by   on January 30, 2021

How Rat Holes and Rabbit Holes Can Make Podcast Interviews Engaging?

Podcast interviews are like mining. You never know from the surface if there is something valuable beneath.

The only way to find out is to start digging.

When it comes to podcast interviews, the digging happens when you start asking questions. But asking the wrong questions can take the interview in the wrong direction. Even worse, they can completely throw the interview off-track.

Digging in the wrong place can lead to massive losses.

That’s exactly why miners do something different. They dig two different kinds of holes – the Rat Holes and Horizontal Tunnels.

Rat Holes and Horizontal Tunnels?

Rat Holes are straight perpendicular holes (usually done in multiples) dug by miners from the surface to detect the presence of coal.

When they see the presence of coal at some point, they start to dig Horizontal Tunnels to mine the resources.

Digging Rat Holes in Podcast Interviews.

There are various ways I’ve seen podcasters carry out interview-based shows. No matter what style you choose, Rat Hole Questions in podcast interviews are the first set of questions across all topics you have lined up for that guest.

Let’s take The Design Your Thinking Podcast as an example. On the show I look to bring out stories (journeys) behind the hardest decisions in the lives of entrepreneurs and creatives.That said, there are other topics I cover with most guests around habits, skills and future.

The Rat Hole Questions are questions under each of the four topics that I’d use to “look for depth” in conversations.

But Rat Hole Questions don’t drive engagement.

No matter what kind of a podcast your run, I’m sure you’d agree with me on this – your content needs to be engaging and drive listener interaction.

And the first step to listener engagement always starts with a hook. It’s that piece of content that pikes the curiosity of the listener and makes them want to know more about. A hook could sometimes be a topic itself, while many a time it could be a question or an angle.

Horizontal Tunnels drive engagement.

As a podcaster running an interview-based podcast, you are actually your listeners’ surrogate. In other words, you are asking questions that your listeners would ask.

The same emotions running in your listeners’ mind is, hopefully running through yours. When this is the case, you are also technically mirroring your listeners’ curiosity.

If an answer to your Rat Hole Question makes you curious, chances are that your listeners are curious about it too.

This is the birthplace of the Horizontal Tunnel Questions.

The Horizontal Tunnel Questions are driven by your curiosity, usually based on something that your guest says or somewhere your guest goes.

Great podcast interviews are those where the podcaster spends most time in these Horizontal Tunnels, as opposed to the Rat Holes. Click To Tweet

Great podcast interviews are those where the podcaster spends most time in these Horizontal Tunnels, as opposed to the Rat Holes. When this happens, listeners stay hooked and conversations flow.

Conversations really start to flow when…

…you pause, and ask “Why…?”

That’s the simplest and the most powerful Horizontal Tunnel question. But I’ve seen some amazing interviewers take this really far. Here are three questions you can consider using.

  1. “Right at that moment, what did you think?”
  2. “Tell me a moment that made it all worth it.”
  3. “Give me a sense of what it means to be…”

These are some amazing ways to dive deeper, or jump-in at a point where your guest just answered a Rat Hole Question.

But not all Horizontal Tunnels are worth exploring.

As a podcaster it’s tempting to unleash your curiosity and follow the lead, so to speak. It can be so tempting to dig a Horizontal Tunnel. I know, that’s the place you want to be.

I’d like to caution you against this temptation though. However tempting it might be to dig every Horizontal Tunnel, there are things that you might want to consider before digging further into a Horizontal Tunnel Question.

Lost like Alice in Wonderland.

First, it’s the time you have. Horizontal Tunnels can take you to the Wonderland, and chances are that you might be lost there forever.

Second, remember that while you are a surrogate to your listeners, you are equally responsible to how your guest feels throughout the interview. Digging a Horizontal Tunnel at the cost of being insensitive is not what you want to do.

Plus, if your guest is not comfortable, chances are that their answers are not going to drive engagement or interest either. It’s always better to stay clear of this trap.

Don’t always Follow the White Rabbit!

Lastly, if the intention of your podcast is to “profile” guests and you had preset questions for which you intended to get their answers for, that’s perfectly fine.

Don’t dig those Horizontal Tunnels!

You needn’t change the format of your podcast just because you want to try Horizontal Tunnel questioning.

Meet the experts.

If you are certain the Horizontal Tunnels are for you, it’s a good idea to look at some amazing podcasters who do this to perfection. To make it better, I’ll stick to people who are either actively producing content or have done so in the last few years.

My favorites from public radio are Terry Gross and Guy Raz from NPR who actively host Fresh Air and How I Built This, Jonathan Groubert from WNYC who once hosted The State We’re In.

There are plenty of amazing podcasters who do the Horizontal Tunnel Questions really well too. I like Andrew Warner of Mixergy and of course Tim Ferriss on The Tim Ferriss Show.

Engage with Horizontal Tunnels or Rabbit Holes

Podcast interviews need to definitely be engaging, if you intend to grow the show. Again, it’s perfectly OK to have just the Rat Hole Questions. But if you intend to make it more interesting for the listeners and the guests, embrace the Horizontal Tunnels or, should I just call them Rabbit Holes!

In other words, dig deeper. You are sure to find some amazing and memorable conversations waiting to happen in those Tunnels, and your listeners are going to love them as much as your guests do.

The secret is however to spot the White Rabbit!

So, the next time you see the White Rabbit, or when you get curious at some point in the interview, dig deeper!

Nonetheless, don’t forget to have fun in all of this. No matter what format of interviews you do on your podcast, Great conversations build great relationships. Keep digging, keep mining for gold in your podcast interviews!

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