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.
“Be bigger with your arms” I said as my client was trying out her performance.
She moved her hands up with her elbows almost stuck to her sides.
“No bigger” hoping that she would open up her arms wide
She moved her hands out to the side and kept her elbows glued to her sides.
“Ha! Bigger than that – hold your arms to the side”
She started laughing, feeling the vulnerability, but she raised her arms and spoke her line and that was when she became the leader she should be.
Whether you are on stage, on screen or on air – the performance space shrinks you.
I always tell my clients that in the performance space you need to be vintage you plus 10% or more if you’ve got it.
That means you need to be a tiny bit bigger, louder, more vibrant than you are on a Friday night. And keeping that energy up throughout your performance is tough.
As a presenter you are like the ringmaster – your energy can change the room, and people always remember how you make them feel.
Here are my 5 tips to keeping up your energy:
Use Your Body
Just like your brain can send messages to your body, your body can do the same to your brain, and most importantly your mouth!
I was working with a presenter who, when I said “what can you do to build your energy here?” said “well I could stand up…”.
Sit forward or stand up – your body will tell your brain to be more urgent and active, and in turn, you will have greater charisma and energy. Even if you are on the radio, be expressive with your arms and your face as this will increase your “follow the leader” vibe (eg your audience will want to come with you).
It might be that before you start speaking you do your Wonder Woman Pose, or get big, or even get your heart rate up by jumping up and down. You’ll be surprised how your vocal tone follows.
2.Use Your Voice
Your voice will give your energy away. I used to hear Mr C on the radio in the early days and I could hear when he was tired!
I think we can agree that low and monotonous vocal tone sounds very boring and will lose your audience. When you are tired your mouth also stops pronouncing your words – as if your lips get lazy!
Asking presenters to put more energy into their work means they can stumble on the following trip-ups. The first is talking too fast. More energy means more energy – not to talk like a Duracell Bunny! So remember to stay well paced. The second is that you end up just shouting. And probably monotonously.
The best for vocal tone is to remember your voice has a lot of pitches or tones within it and you can use them all in your presentation. Initially try starting sentences with emphasis and high pitched and then working “down the stairs” as you finish the sentence.
3. It Should Feel Corny
Whenever I ask presenters to be “grander” in their presentation, they find themselves feeling like they are using “obvious” language, and they feel really corny in their delivery.
I want you to consider 2 things.
Firstly – the obvious is there for a reason. Opening your best man’s speech with a well delivered “Ladies and Gentlemen” is a well trodden path for a reason: it works.
Secondly – getting comfortable with cliche is the first step to finding your own voice. Sometimes you have to open the door to the the cringe, to find what’s the other side. If you refuse to be cliche or a bit cringe from time to time, you are unlikely to find your own true voice. Treat it as part of the process.
4. You Don’t Know There Till You Go There
Rehearsal is the space where you discover your style. Use rehearsal time to try new things, and the things you are afraid of.
If you are terrified of moving your arms from your waist then try rehearsing with your hands above your head. If you are feeling shy, rehearse your talk by acting out “being really confident”, you’ll be surprised what you find.
These are my favourite moments of any of my presentation courses – the moment where a client finds their power and their energy. It’s a truly amazing moment when they let out the giggle of vulnerability, and then go for it. It’s like they light up! This moment never happens in an unprepared performance. It only happens when you push through some of your worries in your rehearsal time.
5. Prepare and Protect Your Energy
Performing can be tiring for some people. I know that when I am booked to do a talk, or when I am recording my podcast, not only do I ensure that I am eating and exercising well in the build up, I also make sure I book in some down time afterwards.
I learned this from one of the presenters I worked with at the BBC. I noticed they were deliberately booking in their rest time after any performance. They were one of the most consistent presenters I have worked with.
Another radio presenter I work with acknowledged that the quick drink after work on a Friday was affecting their Saturday performance and they were frustrated by that. They got sick of walking out of the studio feeling like they’d not been entirely on their game. They felt like they let their listener down
Your audience needs you on your A-Game. In fact they need for you to generate the energy they are lacking, through your energetic performance! Make caring for your energy levels a habit.
Ever had that feeling that your point is just not being heard?
Once a week Mr.C, the kids and I go for “Family Breakfast”. This week my son needed to do his maths homework while we were waiting for food to arrive. His head was in maths when my husband said: “Mate, we have got to sort out your handwriting”.
(For context – his teachers over the last year or so have said this is something he could do with working on)
The 11-year-old immediately went on the defensive and the usual bickering then ensued.
