One of the secrets of a great podcast is the quality of the interviews. A lousy interview with a poorly prepared subject is a nightmare to edit, and even the best editor can’t spin interview garbage into podcasting gold. And, unlike the written word, you can’t just “massage” a quote after the fact. That’s why audio is more authentic than print – and why it’s so important to bring out the real voice of your interview subject.
Study these steps before you hit the ‘record’ button and you’ll save yourself, and your podcast listeners, a big earache.
Before the interview:
Scout the location to make sure there is no obtrusive echo or distracting background noise such as construction, a loud fan or refrigerator.
Test your technology. If it's a remote interview using a platform like Skype, be sure you run a test to make sure your recording setup works.
Do a short pre-interview with the subject to go over what you’re trying to accomplish, set his or her mind at ease and give yourself an idea of what you’re getting into.
Don’t share specific questions ahead of time or you’ll get stilted, memorized answers. Talk about the communication goals of the interview, the context in which it’s being shared, what general topic areas are going to be covered, and the general tone or feeling you hope to convey.
Be sure you leave enough time for setup – at least 15 minutes before the interview time, but sometimes more if there are special challenges related to sound.
Warm up your voice before the interview. Make funny faces to stretch your facial muscles. Recite your favorite tongue twister and vocalize with an open mouth (ay, eee, eye, oh, you) to exercise your voice and help you relax.
At the start of the interview:
Make small talk to make the subject comfortable and allow you to do a sound check.
Reassure them that everyone is nervous, it’s natural, they’ll get more comfortable as the interview goes on, and that if they stumble there’s lots of time to re-do anything.
Go over the goals of the interview, just to remind them.
Make sure they’re clear on their specific part of the story – the exact role they’re meant to play.
Have glasses of water on hand for you and your interview subject (no ice – cold water can tighten the throat).
Tell the subject to take a big deep breath if they seem nervous.
Remind them to not be afraid to smile while they’re talking, and to use their hands – what you want is for them to share their excitement and passion for the subject, and to even amplify that passion as much as possible without feeling uncomfortable.
Be on the lookout for rings, bracelets or necklaces that might jangle or clank, and ask your subject to take them off for the interview.
When the audio recorder is rolling:
Ask the subject to state and spell their name, their title and location (this is for the sake of the editor so he/she has that information handy for doing the titles.)
How to ask questions:
Ask open-ended questions. The best questions start with these kinds of phrases:
“Tell me about…” “How do you feel….” “What was it like….” “What did you learn from this?” “Describe the moment you realized….” “What was the most fun/hardest/most satisfying thing about…..” “Take me back to the time when….” “Why is this important to you?” “Why is this important to the organization/team/community?” “If there was one thing you want our listeners to remember, what would that be?” “What would you say to someone who is faced with a similar challenge?”
Read the person’s style. The more nervous they are, the less coaching they can deal with -- just try to make them comfortable and let them talk.
Try not to interrupt, even if you’re not getting what you want. Let your subject finish talking, then say, “That was good, could you please repeat that, but just a little bit shorter?”
Be conversational. Go with the flow. If they’re heading off in a direction that’s 10 questions down in your list, let them talk, and then get back to your line of questioning after they’ve finished their thoughts.
Always re-ask the first couple of questions at the end of the interview, and you’re sure to get more relaxed answers. Sometimes it even works to repeat the entire interview if there’s time.
Listen. Really listen. And, if it’s an important or difficult answer, let there be a pregnant pause without interruption … afterthoughts are often the best clips.
Always ask if you’ve left anything out – “Have I missed anything? Is there something else you’d like to add?”
After the interview is over:
Always compliment the subject on his or her performance.
Don’t forget to get them to sign a waiver/release.
Let them know when they can expect to see a draft of the audio (if that’s appropriate), and make sure they get a copy of, or a link to, the finished product.
If you need them, take some still photos of the interview subject (and you with the interview subject, if appropriate) before you go.
