreams.

Don’t Abandon Your Interview Idea…Yet

An interview-style show is still a dynamic, engaging option for a podcast. You just have to make sure you’re starting with a concept that will stand out — one your audience can get invested in from episode one — as well as guests you truly want to learn from, and plenty of preparation beforehand.

As for one thing he wishes he could have to make him a better host? “Almost everything comes down to preparation. Instead of 40 hours [of prep], I wish I could do 50.”

Make sure to listen to 3 Books to keep up with the most formative books in the world and to find out which title will be crowned the much anticipated 1,000th book.

Other Gems from Neil Pasricha

We’ve edited every great story and insight from Neil Pasricha into a new episode of our podcast for marketers who podcast, 3 Clips. Here are just a few of our favorite gems:

“The Dewey Decimal System is the most underappreciated thing– you walk into a library and the whole library is organized for you.”

“When you are yourself, you gotta be okay with the fact that you’re not everyone’s taste. Rather than go for the lowest common denominator, find your tribe.”

“If I don’t source out and create and try to find challenging people to challenge me strongly, then I won’t get that, and I won’t grow and improve from feedback.”


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