The outcome? Our son won’t be changing his handwriting any time soon. My husband is frustrated that yet again he’s not been heard. And in a few weeks time, the same thing will happen again. In short – no one benefits and nothing changes.
Getting someone to buy into your point is something we have to do every day, whether you are on air, on screen, on stage, in a meeting, or just trying to get the other half to empty the bins.
And this one technique never fails: start by acknowledging your audience’s reality.
You know yourself that no one is going to change your mind about anything if they start talking to you while your head is in something else. And if you’re anything like me, my head is constantly in something.
Acknowledging the reality of the person you’re talking to allows their brain to come to you before you start getting into what it is you want to ask of them.
So if my husband had taken this tack:
“Is that your maths homework? How are you getting on with it?”
He would have engaged our son immediately. And after listening he may have been able to weave the conversation to something like:
“You know your teachers were talking about you improving your handwriting? Have you been working on it at all?”
“It’s just I can’t help but notice that you’re still struggling to get it neat – is there anything we can do to help it get better?”
Yes, it takes a little longer, but it has great results.
I had a builder that wasn’t answering my calls once, we had discovered a leak as a result of some work he had done, and I needed it fixing. He wasn’t returning my calls, and then I left this message:
“Hi. I know you’re likely to be super busy and the last thing you want is this old work to come back to haunt you, so if you could give me a call we can get it off your plate and out your hair as soon as possible”
He called me before the end of the day.
On stage you often see comedians start their sets by commenting on the location, whether that be the room itself or whether that be the town.
You can do the same in your presentation with something called a “Yes Set”. This is a simple technique that encourages the audience to agree with you too.
“I know you want to get home on time today”
Audience brain: “yes”
“And that you have seen a lot of people today”
Audience brain: “yes”
“So let me get straight to the point…”
Audience brain “yes”
The challenge is that you can’t see what your audience is doing, so really you are guessing as to their reality at the moment they are listening!
Sometimes it’s safe to assume. Often acknowledging your listeners’ reality is in capturing the time of day and the sense of the day. Saying hello and letting them know where they are, also acknowledges that that is their reality (eg “this is station FM / the pod podcast”).
Taking the time to introduce a topic with the listener experience is a clear way to ensure you are acknowledging their reality.
Rather than saying “There is a survey this morning that says meat is bad for you, so we have an expert here to talk about the challenge of getting people to stop eating it”
You might say “Imagine you are happily tucking into your favorite food, for someone to tell you that it’s significantly worse for you – would that stop you from eating it?”
In the alternative music stations I worked at, it wasn’t the “done thing” to admit this – but if you’ve ever been to a Coldplay gig, you’ll just know. In fact on New Year’s Eve my husband and I found ourselves glued to their gig on the telly recounting just how good they were when we went to see them in Manchester the year before.
Why do I like Coldplay?
Well because they “speak to me”… (no really)
Take the lyrics to “Fix You” :
“If you try your best, and you don’t succeeeeeed”
Well, actually, yes I have tried my best a million times and I haven’t succeeded! How did they know I failed at so many things?
“If you get what you want, but not what you neeeeeed”
Well, actually, yes I know what this is. I remember the time Mr C and I decided that he should work away from home because it was a great opportunity and we wanted him to do it, but then it played havoc with the needs of our relationship… How did Coldplay know I felt like that?!
Coldplay songs use language the same way that politicians and horoscopes use language. It’s “Chunked Up”.
The power of chunked up language is that the people listening to it can add their own conclusion. When Trump promised to “Make America Great Again” those followers can add their own opinions to that. When Obama said “Yes We Can” those followers could will whatever change they believed in.
In short, using language in this way is highly influential and powerful.
The language may appeal to many but the source is in the personal. When you feel something, or think something, or observe something human you can almost guarantee that there is a universal emotion or experience in it.
For example: like when I put a pair of socks in the washing machine, no matter how many times I think I’ve nailed it: only one comes out! Where does it go??
In presenting to a group of people I might say: “You know that moment you can’t find the other sock?!” – this is open enough for them to engage their own experience but it is based in my one experience.
You can keep chunking up though until you reach: “If you try your best, but you don’t succeed” 🙂
So you can use this sort of language to engage people on a larger level and to create your powerful message. However, when you are in a one to one situation and you are listening in an interview, or coaching, situation these chunked up lines are the ones to challenge.
They may come out like this: “Everyone thinks that Brexit is a bad idea”
The reply question might be “Who is ‘everyone’?”
