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.
I strongly believe that you don’t need superstar guests. Less than 10% of the interviews I’ve done have been with big-name people. It hasn’t stopped me from building a solid personal brand, a large audience, and a strong business from my interviews.
Still, landing the occasional big shot is worth the work because they’ll help grow your audience and increase your credibility with other interviewees you’re trying to land.
The challenge is that celebrity guests who are in demand usually don’t have enough incentive to sit for an interview with you, or even respond to your request. There are times, however, when they’re eager to be interviewed. I call those times motivated moments.
A motivated moment is when a popular author is releasing a new book and wants to try to hit the bestseller list. It’s when a reclusive movie star suddenly appears on multiple talk shows to promote a new TV series, or a billionaire founder is launching a new startup and appears on podcasts he’s never heard of before.
The best way to spot motivated moments is by browsing lists of upcoming releases. Most industries have them. Amazon lists upcoming books by topic and release date. Techmeme has stories about startups that just raised money. IMDb lists upcoming movies. Part of every interviewer’s job is to watch these sites and find out what’s coming up. That’s how I land marquee guests.
When I did a live event in my former hometown of San Francisco, I needed a guest who’d be such a strong draw that people would fly from other parts of the world to hear their interview. A motivated moment helped me find that person.
Tim Ferriss was about to release a TV show. The 4-Hour Workweek is the most cited book by successful entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed, but Ferriss can be a hard guest to land because he obsesses over minimizing distractions. Still, the upcoming launch of a new show can use as much attention as possible.
We emailed. He said yes immediately. He showed up to the event and was a huge hit both with the in-person audience and listeners who heard the recording on my podcast. He also helped grow my audience. He tweeted the interview to the over one million people who follow him on Twitter, and some of them subscribed to my podcast.
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His appearance was amplified by his fans. Celebrities like Tim have dozens of fan sites and social media accounts. They tell fellow fans what their hero is up to. Several of them mentioned our interview, which helped me grow my audience.
A motivated moment helped me book billionaire founder of the Carlyle Group, David Rubenstein, soon after he published his book, How to Lead. It also helped me book one of Silicon Valley’s most successful entrepreneurs and investors, Justin Kan, soon after he launched Exec, the assistant service. And after Steve Huffman, co-founder of Reddit, launched a travel-booking site Hipmunk, I asked to interview him about it. I used the interview to also talk about the massively successful Reddit. That interview was a huge hit on Reddit, which helped me draw a big audience.
Motivated moments make booking guests easy—sometimes a little too easy. You might have noticed that your favorite, elusive author suddenly appears on every TV show, YouTube video, and podcast after publishing a book. They say yes to so many outlets that you find yourself getting bored of hearing their stories. If you go after big shots during their motivated moments, it’s important to be early to interview them—ideally, be the first.
The other thing to keep in mind is that a motivated moment closes fast. After working hard to promote a project, most people want a break from talking about it. I noticed that’s especially true of authors. When I asked a prolific author why that happens, he told me there’s a huge gap between expectations and reality for books. When a writer sees how few people read books and how little impact they often have, their disappointment can be so big that they can’t stand to talk about it.
The most-watched interviews in mainstream press have always been news-based. In 1993, when Michael Jackson was accused of child sexual abuse, he sat for an interview with Oprah Winfrey. It became the most-watched interview in American history, with 90M people tuning in. The Top 10 list of most-watched interviews is full of politicians, royalty, and accused criminals who made headlines around the world.
But you don’t need to land worldwide headliners to take advantage of breaking news. All you need are people making headlines in your audience’s world. My world is the tech startup community. One day, two well-known people in my world became newsmakers.
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