Knowing every detail about the guest’s background can definitely help produce a valuable podcast episode as you will ask better questions. That is a given.
Does the listener really need their backstory? I think not! This post is going to cover how asking people for their “backstory” can be an immediate turn-off, as well as some tips on how to ask questions that will get them talking instead.
How many podcast interviews do you hear start with this, “Tell me a little bit about yourself?” Ugh. For me, what the host is really asking is, “Hey, I didn’t do my homework and probably don’t know much about you, can you help me out?”
Your Guest Already Has Credibility
So many people think we have to walk through your guest's “story” so we can see what they’ve gone through, and establish the guest's credibility. There are three problems with this:
- Your guest’s story may be boring.
2. Your guest may have a great story, but be an awful storyteller.
3. As the host, I trust YOU to bring on guests who will bring value to your listeners. You don’t have to prove their credibility. I’m assuming you’ve already vetted this person and wouldn’t let someone boring on your show.
With this in mind, in many cases, you don’t need their backstory.
The iconic first scene of the movie Jaws doesn’t have us understand who the girl is, and where she went to school, and how many jobs she has had over the years. We know it’s dark out, and that she is swimming naked in the ocean, where they may be sharks, and that is all we need.
Give Them Something To Care About
In the book Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi, he states, “Your customers don’t care about you, your products (insert PODCAST here), or your services. They care about themselves, their wants, and their needs. Content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you.” I realize that is a bit harsh, but I also believe it’s true.
They don’t care about you until you give them a reason to care.
If you have an expert on Facebook advertising as a guest, do I really need to hear about where they live, their current weather, and their first three jobs? I clicked play on your podcast because I want to learn about Facebook advertising and how to avoid flushing my money down the drain.
I Learned It From the Lone Ranger
I recently interviewed Kristin Molenaar who has an agency that books people on podcasts. She came on to answer the questions, “What is the best way to pitch yourself, and how do I find podcasts to pitch?”
She did a brilliant job and shared a lot of great tips. After delivering what I feel is one of the best answers (ever) on my show, I then started to ask her about her business and how it started. I feel your episode should deliver value and then showcase “Their story” (assuming it's not boring).
While it was before my time, I remember watching the television show “The Lone Ranger” in reruns. Looking back, it was kind of strange that nobody asked him, “Hey buddy, what is up with the mask?” when he arrived. However, once he and Tonto came in and saved the day, and he rode off shouting, “Hi-ho Silver Away!” someone would ask, “Hey, who was that masked man?” He had delivered value, and now they wanted to know more about him.
When You Need to Include Some Backstory
I also interviewed my friend Harry Durran. I had heard how Harry had started a super niche podcast on Vertical Farming and had obtained a sponsor before he even launched the show. I wanted to hear that story, and I wanted to hear it now.
However part of the reason I wanted to hear it was I wanted to know, “What the heck is vertical farming?” For me, this really grabbed my attention. I had no idea what it could be.
I also wanted to make sure my audience knew that if they tried to get a sponsor for a show that didn’t exist, it might not work. Harry had 250 episodes under his belt with his show Podcast Junkies, and he had a background working in marketing. I didn’t want to mislead someone with an Anchor account and their phone approaching CEOs to Sponsor their “Batman in the basement” podcast. Getting a sponsor for a show that didn’t exist took some thought, planning, and skill. Some of that information was in the backstory.
One Last Thing About Your Guest’s Story
Instead of asking, “Tell me a little bit about yourself,” get them to the important part of their story. Get them to the part that your audience cares about. In the book Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling author Matthew Dicks explains to start a story as close to the transformational moment as possible (in other words, we don’t need all the backstory). Instead of asking Harry to “Tell us a little bit about yourself” a better question might be, “When did you know you wanted to start a podcast about vertical farming?” That will lead to a story and not so much Harry going down his Linkedin bio.
As a podcaster, you are an investigator/journalist. You will stockpile a large number of facts about your guest. One solution is to create an interview that dumps all the facts in your audience’s lap and lets them figure out what is relevant.
A better solution is to have a crystal clear understanding of your audience, and only provide the facts that resonate with them. When you cut out the boring stuff you serve your audience, and for me being a good host is serving your audience.
If you need help with your podcast, I’d love to help