Or “Research says that people cannot survive in this environment”
The reply might be “what research is that?” Or “what is it about that environment specifically?”
Or when your boss says: “We need to own the patch”
The reply might be “what does that look or sound like?”
The coolest thing ever about chunking up is that in a disagreement if you keep chunking up the ideas and the intent (not just the language) you will find that quite often you agree with each other. Then it is about finding the way to work out the route to getting the results you want.
So, use chunking up, and listen out for it, as it will help you gain clarity and followers! And also, Coldplay, yes?
Reviews used to solely be the rulers of the Theatre, Movies and Restaurants, with the “reviewers” in the newspapers given the credit of expert holding the success of their reviewees in the tip of their pens. In the 90s characters like actor Joey Tribbiani (yes, from Friends) were seen marching the streets of New York at 1 am, desperate to read the review of his play except: “Joey Tribbiani was able to achieve brilliant new levels of…. Sucking!”
These days everyone can review anything. And in the podcast world, those reviews are (currently) vital to the algorithm that helps the new audience find your podcast.
The issue is that to get people to review your podcast you have to ask them to. And that feels weird. It’s not in our nature to demand things for ourselves. It turns out though, you really can be quite demanding before someone will get mad at you! So after 4 months of asking nay BEGGING for reviews, I managed to learn and observe a few things to get it to work better:
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask – And Keep Asking
When you work in commercial radio you become accustomed to repeating your message – especially the more sales type ones. The idea being that not everyone is listening all the time to the linear broadcast format, and repetition means your audience remembers what they have heard. As a programmer I often winced at the number of times we would run premium text competitions in one day – but the audience would never fail to take part and the more we said it… the more money we would make (I know, makes you want to puke right?!)
So how often should you ask for reviews?
The answer – every episode. Oh, wait no, that’s not true.
Everyday Positivity is daily, and it usually only runs for up to 2 minutes. We recognised that we needed more reviews to get the Flash Briefing in front of more people. Every day asking for reviews, with a sell that sometimes ran to 60 seconds worth of instructions. The reviews went rocketing up and we started to grow the audience.
Then the inevitable happened:
Through reading the reviews I discovered that the repetition and lengthy way of asking for the reviews was not going down well with the audience:
“This is about 50% positivity and 50% fishing for reviews. Annoying.”
The solution has been to drop to 1 review request every 4 days and to keep it sharp. This means we are getting a steady flow of reviews, and (when I just checked while writing this) the number of irritated reviews has dropped off.
So context matters – if you do a weekly 30-minute podcast, a 1-minute review request is pretty harmless every episode. Every day for 2 minutes – a lighter less frequent review request works better.
2.What’s In It For Them
I have heard some podcasts give random prizes for reviews and I’ve seen articles about how that doesn’t work for the audience. Again I think it depends on your podcast and your audience as to whether this type of incentivisation works.
What is essential is that your “why” should be clear. Communicate your intent. I want everyone to know about Everyday Positivity because I want to help as many people as I can. So I say that when I talk about the reviews. “Leave a review and together we can make the world more positive”
Why should they review your podcast? Are they part of something if they do? What is the impact of their review?
3. Read Some Out
This week I started reading out reviews. It’s the social proof that your listeners need to know that this is what other people do too. They aren’t “weird” for doing it
I recently sampled The Property Podcast who did their review request about two thirds in. In reading the reviews they not only told other listeners that their podcast was great, they also sounded like they were talking to their audience by answering any questions that came up.
Oh and their line which I thought was nice: “Thanks to your reviews, we remain the most popular property podcast”
4. Give a strong call to action
Reviews aren’t easy to do. They may be easy to click through, but your listener is only going to want to go through it if they have absolutely nothing better to do. (See “Why”)
So make it as clear and easy as possible, and from time to time put the directions on how to review in there too.
5. Make It Fun
The Eggchasers Rugby Podcast (highly popular Rugby Podcast) will use their reviews as an opportunity for their listeners to be funny. They read out and encourage the listeners that leave a 5-star review and tongue in cheek joke about how awful the podcast is! This causes fun and hilarity all-round.
I’ve not worked out how to do this for my short form pod yet but I always think about how creative it is and think about how I can make the reviews read more fun.
My favourite thing about getting reviews is that you can really hone your podcast. It encourages you to try and so you do a bit, and then get some feedback, and if you use that feedback wisely you can streamline your podcast into a really bright, marvellous programme with a growing active audience.
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!