You’ve got your presentation style sorted, you’re confident and you’re comfortable performing. So what happens when you throw another person into the mix? Contributors, guests, panellists, callers – they all add texture to your programme, podcast or conference, but your job is to get the best out of them for the audience.
Here are the things to consider before you get into it…
1.Research Your Guest
A sure fire way to make your interview go on longer than you need it to is to get your guest to tell their story ‘from the beginning’. This is fine if you are pre-recording and you have the time to edit. But if you are live you are going to need to get to the point as soon as you can.
Researching your guest means you can set the scene for them in your introduction. I say to my clients “you hold the who and what, your guest holds the why and the how”.
A well-researched interview can drive the conversation forward faster too. Imagine being able to say “you must have been having a tough time then because you were also trying to launch a community centre” rather than “so what was that like?”
Tip: It’s not always possible, but it’s good to speak to your guest before you interview them. It reassures them and it means you can suss out some of the best stories before you are on stage / on air with them.
2. The Basics: Who, What, Where, Why, When, How?
When working up your research and deciding what to ask, start with the basic questions. Make sure your audience understands who you are talking to, what they are talking about (the when and where fits in here). This is the information you need to be able to run a great interview.
One of my clients had a guest on their panel show talking about a vegan festival he was running. It wasn’t until he got on air that she discovered he wasn’t vegan. In listening back we realised there were no vegans in the room, but all the prep assumed there would be a vegan in the room. The whole segment lost its credibility. Even with the biggest of production teams, it’s easy to assume you have all the information – so questions like what, where, when, who questions will uncover all the context you need.
Stories hide in the hows, whys and “what reason”. Questions like “How did you make that happen?” or “why did you decide to do that?” then get the answers you need from your guest. Note that “what was the reason?” is a softer way of asking “why?”
3. Make It A Conversation: Listen
Have clarity about what you want to hear your guest speak about, come with a list of well-researched questions, and then the key to a great interview is to listen to what the guest says to get that second question in. This makes it more like a conversation.
Listen out for chunked up language and get the detail on it. For example:
Interviewer: “What were you like as a child?”
Guest: “I grew up in Birmingham, and my parents would probably tell you I was a wild child, but I remember it being a happy time.”
Interviewer: “When you say wild child, what did you get up to?” or “What was it like in Birmingham at that time?” or “what made it a happy time?”
The stories are in the examples, listening allows you to ask the follow-up question (which may also be a challenging question too – see 5)
4. Open, Closed and Non-Question-Questions
Open questions allow your guest to tell a story, create opinion, share knowledge and experience. Closed questions have one word or short answers. Both are useful and a mixture of both questions can make for a good interview. Closed questions are particularly good for wrapping up an interview.
Depending on your guest you might find that they are keen to talk, in which case even a closed question will bear fruitful answers. One of the best ways to bring something out of your guest is to share your own experience or story as part of the question – this is the Non-Question-Question. These questions don’t really have a question mark at the end and can start a bit like: “In my experience” or “I’ve done that before and I found x y z” makes it sound like you are chatting and it gives the guest the opportunity to share their story.
I’ve written about this before – confrontation is something people avoid, but by failing to challenge your guest you are failing to give them the opportunity to give a stronger more thought out answer.
You can soften the challenge with language like “What do you say to people who say…?” or “Some people may be thinking…”.
Often the challenge is about being curious and hunting down the why and the how of your guest’s point of view.
6. Know When To Move It On
While you should listen and acknowledge your guest, sometimes you are on a time limit and you have to wrap it up. And sometimes they are saying the same thing over and over again – it’s time to move it on. Don’t be afraid to politely interrupt them, challenge them or ask a closed question.
Ultimately, a good interview is about getting the guest to enlighten the audience. Researching, challenging and being curious will help you to get to the gold and fast.
The saying goes “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. The thing with “just speaking” is we think that we can do it. That if we have the words and the reminders in front of us it will be fine. We are all born communicators so think it’s OK to just open our mouths and talk.
I came across the idea of rehearsal when I was part of a pitch for a BBC Radio programme. The production company I worked with made us all sit in a room and rehearse. It wasn’t scripted, we just spent the day before going over and over the content till we all know what we were saying and why we were saying it.
It was an incredible experience, and an approach only a skilled presenter (our boss at the time) would have suggested. We got to practice the words we were going to say, not just point at each other and say “you do that bit and I’ll do that bit”.
I’m not going to lie to you – it was weird and awkward sat with my colleagues revealing what I was going to say in that “sell yourself” voice I use in a pitch! The best thing about it was it gave them the chance to give me feedback (“don’t use that voice Kate”), tweak what they were going to say, and it became like a performance.
