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Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Lesson 8 of 21

Mapping Out the Interview - Part 1

Alex Blumberg

Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Alex Blumberg

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Lesson Info

8. Mapping Out the Interview - Part 1

Lesson Info

Mapping Out the Interview - Part 1

So what now what we would do is, we would go and I would want to sort of like, walk through sort of like what are some key moments, and like right now we don't know, so the first thing that we wanted to do is we wanted to determine our story formula about Anne. And the ultimate story that we're gonna tell about her let's say, well we don't know what the ultimate form is gonna take so let's just go from the beginning. We're going to tell the story of her life. But the story formula is, let's go with that, one that we came up with was, this is a story about Anne who, and it's interesting because she made a lot of money by leaving her corporate job and becoming an artist. So right away it's pretty interesting. Counterintuitive, I wanna hear that story. It's interesting, right? She left the job where you're supposed to make money, she went to the job where you're not supposed to make money, and that's what turned things around for her. Okay so that's one good story formula. Are there are o...

ther story formulas, that you think, if anyone wants to take a crack at this, we're doing a story about Anne, we're doing a story about an artist named Anne, we're doing a story about somebody who used to live in suburbia named Anne, whatever, however you want to start it. But is there another frame that we can throw around the story before we just, sort of like, go with that one? Anybody have any thoughts? Don't be shy. Yeah? A housewife turned entrepreneur? Formula, give me the formula, we're doing a story about. Okay so, we're doing a story about a former housewife? No, she had a job. A former suburbanite. Oh, sorry I misheard that. Okay so doing a story about a former surburban wife, worker, person, I don't know. We were a young married couple and we were going to go do the formula of a house and 2.5 children. I thought that was the formula for happiness so that's what I was. That's where my head was invested. So I guess like a story about a woman that had like a very kind of planned out life, and it's interesting because her plan changed and. You got lost, but that's good. No, no, that's good, that was a really good try. I keep bumping into stuff. I've been clanging around the stage like a brontosaurus. (laughter) That's good, that's not necessarily the most interesting, when you got in the middle of it I think you were realizing, like it's interesting because her life changed doesn't give you enough to hold on to, right? It could be interesting but we need to know what the change is, right? There's a way, part of this is just like a little bit of jiu jitsu, coming up with the right x,y formula is like coming up with an interesting forward promote. It's like coming up with, stay tuned because, you know, this unexpected twist. You're not gonna believe what you hear next, it's sort of the same type of thing. You're just trying to hook people with the story, with the unexpected twist and that should be the why. So that's a lot of what this is and that's why I immediately like the one where she left her corporate job to make money in art. Which just sort of sets you up, it creates a little question and you're set up to hear whatever you're going to hear. But go ahead, give it another shot. To take it a little further, this is a story about a woman who thought she had one formula for happiness but then found another. You know, so she. Well, but you didn't do it in the formula. This is a story about. And it's interesting because she found a different formula. Right, but then it's sort of mushy too. It's interesting because she found a different formula. Well I'm not sure, is different by itself interesting? You know what I mean? And I feel like we're going to come back to this, you know in the next session so this is something that I think we all want to practice. But this is what I'm talking about, it's like once you get it right in your head and you know what you're going for it makes everything else follow so much easier. But yeah, keep going, yeah. Well, maybe to build on yours, so a story about a woman who thought she had a formula for happiness but she ended up having to get divorced in order to find happiness Alright, we're getting there. Is that true? I had to get divorced because he was a closet alcoholic and he spent us into oblivion. But that doesn't fit into our neat little story. (laughter) That's the truth, that's what happened. But getting divorced enabled her to ultimately find what actually made her happy. Is that true? Man, uh, getting divorced is not what made me happy. I had to go on a pretty long journey to figure things out and there was a couple turning points that allowed me to do that. Alright, we're going to do one more and then I think I want to move on because basically again, all we need is sort of an x and y to get the story moving and we can take it wherever it goes but I feel like the x and y is sort of the thing you use in the beginning to motivate the story. I'm good with she left her job in the corporate world to strike it rich as an artist, that's the one to beat so do we have a contender to beat that? Susie, go ahead. Similar only different, it's a story about someone who ditched everything to become an artist and it's interesting because instead of starving she fulfilled herself. Hey, there we go, that's good, that works. Yup, go ahead. (unintelligible) Yeah, do it, do it. So this is a story about happiness and it's interesting because the secret to happiness can come from desperation. That can work, that can work too, okay. So these are the two x and y's. That's good. Story about happiness it's interesting because gah, it takes so long to write, this is fascinating TV. (laughter) Hello everybody, I have another sentence to write. It's interesting because, what did you say? Oh yeah it can come from desperation. Can come from desperation. Is there a volunteer who can write down the next one? That way I can get back to keeping