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Interview Advice from Larry King

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Recently, Chris Hardwick of Nerdist interviewed someone who many consider to be the greatest interviewer of all time – Larry King. As a long time listener of this podcast, I can say that this is a departure for the normal Nerdist guest, but the conversation was amazing. Larry King talked a lot about his interviewing techniques, which can be extremely helpful for those of you who are also doing interviews, either on your podcast or on your blog (or even on video for that matter).

Check out the podcast, available now on the Nerdist website or on iTunes (show released on 10/15/12).

Here were some of my favorite quotes:

 

“One thing I’ve learned in the history of broadcasting (podcasting, whatever) is there are no rules.”

“I learned the secret of broadcasting, which is there’s no secret. Just be yourself. […] I never lie to the audience. You tell the audience the truth. You got a cold? Say you got a cold. Alright. You sneeze? ‘I just sneezed.’ It ain’t brain surgery.”

“I’m fascinated by the Q&A. I leave myself out of it. I never use the word I. My questions are short, usually one sentence, sometimes two. If it’s three sentences, it’s too long. […] That’s why I don’t like a lot of what I see on the air today, is these guys on the air are interviewing themselves. They just talk about the guest as a prop. The guest was never a prop to me. The guest is important to me. The reason for the show is why the guest is there. I’m the host. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“When you have confidence, when the interview subject has confidence in the interviewer, you can go anywhere with them. You’re not a threat.”

“I don’t think there’s an inherent need to talk about your personal life, but I never met anyone who didn’t want to talk about what they do.”

“I have many opinions. I’m very political. I have opinions on a myriad of things. But I leave it at the door. I leave my ego outside the door. I have a healthy ego. I know I’ve been successful. I know I’m good at what I do. But when I’m on the air, my role is not what Larry King thinks. It’s what the guest thinks. And then I’m a conduit. I ask good questions, the guest through me comes to the audience and the audience makes up their own opinion. I’m able to do that. I don’t like everyone I’ve interviewed, but I do the best I can to learn the most I can about them.”

“When you start learning, you might as well die. I don’t know everything.”

Check out the entire podcast for more great gems from Larry King to help you be a better interviewer.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

How to Prepare for Your First Recorded Interview

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microphone Blogging allows you to become an authority in your niche, and as you grow in popularity, you may get interview requests. Email interviews are pretty easy. You can go back in and edit your answers until it readers perfectly. Recorded interviews are a completely different game, though. You have to give answers off the cuff, and if you say something silly, you can’t really go back and reword it.

I’m an introvert, so video or podcast interviews make me a little nervous. Okay, a lot nervous! Yet I still jump at the chance to do them because they are fabulous for promoting your blog and getting your name out there. Over the years, I’ve developed a few techniques to help me prepare for interviews so they go as smoothly as possible.

Even if you’re not intimidated by being on camera or recording a podcast with someone, preparing can really help you give a much better interview. If your interviews are scattered and rambling, you’ll be less likely to get invited to do them in the future.

Here are my best tips:

  • Do some research on the person interviewing you.

If you’re the interviewer, you need to do tons of research on the person you’re interviewing in order to ask the right questions. But if you’re the interviewee, you should do some research as well. Get to know the person who will be interviewing you to find out about their style. Will the interview be causal and fun? Will it be more formal? Who have they interviewed in the past? Watch/listen to older interviews when possible so you have a little insight as to what yours will be like.

  • Ask for questions in advance.

You can be best prepared to answer questions when you have some time to think about them. The nature of a recorded interview means that follow-up questions will pop up, but get as many questions as possible in advance.

  • Write down the points you want to cover.

Once you have the questions, go over each one and write down the points you want to cover regarding them. You don’t want to sound scripted, but you also don’t want to forget to mention certain points. It’s easy to get flustered or so excited talking about a certain topic that you forget where you were going with your response. Having a few notes in front of you helps avoid rambling and missed opportunities.

  • Open all links in relevant tabs before the interview.

What are you going to be talking about during the interview? Think about all of the websites, projects, businesses, etc. that you’re going to reference during the interview and have any relevant links open in a new tab. During the interview, it’s easy to forget the name of that cool blogger you wanted to mention or the URL of a certain tool you recommend. Don’t kick yourself for forgetting or being unable to answer follow up questions.