Record some “B-roll” -- the sounds of the person doing his or her job, at his or her desk, on the phone, typing at a computer, operating some equipment, chatting with colleagues, etc.
Make sure to get appropriate “room tone” – at the very least get 30 seconds of the sound of the room with no other sounds to interrupt it.
Send a thank-you email thanking the subject for his or her time and complimenting them on their performance.
Bonus tip: If you have to turn off a fridge to reduce room noise, put your keys inside so you can’t forget to turn it back on before you leave.
Of course, many of these tips can be used to get a great print or video interview. Start incorporating them in your world today.
One more thing. When it comes to getting good interviews, practice makes perfect, both for you and your subjects. The more you do it, the easier it will be to capture and share the voices, the stories and the spirit of your organization.
“Innumerable confusions and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition.”
- Marshall McLuhan
In Marshall McLuhan’s heyday, television was the cause of profound cultural changes, which continue to reverberate. McLuhan’s insights on the impact of new media have become prophesy in today's world as the next-generation Internet drives another great technological and cultural transition.
Organizational communicators have been trying to come to grips with the “Web 2.0” revolution for years now – some by lamenting the current state of affairs and hungering for a return to apple-pie values, and others finding hope in the promise of new technology.
So, what is the role of employee communicators in this new world? Lately, a lively and engaging conversation about that is going on in the blogosphere, sparked by one of the true thought leaders in the field.
Roger D’Aprix, who put the "strategic" in strategic communications, recently initiated a discussion on the IABC Linkedin group with the provocative title, “Is Our Profession Intellectually Lazy?” In his initial post he puts a finer point on the question. “Do we continue to take the easy way out in our work and decline to take on the tough challenges of true organizational communication process and the real needs of our audience as the research reveals those needs? If so, why? What do you think??”
Roger’s shot across the bow was quickly returned by my old friend David Murray, another leader in the arcane world of employee communications theory. (I dare say it may be the only world in which there are more leaders than followers.) David’s lengthy and passionate response on ragan.com begins with the suggestion that Roger’s question had not gone far enough. “He forgot to mention morally bankrupt and emotionally dead,” writes David. “At least it often seems that way to me. I’m getting pretty bored with the subject I’ve studied for more than 20 years, the subject I’ve given more of my energy than any other.”
David goes on to despair of communicators’ addiction to trendy technologies, our preoccupation with transferring “the soulless jargon-laden PowerPoint deck that exists in the CEO’s head, into the heads of every employee” and our overambitious and vain attempts to understand and embrace the concept of “employee engagement.” His throat-clearing introductory complaints are followed by a thoughtful essay focused largely on the work of Alexander Heron. Heron’s 1942 handbook, “Sharing Information with Employees” laid out a groundbreaking philosophy of employee communication.
David argues that Heron’s ideas are just as relevant today as when the book was published, and I’m inclined to agree. Heron envisioned a workplace in which leaders communicate with employees to give them “an understanding of the basic economics of their business, who the customers are, who the competition is, what the expectation of quality is, and what kind of person the boss is.”
Heron also believed in the power of two-way communication. Although some questions from employees “will be annoying or embarrassing,” answering them will drive their bosses to challenge their own thinking. Spurred on by open dialogue, leaders would work harder to restore “the living, understanding relationship” between a business and its workers that existed before industrialization and mass production took it away.
According to David these ideas should guide the modern communicator’s work, compelling us to go beyond simply responding to what management wants. He challenges us to inject a higher sense of purpose into what we do.
David’s essay is worth reading in its entirety, but at the end of the piece he sums up his own philosophy this way: the communicator’s role is to help make work more meaningful to employees, and “the more meaning people find in their work, the happier people will be.” Nicely put.
This lofty discussion of the purpose of employee communications continued with a thoughtful blog post by another old friend, technology guru Shel Holtz. Shel chides David for his curmudgeonly, things-were-better-then worldview and shares his views on the discipline of employee communications – emphasizing the importance of an engaged workforce, the value of two-way communication, and the power of technology to help communicators practice our craft.
