Five Tips for a Killer Q&A

While YouTube has grabbed all the headlines in this young year, podcasting has quietly gone mainstream. An increasing number of businesses, particularly in the high-tech field, are using podcasts to communicate with prospects and customers about very specific messages.

Paul Gillin Communications has produced more than 70 podcasts in the past year, the majority in the simple but effective Q&A format. We’ve learned a lot in the process, and thought we’d share some best practices with you.

Q&A isn’t the only valid podcast format, but it works very well for business marketing. It exposes the talent in your organization, is reasonably fast and easy to produce and segments the program into manageable soundbites that are easy to consume. There’s a big difference between a Q&A that excites your listeners, though, and one that bores them. Usually, the following five factors make the difference.

Be interesting— This may sound blatantly obvious, but it’s advice I wish more of our interview subjects would heed. You need to get your message across, but you also need to wrap it in a bigger message that gives the listener immediate value or new insight. Too often, speakers just fall back to delivering a product pitch. This is death. Podcast listeners have lots of choices and they will quickly pull the plug on content that doesn’t interest them. Try to give your listeners at least one nugget of useful information every five minutes. That’ll keep them hooked.

Think about your answers – I always provide my interview subjects with questions for the Q&A at least a day in advance, and if it’s your podcast, I’d recommend you do the same. Your podcast will be much more satisfying if you jot down talking points and anecdotes to guide your responses. This doesn’t mean you should read from a script. Believe me, the audience will figure that out in a minute. But there’s nothing wrong with having an outline to make sure you get your points across. An outline also helps you stick to answering the question that was asked and prevents you from talking on tangents, which brings us to our second tip.

Keep it short — The most common mistake I hear speakers make is to drone on with repetitive answers that run four and five minutes for each question. You may care passionately about the details of your product, but remember that your listeners probably can’t parse your message at that level. They want to get a quick summary of the market and the issues. Here’s a suggestion: Put an egg timer in front of you and turn it over whenever you start a new answer. By the time that a timer is half way down, you should be wrapping up. If the timer runs out entirely, stop talking.

Tell stories — Reporters know that readers respond to anecdotes and first-person accounts. They bring a topic to life and frame the message in a way that listeners intuitively understand. Your case studies are a valuable resource here. Cite examples of what customers are actually doing with your products or tell a first-person story about a customer you visited or spoke with. Or just talk about your own experience using or seeing the product. Personalize your message and people will understand it better.

Speak clearly and deliberately — Be aware of any verbal tics you have — “you know” is a common one — and make an effort to eliminate them when you’re on the air. I call these “verbal placeholders.” They are a tool that people use unconsciously to mark time while deciding what to say next. Avoid them. They will be much more obvious on a recording than in a conversation. Practicing your answers before it’s time to record and sticking to an outline, which provides your next point if you lose your place, will help you prevent yourself from “you know”ing your way through a podcast.

Whoops! I lied. There are SIX tips:

Take advantage of the medium — Unlike broadcast media, podcasts are forgiving. You can easily rerecord what you say and splice it seamlessly into the program. If you don’t think you answered a question very well, just do it again. Audio editing software makes it possible to replace your old answer with the new one in just a few minutes.We are often asked what is the ideal length of a podcast? The truth is that it depends. An excellent speaker will get much more leeway from the audience than a poor one. This 48-minute speech by Steve Wozniak will have you spellbound whereas I’ve moderated 15-minute podcasts that were just awful.Personally, I like to keep podcasts to less than 20 minutes, including eight to 10 question-and-answer pairs and an introduction. I find that 15 minutes is about ideal.

Here are some links to podcast interviews that went particularly well:

Preventing Digital Crime – Government Regulation or Industry Standards – Howard Schmidt is a former national security czar, but he’s also an energetic and exciting speaker who’s on top of his subject. It was a great idea on Qualys’ part to use him as a resource like this. (You have to register to download this one.)

SaaS Advantage Podcast Series with Greg Gianforte – The CEO of RightNow Technologies knows when to stop talking and that makes his answers more effective. He’s also just an interesting person, which I would recommend your speakers be, also.

How to Encourage Innovative Thinking: An Interview With Larry Weber — Note how Larry tells stories throughout this interview to get his points across. By using examples, he brings the topic to life and makes his answers easier to relate to. I guarantee you will remember at least one anecdote from this interview.