Archive

Archive for the ‘Interviewing 101’ Category

My Favorite Blog Posts of 2015

As a guy who has been blogging over the course of the last five years it is heartening to see stats rise from 1,500 views in 2010 to over 33,000 in 2015. But, and I presume my fellow bloggers will concur, the most popular blog posts arent neccessarily the ones the writer loves, adores or sweated over. So I give you my favorite posts of the year, even if they didn’t get the attention I wished they did.

snl40It’s Time For Your SNL Moment – Love it or hate it Saturday Night Live’s 40thanniversary show can serve as inspiration for your next radio event.

Curse of Subjective Adjectives – This is a phenomenal blog post; it’s fun, insightful, sensational, great, super, terrific, and awesome. Depending on who you are.

Paul KayeAirchecks. Dreaded Airchecks. – One of the issues that I hear from talent quite a bit is how airchecks suck. They dread them. Talent feel like they’ve been slimed by negativity afterwards when they just want some support, strategy and a plan to improve. They know what sucked. How do you fix it?

Secrets to Podcasting Success – In May 2014, Anna Sale launched the podcast “Death, Sex & Money” from the studios of WNYC. In the 10 months that has followed, Anna’s podcast has hit #1 on iTunes and she’s learned a ton about producing a successful podcast. Lucky for us she shared her revelations at Radiodays Europe and with the Radio Stuff Podcast.

What Do You Do With An Idea? – In recent weeks, clients have been sharing with me the anxieties associated with following their gut or executing on an idea.

RS 100 coverInside Radio Stuff #100 – How I landed the interview with Jonathon Brandmeier and how it all came together.

Broadcast Interview Scruples – The relationship between a broadcaster and an interview subject has triggered my curiosity. Let me tell you why.

Cirque du Radio – I was at the show Kooza last night and saw this awesome assembly of remarkable talent. It’s a really, really talented troupe. A couple things struck me as it relates to radio

Radio Stuff “Radio News Quiz” – Week 3

Radio News Quiz 3The Weekly Radio Stuff “Radio News Quiz” debuts on Thursday in the podcast. It’s 10 Questions about this week in radio news. In the podcast, we discuss the stories and use lots of great audio. Here we post the question and offer links to the answers. If you get all 10 correct you win the respect and admiration of your peers.

THE QUIZ

1. What RADIO event kicked off this week with a live, rocked-out version of the national anthem?

(Answer

2. At the Talkers 2014 session, Radio insider Jerry Del Colliano said music radio has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. This week, he made headlines for predicting the demise of another genre. What was it?

(Answer)

3. A Yankees reporter learned a valuable lesson this week about recording press conferences on an iPhone app. What was it?

(Answer)

4. Why did the Morning Zone at 91.3 Modern Rock in Victoria, Canada dial-up its sister-station 95.3 The Peak in Calgary?

(Answer)

5. Which popular radio host just launched a clothing line at Macy’s?

(Answer)

6. What did Mike Tyson do on Canadian TV that all radio interviewers can learn from?

(Answer)

7. Why did the San Francisco 49ers suspend play-by-play announcer Ted Robinson?

(Answer

8. What inappropriate or insensitive song was used to launch a format change in Rochester from Oldies to Country on 9/11?

(Answer)

9. Which talented podcaster was the host of the Fox Sports Radio 2001 Year in Review which paid tribute to 9/11 from a sports perspective?

(Answer)

10. What RADIO STATION did Joan Rivers debut on as a talk show host?

(Answer)

Unsolicited Advice: Don’t Do This

042710_toucher_and_richOk. I laughed.

98.5 The Sports Hub hosts Toucher and Rich interviewed Rick Pitino today. Listen.

It was a brief but memorable conversation.

Toucher:  We are joined by Rick Pitino, former coach of the Celtics, current coach of the Louisville Cardinals who won the national championship. Rick Pitino, hello!

Pitino: Morning, guys.

Toucher: You stink. You ruined the Celtics.

Toucher then hung up

Here’s the deal. Yes, it went super viral. Yes, they’re getting a lot of attention. Yes, ratings may even go up. But that doesn’t mean YOU should start insulting and hanging up on guests.

– The first show to do it gets the attention. The second show to do this will be seen as wannabe-jerks… or not seen at all, because no one will care that it happened again.

– There are very few sports radio stations that have brands to support such on-air antics; The Hub, The Ticket in Dallas, who else?

