“How do you feel”, “tell me more” and other smart interview questions.

How to answer questions. The second in a series on podcasting.

“It was 1992. The closing days of the Presidential campaign and I was beginning to get a name for myself.

Not in a good way.

During crowded press conferences with the candidates all that year, I was the network radio reporter who would ask: “How do you feel?”

Sometimes not-very-polite snickers were heard nearby from fellow members of the traveling press. “What a dumb question” they probably murmured under their breaths. They were far from impressed.

But more often than not a question about emotions or feelings — as opposed to something erudite about policy — resulted in one of the best soundbites of the day.

The point is simple. It’s not about you. Interviewers on podcasts, reporters at news conferences, or panel members at webinars shouldn’t try to make themselves look smart or impress colleagues. Instead, look for ways to engage others.

This is especially true on a podcast, when almost all listeners start at the beginning. They don’t tune-in half-way through, as so often happens during a radio show. A podcast audience is much more likely to stay with you for the entire episode when they’re hearing a lively conversation.

Hosts who are curious and honestly interested in what their guests have to say are more engaging and fully present than those who are merely clever.

Be direct. Keep questions brief, if possible. Humor works. So do challenging questions. But unless being obnoxious is part of your act, don’t try to show up the guest or be snarky. On the other extreme, avoid being a toady, who repeatedly flatters guests. “That’s so interesting” or “it’s such a good point you’re making” works once or twice during a twenty minute conversation, but no more than that.

Preparation is essential. Know your stuff. An interview should have moments of surprise, laughter and spontaneity. When the answer provokes a follow-up, don’t stick to a written list of questions. “Tell me more” is a gentle prompt that enables you to go a little deeper.

Two more ways to get the best from a guest is to make her/him feel comfortable before the microphone is switched on. If you edit your podcast before it’s published (you should do this), explain beforehand that a guest can “re-do” an answer. Second, put some energy into how you ask your questions. If you do, the answers are likely to be more animated.

Another way to improve interview technique is to listen to the pros.

We all have our favorite hosts. Mine is Terry Gross. For more than 40 years, she has been voice of the NPR’s “Fresh Air.” Next month in Philadelphia, she will be the closing keynote speaker at Podcast Movement’s annual get together. I’ll be on the edge of my seat, taking notes on what she’ll tell the audience.

Podcaster Marc Maron called Terry “‘the most effective and beautiful interviewer of people on the planet.’’ I love her infectious laugh and warm, deeply intelligent manner.

“Gross is an interviewer defined by a longing for intimacy,” wrote Susan Burton in a lovely profile for The New York Times Magazine. “In a culture in which we are all talking about ourselves more than ever, Gross is not only listening intently; she’s asking just the right questions.”

Many podcast hosts who are relatively new to the game are understandably nervous. But some of the best interviews I’ve heard were by amateurs, speaking with friends or those they love.

Have you listened to “Storycorps”? This brilliant non-profit organization founded by radio producer Dave Isay has been recording and collecting conversations for years. “Our mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world,” Storycorps says on its website.

“Storycorps” has countless examples of loving, empathetic and surprising questions and answers. “Listen. Honor. Share” is their motto. Not a bad thing for us podcasters to include our own mission statements.

If Moms and Dads, sons and daughters and cousins can ask great questions, so can you.

Richard Davies is a Podcast host, consultant and media trainer. Learn more at DaviesContent.com

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Why Does This Gucci Model Look So Miserable?

  
The Thanksgiving Day newspapers landed with a thud on the front doorstep.  Even now in this digital age when most of us get our news online, the papers are stuffed with expensive colorful circulars and retail ads. 

Most of the mass-market pitches are bright, loud and pretty straightforward, proclaiming “Black Friday Deals” and “Doorbuster” Specials.  High-end retailers push plush sweaters, eye-catching jewelry, bags and warm coats.

It’s all part of a not very subtle push for our holiday retail dollars.  But why is it that all the models for JCPenny, Macy’s and Target have nice, broad smiles on their faces, while the Gucci and Prada ladies appear to be downright miserable?

What’s their problem?  They were paid good money for their modeling gig.

I’m not a marketer, or a brand consultant. So it’s beyond me why The Dior woman is glowering from behind a fancy pair of sunglasses on page 3 of The New York Times and the Sauvage fragrance guy on the back page looks like he’s about to punch somebody out.

Huh?

Who wrote the memo that it’s hip, edgy or in-the-know to look like you’re having a crappy day?  Does dystopian angst help the elite-tailers sell more stuff?

Come on. It’s Thanksgiving. Be happy and express some gratitude. 

Most of us are blessed with love and a measure of prosperity.  Even those who rule at the fashion fortresses could offer something that’s less forbidding and cold.  

  Above:  JC Penny circular. Top: Gucci ad The New York Times 11/26.

Coca Cola vs. Science?  The Sour Fight Over Sugary Sodas, And What You Can Do About It.

