If you played football (or watched football movies, in my case,) you know the value of reviewing the tape. It’s part of the lore of the sport. Football mythology includes the tale of legendary coach Vince Lombardi sitting in a dark room beside a film projector, processing every little detail from blocking schemes to receivers’ routes. Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”
As podcasters, we’re often working solo or as part of a very small team. With a shortage of constructive feedback, how can we chase perfection? The #1 way to improve quickly is to review your tape. “But I don’t like listening to my own voice!” you might be saying. Don’t fret. That’s what transcripts are for.
Here’s an exercise I encourage you to try:
- Take your last interview and get a transcript.
- Pull all of your questions.
For the sake of brevity, here are five questions from my interview with writer Derek Sivers:
- Getting back to my original question. Is it like a moving target? I guess what I’m trying to get at is, as you made more money over time, do your values change? Because as you make more, you can spend more and still be wealthy as long as you’re not overspending. How consistent are the values?
- When you sold CD Baby, you did something not just at the sale but preparing up to the point of that sale. Can you talk about that?
- I was surprised to read on your blog. You said, “It’s not that I’m altruistic.” I think you are altruistic.
- Does saving five million dollars in taxes excite you more than making the $22 million for selling your company?
- Derek, you’re a musician. Is building a successful business like writing a hit song?
When you do this, isolate all of your questions, not just five as I’ve done here. Review each question and also look at them as a whole.
- Which questions worked well?
- What could you have done better?
- Were the questions well constructed? (Did you ask questions that elicited stories? Or did you ask yes/no questions?)
- Did you ask good follow up questions?
- Did you ask questions in an order that created any sort of structure? You should strive to create a narrative arc, a story’s full progression.
Now, the second part of this exercise is to find a transcript of an interview done by a world-class interviewer. You can Google for interviewers that you admire. Do the same thing. Pull only the questions.
I chose Terry Gross interviewing Howard Stern on Fresh Air. Again for brevity, here are five questions:
- Is it too personal to ask you what the therapy approach is that you use?
- So what kind of analysis is it? How does it work?
- Was that hard for you – to not make it about you?
- OK. So the therapist – you explain this in the book – that the therapist said to you that, you know, when you were telling him all these funny stories about your parents, what he heard was the sadness underneath the comedy.
- So when he pointed out the sadness in your comedy, had you not been aware of it before? And also when he, you know, like, underscored – hey, this sounds really sad; this is coming from unhappiness – did it change your comedy in addition to changing your interviews?
While this can be a humbling exercise, it’s great for learning.
I know that I still ask yes/no questions too frequently, even when I know I shouldn’t. Terry Gross does it too so I won’t beat myself up too much.
My big takeaway is that Terry has a much better overall structure to her questions. In this example, all five questions were about therapy–an opening question and series of strong follow-ups . And she smoothly transitioned from the topic of therapy to how it changed Howard’s comedy and interviews. Oh, that is good!
I’m left admiring Terry’s style of questioning, her economy of words. It’s conversational yet direct. When looking at her progression of questions put together, we’re clued in to how she extracts a bigger story from this interview.
Comparing your interview questions to a world-class interviewer’s is one of the biggest shortcuts to creating a better interview podcast. Do this regularly and you’re guaranteed to have more winning interviews. Go review some transcripts!
Please go try this and post here to share what you learned.