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Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Lesson 5 of 21

The Nuts & Bolts of Interviewing

Alex Blumberg

Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Alex Blumberg

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Lesson Info

5. The Nuts & Bolts of Interviewing

Lesson Info

The Nuts & Bolts of Interviewing

The first thing that you wanna find is you wanna find, whatever you're talking about, you wanna find somebody with direct experience and sort of the default I think, at least in the public radio, audio journalism world too often is sort of the expert voice like somebody who's like, oh you know, there's a professor who studies this or there's like, there's a trade group that talks about this or there's like somebody from the Brookings Institution (laughs), which is like the public radio sort of go to move every single time. So they can be great and they can be very, very helpful but often I find it's better to sort of like, they're often a step removed from the thing that you wanna talk about and so to me, it's much better to find somebody who has some sort of direct relationship. I'm gonna play you just a clip of tape really quickly just to sort of illustrate this. So awhile ago at Planet Money, we did a story about, do you guys remember when the Somali pirate thing was happening a lot...

? There was like, there was a big sort of Somali pirates were taking over sort of tanker ships and holding them hostage and then releasing them for ransom and then eventually that became I guess the movie with Captain Phillips (laughs), turned into that years later but at the time we were talking about that and there was all this stuff and we got to wondering sort of like well, what actually happens at that moment? It's like, when you actually think about like the process of hijacking a tanker and then holding it hostage and then getting the ransom like there's a lot of mechanics to that, right? You have to have a conversation with somebody with the money. Is there a translator? They probably don't speak the same language. How does it all work? And so we went on this sort of thing about how it all worked and we actually ended up talking to this reporter, Chana Joffe-Walt who I mentioned before, found a ship captain who had had his ship hijacked and had to have negotiated with the Somali pirate and she asked them what was that like? They introduced themselves and said that they held the crew and the vessel captive and that they demanded $7 million to release the ship. They're not making any threats or anything. They are very polite in their whole demeanor. So just, hello, my name is whatever, I'm gonna be your piracy negotiator? (audience laughs) Exactly, that's basically (laughs) how it went down. My name is All-di, I'm your friendly pirate today, not quite but you almost got that sense. It was a very surreal situation when it all came about. So, so much more media, right? Like so much better than having an expert talking about, well, typically in these situations, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. He was there, he heard it and it was like very, very, it was a very vivid, very real thing where we was like, it just felt authentic. Again, you can feel the authenticity. He's the person who has been at the center of it. So to the extent possible, don't find the person who wrote a book about the thing, find the person who did the thing if you can or find an unusual take on the thing. Somebody, often, there's somebody at the center of any experience who has a really interesting, who has often the most interesting take on it and if you can find them, that's the way to do it. Now, getting to this user's question. How do you break somebody out of sort of like their boring canned speech. If you're talking to the President, you're stuck. (audience laughs) Right, there's no way, or you're talking to a politician, you're stuck. There is no way to break them out of their canned speech because if there was a way, they wouldn't be where they are. You have to (laughs), like certain people are so practiced at not answering anything authentically, there is no way to do it, and so if you are stuck in a situation where there is one person who you can interview and you can't find anybody else, you're in trouble. There's nothing to do and then you just do all sorts of hijinx. If you, however, are not interviewing the President, and there is somebody and you have a couple of people that you can interview about the same thing, audition them. Find out who is the best talker because, and that we do all the time. We do that all the time. Who is the person who is going to be able to talk honestly? Who is the person who is like, and you meet them, some people just don't and won't and can't and some people are very open with their feelings and have direct access to the way they're feeling and are comfortable sharing the way they're feeling and you see it. Some people are just sort of like, you just, some people are sticky and some people are not and you can sort of hear it and if you are talking to somebody on the phone and you find yourself tuning out say, okay, thank you very much. I'll call you back and then go onto the next person. Often there's several different people that can talk on a subject and don't beat your head against the wall