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Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Lesson 6 of 21

What Makes Interviewee Interesting?

Alex Blumberg

Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Alex Blumberg

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Lesson Info

6. What Makes Interviewee Interesting?

Lesson Info

What Makes Interviewee Interesting?

So we're going to do a live-- The rest of this session what we're going to be doing is we're going to be doing a live demo of the interview process basically. We're going to be using Anne, our lovely volunteer, as the interview subject. I'll be conducting the interview. And you all will be helping me come up with what the questions are and so we're going to do sort of a live pre-interview with Anne up here onstage, and then we're going to come up with a list of questions. And sort of a plan of attack for the interview, which we're going to put right here. You all are going to help me come up with that. And then the next section after that we're going to come and we're just going to conduct the interview. So that's what we've got coming up. Before we get to that though. Before we bring Anne onstage, she's going to come up later in the section. I just want to talk through one-- I promised math, I promised this formula. So I want to talk about that formula, and this I think is a helpful c...

oncept to have in your mind. At the beginning of any sort of storytelling endeavor and at the beginning of any interview endeavor, which is sort of like what is the very, very thumbnail of the story that I'm telling, and this came up-- And we're going to have more on this formula in the next session. But I'm just going to lay it out for you right now. And it's a very simple thing. I'm doing a story about X. And it's interesting because of Y. You choose the X and you choose the Y. And I make people-- I often do this myself before I go out. If I can put it in this simple construction and I actually arrive at an interesting Y, I know I'm in the right direction. So let me give you an example. This is something that happens, a lot of time beginning especially in public radio, people are sort of driven by a-- The urge to sort of talk about issues in society. So here is a big one. I'm doing a story about homelessness, and this is-- I might sound a little harsh. I'm not being harsh. But this is one of the issues that we all face. A lot of us are talking about sort of social justice, types of things and sort of non-profits and getting our attention out for these very, very worthy causes. There is-- Just because it's a worthy cause, does not mean it's interesting to people. And that is the sad fact of our lives, alright? And so, that's where this formula can be very, very helpful. So I'm doing a story about homelessness, and it's interesting because-- Let's see his is something that people say all the time. Many homeless people are mentally ill. So-- Show of hands. That's the Y. Many homeless people are mentally ill. Is that interesting? Who thinks that's interesting project? Sort of. Is it surprising? Let me ask this question. Are you surprised by the fact that many homeless people are mentally ill? No. No. So, you're up against it with this story. If that's your arch. I'm doing a story about homelessness, and it's interesting because many homeless are mentally ill. You need to solve for a different Y. You need to come up with something else. This is not to say that you shouldn't do stories about homelessness. And this is not to say that you shouldn't do stories about worthy causes. But, it is simply to say that there are-- There is no new information. There are no narratives that we are familiar with. And, if you're doing a story about-- And often worthy causes are intractable problems that we know a lot about. Right, we've heard it. We heard the first story, where it was revealed that many homeless are mentally ill. And we we're shocked. And then we heard another one, and then we heard another, and then we heard another one, and it's been 15 years, 20 years, 25 years. Where we now know that. And so-- This is the problem is that the more worthy the cause in many cases, the more creative you have to be about giving it, taking it in a fresh direction or finding something new about it or figuring out a different approach to doing it. What would be-- I'm doing a story about homelessness and it's interesting because, and it's interesting because, there is a gene for homelessness. Sure that's sort of it right? Who thinks that's interesting? Would that be an interesting sort of story? Yeah, it's not true. But if that was your angle then that would be something else. What's another possibly more interesting X? I'm doing a story about homelessness and it's interesting because-- Turns out there is a simple solution to homelessness, what about that? Does that sound like-- What do you think? Would that be okay? Who thinks that's an interesting Y? Yeah, right? More or less. Something that is slightly unexpected, like there is this intractable problem, and it turns out there is a simple solution. That one actually might be true. Or I'm doing a story about homelessness and it's interesting because-- The hardest parts of being homeless are things that you never though of. Is that interesting? Yeah, that's interesting right? That's what I'm talking about. That could be the same Y, as the boring Y we had before. It's just phrased in a different way, right? It could be that when you're mentally ill and you're on the streets, there is this thing that happens that is like something that you wouldn't have thought of. And then all of a sudden you've taken the story that everybody has heard and you've turned into a story that everyone has not heard. But you're telling the same story. So that's what we're trying to do. Is just find the interesting angle. And once you have that frame going forward, that's not the whole story, that your work is just only still begun. But if you don't have a frame. If you have a boring frame going in, or you have an expected frame going into