– It’s not a great way to build relationships in the business (and this business is about relationships and access) and chances are Toucher and Rich will find some guests they want to interview who are Pitino sympathizers who refused to join them. I’m sure they don’t care. But, that’s their brand, their show, their swagger.

The lesson here is be yourself, be passionate, spontaneous, unpredictable, unique and compelling. Create moments on your show that resonate with your fans.

The Keys to Sports Radio Success

I was going to title this blog entry “How Not to Annoy Your Boss and Co-workerBG-Headshots,” because the inspiration for this comes from last night’s sports radio chat on twitter (#srchat). The question — what are your biggest pet-peeves of sports talk radio? — was posed to everyone on the chat including special guest Clear Channel’s VP of Sports Bruce Gilbert. I’ve taken their answers and turned-them-inside-out like a secret decoder ring to unveil the keys to sports radio success.

Be humble. You are not the smartest guy in the room. It’s okay to say –I don’t know.

“The point of your radio show is not to prove how smart you are, it’s to entertain, inform, and make people think.” – Bruce Gilbert, Clear Channel VP of Sports

Be adult. Accept the fact that sometimes callers swear and we have to dump them. The 14-year-old boy inside you thinks it’s hilarious. No need to make a deal out of it on the air though.

Respect the listener. Everyday have a plan and pour your heart and soul into it. No room for laziness. Keep conversations about tech issues, chatter with board op and producers, office gossip and inside-jokes off the air.

Callers ≠ Success. Callers can be great, just remember they are not a reflection of your success. Don’t let the blinking lights guide you.

Prepare For Interviews. When interviewing keep questions focused on the topic, keep them short, make sure each question is a question and not just a statement and forego the opening interview niceties (i.e. “How are you?)

Play the hits. Immerse yourself into the big stories and relish it. When sports hosts complain about having to discuss the top stories, ESPN Radio exec Pete Gianesini points to the weather channel and wonders aloud if they would ever stop covering a hurricane in the middle of the storm because they were tired of talking about it. He’s got a point.

Be a leader. On and off the air talk to people not down to them – includes coworkers, listeners, clients, guests, interns, etc. Work with people smarter and more talented than you and treat them better than they treat you.

 

Autopsy of a Cringe-Inducing Interview

sawatskyInterviewing is a passion of mine. I was taught technique and principles by John Sawatsky. Yes, that smiling, unassuming man in the picture is an interviewing assassin. He’s a former investigative reporter turned full-time interview guru for ESPN.

There have even been some ESPN articles about him and how he goes about analyzing interviews. (Check them out here… and here. They’re worth reading.) He also has several videos on VIMEO here.

All that to support what I’m about to say. In fact, some have already heard this, but it bears repeating. In Episode 2 of the Radio Stuff podcast (here), about 20 minutes in you can hear my autopsy of an interview gone horribly wrong. This blog post gives you a taste.

548946_525565484172149_2131648500_nThe interview was conducted by Guardian associate editor of music Michael Hann with Ginger Baker, the renowned drummer of Cream, Blind Faith and others. It was such a train wreck of an interview it inspired the Guardian to release a list of the six most excruciating interviews of all time. If you watch or listen to the Ginger Baker interview, your initial instinct will probably be that he is a real bitter pill and the interview went badly, because he’s a bad guest.

You would be wrong. Hopefully, I’ll convince you of that.

Here are some initial, basic Sawatsky principles of interviewing that I follow and preach:

  • You should always establish a goal for an interview.
  • Every question should move the interview forward towards your goal.
  • Every question should gather new information that gets you closer to your goal.
  • Questions should be open, neutral and lean.

ginger-baker-interviewThe interview, which was conducted on stage in front of a live audience, was part of a promotion for a documentary that was being released on Ginger Baker. Michael Hann’s (MH) first exchange with Ginger Baker (GB) went like this.

MH: In the film, your time in Africa was obviously very, very important to you. Was that the time when you felt most musically fulfilled?

GB: What? Who?

MH: Your time in Africa. It seems from the film to be very, very important to you. Was it?

GB: Why?

MH: You speak about the musicians and music with such warmth.

BG: Totally silly questions, really. (Applause, laughter) It was,… I just went there. I didn’t go there for any particular musical education or anything like that. I mean there were good years before I went there.  

See, I told you you’d think Ginger Baker is a little hard to swallow. Here’s why he’s not at fault. The question is closed, overloaded, includes remarks, and is rich with hyperbole. Let’s take it one at a time.