trying to find somebody who can't tell their story effectively or can't be honest enough or can't get broken out of their thing. So that's a really important thing and then if you're stuck talking to somebody who's not being honest then there's like sort of like, there are tricks that you can use. Some people just need a lot of time to warm up. The other thing that I do in that situation, if I am stuck talking to somebody, there's only one person that I can talk to in the situation, there's only one person who has negotiated with the pirates, so I can't like find a whole bunch of different people who've negotiated with pirates. I'm stuck with one guy, right? And he's sort of stiff. Other tricks you can do, you can model the kind of talk that you want and so I will often share a personal story from my own life about what I've gone through something where I model talking about like a moment when I felt conflicted about stuff or a moment where I'm sharing an authentic emotion or a moment where I felt scared or whatever and also sort of just like, and then just time. Come back around. Like a lot of times I've had oh, this person's not gonna give up the goods. They're not gonna talk to me in an authentic way and then I go back one more time and... they don't. One other trick that you can do is sort of say, okay, I think we're done here and sit down and then just sort of chit chat but keep it rolling and then often they drop their guard and then they're just like wow, the thing I didn't tell you was this and then you're like oh, I'm gonna start recording. Is that alright? But just keep talking and just sort of try to keep it going and like, once they've had a chance to relax, they know you, you reset almost and then often, I mean, often the best piece of tape is after the interview officially ended and I go, but I haven't stopped running, or like sometimes I do stop but then I'll be like, actually hold on this sounds good. Let me just turn it back on. It's fine. So those are some tricks but auditioning the right person if you can, that's like, sort of like, that'll get you much farther. Other nuts and bolts things, so you're figuring out who am I gonna talk to? Am I gonna talk to somebody with the right experience? I'm gonna call different people up who have that experience and I'm gonna audition them over the phone and talk to them five, 10 minutes and just like, just five or 10 minutes should give you enough. Are they like, what kind of talkers are they? How are they to deal with? Are you engaged with what they're saying or are you sort of tuning out what they're saying? Get in touch with your bored teenage self and like sort of make sure that they cut through that bored teenage self. Then, okay, so then you're gonna set up the interview. You're gonna set up a time. Ask for the time you need. If you want an hour with them, ask for an hour, but take less if they don't have an hour. And you can do this in person, in person is better. Over Skype is fine and then so that's sort of like finding the person to interview, finding out where they are and then on the day of, prepping, right? So basically you just wanna just do your basic research about sort of like where they work, what they, sort of to have like sort of a framework of what you're gonna ask them about, what you know about, and then you're gonna wanna write out your questions and I have a specific format of how I like to write out my questions, how I like to structure an interview which we're gonna go over in the next section but I go, I spend a lot of time thinking about what is the structure of this interview gonna look like? What's my first question gonna be? What's the, where am I wanna get to? If I don't get to this, I wanna be able to circle back to that. What are the questions I'm gonna ask that are gonna elicit these feelings, the emotion tape, sort of thought questions is how I call them and you organize that into sections so this is I'm gonna get them to talk about this moment of their lives here and then the next we'll move onto this when they did this, this moment of transition. Then we'll move onto this section where they talk about their feelings or whatever. Very important, quotidian but very important (laughs), make sure you're batteries are charged, everything's working, sort of every time, every time before I go out on an interview, if I'm doing it live which we'll be doing next section, I like record myself into the microphone. I make sure my batteries are there. I listen back to make sure it's recording properly. I do all that before I go 'cause many, I've had it happen, we all have, where you go out, you do the whole recording and then you get back and it's not there and that's crushing. So, (laughs), just super straightforward, just confirm by email like the day before or the day of, just make sure that they're still on. Okay and then when you're at the interview, this is the stuff that I think people, so I'm talking about now a live interview. If you're going, you have your kit, you're going and you're gonna show up, this is the stuff that I feel like people are often, it often sets the stage for getting a bad interview just by the way you behave when you first come in and again, the impulses for you to believe that they are doing you a favor by talking to you, which they are, but the impulse then is to try to come in and be