things moving? Anyone else wanna come up on stage and write them down? Sure, come on up. Alright, then the other one. While we're doing that, while we're getting a writer up there I have a question that came up that I think would be good to touch on now as we're going through this exercise. We have a viewer who wants to know, how do you draw the line between the pre-interview and the interview to keep the emotionally evocative force in the actual interview? Well that's what I'm saying like, you don't wanna blow it all in the pre-interview. Absolutely, this would be like, at this point you wouldn't be here, you would be gone, we would be off the phone, I would've been like yes this is great, this is gonna be a great story, she's a great character, it's a really interesting talking to her and she's got a lot of stuff to talk about and a lot of insight to offer and I'm ready to go through the work of putting together the interview questions. So that's what I would be doing right now. Can you stay up on stage and talk and write? Can you be the writer? Yeah. Yeah? That's be awesome, awesome. That's great. So the other story arc, so that was story arc number one, the other one was we're doing a story, how did you phrase it, Susie? A story about a woman who ditched everything to become an artist. It's interesting because instead of starving she fulfilled herself. Great, and I would say Anne got rich. I'm not rich yet, but I'm going to be. (laughter) Okay, alright. That's a relative term, too. The fulfilling yourself isn't as surprising as the getting rich part, right? So these are our two story arcs and it's interesting because yes, instead of starving she fulfilled herself. So, what we're gonna do next, so we're gonna take these two and we're going to pick them up somewhere else, and then we're gonna come up with our interview blueprint. What we're gonna do, to sort of like, how are we gonna get all of these very interesting, evocative things that she talked about, how are we going to structure our conversation to talk about them? So we'll take this one down. Alright so, and the way I did that, let's see. We need more tape, and more places to tape things. Let's put it right down here, that will be perfect, awesome. This is the way, this is exactly how. (laughter) That's what they tell you, it can be used as something, as an easel. Alright, so what we wanna do is we want to sort of get all this interesting stuff and turn it into an interview structure. And what I like to do is I like to have roman numerals in the big sections and underneath each roman numeral there are subsets or follow up questions, stuff to probe. And so let's pick a beginning. Roman numeral one is we're going to want her to talk about some period of her life, where are we going to start this interview with her? Here are some of the turning points. When she decided to become a full time artist, when she decided to launch a business, when she decided to leave cubicle world, the move to suburbia, feelings about art, meeting the guy, so where do you think, where do you want to start this story? What should be our roman numeral one? We sit down, we talk to Anne, so let's start here Anne, what do you think? I just have a quick question, how do you know when to stop asking? Like when do you stop? I consider it a judgment call, but I stop the minute I hear something where I'm like, I wish that was on tape. I stop immediately because if I had that, chances are I got enough. Do you have another question? Where to start. I was thinking that the visual, the car ride, the honeymoon across country would be a fun place to start. Let me back up for a second because I think you're right, I think that might be a good place to start a story about Anne but if you're talking about the interview you can be much more straightforward. I literally like to start at the beginning of whatever story I want to tell. And another way this is probably not exactly like real life is we are telling a much broader story here, we're telling essentially the story of her life which is starting at the guy and going all the way out to the thing, maybe. So that might be a little bit artificial. I think just for simplicity's sake, let's just start in chronological order. Let's go with the first moment that we want to get her to talk about. I guess the options would be, it depends how far back in her life of we want to go? Do we want to go to where she meets the guy and gets married, which could be good? Or do you want to start with them moving out to California? Where do we start this story? I think it'd be good to start the story when she first discovered art and what made her want to go to art school because then you have a nice bookend with her discovering art and then. Okay good, that's good! Alright so let's do that, that's a great idea. So we'll start at the moment of artistic discovery. And what are some basic questions you'd start out asking? One occurs to me, I'll just throw it out, you could sort of say, were you always an artistic kid? Tell me about the first piece of art you ever made. Anything else along those lines. Yeah, Rodney. Staying with that same theme or idea is, did you start out wanting to be a painter? I know you mentioned you worked in design. But was painting what your first love was, maybe you went to design because it felt more commercial? What I want to focus on now is, if roman numeral one is her discovery of art as a young person, I don't know when it was or how old you were, but we're going to find that out, don't answer yet. So what are some questions we can ask around that that will give us stories, basically? Yeah, Nancy? Well I would want to know about the role of landscape in her life both as a person and as an artist. Because she talked about being a landscape painter and she talked about driving across the country to get to California so I think that there's some richness in that idea of the landscape maybe even being a young girl in Ohio. Okay so I'm going to push back on you now, we have themes, but now we need to have actual questions. So what are the actual questions? I'm sitting down in front of her, we're starting in order and we're going to talk about the moment in your life when you're a little girl when you discovered art, you realized art was something for you, and