Holloway Editione1.1.1Updated September 14, 2022
You’re reading an excerpt of Stop Asking Questions, by Andrew Warner, a veteran podcast host of 2000+ episodes. The book explains how to lead high-impact interviews and learn anything from anyone. Master the craft of interviewing with this complete digital package. Purchase now for lifetime access to the book and extensive audio and video resources.
When you’re just starting out as an interviewer, it’s hard to get guests. When you’re established, it’s hard to turn down guests. But if you say “yes” to every request because you’re too scared to say no, your quality will inevitably dip. And your audience will notice.
As tough as it is, you have to learn to turn down interview requests. I’ll show you the right way to say no and help you avoid the wrong ways.
For years I turned people down the wrong way. I once got on a call with a prospective guest because a mutual friend asked me to consider him. He was a nice guy, but I quickly knew I didn’t want to interview him. His company was too new. He hadn’t done much yet. And frankly, I just wasn’t curious enough about him. So I told him, “I’m sorry, but your company is too new. I can’t do this interview, but I’d love to have you on when your company grows a bit.”
I thought I was clear, and we’d just move on. He didn’t want to. “As a listener, I can tell you that you need to feature more new companies,” he said.
I should have known he wouldn’t back off. People in promotion mode tend to be persistent. If they’re not, their startups could die. So he kept pushing. The more I explained myself to him, the more I could feel him digging in his heels. This went on for several minutes. It was exhausting for both of us.
Here’s a key lesson I’ve learned from the entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed: if a problem comes up multiple times, you need to systemize a solution. So I started hunting for a solution to my problem of saying no to unqualified guests. That’s when it hit me.
In Part I, you learned how to communicate difficult information by putting the words in someone else’s mouth. This same technique can be used to say no. The next time an unqualified guest asked to be interviewed, I told them, “I admire what you have planned for your company, but when I interview founders of smaller companies, my audience complains and sends me angry emails. It’s not worth it for you and me to get that kind of treatment.”
That solved it. And it’s the truth. Whenever I interview founders who don’t fit the mold—whether they’re too small, too big, or not founders at all—my fans let me have it. They honestly have higher standards than me.
Occasionally, I’ll be sheepish about using the technique, like the time I talked with a public relations rep of a venture capital firm that wanted to be on my podcast. The firm was so helpful to me over the years that I didn’t want to give her a systemized answer, so I explained all the reasons the interview wasn’t right for me. She offered a counter argument for each of my reasons.
Finally, I said, “In recent years my audience has complained when I feature investors instead of entrepreneurs.”
She said, “My client wouldn’t want that. Let’s not push it.”
Sometimes, you want to tell your guest why you’re turning them down and give them a chance to correct your information. I’ve turned down founders whose businesses didn’t seem big enough, only to be proven comically wrong when they show me their financial dashboards via screen share. But when it’s time to say no, depersonalize it. Put the rejection in someone else’s mouth. Tell them who, other than you, would have a problem with the interview and why.
If you don’t have a big, vocal audience to blame when you’re turning down a guest, look for someone else. Did you promise your sponsor you’d focus on a certain type of guest? Say so. Does the interview fall outside of your commitment to your boss or someone else? Say it.
If there’s no one else to point to, blame your higher purpose and guidelines. Even this will depersonalize the rejection and take some of the sting out of it. What you need is an outside force that will eliminate resentment and end arguments.
Promotional techniques change constantly and are best left to marketers to teach. But there’s one approach that’s unique to interviewing and vital to mention: get help from your guests to promote your interviews.
Guest promotion can be varied and unpredictable. When I interviewed Paul Graham about how he launched Y Combinator, one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious startup incubators, his firm featured my episode on their homepage for months. Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley, the online education company, used Facebook ads to promote his interview and drove traffic to my site. But most guests don’t do anything to promote their interviews with me.