Shel ends his post with a vision informed by more than 30 years of experience.
“We need to bring a critical eye to the organization and be prepared to challenge leaders rather than simply succumb to their often misguided expectations. We should see the broader consequences of what we do. We should elevate the business literacy of employees. We should, collectively, have a profound effect on society at large.”
Meanwhile, back at the Linkedin discussion, now nearly 60 comments long, Roger D’Aprix sums up the discussion to date:
“Dave Murray in his Ragan piece expresses what I would call the humanistic and romantic view of our work. Not in some sappy sense but in real terms that stir my hope and imagination. Shel Holtz sees things slightly differently, believing that greater professionalism, training and certification of qualifications will go a long way toward making things better….I think that we need both--a romantic vision (that I share) and a vision of standards that frankly excites me less although the necessity is obvious. But I don't think that will give us standing unless the two visions co-exist and lead to improved organizational performance – especially a more engaged workforce.”
The conversation continues to have legs. Communication measurement icon Angela Sinickas wieghs in with positive note, pointing out that things can’t be all that bad if she and others have managed to build long and successful careers doing nothing but communication-related research. From her point of view, “the greatest focus on research, evaluation and measurement is right now, by far more than ever before.”
For me, all this is wonderful. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen such a thorough, thoughtful online conversation about employee communications. To read through it, you get a good sense of where the experts stand on all the big issues, a summary of best practices, and lots of fodder for further discussion.
Wrapping up, another leading thinker on organizational communication, Mike Klein, proclaimed he’s “excited to see a real debate about the nature of internal communication.” He ends his post entitled "The Debate Has Arrived...Let's Move it Forward" with a new challenge for us:
“In order to move from debating the nature of internal communication to shaping its future, the main task is to recognize its current context and assess what is driving its future development. Questioning the values, behavior, standards and savvy of practitioners and, indeed, the collective mind-set of the industry is no bad thing. The debate about the future will marry such an inquiry with a deep appreciation of the diversity of contexts in which we operate and the trends, be they demographic, cultural, financial or technological, which we will increasingly confront. Let that conversation begin."
Thanks for throwing down another gauntlet, Mike. It’s time to talk about shaping the future of internal communications, and I look forward to participating in that conversation.
It was a beautiful morning on November 11, Remembrance Day. I decided to take our family dog, Stella, to Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver for a nice long walk. She loves to fetch a rubber ball, especially if she gets to swim to retrieve it.
As we worked our way up the sea wall, I listened to CBC Radio One through a streaming live audio feed from my smart phone. The time was approaching 11.00 a.m. and I wanted to make sure I would be able to hear coverage of Canada’s official Remembrance Day ceremony and observe the traditional two minutes of silence. (The ceremony is held at the National War Memorial in Ottawa and it’s delayed on the radio so it can be heard “live” at 11.00 a.m. across the country.)
As I walked along the sea wall, I noticed lots of people wearing red poppies, including a good number of senior citizens, of whom there are many in West Vancouver. About a minute before the ceremony was to begin, I happened upon a group of five or six people – it looked as if they were members of a family – who were standing around an elderly man sitting on a park bench.
My social instincts took over, and I came up to the group with my phone’s speaker on, and said, “Hi, I’ve got the CBC on and the Remembrance Day ceremony is about to start. Do you want to listen to it with me?”
They nodded, and we all listened as I held the phone out in front of me, cupping my hand so the sound carried a little better. We all got to hear the National Anthem, followed by the familiar, hauntingly beautiful Last Post. Then the gun salute marking the start of the two minutes of silence. And then, for a few minutes more, we heard the ceremony continue, and I figured I should take my leave before we all started to feel awkward.
The folks at the park bench thanked me, some with a kind word or two, others with nods and friendly, knowing looks. I returned the gesture. “Thanks,” I said, “These kinds of moments are always more meaningful when you can share them with someone.”