  • Get a good mic.

Bad sound can kill an interview. If the sound quality is poor, people won’t listen to or watch your interview, so having a good mic is important. Luckily, good doesn’t have to mean expensive. If you’re going to do tons of interviews or start your own podcast, go for the highest quality mic you can afford. But if you’re just doing occasional interviews, an inexpensive mic works just fine as long as you don’t sound fuzzy or cut out as you’re giving answers.

  • Make sure you have a secluded, quiet space and a undisturbed block of time set aside for the interview.

Get your kids out of the house for an hour. Shut the windows to block out traffic, dogs, and other noise outside of your control. Turn off your phone. These all seem like simple things, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t do them!

  • Breathe, smile, and speak slowly.

Most people, myself included, have a tendency to speak very quickly when they are nervous. Be conscious of this so you slow down when you’re speaking. It’s okay to say, “Hm…let me think…” and speak slowly if you’re surprised by a follow up question and not sure off the top of your head how to answer it. People don’t need you to rush, and they definitely need to understand you. This is especially important if you have an accent.

If you’re nervous, acknowledge it to yourself and remember that most people won’t notice the little mistakes. You’re being interviewed because you know your stuff and your opinion is respected, so don’t worry too much. You’ll be fine.

After all, if I can do it, anyone can do it!

How Improv Can Improve a Podcast (Or Destroy It)

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Right now you’re looking at the picture I’ve chosen to accompany this article and you’re likely wondering if I’m about to suggest you start getting up on stage at an improv comedy club. I’m not—unless you’re into the idea.

No, this is about the fine art of improvisation, the art of thinking on your feet and coming up with new, usable ideas on the fly. This is about being knowledgeable in your niche or topic and being able to speak on your podcast without a script. Improv can make your show… or it could break it. Here’s how.

The case for improvisation

Last year I interviewed Kim Ann Curtin for an episode of my Inside Internet Marketing show. Whereas all of my other shows are mostly unscripted, this series required me to come up with a list of questions or topics beforehand because it’s an interview format. You can’t go into an interview not knowing what you’re going to ask… can you?

Sure you can!

Cupcake

One of the things that Kim teaches is listening and interaction—how to really listen and use what you learn in a conversation to propel the conversation. Too often we just nod along with whatever someone is saying because we are thinking ahead about the next thing we want to say. Unbeknownst to Kim, I had nothing to ask her during the interview.

I started the episode pretty much the standard way. I introduced myself, read a pre-scripted bio to introduce Kim, and then mentioned the first time she and I met (she gave me a cupcake; very memorable). I then asked the only question I had to ask: who are you, Kim Ann Curtin? For the next 23 or so minutes, I listened intently to what she said and responded with questions that built on what she was talking about.

That turned out to be one of the best interviews I’ve ever done. It wasn’t because she was dropping bombshells all over the place or jumping on the sofa like a lunatic, but because we were so engaged that the flow, pace and content all lined up to create a great interview. After we ended the show and stopped recording, I told her what I had done and she was blown away that I would try something like that.

The lesson here? If you’re comfortable with listening, you don’t need to read from a scripted list of questions. You might not end up in the same place as you would with a script, and you might even go on tangents that you didn’t mean to, but if you are engaged with your guest, you will have a better show than if you nod your head with whatever your guest is saying while you’re queuing up the next question in your head.

The case against improvisation

Okay, raise your hand if you think that I was crazy for attempting that. That interview could have gone completely off the rails, right? What if Kim had been dull or if she was the kind of interviewee that reminds you of pulling teeth trying to get them to open up? We’ve all had conversations in our lives that just don’t really go anywhere, right? Going into an interview cold can be dangerous, it’s true.

Even worse though, is when you are so comfortable with your subject that you don’t think about what you’re saying as you’re saying it. Like I said earlier, almost all of my other shows have been completely unscripted. My Zap! co-host, Greg Hoffman, was my guest on another recent episode of Inside Internet Marketing. This particular episode wasn’t an interview, it was a recap of an industry event that he and I both attended the week prior.