sort of friendly and chatty and sort of like, try to ease into things and not have your microphone on and just sort of gently ease into it and honestly people, they understand that you're there to interview them, you're there to do a job so the less you're doing your job, the more confusing it is. They don't know you. They didn't come here to chit chat about where's the best place to eat around here, right? So don't make them do that. You're there to do a job and just be confident about doing your job. So you come in and you be in charge. You make sure if there's stuff on in the background, if their radio's on, tell them to turn it off, politely. If there's a fan on, tell them to turn it off. If you're in the boomy room, tell them to get under the blanket with you, (audience laughs) just joking! (audience laughs) See if there's a better room. Ask if they have a comforter. But just generally, be in charge. People will respond to it. Ask them to move around. Where do you sit when you're doing an interview? I find I have a very, I actually have a very strong preference, again this is for an in person interview, if you're doing another thing, I'm right handed so I like to take notes with my right hand so I always tell people I wanna sit next to them and I want them on my left, I hold the microphone in my left hand and I talk back and forth and I say I wanna sit either around a table or next to them like we're watching a movie together and that way we can sort of look at each other and the mic is down here and you just tip it back and forth. If they're at a desk and you come in and you're sitting right here, you're holding the microphone like that and it's like you're having a sword fight, you know? (audience laughs) It's really, really uncomfortable and also your arm gets tired. (audience laughs) So you definitely, so positioning is just really important. It'll just make you more comfortable. Just sit next to 'em. I say, I wanna sit next to you. It's like we're watching a movie together but we're gonna have this conversation. So, yeah, the mic hand is, so your strong hand is taking notes, your weak hand is holding the mic. And this is really important, again, this is all for an in person interview and I'm gonna be going over this again when we do this live but embrace your weird appearance. Wear your headphones. Come in with everything set to go. Walk in recording. It's not like you're gonna fool anybody anyway, just like embrace it and people are always saying, the initial reaction is sort of like oh, but it'll be off putting if I come in and I've got my mic out and everything like that and it's gonna be off putting whenever you do it. First of all, it's not as off putting as you think. People know that you're gonna record them. They assume you're gonna have some sort of equipment, sometimes the length of the microphone and the abject phallic-ness of it (laughs), sort of like can freak people out but they get used to it and so it's fine and then second of all, if they are gonna be at all uncomfortable about it, it's gonna happen when you bring it out anyway and then you're gonna have to start all over about getting them comfortable. So just do it from the beginning and the more you're comfortable, you are with the weirdness of it, the more comfortable they are. You're wearing your headphones, you got your thing, cords are dangling, everything is all like mixed up, it's always that way. I've been doing it for 15 years. I constantly am getting my cords tangled, it's fine. Just that's part of the job and that's all gonna be fine and that's your job is to be weird. (audience laughs) Often you wanna keep going and the impulse is to sort of sneak past the time like pretend they don't notice, they probably notice. So if you get to the end of whatever time you agreed on, if you get to the end of a half an hour, you had a half an hour, say I know we're at the end of our time, can I have 15 more minutes? It's the respectful thing to do and just do that and usually they say yes. Usually you're a nice person and they're having a good time. Any questions so far about any of that stuff? Yes. Pass a mic back here. Here we are. Hi, do you have any advice for getting past handlers, like people's people to get interviews because that's super difficult. Oh! Handlers. (audience laughs) The enemy of the reporter everywhere! (audience laughs) Until you quit your job in public radio and you become a handler for twice your salary. (audience laughs) So... Not like, I, if there's a way to go, if there's a way to use other sort of connections, if you can get to the person you're trying to get to through other ways, sometimes you just wanna like level with the handler and just be like, listen, I just need, this is gonna be so much better if you just let me have the thing that I need. Who are you talking about in particular? Is there a particular moment that you're talking about? A story would be helpful here. (audience laughs) Sure. So I was working as a music reporter for awhile and so I was going through a lot of A&R people and people who, you have 15 minutes. The person you're talking to is probably gonna be in a car on the freeway and it's 100% going to be canned and I think probably the best I ever did was I took a gamble and hoped that the person's email address was exactly what I thought it might be which was very predictably