When we got into the pitch it sounded natural, and we were all able to back each other up. We coped with all the questions (yes we rehearsed those too). We were able to walk out of that pitch and truthfully say we had done everything we could have done. Thankfully we won it. And I would put the rehearsal time as one of the key factors to that.
Rehearsal means you can cope with anything.
From the first time you talk in a meeting, to the pitch being shortened all of a sudden, to reading the script handed to you, and even that break up you have planned – rehearsal can really help.
So how do you get the best out of your rehearsal time?
Say it over and over and over again. I tell clients that you need to rehearse your piece at least 6 times before you perform it. If you are reading it takes that many read-throughs before you even start to sound natural. And by putting a number on it – it makes you think about how you manage your time right?
In reality, there is a good chance that you will get your words sorted the night before and at that point, I would suggest that you at least read through once or twice so that your performance is not the first time you say it!
By rehearsing like this you are giving yourself the opportunity to set it in your mind, but most importantly you are giving your face the chance to get its muscle memory sorted! Getting your mouth around your thoughts and words as they come out the first time is tough. Give yourself the opportunity to focus on what you are saying rather than stumbling over your thoughts.
2. Secret Rehearsal
This is my favourite. This is rehearsing in front of people and they have no idea.
For example: If you want to get rid of your “erms” then practice avoiding them while in conversation today. The person you are talking to will have no idea!
A mate of mine confessed that when she realised she had to get better at presentations she would stand with her family in her kitchen and try things out, without them knowing. She’d experiment with body language, expression and words! It’s a great technique to see what works and feels right for you. And it means you don’t always have to wait for the house to be empty to start talking to yourself.
3. You Don’t Know There Until You go There
Are you afraid you are talking too fast? If so, try speaking slower. The idea of it often feels so weird that you don’t even try it. So by rehearsing speaking so slow, it feels super super weird then it enables you to discover that actually speaking at a good pace, feels more comfortable than you thought.
If you’re afraid of telling stories, in your rehearsal tell wild stories that you would never do in your pitch, just because sometimes, you might discover something you can use.
You don’t know that until you go there. Use your rehearsal time to discover quirks, fix your own limiting beliefs and talking bugs. No one will know, so just try it.
I know. You hate hearing your own voice back. I hate to break it to you: I meet very few people who are comfortable with the sound of their own voice, let alone like it. The people who do are the ones who have been broadcasting for a long time. So I need you to face into the pain of hearing yourself back because one of 2 things will happen: either you will think “that wasn’t as bad as I thought” or you will think “right I know how to make that bit better now”.
That wasn’t so tough, was it?
A lot of the time our lack of confidence is rooted in what we think we look or sound like. We think everyone can see how nervous we are. That everyone can hear the voice in our head saying “you are talking total rubbish and no one cares!”
Actually, once we see/hear ourselves our self-awareness improves and we see that no one can see that bundle of nerves rattling around inside our tummy. And that no one would have known that you made a mistake. We see we are competent, and that builds confidence.
I heard on a documentary about Prince that he would say to his band: “Novices practice. Professionals rehearse”
Content Ideas are the elixir of any regular Content Creator: when you have them it’s easy to create amazing content, when you don’t it’s hard work.
Firstly – let me clear this up – you are a Content Creator if you are presenting to anyone about anything on any platform. So yes, that’s you.
Now for the ‘hard work’ part.
When I run out of ideas, I don’t just run out of ideas and think “it’s OK Kate, you’re just having a bad day”… I have a catastrophic crisis of confidence.
Last week I sat down to write this blog…with nothing. I put it off for 3 days and nothing came to me. I then thought about not writing it at all. Then the evil inner voice started telling me that this was always going to happen, that inside you’ve known all along that you’re not really that good at this and everyone is going to find out. Then I had an adult tantrum, had some gin and went to bed.
I finally talked to my colleague who said “what about a blog about coming up with ideas?”
Which shook me out of my strop to go through the process I always go through (and had forgotten) when I need inspiration for new ideas.
Use Your Life
I say this all the time. Finding the best way to connect with your audience is to find a common bond. And the most basic common bond is that we are all human. What makes us human? : The personal, the quirks, the niggles, the crazy, the silly and the obsessive. Loves, hates, passions, relationships, and emotions.
Look at what has happened to you recently to pull out some stories from there. Dig deep. If it helps, comedian Steve Martin suggests sitting in a coffee shop for 3 hours and making a note of all the things you see, think and feel. That should be plenty to get you started!
On the search for inspiration, sometimes the outside world can help. When I record my Everyday Positivity Flash Briefing I record 5-10 at a time. I keep a note of significant dates, events, film releases, TV shows, birthdays, anniversaries and use them in my content.
