Questions to Avoid When Interviewing Guests

It would be too easy to assume that a great interview comes from booking a great guest. While guests who have entertaining answers and know how to speak in short soundbites do make your job easier, it’s not the single determinant for a successful interview. Much of that responsibility goes to the host who is interviewing the guest. And it’s a much more nuanced skill that most business leaders give credit to.

Before we look at what questions to avoid, let’s first address the bigger issue. What is the purpose of your interview? I realize each interview may have its own unique objective, but structurally speaking, the purpose of an interview is to get the best answers possible out of the guest that is being interviewed, regardless of the type of interview it may be.

In order for a guest to provide the best possible answer, they will need access as quickly, and as efficiently as possible to their memory bank of resources, and that’s where this all begins. Because if your questions, in any way, limit those resources, the guest may struggle, and you may fail to meet your objective.

According to the National Library of Medicine, the more stressed you are, the more difficult it is to remember something – especially if you have to verbalize those memories, and conversely, the more relaxed you are, the easier it is to remember things. So, if your questions to your guests in any way cause them stress, you could unwittingly be making it harder for them to answer your questions, AND I would go so far as to say that your questions MUST increase your guest’s feelings of relaxation because chances are, they are already experiencing increased levels of stress because of the very fact they are being interviewed!

So, what kind of questions increase stress? Here they are:

#1 Questions that have only one right answer.

Any question that asks for the “most”, the “least”, the “greatest”, the “worst”, the “best”, or the “funniest” is essentially asking the guest to rate all of their memories in that topic and immediately prioritize them. That’s hard! First, it makes the guest have to remember everything they’ve ever experienced, and then even if they can remember all of them, they then have to weigh out whether or not they feel safe sharing with you the real answer. What if it’s private? Embarrassing? Illegal? Who knows what’s happening in their head! And then, if they decide they don’t want to share that answer, they have to then come up with the 2nd best answer but because they are naturally stressed out over hiding the honest first answer, they can’t think of any good runner-up and the result is they end up staring at the ground, letting their tension build, your interview is filled with awkward silence, and before you know it, they are flustered and now you have to work extra hard to get them calmed down and back on track.

#2 Closed-Ended Questions.

It’s an interview, after all, not an interrogation. You want them to talk, share stories, reveal secrets, and share their best thoughts, not sit there and just answer yes or no questions. When you ask a closed-ended question like, “Did you like that book?” All they can do is say yes or no, and now you have to work harder to keep the conversation going. But if you ask an open-ended question like, “What was one of the key takeaways you got from the book?” Now you are encouraging conversation.

#3 Any question that you have pre-written down on a card.

Now I’m being slightly hyperbolic with that statement because I don’t necessarily think pre-written questions are wrong, but what is terrible in my opinion is simply going through a list of pre-written questions instead of asking follow-up questions to previous answers. When your guest answers a question, and you don’t dig deeper into it, it subconsciously says, “I didn’t care enough about that answer to discuss it further.” I might have a few pre-determined questions I want to ask a guest on my show, but I rarely get to them all because I’d rather ask follow-up questions that dig deeper into their previous answers. THAT shows you care.

#4 Cliche Questions

Every industry has its own questions that make people roll their eyes, and some are so bad they cross every industry. What’s your secret to success? What’s your definition of success? How do you want to be remembered when you’re gone? These types of questions aren’t bad, in fact, the reason why they have become so cliche is because everyone asks them. They may have been good questions 20 years ago, but now they are overplayed. And that’s the exact reason why you shouldn’t ask them. They’re just too easy, lazy even. They don’t require any deep structured thinking on your part, and I doubt you want your audience to think you phoned it in. I’m guessing you want your audience to sit there and think to themselves, damn, that’s a great question!

#5 Filler Questions

You often hear these at the beginning of an interview. How are you doing? You alright? How’s it going? You been good? Life good? These kinds of questions make people click off your show before you even get to the good questions, so just get to the good questions. It’s not rude to get down to business with the first question, in fact, I think it’s rude not to.

#6 Any Question You Can Google the Answer To

The person you are interviewing didn’t agree to come on your program to answer questions that they’ve already answered a thousand times on other shows. They will, and they will quietly curse you in the silent parts of their head. Instead of boring your guest with the same old questions they’ve answered a thousand times, dig deeper into those answers they’ve already made. It might sound like this: “In Forbes magazine, you said the toughest year in your business was when you had to lay off 300 people in one day. I can’t imagine how that must have felt. What have you done in your business to future-proof that from happening again, or what advice would you share with our viewers on how to avoid them from making that same mistake?”

Did I miss any? Can you share some nightmare questions you’ve asked or been asked that we would all benefit from hearing? Don’t be shy and leave your comments below. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog so you get notified the next time I release another professional speaking tip.

Stay tuned for my upcoming blog on the BEST questions you can ask in an interview!


  • Great write up! I have rolled my eyes several times during an interview when I get the same cookie cuter questions.

    • Topher Morrison

      “Cookie cutter questions” are one of the best ways to make sure that guest never wants to come back on your show for future episodes as well.

  • Great article Topher – completely agree. My #1 pet hate is when an interviewer doesn’t even acknowledge the answer… (as per Q3 above). It usually plays out like this:

    Guest: “So that’s when I decided, once and for all, I had to take the toughest decision of my life – I closed my business…”

    Interviewer: “What are your 3 favourite business books?”

    Gah!! 🤦‍♂️

    • Topher Morrison

      LOL, I could so see that happening. We have someone here in Tampa who regularly interviews top CEOs monthly, and she just reads from the top down. Several times, I’ve hinted she might want to hire a coach, but she just feels she’s a fantastic interviewer. Boggles my brain sometimes.

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