their name (audience laughs) It was and I CC'd them and then they responded directly but -- That's good, that's a good tip. But getting past, yeah, (laughs) that is. I'll put that in my Powerpoint. A lot of times, yeah, oh you'd be surprised how often it's someone's name is accurate but how do you extend that past the 15 minute sort of canned radio or whatever? And I think part of is what you're talking, like part of it is there are certain, there's a whole class of people that we interview - politicians, celebrities - that they are surrounded by an army of people who are dead set against you doing your job. They are dead set against anything real happening. It is their job to make sure that the thing you want to happen does not happen. (audience laughs) So and in that situation, it is a war basically (laughs). It's a war in which you're generally out gunned so I don't, like there's not much you can do other than trying to come up with like, did you ever see that, who was it, the girl from That 70's Show who just married Ashton Kutcher who had the baby? Yeah, Mella, Meena, yeah. The interview with, did you ever see that online interview that she did with this guy, if you haven't seen it, you should check it out now. During the break you guys can go look it up. (audience laughs) Yeah, not while I'm watching! Yeah, it's not as good as this but there's that moment, so she interviews this guy, somehow she got in an interview with a guy, he did a British talk show like a tiny sort of British talk show and all he talked about was like his favorite football teams, English football, but he was sort of weird and really, really nervous and super, super authentic himself and it just broke her and she just ended up just like being very, very genuine herself and it was like it got it out and that's the good thing about audio is that you can get, if you can just, then it's just on you to just model, model, model and just be unexpected yourself and in as many things as you can just sort of like talk as honestly as you can and if you're talking honestly and really to people then sometimes, 20% of the time, they will talk honestly back to you and then you're doing great, right? That's what I would say. Other questions? Yeah. Mic being passed around. There it is. Okay, I have a question about auditioning people because this is always been something that I've been kind of afraid of and for a good reason because I found that often when I talk to people ahead of time, they'll seem very open and interesting and good and then they come into the interview and this was, I think somebody talked about like, you have a great conversation at the bar with somebody and then when they come into the studio they're like, oh, this is scary. Now I have a microphone in my face and I'm gonna give you canned answers. So I guess the question is sort of twofold. How do you prevent that from happening and also, when you're auditioning people, just a very practical question, what do you say to them initially? 'Cause you don't usually say, hi, I'm Alex Bloomberg. I'd like to audition you for this story probably? Oh, no, you don't. Generally my quote for an audition is, I'd like to ask you a couple questions about a story I'm working on. Okay. Yeah, just like super straightforward like, I'm just doing this story, I would love to talk to you about it. Can we just talk? And like, it's one of those things that sort of hanging out in the Planet Money offices for five years, I just got like, and like some of the reporters there have been doing it for so long and they are just so good at it, they're just masters at sort of like figuring out exactly like do they have the thing that I need and what am I gonna do? And it's just, again it's just like a lot of practice of sort of like figuring it out. One thing that I did too often in the beginning was that I'd have like a really long pre-interview, like 30, 45, 50 minutes where they would just be great and they would tell me the whole thing and then I'd have 'em come in and I'd be like, okay, just tell me that thing that you told me before (audience laughs) and it's not authentic. It's not immediate anymore. So part of it is just sort of knowing when do you cut and when we were talking, Anne and I were talking, and so she's gonna be, we're gonna do an on stage interview live, you're all gonna be my producers. That's coming up in the next section but when I was, I sort of pre-interviewed her and I asked her two questions and I was like okay, you're fine and I didn't want to ask her anymore because I didn't want it to be, I didn't want it to have, like I was like, okay, you're talking in the way that I think is gonna be fine. We'll see in front of a whole bunch of people. (audience laughs) But yeah, no pressure, no pressure, but you better deliver the goods. (audience laughs) We wanna get the online people involved here. We'll get one from the online before we jump back to people here but this one comes from Nathan and we had six other people vote on this one by clicking that blue arrow which is a good thing to do. Alex, how do you personally strike a balance between pre-planning and serendipity? Do you ever just start an interview without a clear angle just because the person or people seem interesting to you? Uh, that's a good, I don't. I am not a believer in serendipity. I'm a believer in bad