A cornerstone of podcast interviews is being able to get an interesting story from your guests. Getting a coherent story out of a guest can be painful. You ask them questions and they give you one-word answers or they ramble around for 10 minutes and still don’t answer the question. This article is going to give you a tool to build a story in a podcast interview.

What makes a good story? Entire books have been written on this subject. Obviously, it isn’t an easy topic and you certainly can’t expect your untrained guests to do it without help. On a side note, there are guests who’ve worked their story out and will give you very clear, coherent answers.

The Hero’s Journey

I’m constantly studying how to better get my messages across and have run across the Hero’s Journey in a couple of marketing contexts in the last couple of weeks. This article is going to tell you how to use this structure in an interview to get good stories out of your guests.

First let’s do an overview of the hero’s journey. This may not be the classic, exactly to Joesph Campbell’s vision outline, but it will work for us.

There is a character, with a problem, who meets a guide, who gives her a plan, and calls her to action. She takes action, and it either succeeds or fails.

This is Donald Miller’s Storybrand version of the Hero’s Journey. If you haven’t checked out Storybrand, you should he’s got a lot to say about keeping your message and story clear that is very relevant to building a podcast. (My personal favorite is the insight, “Don’t make yourself the hero of the story”).

That is a short version of the story and if you just got that you’d have better stories.

The second person who talked about using the hero’s journey to tell a story was Russell Brunson in his book Expert Secrets. Again he is talking about telling your story, but I’ll explain how I use it for interviews. His short version goes more like this.

A character has a backstory that leads to desire. That desire is both internal and external. Something is standing in their way that they overcome with an epiphany. Then they run into multiple problems along the way which they solve. Finally, they achieve what they wanted both internally and externally.

In order to figure out your hero story Brunson gives you a series of questions to ask yourself. You can find the exact questions he asks on page 123 of Expert Secrets, which you can get for free by following the link. I’m not comfortable just giving your his questions because I don’t have permission and you’ll get a lot out of his free book.

I read his questions and started thinking, “Could I use this when interviewing someone?”

I’m a Toastmaster and hold the position of Public Relations Manager for my district. Part of that job is to tell the stories of people whose lives have been transformed by Toastmasters. But most people aren’t able to coherently tell the story of their Toastmasters Journey. I was at a conference right after reading Expert Secrets and decided I’d just use the Hero’s Journey idea and questions when asking people to tell me their story.

It worked.

I got insights into people’s motivation and emotion I would never have gotten. People told me not just why they started, but what ongoing things they were encountering. I added a question at the end that guided their mindset in a way that got one of them to think about future leadership roles she’d not been considering before.

I’ve put my question outline together in a Hero Story Interviewing Outline PDF and will email it to you if you just click here and give me your email address.

Everyone you address with your podcast is on a journey. They started out doing whatever you are talking about, they did some stuff, and ultimately hope to reach some goal. For the purpose of these questions, I’m going to just say “your journey”. You may want to change that wording for your podcast. So instead of “What made you start your journey?” Aaron might say, “What made you start doing Preparedness?”

You could also add they journey metaphor to whatever you do, to help people get in the right mindset. “What made you start your preparedness journey?”

What made you want to start your journey?

It is important to ask follow-up questions to get their internal as well as external motivation. They may have wanted something like lose weight or get more money, but internally they wanted to feel something, i.e. important, safe, attractive, strong. Dig a little and get both the internal and external.

What was your biggest struggle starting out?

Our hero isn’t going to take time out of their busy life and start pursuing a new goal if they aren’t having a struggle now. The previous question gets you their pain, this question gets you how they’ve struggled. This is also where the hero’s story gets interesting.

What surprised you most when you got over that initial hurdle?

We all find in life when we start to seek improvement we get over that initial hurdle and they there is something we didn’t expect. In our subject matter as a podcaster, we generally know there is the thing people think is the solution and the thing newbies actually need to do. In photography, everyone initially thinks a new camera will make them better, but when they get one they find out understanding lighting is really key. This question gets you to the next level of understanding.

Who helped you along the way?

In the Hero’s Journey, there is always a guide. Someone who tells you what you need to do to progress. Luke Skywalker’s Ben Kenobi. Who was that person for your guest?

What was your plan to overcome your struggles?

Once they encounter their problem, get some advice, what do they plan to do to make it work.

How did that work out?

Did it work? Sometimes the best stories are the things you tried that didn’t work. You may end up repeating these two questions through a series of failures.

What is the biggest benefit internally and externally you’ve gain?

Once they’ve reach competency, did they get what they initially wanted? Was that really what they needed?

What does the future hold for you?

This is the future pacing question that will get them thinking. The one that made that new Toastmaster come back to me a few hours after our initial conversation and ask about a higher level of leadership.

This framework podcast interviewing easily walks a guest through their story and will connect with your audience. I’d also encourage you to walk through these steps yourself to help you flesh out your story. A story is a powerful thing and you should polish yours.

Don’t forget to get your Hero Story Interviewing Outline PDF by giving us your email address.

If you’d like more help with podcast interviewing check out our article How to Create Killer Interview Questions.