your story, going into your interview, going into whatever, you're going to be up against it from the beginning, and you're going to be battling yourself essentially. So if you can come up-- So before you even start to do your story, before you even find out, start to do your interview, before you do your celebrity interview, before you're pitching the services of this non-profit in this field. If you have like something-- If you have this laid out in your mind-- I want to tell you about this client that I work with. They solve malaria in Tanzania and they're interesting because X or Y, sorry. And they're interesting because Y. And if you have a good Y, that's going to get you in the door right away. So that's one of the things that I'm trying to-- that I do. I'm going to do a lot more on that formula coming up in the next session, but I wanted it in your brains as we're going on into the next part of this section, which is our live onstage pre-interview, but before we do that are there any questions abut that formula that just occurred to people as we we're talking, anything? Yeah? I find the challenge a lot of times with my clients is what's interesting to them isn't necessarily interesting to anybody else, or to many other people. So how do you actually determine what's interesting? Partly that's your job I think. You're the proxy for the audience. The audience is this weird thing. We talk about the audience as like this thing. There is a bunch of different audiences and they're all different. We have a large audience for at this American life, but that's a tiny audience compared to NFL football and often doesn't overlap and so, whatever. What we're talking about is like-- It's always a subsection of humanity. But, you are the one who is going to know more about the audience than the people that you're trying to help. And so, if you have a sense that this is interesting to at least a tiny subsection of the great mass of people that we're trying to reach here, you're probably right. So I think That's your job. This is why we're in this room. Because this is what we're trying to do. We're trying to tell the story. To tell a story, you have to be telling it to an audience. You have to be in touch with what that audience wants. And so it's often just sort of leveling with people. This is engaging to you. This is the part that you care about, that other people don't care about. And that happens to me all the time when I'm doing stories. I am really-- I get really interested in certain things that nobody else cares about. And I can't make them interesting to anybody else. No matter how much I want them to be interesting and I can't do it. So, that's something that like-- Everybody needs that person who is like, you know what? This is just you. Nobody else cares about this. And it's really helpful to have that person actually. Are there other questions? Yeah, yeah. We have a question here, that I think could be good to touch on now as we get into the pre-interview process, but Megan Leeton says, when it comes to interviewing, is there anything that you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting, and when you do this process. Is there anything you've learned about this process as you've gone along? Oh, yeah so many things. I mean, mainly it's like some of the stuff that I've already touch on is just shut up. The shutting up is really, really key. Maybe that was just me. I'm a nervous talker so I talk when I'm nervous. So I don't know, maybe other people are much more at ease, being quiet than I was. But that was like the main thing, was just sort of like realizing to sort of like stop. And realizing what the goal is. So okay, so should we start? So let's go forward with prepping our interview. So, we're going to bring in Anne up onstage in one second. But I just want to sort of go over-- So the goals of when you're prepping an interview. So basically what we're going to do is like a slightly artificial scenario obviously. Normally, I don't do this onstage in front of people live and on the internet, hello. And normally my subject is also not live in front of people in the audience. So that's obviously a major caveat. But normally what I do-- There is pre-interview process. Where you're-- Before you're actually setting up to do the real interview. You're trying to determine what it is that you're going to want to talk about. What are you going to want to focus on. And this is a delicate thing. Because like I said before, you don't want to get too far-- you don't want to do the full interview, and sort of like blow all the emotional energy on the pre-interview when you're not rolling. And then to be able to-- not actually sort of preserve some of that for later. But you also need to figure out, are there some key moments-- I just want to get out all the key moments that are going to happen. All the key moments that are part of your story. I'm also sort of felling around for what actually is the story here. So the first thing that we're trying to do with Anne is we're trying to determine our story arch. I'm doing a story about Anne and it's interesting because Y. Right? Part of what we're going to be doing for the rest of this section is I'm going to be sort of doing some preparatory questions with her and then we're going to be-- I'm going to reframe back to you, and sort of saying-- What do you think? Is this an interesting part? Should we focus on this? What aspect of Anne's life are we going to turn into a story. Okay, so that's what-- And then after that-- So once you've settled on sort of a direction, what is our story formula for the interview that we're doing with Anne. We want to come up with a sort of a blueprint, a roadmap for that interview. So what is that going to look like when we talk to Anne? What are we going to ask her? What's our first question going to be? What's the follow up to that going to be? What areas of her life do we want to focus on? Where do we want to get stories from her? Where do we want to get thought questions from her?

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!