Flames

We recorded the episode and I thought nothing of it. I posted it… and was greeted by several comments that I found odd. Things like “were we at the same conference?” that turned into quite a kerfuffle. I went back and listened to the show and carefully read the comments that I was getting. We were accused of being overly negative about the event—an event which everyone else thought was quite extraordinary. The thing is… they were right.

Greg and I had both been to several of these events in the past, and were very comfortable with them and with the people that organize and attend. We were too comfortable. As the host of the show, it is my job to make sure that the show stays balanced, informative and entertaining. That is, in fact, the only job I have! The episode was unscripted, we were two guys who were very close to the subject matter and it shows. Have you ever done something like that? It’s like when you go to visit a relative and you have a great time, but later on you’re talking with your spouse and you say “dinner was great, but did you see the living room? It was really messy!” In our case, we spent too much time talking about how the living room was messy and not enough about how great the dinner was… so to speak.

This is an example of improvisation completely destroying a show. Had we planned things out beforehand, we would have seen that the tone was too negative and that we needed to balance things out.

So, what then?

I’ve been more attentive lately, that’s for sure. I still believe in the power of improv because when it works, it’s awesome. For interviews and recaps of events, I am much more likely to have a list of questions or points to refer to. If I find that my show is starting to slide, I can bring it back or balance it out far more easily if I have some reference material.

Improvisation and spontaneity can be powerful, but like most tools in your toolbox, it can really hurt if you don’t use it properly.

Thanks for reading!

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How to Look Stupid when Interviewing Celebrities

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If you run an entertainment blog, scoring a celebrity interview is actually easier than you think – most of the time, you just have to ask. While A-listers may not respond, in almost every niche, there are moderately successful people in the entertainment industry who would love to talk to you. Writers, small-role actors, costume designers, and other people who are important to a film aren’t typically asked for an interview, while stars are inundated with requests.

This isn’t a post about getting interviews, though. That part isn’t actually hard, as long as you continually send out requests. What is hard – at least for some people – is the actual interview. Interviewing in and of itself is not difficult, but most people were never taught these skills while in school. Sadly, most people have interviewing skills that rival my snowboarding skills. That’s only a good thing if you like to fall on your face a lot.

It’s a problem, because most people don’t realize what they’re doing wrong. They have no idea that they just totally bombed. I’m guessing that many celebs walk away from interviews shaking their heads. You don’t have to necessarily work in the entertainment industry to make these mistakes, either. Here are the quickest ways to look stupid when interviewing a celebrity, whether that celebrity is a famous actress or just someone well-known in your niche:

  • Don’t do your research.

Interviews are comprised of questions and answers, but that doesn’t mean you should go into the interview without knowing a thing about the celebrity. Do some homework so that you can hold a conversation with the person and build new questions off of their original answers.

  • Try to be James Lipton.

Inside the Actors Studio has a formula that works. The host, James Lipton starts at the beginning, and allows the celebrity to talk about their past through answering questions. If you go into an interview asking questions that can easily be answered by looking at the celebrity’s wikipedia page, you’re just going to look stupid. You can ask basic questions to set the stage, but go deeper than factual information about a person’s past.

  • Don’t pretend to know everything.

Sometimes, a celebrity is going to mention a project that you haven’t read about in your research. That’s ok! Do enough to be confident in what you do know, but don’t try to pretend you know something when you don’t. The celebrity might be giving you the scoop on something, and you’ll look like an idiot if you pretend you know what’s going on. Even if it is something you could have researched before the interview, don’t pretend you know about it if you don’t. Use your lack of knowledge as a jumping off point in the interview to ask questions about the project.

  • Be late (coming or going).

It’s pretty disrespectful to show up late to an interview, but it is just as disrespectful to run over the time you’ve quoted. If you ask for a twenty-minute interview, keep it to twenty minutes. Even if you’re having a good time talking with one another, keep in mind that your guest likely has other things going on with the day. If you’re really enjoying your time, wrap up the interview at a spot where you could end, and then invite the guest to stay longer, without pressure.

What are some of the other ways you can look stupid during an interview? List your tips in the comment section below!

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. She thinks James Lipton is a sexy beast.

Image: sxc.hu

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