I recently read an article which essentially said, “if you’re thinking about starting a podcast, don’t”. The theory was that most podcasts involve interviews and the skill required to do so does not come easy to most people.
The thing is, that while the article came across quite negative it actually gave me hope (a difficult thing to come by when launching a podcast because competition is fierce). It did because I am a decent interviewer and while I have a long road to become a premier interviewer, I have a good starting point.
And the thing is, the author was right. The art of interviewing takes a whole lot of practice and requires extraordinary listening skills. I have been interviewing people for articles, tv and radio for close to three decades, so I have had the chance to develop the necessary skills to really hear and follow up with the obvious questions.
I think most podcasters are new to the game and learn as they go, i.e. use their new internet stomping ground to figure out how to be a good enough interviewer. Listening to a bunch of podcasts I can sense that the host(s) is often deeply into his own head while their guest responds to a question they had just asked. That’s problematic.
Nothing is More Effective Than Researching the Best Interviewers!
I research interviewing on a regular basis. I discovered pundits like Larry King, Tom Brokaw, Barbara Walters, Johnny Carson, Howard Stern and the best ever – Studs Terkel. They all had lots and lots of practice under their belts, and they were/are phenomenal listeners.
Let’s Analyze Howard Stern’s Interview Skills
While you may have a certain disdain for Howard Stern, listen to him interview. Notice he’ll ask a question, stop, listen for the answer and then follow up with the next question which will be predicated on what his guest had just said. He asks, listens, then asks again, a question which makes total sense.
Question: So, you decided to walk from one building to another, 100 stories up, on a thin wire, right?
Answer: Yes, I did, and that decision was predicated on tight ropewalking being in my blood, my DNA, as my father and his father did the same.
Question: Really, your father was a tight ropewalker. Did he then teach you the ropes?
Wrong Question: So, your father was a tight ropewalker? Do you get sponsorship for taking these walks?
Howard really is brilliant at the interview. One very important reason for this is because the man is sincerely interested in what the other person has to say. Good interviewers don’t want to hear themselves. They say it’s boring, or they know what’s going on in their head. They want to know what’s going on in the guest’s head, mostly because they want to learn, and of course entertain.
Again, Howard concentrates on what had just been said and therefore produces cogent interviews, well worth listening to (if you don’t mind the shmutz – the dirt). He takes the guest’s train of thinking well below the surface, often deeply into their soul, and creates a discussion which is more reflective of two friends sitting around schmoozing – like buddies, more than a host and guest. That interview might be the first time the host and guest are actually meeting, but done well, the discussion between them creates a relationship that is real. It may be short lived but while it’s happening it is authentic. It’s beautiful!
Let’s See What Steve Paikin and Larry King Have to Say
Stephen Paikin of TVO, told me during a Hatradio! interview, most interviewers do not listen and appear to be disinterested in what their guests are espousing. Steven said, “if that is the case, why ask the question at all?”
And then, there is curiosity. I would argue that curiosity is the most important character trait of a good interviewer. I am inordinately curious – some would say too much so.
Larry King said he relies on his instincts to determine what questions to ask. Think about that. Here is a man who has interviewed the likes of Marlon Brando, presidents and stars of all illumination, and his question sheet is made up of a few words. How does he have the nuts to approach an interview without the armour journalists call their cheat sheet, their questions sheet.
The answer is he is naturally curious, likely more than most and he listens carefully to his guests’ responses to his very short questions and then he thinks. He wonders. He asks himself, “Marlon acted as a child to try to make his depressed mother smile. In essence, acting must have been a chore for him then and it’s no wonder he speaks so negatively about his craft.”
So, what does Larry ask? What would you ask? How about: “Marlon, do you resent acting”, or “Did your mom smile?”
Curiosity is the pillar which superlative interviewing leans against.
If your goal is to create a dialogue between you and somebody else on the air or just in life, truly grapple with what they have just said. But I mean truly. “Wow how did that feel?” should be a tool in your question toolbox. “What made you respond that way?”
Wonder! Question! Be sceptical! Be curious about human behaviour and about little nuances in life that blow your way. Want to know the answer to your question, but really know.
Therein lies the greatest secrets to doing a good interview. And, perhaps that’s why HatRadio! might have a head start and who knows, may zoom to the frontline of podcasts out there.
What do you think about my thesis? Oh really? And why do you think that?
About HatRadio! Podcast | The Show that Schmoozes
The HatRadio! podcast was created by Avrum Rosensweig. Avrum spent over a decade on commercial radio including Toronto’s CFRB and Talk 640 co-producing and co-hosting quirky and delightful food and restaurant shows with Hollywood stars and singers like Michael Bublé, prolific chefs, restauranteurs, servers and, of course, foodies from all over the world. He is also the founder of Ve’ahavata, Canada’s only Jewish humanitarian organization, a writer and a dad.
HatRadio!’s Tagline is “The show that schmoozes”. Avrum’s intention through this new and refreshing podcast is to create an environment that reflects an honest and earthy midnight talk amongst friends around a bonfire where ideas and feelings flow freely and the participants have many honest and often courageous “Aha” moments. Avrum is hoping these interviews will reflect positive human behaviour and inspire many to pursue greater goodness and kindness.
If you have any suggestions on people you feel should be interviewed or would simply like to get in touch with Avrum, please contact him at this link.
HatRadio! The show that schmoozes.