CLOSED QUESTION: Was that the time when you felt most musically fulfilled? When you ask a closed query, you are limiting the answer that the guest can give to either affirming or denying your own personal theory. Interviewers do this all the time: Were you scared? Did it hurt? Did you want to leave? And you’ll hear the guests say, “yes” and then rethink it, “no, I wasn’t scared, more nervous.” Better to ask, “how did it make you feel?” In this case, Ginger rejects the basis of the question outright.

OVERLOADED: When you are too broad with your topics it puts a lot of pressure on the guest and they often don’t know where or how to begin. In this case, what exactly does “most musically fulfilled” mean? You can even hear Ginger trying to find an entrance by asking “Why?” (Michael thinks that.) It’s too broad and big of a concept for Ginger to wrap his brain around.

REMARKS: These are superfluous statements that get in the way of the interview. In the film, your time in Africa was obviously very, very important to you. These are Michael’s impression based on what he saw on film, and how he interpreted it, but not something that Ginger has actually claimed. When you add remarks the guest typically will respond to your opinion on the subject rather than giving a genuine, personal response. There really is no reason to include a remark in a question.

HYPERBOLE: While you may be attempting to compliment your guest most people are not comfortable with over statements about themselves and will counter-balance the opposite direction in an effort to clear the record. In this case, Ginger responds to Michael’s “very, very important to you” and “most musically fulfilled” by first discrediting the question,”Totally silly questions, really.”  Secondly, he down-played the importance of Africa in his musical development, “it was,… I just went there. I didn’t go there for any particular musical education or anything like that.”  Finally, to drive home the point, he defended his career prior to the trip to Africa, “I mean there were good years before I went there.”

And that was just the first question. There’s more on the podcast. In the meantime, here are some more principles to get you started.

  • Have a goal.
  • Ask questions that are lean, neutral and open and avoid making statements or remarks
  • Ask one question at a time.
  • Be mindful of the words you use.
  • Listen to answers for follow-up.
  • Stay out-of-the-way of the guest. They are the expert, let them shine. Don’t use this time to prove to them how smart you are.

Disclaimer: there are no rules to interviewing, just principles. Most of the people considered as great interviewers ignore most of this and it will drive you crazy (Larry King, I’m looking at you.)

If you come across a murdered interview, send it my way. I’d love to perform another autopsy.

Sometimes You Have To Ask…

Sometimes you have to ask for what you want.

Sometimes you have to ask what your employees CAN do.

Sometimes you have to ask what your boss expects from you.

Sometimes you have to ask how to be better.

Sometimes you have to ask permission.

Sometimes you have to ask for forgiveness.

Sometimes you have to ask how you can improve.

Sometimes you have to ask how to do it differently.

Sometimes you have to ask for help.

Sometimes you have to ask, “How can I help?”

Sometimes you have to ask, “What’s missing?”

Sometimes you have to ask a stranger for a favor.

Sometimes you have to ask someone their name.

Sometimes you have to ask, “What do you do?”

Sometimes you have to ask for feedback.

Sometimes you have to ask, “What’s next?”

Sometimes you have to ask, “Is this the best way?”

Sometimes you have to ask for someone’s attention.

Sometimes you have to ask, “What if…”

Sometimes you to ask. And that’s okay.

Where “60 Minutes” Missed the Mark with President Obama

I wrote on Facebook and twitter today that I was still cringing from Steve Croft‘s interview with President Obama on “60 Minutes.” There are many things I would have done different. The whole point of having the President go on a show like “60 Minutes” is to have him tell the story from his perspective. In order to tell a story properly you need to start at the beginning BEFORE the moment of change or conflict of the story. This puts your interviewee chronologically in line with the events as they happened so he/she can take you through the emotional journey instead of reflect on events from a mental space. Thus, question #1 from Steve Croft to Barack Obama immediately put the President in a head space aside from being hyperbolic, and closed.

STEVE KROFT: Mr. President, was this the most satisfying week of your Presidency?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, it was certainly one of the most satisfying weeks not only for my Presidency, but I think for the United States since I’ve been President. Obviously bin Laden had been not only a symbol of terrorism, but a mass murderer who’s had eluded justice for so long, and so many families who have been affected I think had given up hope.

And for us to be able to definitively say, “We got the man who caused thousands of deaths here in the United States and who had been the rallying point for a violent extremist jihad around the world” was something that I think all of us were profoundly grateful to be a part of.