I did a whole 2-minute episode about how I love mountains because they are something that you view from far away, and if we look at our life from far away, maybe it would look just as great! I do genuinely think this but the content starter for it? It’s International Mountain Day that day.
While topicality can create ideas, it is mostly useful for relevance. For example, I talked about Black Friday as an example of using positive language on the 23rd November 2018 Black Friday episode. The episode was about using “and” rather than “but”, with the punchline “I bought loads of amazing things in the Black Friday sales AND I saved a load of money”…
3. Do a Mind Map
No really. Just get writing.
I love a mind map, but I like to do them on my own! I relax my mind and the start listing ideas. Then I add associations, then opposites and then more associations and opposites and it usually throws up something I’d not thought of.
4. What does your audience NEED?
The best content is the content that adds value to your audience. I have heard the words “pain points” being bandied around recently in business. Find your client’s “pain point” and then give them a solution for that, is the advice. I guess the best thing to do is be useful to them.
And sometimes just asking your audience for what they need can create the best content. What do they struggle with? What would they like to know?
When all else fails though – I will always recommend sleeping on it.
You know the idea that comes to you in the shower or on the sunbed – there’s a scientific reason for it. You need to let your brain state drift and it will pop ideas in.
Last week when I did the Content Mind Map I slept on it, and then while driving the following morning last week’s blog about Script Reading popped into my head!
So maybe fill yourself up with inspiration and then have a lie-down!
“I am not good enough at this,” is what usually goes through your mind at a certain point of any creative project.
Usually right before the deadline.
When I am recording my Everyday Positivity links and I think “ugh why on earth is anyone going to like these?!”, or when I am halfway through a painting commission and I think “gah this isn’t how I wanted it to look! Why can’t I do it like Picasso?”, or most likely when I get to rehearsing my presentation so many times and I think “this just does not feel new enough – no one is going to like it!”
Inevitably on all counts, I make the piece, I show it to the audience and the feedback is great. I had nothing to worry about.
The problem: You get too close, and you get too saturated in it
In her book “Running Like A Girl” Alex Hemingsly recounts a dinner where her friends are asking her about the running she is doing for the book (for which the deadline is looming) and she loses it, having a massive strop about how she never wants to run again.
She got too close. She got too saturated.
Countless podcaster friends and event organiser friends and writer friends and broadcaster friends all tell of the moment where they think “I never ever want to do this again”!
They get too close. They get too saturated.
Inevitably they push through the feeling, and they create something wonderful with a huge adrenaline surge that makes them want to do it again (rather like giving birth where you forget the pain so you do it again – big THANKS hormones!)
An artist friend of mine once gave me some great advice about this feeling. She told me whenever I created a piece of art that I shouldn’t look at it for 6 weeks. “Art gets better in the drawers,” she said. Funnily enough writer Stephen King says something similar about the art of writing, in his book ‘On Writing’
If what you are doing feels like it’s rubbish, then it’s time to put some space and time between it. I record my Everyday Positivity a little in advance so when I hear it go out it could be a week since I recorded it. I am always pleasantly surprised by it – that it is much better than I thought it would be. Mostly because I have forgotten what I’ve said during the recording!
Space and time allow you to give yourself some useful feedback. Use it to get confident in your ability, to get self-aware, and improve your self-belief. Nine times out of ten a speaking client will watch themselves back and say “oh that’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be”. Space and time provide objectivity, it helps you to forget the nerves you felt in the cock-up, and look at how you could have dealt with it better.
So, if it’s not got better in the drawers, then you know you can work on the craft some more. If it has, you can stop berating yourself in the process.
Audible has launched the long awaited “Audible Shows”, with a pleasingly small raft of programmes for you to try out – but what first?
“Audible Shows” is Audible’s move in to the podcasting arena, and it has finally launched in the UK. The audio book behemouth, now offers short form audio programmes in various formats and on varied topics. They have commissioned new original shows, as well as provide a platform for some others. And in a podcasting space where the choice is overwhelming, Audible will provide some curation for their audio loving audience, to discover new and relevant audio.
In early 2017, I was lucky enough to be part of the focus group for what was then named “Audible Channels” in it’s beta state. The interface I saw then, compared to the interface I loaded on to my Audible app now, is massively improved. “Audible Channels” was overwhelming – but the content largely was good. “Audible Shows”, has started small (pleasingly so), and you are able to download the shows to your device as part of your Audible library. Even so – there are choices to be made and you will likely be drawn to the big hitters: Joe (Wicks) and Mo (Farah), David Mitchell and Danny Wallace are all there.
