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Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Lesson 11 of 21

Demo: Conducting a Killer Interview - Part 2

Alex Blumberg

Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Alex Blumberg

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Lesson Info

11. Demo: Conducting a Killer Interview - Part 2

Lesson Info

Demo: Conducting a Killer Interview - Part 2

So you were on your way out, and you think you're going to San Francisco. What happens when you realize your not? He gets a call from this company, and they let him know that his job is not going to be in San Francisco. It's going to be in Sacramento. And how did he get the call? What do you mean? Where were you? I don't even remember all the details. I think I blotted it out of my mind. But, I was like, okay, Sacramento? I don't think there are design firms in Sacramento. So your goal was to sort of go, and part of your new life, the imagined life in California, involved what did you see yourself doing? Well, we imagined that we would buy a Victorian, here in San Francisco, when you could still actually afford one, and he would work where he was working, and I would find work with a design firm. There were alumni who had started design firms, so I thought, well maybe I'll just find work that way, and we'll live happily ever after. And the happily ever after, did that mean,...

what did that mean? That meant you sort of walking to your job, him walking to his job in the morning, or whatever, driving, and were there pets, were there kids in that fantasy? What else did it look like? I think there are eventually children, but I think both of us just wanted a fresh start, from our family circumstances. And interestingly enough, we didn't talk about it too much, what growing up in our family was like, but we knew we shared that history, and we said we're not gonna do that. We're not gonna have, drinking is not gonna be part of our family. Oh, so that was specifically, you guys were specifically, we don't drink? Well we're not gonna become alcoholics. We're not gonna let that happen, because it's so destructive. So yeah, we had conversations about that. We just made a commitment, that wasn't gonna happen. Definitely not, that was horrible. It's caused so much pain and heartache, and financial losses, and so many things come out of it that are horrid. We're not gonna do that. Okay, we're not gonna do that. And, so when you're out at parties and stuff, did you not drink? I would drink, but I would drink a little bit. I never had, I couldn't suffer hangovers very well, I was never good at that. So I never drank that much. And, what I didn't know is, he was traveling a lot, and he was drinking then, a lot. But, when he was in your presence, when he was in your presence he- He kept it together, yeah. So you were out at parties or whatever, and you didn't see him ever get drunk or anything? No, no, well just one time I did, yeah, yeah. That was the last time. Wow. So for like years, you would- Oh we weren't married that long. Oh how long were We were only married for a couple years, yeah. Oh okay, okay. Alright, so, you're out and you're moving to ... Elks Groves? (laughs) So wait, so the call, but this is, where are we in the world? Are cell phones in- No, we don't have them yet. This is before cellphones. No, it's- Do you remember how this news was communicated to him? That the job- It might have been before we left. I don't really remember. I don't, it might have been before we left, and I didn't really ... I though, well how far is Sacramento from San Francisco? I didn't even know. Right. And then, so you get the news though, and then you're, so then you're going to Sacramento. So then talk about Elk. So then you even move beyond Sacramento. What happened? Yeah, so then we settle in, he's got his job, and I realize, oh, well I need to get a sensible job. There's no design firms here. I tried. I looked for them, it's just not happening. I'm gonna have to give this up. And I'm gonna have to go learn about computers. (laughs) Yeah. Why does that make you laugh? Because it was so ridiculous. I had, I just B.S'd my way through this interview. I didn't know anything about computers. And, I got this job at this major computer company. And, it was a culture that was like military, because it was Ross Perot's company. And so we had to wear dresses and skirts, even though it was illegal to force women to do that in California. He did it anyway. And it was the opposite of free thinking art school. And, I was like, oh my God. It was, yeah, memos and things, and ... Alright, back up. So, alright, so just out of curiosity. So there was like, so I wanna, she said a couple things here that I wanna sort of go back to, which is sort of, she talked about, so there's a couple ... I think you can sort of sense, sort of again, with an interview, where like there's some things that are sort of general, and then there's some things that feel vivid. Are you getting that sense? So, and it's the vivid things that we're gonna keep. And it's the general things that we'll edit out, or I would script through, just sort of getting through. So they moved up to California, blah blah blah, and there was this one moment. And, what would be the one moment that I would keep from the move to California, do you think? Of the stuff that she talked about, moving to California. What would be the moment that you would keep? Yeah, go ahead. The trip with the goldfish on the salt flat. Yeah, exactly, right? Anybody else have another? I think that's the one that I remember. There might be one other one. Is there anything else that people remember? When she talked about falling in love with San Francisco, with the flowers and the salad, and the ... Oh yeah, right, exactly. The flowers and the salad, and the goldfish. And those are the moments that stand out, and that's the ones that you would wanna sort of keep. Those are the sort of, these telling details that you wanna do. And then she