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.
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’m not funny…” is the number one reason I hear for people trying to avoid standing in front of people and speaking. “I mean I can be funny when I’m with my friends, but I’m not funny on stage…”
There is no doubt about it, being funny is a great tool to connect with people and create a light uplifting enjoyable talk. But… the good news is you don’t have to “be funny”, to “be funny” for your audience.
You see, being funny is never where you start from. Being honest, telling your stories and creating a connection is where you start from. this is the key to engaging an audience. If it’s there, funny comes later.
Interestingly when I coached four of the presenters for the Next Radio Conference in September, only ONE of them stood out as being naturally funny, but ALL FOUR presentations had people laughing.
By using me as a coach for their talks, my clients are able to find the funny lines if they exist. More often than not the jokes appear like bubbles rising to the top once the speech is discussed, designed, written and rehearsed. I’m gonna stick my neck out and say: 90% of making someone laugh is in the delivery of a line. And the reaction of laughter, doesn’t come because you told a joke, it’s a reaction of surprise and familiarity in a story you told.
So rest assured, the pressure of being funny is felt by everyone, being funny isn’t the key to creating an engaging talk, and you will only know if there is funny in your talk once you’ve written it. Use a trusted friend, associate or coach to help you hear what it is you are trying to say, and if the funny stands out they’ll be able to find it for you.
I’ve been saying “Show Don’t Tell” in a lot of my sessions recently. It’s one of the fundamentals in “performing” your content and drawing in your listener.
The ideology I use is taught in novel writing. The lesson is that you give the reader the opportunity to add their imagination to the story. Instead of the author writing “She laughed nervously” – which tells the reader exactly what is going on, the ‘Show Don’t Tell’ version is “Her cheeks flushed as she laughed”.
A good author then allows you, as the reader, the space to put your thoughts and pictures into the book, to read betwen the lines, meaning you’re able to engage with the content at a personal level.
How then does this translate to presenting?
Often it’s how you go about explaining your content.
Imagine you are using an audio clip from an interview. You set it up by giving it context…
“Tom Odell was in yesterday and we asked him what he thought of the Euros…. Here’s what he said” <Play Clip>
At a basic level, you don’t need the “here’s what he said”. It is fine to say:
“Tom Odell was in yesterday and we asked him what he thought of the Euros…<play clip>”
One step further might get you to a more interesting place
“Up next is the new song from Tom Odell – He’s a big football fan, how’s he feeling about the Euros? <PAUSE FOR A BEAT> <Play clip>”
In an “On Stage” context you can also think about how you are using your slides to show what you are talking about rather than telling your audience what you are saying. You and I both know we shouldn’t write up bullet points on the powerpoint word for word, but when we get to it it’s difficult to find images. We’ve all done it: the bullet points find their way back in. Unfortunately it is a sure fire way to get your audience to glaze over.
Of all examples of the “Show Don’t Tell” technique in presenting content, my favourite has to be the first 60 seconds of this.