luck, not good luck. (audience laughs) I've been on the wrong end of bad luck way more than I've gotten lucky. So doing an interview without planning is the equivalent of sort of betting on an inside straight. That is just, sometimes it happens but it's not a way to sort of do this with regularity. You create your own luck so I would definitely say don't do that and the trick is to be, is to go in with a plan, and then be flexible enough that if your plan is not working, you can, and if they're taking you on a different direction that is really, really interesting, then go with them on that direction. Like if they introduce something that is even more interesting than the plan that you came up with, definitely do that but don't go in without a plan. It's not gonna work. You're gonna be spinning your wheels. It's better to have a plan in the beginning. The one other thing that I want to answer, I just didn't finish getting to your question which is, the thing about having a great pre-interview and then having them show up in the wherever and not be good, that used to happen to me a lot and it stopped happening to me so much and I think it's because I just got more comfortable with what I was doing and modeling, modeling comfort and being relaxed and I was just much, like I've done it a bunch of times, I know that it will happen and so a lot of it is like you can't control them, the only person you can control is yourself. You be authentic. Don't be worried. Have fun. Just be yourself. Be your authentic self and that will help and I think it'll happen less and less. Alright we'll get one from here and then we'll jump back here. Yeah. Go ahead. Shawn here, I have a podcast called The Author Hangout where we interview successful self-published authors and in the process of trying to set up the interview, I write out a bunch of questions and I actually give them to the person I'm gonna interview. Do you recommend actually not giving interview questions so that they feel more canned or how do you think about that? I would not do that because I think you want it to be 'cause that, like that's, in life when we're having a conversation, so we talked about a natural story, like narrative as being sort of like this inherent human thing. We are inherently tugged by a compelling narrative and one of the most basic narratives is a question and an answer. If it's a compelling question, you will not turn off the radio or will not switch the podcast off before they answer and so if you have given people the questions beforehand, you've just erased that drama from your podcast, yeah. No, I actually give the person I'm going to interview the questions so that they're prepared to think. No, no, that's what I'm saying. Oh really? That if you give them those questions ahead of time, then you have erased the possibility of that drama 'cause they know what's coming and they don't, you don't want them, like you don't want to surprise people, like I don't like isn't it true, sir, that whatever, I'm not talking about that but I'm just saying like, it's not natural, it's not in our normal natural conversations, you don't get a list, you go and hang out with a friend for beer and they don't email you like here are the topics of conversation before we get to the bar (laughs). (audience laughs) So don't set up that, you want it to be, it's an artificial situation and you're gonna be doing artificial things but you want to limit them as much as possible and sending the questions ahead of time, I think, is, limits them. Now it also sort of depends if it's like, if like I can see it working if you're talking to somebody about some research that they did a long time ago or whatever and they don't remember very well and you're just sort of like, hey, I wanna talk to you about this paper that you wrote a long time ago. We just like, you know, have and I'm gonna, and then maybe I can see 'cause I've done that before where I like talk to people and they're like I don't remember and I'm like oh crap, should've sent 'em the questions beforehand. So it sometimes happens but I would say as a rule, don't do it. I think it's a rule that you should every once in awhile break but don't send them the questions I would say, yeah. Let's jump back online for just a second for this question. The user wants to know, how important is it to maintain eye contact during the interview? Does taking notes ever freak people out? I think we are worried about freaking people out more than we need to be in general, like I certainly was. You're, people are always like worried is the microphone gonna freak them out and I swear to God like every single thing that I did on the start up podcast was with a gigantic boom mic, a gigantic condenser mic that you'll see in section three and it was like in their face, I was wearing headphones and I got very, very raw, honest tape and so I think, in general, like you can be writing notes is fine. Every once in a while looking at something else is fine. Generally you want to keep eye contact, I think. That's generally a good thing to do but, honestly, some of the best interviews I've ever done have been with one person in a studio far away and me in another studio and we're not looking at each other at all and in some ways that's better. In some ways it's just then, you're just responding to the voice and like one of the dangerous