Prep, preview, pivot: How almost anyone can ask great questions and do a great podcast interview.

Despite many recent efforts to debunk Malcolm Gladwell’s famous “10,000 hour rule”, there is a good deal of truth to what he says.

The New Yorker writer, author and podcaster claimed that the key to success in any field, is simply a matter of practicing a specific task for 20 hours a week for 10 years. In other words, bloody hard work for a sustained period of time can make you really good at almost anything.

“Achievement is talent plus preparation,” Gladwell wrote in his best-selling book, “Outliers”.

Oprah Winfrey, who has spent way more than 10,000 hours on the craft of interviewing, agrees. Her biggest frustration with young people today, she told a British magazine editor is that “they think that success is supposed to happen” right away. “They think that there isn’t a process to it. They think that they are supposed to come out of college and have their brand.” 

After more than 40 years of doing radio, print and podcast interviews, I’m generally on the side of my fellow media vets.

But they’re not 100% right.

Shortcuts can be taken to improve the odds that your podcast interview is excellent, exciting and of true interest to your listeners. Experience is important, but true curiosity, attitude and empathy are vital.

I come to each podcast recording prepared, but ready to pivot: Always aware that no matter how much research has been done, or how many questions are written on a briefing sheet, the conversation could fly off in a completely unexpected, wonderful new direction.

That is the joy of interviewing. Spontaneity, humor and passion are your best friends.

Yes, of course, podcast producers should think of the story arc of each episode. And they should prepare ahead of time. But if essential follow-up questions lead you down a brand new path, be prepared to tear up your script.

In addition to the pivot and the prep, another way to improve your odds of hitting the audio jackpot is the pre-interview.

This does NOT mean a set of email exchanges with your podcast guests in the days or hours before shows are recorded.

Instead, pick up the phone and chat with them one-on-one for at least 15 minutes. Listen to what they’re passionate about. How easily do they laugh? Do they like being interrupted? Give them a sense of who you are, so that when the interview begins, you’re more friends than strangers.

Once in a while, Malcolm Gladwell’s rule is wrong.

That’s the thing with laws of human nature. There are almost always some exceptions. Just because you do something all the time doesn’t necessarily mean that you are really good at it.

For many years, I listened to the lunchtime host of a daily public radio show. He often had great guests, who were either in the news or had just written an interesting book.

Sadly, the guy was a dismal interviewer and a show-off, who tried to impress listeners with his knowledge and personal experience. He often sounded bored as he read the questions prepared for him by a team of producers on his over-staffed show. He rarely asked follow-up questions and instead stuck with the list in front of him.

The guy didn’t pivot. And while his producers probably did lengthy pre-interviews, they were no substitute for enthusiasm and empathy.

With those fresh ingredients, even an amateur with an unpolished voice and a less-than-dynamic personality can cook up a great podcast interview.

Richard Davies is a podcast coach and consultant. His firm, DaviesContent, formats, produces and hosts podcasts.

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FixIt: Abolishing Unbelievable.

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We live in an age of hyperbole. “Amazing”, “incredible” and “wow!” are among the most glaring examples of over-used words.

“Great” and “fantastic” are proclaimed when “good” would do nicely. “LOL” has replaced a smiley face, and “thank you” usually comes with “very much” attached, even if the sender doesn’t (really) mean it.

But nothing is worse than “unbelievable”, because in most cases the thing described as impossible to believe actually isn’t. At all.

From play-by-play announcers describing a great catch or a homer deep into the bleachers, to friends and relations talking about the silly things their pets do, we are surrounded by “unbelievable” from all quarters.

Unbelievable is used as click-bait. As in “The unbelievable reasons why your posts aren’t popular” or “The unbelievable reasons dog owners give up their pets revealed.”

The unbelievable number of times that “unbelievable” is mentioned in conversation is part of a larger problem. Simple, plain speech has been replaced by words that often come in CAPITALS or with an exclamation point attached.

We are shouting at each other rather than speaking softly with modesty and simplicity.

The first senior editor I worked for in a radio newsroom decades ago told me to avoid using overly-inflated words. Write in short sentences, using clear and concise language. Watch out for unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, he told me.

It was good advice then and now. (Here’s a good source for writing and speaking tips).

Let’s hope that 2018 turns out to be a year that we can believe in.

Image: Credit Typorama.

 The F… Bomb Has Become a Filler Word. How Do We Fix It?