   

When I was a kid I thought Coke was the best thing ever. From about the age to 10 to 15, my day wasn’t complete unless it included a seven ounce bottle of the sweet stuff.
Even better was Coke with four cubes of ice and a slice of lemon plus maybe even a shot of grenadine in a grownup highball glass. To me aged 13 that was sophistication itself.

Even now decades later I still like an occasional Coke.  It’s way better that Pepsi.  And yes, if you put a blindfold on me, I could still tell the difference.

But the fuss raised rhis week by The New York Times over Coca Cola’s funding of scientists to influence the debate over what causes weight gain leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Coca Cola has spent millions of dollars to back researchers who claim that lack of exercise is a far greater cause of the obesity epidemic than poor diets.  According to The Times, a non-profit group called the Global Energy Balance Network said the company gave it $1.5 million last year to start the organization, and nearly $4 million in funding for other projects.

“Most of the focus in the popular media and the scientific press has been ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ – blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” says Steven Blair, an exercise scientist in a video made by the group. “There’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

Most prominent obesity and diabetes researchers disagree.  The news about Coke’s activities provoked uproar in the public health community. 

For this week’s How Do We Fix It? podcast, we invited Dr. Kelly Brownell, Dean of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy to be our guest.  As our show is about solutions, we asked him to look at fixes for America’s worst health crisis. 

“There’s very good science showing that consumption of sugary sodas is strongly related to risks for obesity, diabetes and some other major health problems,” Kelly told us.  

After decades of rising obesity and diabetes, the trend appears to have peaked.  A Gallup poll says 60% of Americans are trying to avoid drinking soda.  So Coke may have good reason to try and influence the debate and stop its sales slide. 

While there is nothing new about corporations paying money to fund scientific research, Coca Cola is playing a political role in the shifting debate over health and diet, as well as fighting back against soda taxes and efforts to stop the sale of high-sugar drinks in schools.  

Parents have a right to know the facts.

More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. “Obesity around the world is now a more significant problem than hunger,” Kelly Brownell told us.

As for dealing with the causes, here are his takeaways:

 1. Parents should know that weight problems usually start very early in life. “Early obesity tracks into the adult years,” he says.  

 2. Government can help with “policies that only allow healthy foods in schools. There could be restrictions on what foods are marketed to children.” Dr. Brownell also supports a soda tax.

 3. His best advice for individuals? “Try to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and keep meat consumption under control and watch your calories.”

I’ve got a fourth one. Portion control.  Eat and drink less. 

When I was a kid, Coke came in 7 ounce bottles.  Then 12 ounce cans were introduced. Now the stuff comes in 20 ounce single-serve containers.  

Is it all the beverage industry’s fault? No.  As my pal and podcast show co-host Jim Meigs says: “Never under-estimate the ability of captalism to give us what we want.” Marketers and makers will keep on finding new ways to tempt us. 

But ina free-market society built around choice, stupidity comes with a cost.  We all have a role to play in making reasonable choices.

 

My Favorite Holiday:  July 4th Fireworks and Festivities Celebrate Our Freedoms and Democracy.

  Symbols of pride:  flying the flag for Independence Day.



Happy July 4th!   Independence Day is my favorite holiday.

On this vacation we celebrate something that many of us complain about for the rest of the year: our democratic institutions.

As a first generation American I love the freedom that this country represents.  239 years ago, The United States was the first nation to be founded with a formal statement that asserted the people’s right to choose their own government.  

That’s a pretty cool fact.

The Declaration of Independence was a bold statement of ideals by profoundly practical men.  It’s signficance rolls down through the ages, and continues to be an inspiration to oppressed people around the world.

The words were chosen carefully.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  These most famous lines from Declaration give me chills. 

As a radio guy, I applaud NPR’s Morning Edition for its annual tradition of having hosts, contributors and commentators read the Declaration aloud.  

From the beginning – “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” – until the end – “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” – the sound of those profound words, written at a time of great danger, never fails to impress.

Despite a steady decline in trust in national institutions in recent years,  “questioning the aims and efforts of government is a foundation of American citizenship. It’s how the nation was born,” writes Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at U.C.L.A. in The New York Times.  “The colonists didn’t trust King George III, and they carefully laid out their reasons for breaking away from his rule in the Declaration of Independence.”

But still we celebrate the 4th with fireworks, parades and barbecues.   For one day each year it’s time to put aside our complaints about the President, Congress, law enforcement and our system of justice.  We are lucky to be Americans.

At a time of doubt, division and even disgust with government, this country is still a beacon of hope for tens of millions of immigrants and many others who wish they could live here.

Although I was born in the USA, my parents were British and moved me back to England as a child.  After going to school there, I chose to leave my family and return.  I am glad that I did.  

So grab a burger, pour a cold one, and celebrate the Fourth with pride and gratitude for America and the best of its principles.