Notice how the President responds to the hyperbole “most satisfying week of his Presidency.” He down plays this point and takes the wind out of his own sails by putting a qualifier of “one of the most” on it AND pivoted from his Presidency to the United States of America. Talk about down playing the importance of an event in your career. Sheesh. Ideally you would start at the beginning of the story – maybe even 9/11 – and work your way through the events. IF you ask this question keep it open and let him define for himself.

What was this past week like for you?

How was this past week different than other weeks of your Presidency?

How satisfying was this week of your Presidency?

Similar mistakes are made in question #2.

KROFT: Was the decision to launch this attack the most difficult decision that you’ve made as Commander-In-Chief?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Certainly one. You know, every time I send young men and women into a war theatre, that’s a tough decision. And, you know, whenever you go to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] or Bethesda [Naval Hospital] and you see the price that our young people pay to keep this country safe, that’s a tough decision. Whenever you write a letter to a family who’s lost a loved one. It’s sobering.

This was a very difficult decision, in part because the evidence that we had was not absolutely conclusive. This was circumstantial evidence that he was gonna be there. Obviously it entailed enormous risk to the guys that I sent in there. But ultimately I had so much confidence in the capacity of our guys to carry out the mission that I felt that the risks were outweighed by the potential benefit of us finally getting our man.

Again, the President qualifies his answer and down plays the difficulty.

The next question is actually three questions in one. I’m not sure Steve Croft could have given him more exit ramps to give an answer without giving an answer. The more questions you compile into one – the less information you get. The interviewee then has a choice to answer the question that’s easiest to answer. Ask ONE question at a time and keep it open-ended.

KROFT: When the CIA first brought this information to you . . .

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: What was your reaction? Was there a sense of excitement? Did this look promising from the very beginning?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It did look promising from the beginning. Keep in mind that obviously when I was still campaigning for President, I had said that if I ever get a shot at bin Laden we’re gonna take it. And that was subject to some criticism at the time, because I had said if it’s in Pakistan and, you know, we don’t have the ability to capture ’em in any other way, then we’re gonna go ahead and take the shot. So I felt very strongly that there was a strategic imperative for us to go after him.

Shortly after I got into office, I brought [CIA director] Leon Panetta privately into the Oval Office and I said to him, “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down. And I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.”

Leon took that to the CIA. They had been working steadily on this since 2001, obviously. And there were a range of threads that were out there that hadn’t quite been pulled all together. They did an incredible job during the course of a year and a half to pull on a number of these threads until we were able to identify a courier who was known to be a bin Laden associate, to be able to track them to this compound.

So by the time they came to me they had worked up an image of the compound, where it was and the factors that led them to conclude that this was the best evidence that we had regarding bin Laden’s whereabouts since Tora Bora.

But we didn’t have a photograph of bin Laden in that building. There was no direct evidence of his presence. And so the CIA continued to build the case meticulously over the course of several months. What I told them when they first came to me with this evidence was: “Even as you guys are building a stronger intelligence case, let’s also start building an action plan to figure out if in fact we make a decision that this is him or we’ve got a good chance that we’ve got him, how are we gonna deal with him? How can we get at that?”

And so at that point you probably had unprecedented cooperation between the CIA and our military in starting to shape an action plan that ultimately resulted in success this week.

Look at it again. The first of the three questions – WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION? – is a great question. But, the President picked the easier of the three and latched on to it, “It did look promising…” – and then he went straight to talking points. When you offer a closed question like this the interviewee can only affirm your personal hypothesis of what happened. In this case the answer is either yes or no. This is interviewing on a hope. You HOPE the interviewee expounds on what they’ve answered. Unfortunately for “60 Minutes,” the President didn’t. He went from 2010 and leaped back in time to before his Presidency in 2007 and talked about how this was a campaign promise and how hard he worked to get this done from day one.

That’s just the first three questions. I could go on and on. Croft asked if it was hard to keep the secret, did he want to tell Michelle, did he tell Michelle? The President ducked the answer with a general statement. Never answering if he talked about it with the First Lady. Again, too many options or exit ramps for the President to escape direct questioning.

When preparing for interviews have a goal, start at the beginning, ask one question at a time, refrain from hyperbole, ask open-ended questions, and don’t test personal hypothesis. You’re conducting an interview to get information, perspective, insight or reaction that you don’t already have – so don’t try to guess the answers. Get out-of-the-way and let the story be told. Great questions to use in an interview include…

– and then what happened?

– how did that make you feel?

– when did you know?

– why did you do that?

– how was that?

Ask lean, neutral, open-ended questions.

…and don’t interview on a hope.