started to talk over, when I talked about the computers, the getting the job in the computers, that's another turning point, where she has to go back and get this job. There's no design jobs, And then you, this often happens where people will sort of, they free associate in their head, everybody does it. And you just, you start thinking about the computer job. You haven't thought about this stuff probably in a long time, right? No. (laughter) So it's all sort of coming back. And, the memories are a little bit disassociated, and jumbled, and stuff like that, but there was this, but you mentioned, oh, I just B.S.'d my way through the interview, and I'm, wait a minute. So now we're gonna go back, and I wanna get the details about it. So back up. Right. And tell me, so you decide, and a lot of what you're doing in an interview, is sort of resetting, reframing, just sort of, where are we? And now, so I want you to back up, and tell me again. So you, and now I'm trying to remember where I was in the interview. So you're telling me about the decision, so there's no design jobs. No. And, you realize you're gonna have to get a job in computers. Why did you pick computers, before we even get to that job. Okay, so it's like, if you know about computers, you can always get a job. You know, like that. It was sort of this very marketable skillset, that I thought, well I better get it, because what I have is not marketable here. So did you, were you going back to school? Did that mean going back to school? No. So what did that mean? No, actually, they were doing, they realized that a lot of the people trained in Computer Science were having a hard time communicating with their clients, and they needed people who had interpersonal communication skills, and creative problem solving skills, and they were hiring musicians and linguists, and creative problem solvers, because they figured they could train them how to code computers. They could train them around the technology. But, they couldn't train them to be linguists, creative problem solvers, or musicians, or creative thinkers. So, it was an experiment, actually, is what it was. And you saw, it was an ad in the paper or something? It was an ad in the paper, yeah. Before and all that, yeah. And the ad said what? I don't remember, but I just thought, okay well, give this a go. And they were hiring, and ... But it was like, hiring computer programmers, no experience necessary? Kind of. Obviously, I went for it, yeah. Yeah, and I just ... And you said you B.S.'d your way through the interview. I did. What did you do? Do you remember the questions that they asked, and what did you say? I don't know exactly what they asked me, but I just remember that I didn't really care about computers, and I didn't really want the job, but I needed a job. And, I had a mortgage at that point. And i thought, well this is it, this is life, you know? Suck it up. I gotta go make money. And that was it. So I just pressed my feelings down, and just did it. And how long did that last? How long were you in this corporate job world? Too long. Well, I was in it for a while, and then I went to work for disaster relief for the federal government for four and a half years. That was different. And then I went back to the corporate environment after that. Okay. Yeah. And you're married this whole time, or no? No, he's only two years. Okay, so he's only two years. Okay, so I thought he was a bigger part of the story then. No. You can just cut him out. (laughs) We can cut him out. So, how ... Talk about, give me a couple moments. What was one of the moments of, oh talk about Elk Grove. Is that were you were living? Yeah. And you were living there the whole time, even after you divorced your husband? I left after I, and moved back to Sacramento, actually. But I was there long enough to get an impression. (laughs) That that's not what I wanted to do. And then where did you go, I'm gonna sort of fast forward past some of this stuff I think. Get to, okay, so let's ... Tell me about the turning point with your husband. When did, tell me about the moment you realized that you had, what you thought was going on was not going on. He came home drunk, which I hadn't seen him. I'd seen him maybe a little bit buzzed, but not drunk. And, I confronted him about being drunk. What did you say? You're drunk. (laughter) You're drunk. And what did he say? He shoved me. And I got up off the floor and called the police. And that was the end. Wow. Have you talked about that very much? Mm mm. It's hard to remember? Yeah, it was really ugly. Very brave to be up on stage, sharing this story. Well if it happens to somebody else, get up and call the police. Uh huh. Was it surprising to you that he did that? Yeah it was shocking, because he was a big guy, so I flew across the room. Yeah. When you think back about it now, and the emotional part ... What is it that you think that makes it, what is the part of it that's making you cry right now? Is it just the memory of it? The fear of it? It's embarrassing. Yeah. It's embarrassing number of choices that got me there. I didn't think I would do this, but here I am. (laughs) I figured you would. (laughter) Yeah. But, what were the embarrassing choices? I had just determined that I wasn't gonna have that in my life. I wasn't gonna have that kind of nonsense in my life, and lo and behold, that's what I was married to. Everything I swore I would never ever be a part of. Because I saw how destructive it was. Yeah. So it was really hard. And I'd given up so much. I'd given up art. I'd given up living where I wanted to live. I'd given up the career I wanted. And, this is what I got, right? So I was, yeah, it was devastating. Was it, were you in touch with the devastation right away, or was it something that ... Was it something that you sort of realized in that moment, or was it in the aftermath of that moment that you realized all these things? No I knew in that moment, that, if anyone ever laid a hand on me, that would be the end. So, I didn't