we're asking a series of questions. One of them is, were you always artistic? What was the first piece of art you did? What is your question? My question would be, was there something in nature that got you thinking about being artistic? Was there a waterfall, a tree, a leaf that's changing color? Yeah, in other words, when you were eight had you chosen a genre yet? What was your medium at that age? Was it landscape, was it sculpture? Exactly, yeah, Kara. You ask how did she feel when she first made her first endeavor into art? Yes exactly what was the feeling you had? Yeah, exactly, you're getting there. What's the question, there's a way to ask that. What did you love about it? What did you love about art? Is there a moment you remember that got across? I'm always trying to get moments from people because if someone says like, I just love the feeling of being creative, that's great but if there's a story about it, like I remember I did this painting and I took it to my first grade teacher and they said it's lovely and I remember the feeling I got and that's a story and you're gonna attach to it better. Yeah, what moments do you remember? That sort of like got across. I just wanna chime in from online, Bethany kind of worded it like this, tell me about the first piece of art you were proud of. There we go, that's better than this, tell me about the first piece of art you were proud of. And why, right. Yeah, exactly, that's great. We're good here, we're moving on. And again, we're taking her entire life here it's not totally typical, it's a little bit more focused normally you're not telling someone's life story but in the brand new media maybe you can have a podcast where you can tell someone's life story, that would be great. So art, the discovery. So what's next, what should we talk about? We've talked about art, should we talk about love? Should we talk about something else? Let's move on, right? What comes to mind for me is what was the incident that prompted this big change eight years ago? We're far away from that. I'm ready to go there. (laughter) We've got to get, quickly, if the change from the guy is gonna be a thing in the beginning which I think it is, given what you've said then I think we need to have the moment where you meet the guy, right? So let's do that, you fell in love, I think you said it was the next door neighbor? Yeah, alright. So let's do that, right, and again in the editing we might not use any of this stuff when all is said and done but this is fun. I never get to go this deep in an interview so this is fun. Under roman numeral two we're gonna talk about meeting the guy. What are some moments we can go on to from there? We can ask, tell me the story of falling in love with so and so. Yeah, exactly. Tell me the story of how you guys met, fell in love. Anything else, what else do we want to know about that? He was your neighbor so what was the first thing you noticed about him? Yeah, first thing you noticed about him. Did he know about your love for art and is that something he appreciated about you? Yeah sure, what did he love about you? And then I think we can talk about love and how soon after you met him did you guys move out to California? Um, a couple years later. So this was all around the same time period, right? So let's kind of wrap those things together, talk about this guy and put the move in, we'll put that all in this section young love and building a life together. Go ahead, Liz. It sounded like there was a California dream coming from the midwest so what was the California dream that you two were envisioning in that drive over? Yeah, exactly, and before that. I would add, talk to me about the conversation where you guys decided you're finally moving. Was that a pivital conversation, do you remember? What were you saying, what was he saying? Again, getting to conversation where people are quoting dialog to you, that's a really good story. And what was your California dream as you were leaving out, what did you think you were moving towards? That's always great, another way to line up a question, what did you think the experience was going to be like? And then what was the experience actually like? That's always a great drama, you know? Great stuff to keep in mind. Can I go back to the love part real quick? Because I sense that there's still hurt happening. But I think for the listeners to understand the devastation of the turning point later on we need to get back to when she was in love because I can sense that it might take a little digging to get to that. (laughter) And I think, what did you imagine your life like? When you got to California? What was your mindset? Is there a memory that epitomizes that excitement of that journey out there? When you first arrived, were on the road, or something like that. The most evocative memory from that moment, that's what we're talking about. I'm getting excited just thinking about it. Young love, moving to California. Wish we could just stop the story there. Me too. (laughter) You mentioned earlier that one of the techniques you can use is if you can talk to your younger self so maybe this is a good opportunity to say, if you could go back to when you were having that conversation with your young husband or fiancee would you have told yourself to make the move? Right, we don't do that here though, right? Absolutely we want to do that but we want to save that for later in the interview. Right now we just want to go through and get to the end of the facts. Basically what I like to do is get the story out and then I have this section I like to think of as the follow up questions, which is where you would throw that in. If you could talk to the you of that car ride out, would you tell that you what's coming or not? Should that you have known? That's an example that, no matter what the answer is you want to hear it. And that's the kind of question that's exciting to stumble upon. One where no matter what the answer is there's this natural tension in the question. But we'll get to that, don't write that down. And don't let us forget it. Okay, alright, so one fifth of the way through Anne's life. (laughter) I hope it ends well. And then we have love and the move, and let's just call this section reality.

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!