So here are my heads up on an alternative top 3:
What Goes On Here with Sam Walker
Sam Walker (BBC Radio 5 Live) has had this long in the waiting. The first season of her podcast “What Goes On Here” is on Apple Podcasts, but when you find her show on Audible Shows there are 4 seasons’ worth. Walker interviews people who have experienced adversity and how they have overcome it for the better. Adversity for her interviewees has come in its wildest forms: drug addiction, incarceration, failing to perform at the Olympics, losing a child are just examples. The key to this series is to hear how each person learned, changed and grew from that moment in their life. It’s heart warming, inspirational and heart breaking all at once.
Sam is a fantastic interviewer, well researched, warm and will ask that question on the tip of your tongue. Well worth a listen.
Sue Perkins presents Zoopedia
Sue Perkins presents shortform (like, 11 minutes shortform) pieces revealing the weird and wonderful things about weird and wonderful animals. This one was a hit with my kids (although you might want to listen first before you play to yours – there is some saucy language/references from time to time).
Sue’s witty narration about the animal in question, be it a Duck Billed Platypus or a Pink Fairy Armadillo, is interspersed with comedy sketches that bring the whole thing to life. Perkins is excellent. The sketches are funny. And you’ll walk away with a knowledge of animals you did not expect. If nothing else it gives me real pleasure to listen to something with my kids, to hear them laughing in the back of the car, and asking for the “Bee one” again and again and again.
Six Degrees of Assasination
One thing I really love about Audible Shows is the audio dramas that are available. I was a big fan of the We’re Alive podcast (now finished) but since then have found it hard to commit to another audio drama – and to know where to find them! Audible Shows will set a bar on quality and for this reason it was easier to commit to Six Degrees.
The whole thing begins with the Prime Minister getting shot at a public engagement and then you follow 2 MI5 agents (played by Freema Agyman and Andrew Scott) solve the case, and they open up a can of worms in the process. I always find audio dramas need a bit of time to get your ear in – this is no different – but once in it’s gripping!
Those three will keep you going for the next few weeks, as Audible builds the content in their app. Based on what I saw in the focus group for Audible Channels in the UK, there are more shows coming to Audible Shows (watch out for “Days That Changed The World” and Naomi Alderman’s “Zombies Run! – The Way of All Flesh”.)
For now I have lined up two that look right up my street: “Where Should We Begin with Esther Perel” and “What Were You Thinking?”. I go to them knowing that the quality will be high, and the storytelling strong – all to fit the Audible brand.
Ever delivered a talk or a workshop and things go awry? My best “awry moment” to date was delivering a workshop at Social Chain in Manchester. The CEO’s dog, Pablo (in pic), decided to start licking my leg. Even when staff got him away from me, he would sidle back and start again. (it wasn’t that gross I promise!)
It proved yet again that nothing can be lost from taking the time to rehearse. The process of practice has so many benefits.
1) You Get Confident With Your Content
Making sure the first time you say something in a meeting, pitch or speech is not the first time you say it out loud, will save you from so many mistakes. Rehearsal allows the muscles in your face to get used to the words, and it trains your brain to start sorting your points in the right order. You are less likely to stutter, say something you didn’t mean to, or get over zealous.
Tip: say it out loud in the car on the way to the meeting or in the shower that morning at least.
2) You Can Make Your Talk Succinct
Practice means you can give your points brevity. The “Rehearse/Edit” process allows you to hear when you are waffling, or when you get boring.
Tip: film yourself and watch it back the next day. You will be able to see immediately if you are saying too many words that have no impact
3) You Won’t Miss A Trick
Confident speakers will tell you they don’t have to rehearse. They know what they are talking about and they can get up and do it. Except these are the guys that when they reflect, think of the great idea that could’ve made their talk better. At least one run through means you get the best out of your content.
Tip: If you’ve not had the idea while running through your talk, film yourself and watch it back. Just like you will see what needed to have been taken away, you’ll also notice what you can add.
4) You Can Cope With A Dog Licking Your Legs
(or your kids walking in in the background, or any unexpected event)
Madonna is renowned for making her dancers rehearse so much so that if something goes wrong (like a cloak no being removed properly) all they have to think about is what’s going wrong, not their moves. Same goes here.
Tip: if you want to get your talk completely memorised you should repeat repeat repeat until you can do something else (like cooking or tapping a rhythm) while saying it out loud.
Pablo. One of the dogs allowed to roam in the offices at Social Chain (and he happens to be the CEOs)
Pablo the dog decided that my legs tasted great, once he started licking, he could not stop. When I moved: he followed, when the staff removed him: he returned, in the end I spent the last 5 minutes of the workshop carrying him in my arms. The work I’d put in to rehearsing the content meant I wasn’t thrown: I was able to incorporate the dog and deliver the workshop.