have any reservations, thank you. And then, the police came in. I remember sitting, I was just sitting on the bed with the policeman, and he said, "You know you love him. Let him back in the house." (gasps) Because they didn't want to arrest him and do the paperwork. Wow. I don't know what to say. Yeah, wow. So they let him back in the house. Oh really? Yeah, yeah. And I was scared. Because I didn't know, okay well obviously that didn't deter any behavior. So, yeah. I hope if I tell this story that, if it's happening to people they'll know not to tolerate it. Yeah. So anyway, I had made that choice ahead of time, that if that ever happened, no way. No way Jose, we're done. So, I had that resolve. But, then it was really hard. It was really hard. Yeah, so then what did you ... So he came back in the house, and then you had to ... Was it that moment you were sort of making plans to leave, basically? Yeah, I had to figure out, because this isn't working. And at that point I had actually quit my cubicle job, and I was looking for another one, so I had no job. And, I soon found out afterwards that he had spent, he had taken credit cards out in our name, and had spent us into oblivion. He had them sent to a separate PO box. So I had no job, and I had no money. And I had nowhere to go. Oh, wow. So, my family had no sympathy for the situation, because it's normal for them. So, that's when I went to work, ironically, for disaster relief. (laughter) Ah, yeah. Did the disaster ... So you took a job, so this was just to get money, basically. Well, I could get a ... I would get a car. I would have a place to stay. It would be in a disaster area, but it would be a place to stay. (laughs) And a per diem. And, it was relatively good pay. And if i wanted to work overtime, and save money I could do that. So I did. So, in disaster relief, what does that mean? What was your job? I go to disaster areas. The first one was an earthquake. And I went to Hurricane Iniki for the ... Hurricanes, riots, fires, disasters. And I'd go and help small business owners and individuals get disaster relief loans. And I would, I worked with disaster victims, and then I got moved up into management quickly. So I'd manage people who would help people who were ... We had to do it quickly, obviously. So, took my mind off my own story. (laughs) That's so, it's almost like it's hard to believe, that that was, like it's, it's so weirdly poetic or ironic or something, that that was the first job that you took. And that it was ... How soon, what was the timing there? So- Immediately. I just wanted to get out of the house immediately, and I wanted to get away from him. Physically far away. So that took me physically far away, and far away from the house and, yeah. So it served a lot of purposes. Right. And it happened immediately. You mean the next day, the next week? No, it was in the next couple weeks I got the job. And I was out of there. And they were like, when can you start? And you were like, now. Now. I'll start right now. And then they also said, if there's a disaster, you need to be ready to go. You need to be prepared to be mobilized within 48 hours. Will you agree to that? I'm like, yes. Could you do faster. What's that, yeah, do it faster. (laughs) Yeah, wow, wow. I wonder if having gone through that experience that you had gone through, and then you're ... You were just coming out of this crisis, Yeah. and dealing with people in crisis, did it make you better at that job? I never really thought about it, but, everyone's, suffering is kind of a relative thing. That's one thing that I learned. I wanted to make art and make money. Well that's kind of a problem of privilege. Privilege problem. I'm not trying to outrun the Taliban, or dodge bullets, so, I think it was good for that. And then I saw, there were disaster victims who were so full of grace and acceptance, and they were just happy that their family was okay, and that their health, you know. And then there were others who, and not very many, who, they had a crack in their tile, so they would be sobbing, and ... So, and I witnessed this whole cross-section of small business owners and individuals that, all their different stories, and their life story, and their personalities, and their businesses, all across the United States and Hawaii. So it was a really interesting perspective to have. It was sort of a survey of different ways people respond to- Crisis, exactly. It was a, one after the other, and meeting with someone, responding to their crisis. And, they were all different. All different, and it didn't matter that it was a hurricane, or a riot, or you know. It was just, yeah, I never thought about it that way. That it was an interesting survey. And do you think it helped you deal with your crisis? Seeing, here's all these different ways, and here's all the ways that people are doing it, and do you think you thought about, did you apply it to your own life in a certain way, or not really. I can't say I was evolved enough to say that, oh yeah. I was just trying to get through 14 hour workdays, and build back my credit, and save some money. So I wasn't having deep thoughts, I don't think I could say that. Right. That, by the way, was just a ... That last question that I asked, of sort of, was this, did that experience impact this experience, that was sort of a flyer question, where I was like, it's probably not true. So don't think, you said, "I wasn't evolved enough." The chances that you would say yes to this are 10%, but if you did say yes, that would be really interesting and fun, right? So that was sort of one of those, sometimes every once in a while I, well, I wonder if that was the case. Ooh, alright. This has taken an unexpected turn.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Join Alex Blumberg, award-winning reporter and producer for This American Life and co-host of NPR’s Planet Money, for Power Your Podcast with Storytelling, and learn podcast tips on how to tell powerful, memorable stories through audio.