The jump the shark moment for the F-word may have come and gone. Even the erudite David Brooks of the New York Times used it recently in his otherwise uplifting book on self-discipline and modesty, “The Road to Character.”

A four letter word that once caused shock – or at least embarrassed giggles – has become a filler word.  Something you say to fill the space between the stuff that actually matters.

It’s lost the power to shock.  Everybody says fuck.

Other filler words include “meanwhile, “like”, “basically” – and the very worst and most frequently heard –  “you know”.

Many thoughtful, well-educated people punctuate their sentences with  “you know”, you know?   The term has become the new “um”.

Those who use it in serious conversation dilute the meaning of what they are trying to say. I have a highly articulate, smart, funny friend in the financial industry who uses “you know” in virtually every sentence.  It drives me crazy. She’s probably unaware of it and I’m too chicken to say anything.

Guess I haven’t walked too far on my road to character. Sorry, David Brooks.

When hosting a talk radio show years ago, a program director pulled me aside. “You say um a lot,” he told me.  “Don’t do it. In between thoughts, stay silent. It can be kind of powerful.  People will listen more carefully to what you’ll say next.”

Great advice –  especially for a guy who loves to talk and trips over my words in a rush to say the next thing.  A little pause sounds so much better than filling in the time with meaningless filler words.

Easier said than done, you say?

Actually, no.  As soon as I became aware of what I was doing,  it was surprisingly easy to cure my verbal tic. It’s a little bit like weeding.  Almost everytime time I noticed an “um” forming in my brain I would pause and pick it out of my speech pattern.

Another tip: speak in short sentences. “Structural filler-word patterns are triggered because of the way you structure your sentences,” says writer, Anett Grant. “Using oral bullet points gives you time to think about what you’re going to say while reinforcing your main point.”

Clarity is the best friend you have when speaking.  Especially when you are serious. Weeding out the filler words is a great way to sound smart in business meetings, sales presentations and at the dinner table.

When you don’t have much to say, remain silent.

Richard Davies is a podcaster.  Hear his “um” free show, “How Do We Fix It?” with co-host Jim Meigs on Acast, iTunes and Stitcher.  He also runs DaviesContent – a podcast production house.

 

 

 

 

 

How Do We Fix It? How Bill Clinton Smashed the Passion Gap 

  

Unscripted comments often give us the worst moments of the Presidential campaign. Look no further than the embarrassing Republican debate in early March, when Donald Trump bragged about his penis.

But once in a while a tense, uncomfortable encounter can turn into a civics lesson.

And so it was when Bill Clinton stood up during an event for his wife in Philadelphia Thursday and faced down protesters from Black Lives Matter. They complained vigorously about anti-crime legislation that the former President signed in the early 90’s: a time when the crack epidemic led to a terrible spike in homicides, especially in African-American neighborhoods.

Instead of merely dismissing the shouts and signs of his detractors, or taking a politically correct vow of silence, he engaged them with a series of remarks about policy and the changed political landscape.

“I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out on the street to murder other African-American children,” the former President said wagging his finger. “Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She [Hillary Clinton] didn’t. You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter. Tell the truth.”

The tone may have been somewhat hectoring, and he sort-of apologized for it the next day. But the President’s passion was real. You don’t have to agree with him or his record to be impressed by the outburst of substance.

Far too much of this campaign has been about easy slogans, from Bernie Sanders’ simplistic break-up the big banks (thoroughly dissed in a New York Times column by liberal Paul Krugman) to Trump’s build a wall and make Mexico pay.

The biggest problem Hillary Clinton has been her apparent lack of passion. It’s why she has under-performed, and also why Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio failed to catch fire. 

Voters already know that the former Secretary of State, First Lady and Senator from New York has a deeply impressive resume and an intelligent grasp of governance and foreign policy, but much of her campaign has been canned —  on auto pilot. It’s as if she thinks she can glide to victory without taking risks. Without being a fighter.
But today’s media and political environment has changed. Americans – especially millennials – are increasingly bored with complacent, canned remarks. An occasional flash of humor or even anger can be refreshing and even change minds. 

Bill may have put his foot in it sometimes, but his spontaneous outburst in Philadelphia is a lesson for Hillary and a solution for her wobbly campaign. Fix the passion gap.

If you want to convince skeptical voters that you’re not a crook, put away the script and speak from the heart.