things that you do in an interview is you pick up on verbal, you pick up on that nonverbal communication and you get the point because of the sort of the clues they're giving you verbally but then when you go back and listen to the tape you're like oh, that didn't come across and so often what you're, another thing that I train myself to do is sort of say to people like on tape like, oh you just made a gesture with your hand there. What did that mean? They have to put everything in words. Words are all you have, alright? (laughs) So if they do something, you have to narrate it. If they're looking a certain way, you have to narrate it. You have to say, like what's the look about? Like I see that something crossed your face when you said that. You have to sort of like you're shrugging your shoulders, just everything they do nonverbally, you have to sort of say. So I think actually my preferred method of interviewing somebody is in separate studios not looking at each other where we don't see each other. It's just over the phone or over a line. Yeah? Well, that's what I'm trying to picture 'cause I interview primarily on Skype, in fact only on Skype actually and so I do take a few notes while I'm listening but in person it seems like it would feel awkward to be taking notes while you're having a conversation. So what are you writing down 'cause you're editing the whole thing? I'm just like writing down just like a question that I wanna ask or whatever. It's not a big deal. You're not writing down that many notes and you'll see it like I might not write down any notes and I might forget but just so in case you do, it's just like a way of setting it up so that you have the right hand ready (laughs) or the left hand if you're lefthanded. Yes? Yeah, why don't we go to Ryan right here first. Yeah, Ryan. Okay, so I do a podcast called Science Sort Of and we tend to interview a lot of scientists and scientists speak carefully so it's not the same thing, I don't think as canned because it's not a sound byte but it's just these data tend to suggest or our preliminary results might show that and so, do you just accept that that's how the, that's the language of science or do you try to get them to tell a stronger story with some less soft language and then to follow up on that, what are the ethics of editing interviews like that 'cause you don't wanna change their intent but you may wanna sharpen the story somehow. Yeah, yeah. So that's a really tricky thing. Anybody who has to talk very, very carefully. Diplomats are very hard to interview (laughs). And scientists are like, and there's certain people whose job is sort of anti-narrative for good reason. Like I think it's like a narrative is a lie a little bit about the world, right? Like we're editing out certain parts and keeping in other parts and like we're always, every time we're telling a story we are to some extent, telling something dishonest, right? We've left out lots and lots of stuff. We're at least telling lies of omission and if what your job is is to see the world as accurately as possible through data and through analysis and through aggregating blah, blah, blah, like I ran out of my, I ran to my limit of scientific words (audience laughs) but then you're gonna be, it's a tough interview, and so, so I think one trick that you can use is sort of like try to like get them to put themselves in your shoes. Definitely when you're interviewing scientists, like make sure, like go back to them and just sort of say here's how I think I'm about saying it. Is this accurate? Would I be mischaracterizing stuff? Like another big huge thing that I do now that I sort of didn't do as much in the early part of my career because it was scary, a lot of what I'm gonna be telling you to do is do the thing that you're scared of doing, like that's generally a good thing and if you're saying something mean about somebody, tell them beforehand that you're saying something mean about them. Play it for them. You have a moral obligation to say I am making this judgment about you in front of other people. I want you to know and I want you to respond and I want you to be able to tell me if I'm getting something wrong and I wanted you to hear it from me first 'cause I'm an actual brave human being and I'm gonna put myself out there and so not that that, but with scientists, it's the same thing. You just want to be able to sort of like, don't be afraid, I hope this is right and then hear from them later. Go beforehand and just sort of say like, I'm having a really hard time making this, simplifying this, can you help me out here? Well, we also tend to find that scientists are truly passionate people about the stuff so one of the techniques that we try to do is, instead of just getting them to describe the data, describe why they're really passionate about what it is they're studying and what it is they're doing and that sometimes we find can be a window to getting them to open up and talk more excitedly about the thing even though they're still being careful. Well and that's the other thing. I'll draw a connection with the MailChimp ads. Like the MailChimp ads, what I was doing with that is just sort of like getting them to talk excitedly about something. It didn't actually have to do with email marketing but that's okay for the purposes of telling my story because I could do