Storytelling is in our DNA – integrating its principles into a podcast not only helps you tell better stories, it allows you to authentically and emotionally connect with your audience. In this class, you will learn the unique approach to interviewing and story composition, which has made This American Life a fan favorite on public radio stations across the country. Alex will share production techniques you can use to create a multi-layered sensory experience and share tips for standing out in the ever-growing field of podcasts. You’ll learn: 

  • How to develop your narrative instincts
  • How to prepare for an interview to get the best answers
  • The elements of a good story

Alex will teach you how to create a “driveway moment” — that experience when the story is so good, it makes the audience pause what they are doing just to listen through to the end.

Whether you already produce a successful podcast, are a creative entrepreneur looking for a new marketing method, or just a public radio-loving audiophile – this class will help you tell better stories.


Matt James Smith

The best storytelling resource I've come across bar none. I've read all the books, paid for all the online courses, listened to all the podcasts but for me none have been anywhere near as useful, engaging, moving, fun and outright inspiring as this course. If you're trying to tell stories with factual material, whatever your medium, this is as good as it gets. Regarding those reviewers saying it was haphazard and underprepared - huh? He doesn't offer strict formulas and perfectly structured, detailed approaches, but that's because he's the real deal. Those things only exist for snake-oil-merchant online "story gurus" who charge through the nose for "the perfect strategy" (*cough* Patrick Moreau *cough*). Alex offers what he can of tricks and formulae, but where it's about experience and gut feelings, he's honest. Thank god. Superb.

Gregory Lawson

This class is great on multiple levels. Are you interested in interviewing? There are great tips and techniques. Interested in Storytelling? Great insights into the basic structures and tools to test how compelling your story idea is. Interested in podcasting? Great tips and ideas here too... Alex is a seasoned pro, has an easy, approachable style and allows his class (and you) time to really consider and work through the concepts. Excellent all the way around!