Interviewing guests is a great way to format a live show. A lot of streamers structure their shows around guest interviews because they’re easy to do and interesting for the audience. But what happens when the guest you have on isn’t so easy to deal with?
Every live show host fears talking with a bad interviewee. But a difficult guest doesn’t have to ruin your show — if you know how to handle them.
What makes a live interview go bad?
When you talk about a “difficult guest” or a “bad interview” it can mean several things. Maybe your guest only gives one-word answers to each of your questions. Maybe all of their answers are long-winded and don’t address your questions at all. Although no guest or interview is the same, some of the most common reasons for a bad interview are:
- The guest isn’t very talkative: Doing an interview can feel like pulling teeth if your guest fails to elaborate on any of their answers.
- The guest veers off-topic: Your interviewee might not answer your question directly, or starts talking about something else entirely.
- Technical issues: Slow internet, malfunctioning mics or other tech problems can make an interview unwatchable.
- The guest talks about your competitors: If you’re doing a live interview to promote your brand and you speak to an industry expert, it’s highly possible they’ll mention your competitors.
- The guest is late or doesn’t show up: An absent guest is probably every interviewer’s worst fear.
If these or other mishaps happen on your live show, you should know how to handle them. To help you remember what to do when your live interview isn’t going as planned, we made a free, downloadable cheat sheet.
5 tips for handling a bad guest
Most of the time, you can handle a difficult guest on your live show with some preparation. Making sure you and your guest know what to expect mitigates most of the problems listed above. But it is a live show, after all, and there’s always the chance you’ll have to handle something in the moment.
1. Do a pre-interview
When guests know what to expect, they’re much less likely to be difficult during the interview. Make them feel more comfortable and prepared by sending a list of your questions ahead of time. In addition, ask them if there’s anything they’d like to cover on the show and try to work those topics into your questions.
Restream’s live video producer Grace Duffy also advises that you research your guest before you have them on.
“If they’ve done past interviews,” she says, “look at those for inspiration. I’ve interviewed people who are completely different from their online persona once they are on camera.”
Additionally, Duffy says to focus your questions on anything your guest has said, done or published. Ask them about an event they hosted or a book they authored, for example.
You should also schedule a block of 10-15 minutes with your guest before the interview starts. Use this brief pre-interview to do an audio and video check with your guest, and make sure everything is working.
2. Prepare to break away
To keep the interview on track, always have a way to break up the show if needed. Schedule audio-visual sequences throughout the show, which you can use to reset the conversation. These could include:
- Sponsor promos
- Video clips
- Switching between multiple guests
If your guest gets too off topic, things get heated, or they mention one of your competitors too much, you can cut to one of the visual breaks you prepared. These clips also make the live video more engaging and interesting.
3. Keep it professional and courteous
No matter what happens during your live interview, remain calm and collected even if you don’t feel like it on the inside. Keep things professional — make your guest feel welcome and respected. To help your guest feel more at ease, send them a pre-live-show checklist they can tick through before the stream starts.
According to Grace Duffy, there are a couple of tips you can use to control the conversation while remaining courteous toward your guest.
- Apply full screen and split screen appropriately. If your interview is remote, then your show likely has one screen for you and one for your guest. Display the guest in full screen when they are speaking and switch to split screen when you are asking questions. If the guest is talking too much, take them back to split screen. Duffy says this is the “universal, but subtle, visual cue to stop talking.”
- Use conflict resolution tactics. If a guest on your live show overtakes the conversation, use communication strategies that help diffuse conflict. Duffy suggests making a joke or leaning into the debate.
4. Turn to the audience
When you need to reset the conversation, shift the focus from your guest to your audience. This tip applies when your interviewee isn’t talkative. Have your viewers pose questions to the guest via the live chat or pose your own questions to your guests to get their views on a topic.
Dialoguing with your live chat adds variety to the interview and shows your viewers that you want to hear from them. Even some quick small talk (“where are you from” or “what do you do?”) can help refresh an interview that has gone stale.
5. Have a backup show ready to go
Can a live show guest be considered difficult if they don’t even show up? Yes! You still have a show planned whether they’re on it or not. To avoid having to stall while you’re live or worse — cancel the stream — prepare a backup show.
Is there a topic you can talk about for 20-30 minutes with zero preparation? Can you use this time to recap the research you did for the show and use it to launch a discussion with the audience? Can you bring on a regular and active member of the audience and talk about past live shows with them?
Always have some content ready if your guest doesn’t show up for your live interview. It doesn’t have to be as polished as what you planned originally, and you can still deliver value to your audience.
With these tips (and our handy cheat sheet) you’re equipped to handle your next less-than-stellar live interview. When it comes to live streaming, many problems can be mitigated with simple preparation. A confident attitude and some positivity help in most situations too, so remember to smile and relax!