that, I could handle like, here's what MailChimp does, here's ways you get it, and then what they're doing is just talking about something that's interesting and the same thing can be, like there's certain things that just audio doesn't love and sort of like regressions is one of the things that audio does not love. It's hard to get across scientific analysis in audio. It's like art. It's like a visual art. It's like hard to get across that stuff and so a lot of what you're gonna be doing is sort of like speeding past, here's the things that I'm speeding past, and I want you scientists to tell me your human story about something else and then it will tangentially touch on the thing that we're doing. Dave Kestenbaum, who worked at Planet Money with me who's a reporter at NPR, was a science reporter for a long time and if you go back and listen to his science stories, a lot of times the tape has nothing to do with the science. The tape is like he's talking to the scientist about where are you? They're cracking a joke. He's just getting some sort of authentic, human moment out of them and all the heavy lifting he's doing himself. Like sort of like here's what the experiment does and I'm just sort of gonna get through that as fast as I can. So I think that's it. Go where the medium lets you go (laughs), you know? Yeah? Rodney. Hi, my name is Rodney Washington. I wanted to ask you a question about how to make those points of contact to even get the people to do the interview with you. I've heard from some sources that Twitter is a good place to start but, and I know it depends upon the person itself so I'm assuming we're not talking about Hollywood based celebrity, not necessarily CEOs but is there a formula that you'd use? Do you prefer email over using Twitter or do you go to their website? I mean, what's your system? I usually, I mean, I'm sort of an old man so I usually just start with the phone (laughs) 'cause if you get somebody on the phone that's the fastest. So does it actually work? Do people actually answer their phone? Yeah, people answer their phones. (audience laughs) People answer their phones all the time. People are often like sitting around answering their phones. So but if I can't get a phone, I do email just as much. I have reached out to people over Twitter. That sometimes happens. You've got a lot of ways of getting, like Facebook, LinkedIn, that also works really well. Like there's a lot of ways now to get people. The main thing, I thing the nuts and bolts questions about this are sort of like, I think, often mask an actual emotional, I don't know if this is what you're feeling, this is the way I felt a lot in the beginning which is sort of like, just a fear of reaching out to people and strangers and sort of bothering them and just sort of like, there is like some part of me that was just shy and I feel like a lot of people who get into sort of storytelling are just sort of at heart shy people and one of, I remember, this was in college but I remember like I had this friend who worked on the paper, on the college paper and he was like, and I was like, I was so, I was like, how do you just call people? And he was like, I don't know, you just pick up the phone and you call. And I was like could I watch, I literally said, I was like, could I watch you call somebody? (audience laughs) And he was like you wanna watch me call somebody? And I was like yeah, I do. I wanna, and he was like okay. So he picked up the phone and he was like, hi, I'm calling from the blah, blah, blah, you know, I'd like to talk to you about this and I was like, I just remember I was like, oh, so that's how it's done. (audience laughs) It's like a very, like I think part of it is just sort of like, you're allowed to call people and they're allowed to say yes or no and that's a big part of it. I don't know if that was behind your question or not but it's like sort of like and then beyond that what's the best way to approach whatever feels right. There's a gazillion ways now to get in touch with people and so whatever works basically. Well, I like that about the phone call because we typically wanna use email which can be easily ignored. Yeah. And that's why I've heard that Twitter can sometimes be better and actually we've had a network contact a previous client that I had through Twitter which I never read DMs in Twitter and we almost missed the opportunity because I didn't see it so that's why I thought maybe that was a way but maybe the phone call is better. And I think this is one of these things that, where there is no answer because we're in sort of a brand new world here. There's not really any norms that have been established. I think everybody has, now I'm like there's so many different types of social media that everybody has the one they ignore so for me, I'm very unlikely to ignore a phone call. Like a phone call will basically, I can't write it off. I'm very, I am very comfortable writing off email but then my co-founder who's like, he's like you didn't answer my email and I was like everybody doesn't, what? (audience laughs) And he was like, I always answer my email. I always answer my email and so like for him, the email is sort of like that's what he does. He gets back to people on email so I think it's, there's not really an answer. Anyway.

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!