As Stella and I walked away, a squadron of vintage prop planes passed overhead in a ceremonial flyover. Looking up, I thought about the enormous value of shared experience. And I realized that the little gathering around my phone was a microcosm of what’s happening out there in the world today. Technology – whether it’s a live streaming audio feed on a smart phone, or a “Like” button on a Facebook post, or a viral video on YouTube – is helping bring people together in countless new ways.
Although it sounds a bit strange, for me it was a natural thing to offer my phone to a group of people gathered around a park bench. Whether it’s on a beach or inside an organization, the essence of the communicator’s role is to build community by creating positive shared experiences.
A couple of weeks ago I got a new mandate from an old client. I've been tapped as the internal communciations specialist on a project with a very simple and meaningful goal: reduce injuries due to slips, trips and falls in a busy industrial workplace by 50% this winter.
There are a bunch of actions the company is taking to improve safety conditions, like doing more to make sure walkways aren't slippery and ladders and ramps are properly maintained. Those things will surely help reduce the risk of incidents, but the biggest single cause of injuries has nothing to do with the physical plant - people put themselves at risk by not paying full attention to what they're doing.
That's where communication comes in. If we can raise awareness of safety risks and give clear advice on what to do to avoid them, people will change their habits, safety will improve and we will meet our goal.
Of course it's not that simple. Workers and their managers are inundated with messages from management asking them to do things every day. After awhile, one bulletin blends into the next, the latest PowerPoint presentation looks a lot like the last one, and it all starts to taste the same.
One of the most powerful ways to cut through the clutter and reach people in a way that moves them is video. Particularly video that features real people telling meaningful stories about change. So we're going to interview employees who have experienced injuries and ask them how it affected them, what could have prevented their incidents, and what they would say to their co-workers about why it's important to pay more attention to safety on the job and at home.
The video interviews won't be the only thing we do, but they will be an important component of our communications, which will include print and other channels.
I've written and spoken often about how online video, audio and other Web 2.0 applications have the potential to renew the sense of shared experience and community that have been missing in the corporate world for an entire generation. The tools are there, and they're finally so affordable and easy to use that they can't be ignored. One of the leaders in our field, Shel Holtz, says video is one of the hottest corporate communication media, and communicators need to prove they can handle it.
My old friend David Murray of McMurry, a company that produces trade publications and award programs for communicators, saw the LCD screen on the wall and has put together the first Strategic Video Awards, which he is billing as "a different kind of awards program, one that rewards not the style of your videos, but the substance of your video communication."
I have the privilege of being on the judging panel for the awards. It's easy to enter, and not too expensive. The deadline for entry is this Friday, Oct. 15.
Enter now, and get recognized for being a leader of the communication revolution.
I had an opinion piece on the op-ed page of the Vancouver Sun in March, 2010 that sums up my views on social media in the workplace. (It's no longer available online, so I'm posting it below.)
Social Media Have a Role to Play in the Workplace
By Ron Shewchuk
During the Winter Olympic Games I was often reminded of the power of social networks to make connections that were unimaginable just a few short years ago.
Case in point: on the first day of the Games I was walking along Robson Street with some out-of-town guests when we caught sight of couple of giddy thrill-seekers hooting and flailing their arms and legs as they glided along the downtown zip line. I had heard the ride was free and I thought it might be fun for my guests’ teen-aged sons to give it a try. So I pulled out my smart phone and posted this on my twitter feed: “Does anyone know how long the wait is for the Robson zip line?”
Within a few minutes the operator of the ride tweeted back: “Thanks for your interest. Right now the lineup is about three hours long. If you want to try tomorrow, the zip line is open at 8.00 a.m.” Amazing.
In the space of four years, social networks like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have become woven into the fabric of our society. A recent study of global internet use by Universal McCann reported some astounding statistics: over 60 per cent of internet users have a profile on a social network. Over 80 per cent view videos on YouTube, and close to 30 percent don’t just watch – they’ve uploaded videos to the web for others to see.
This stuff is no longer in the realm of computer geeks and teenagers. Today the majority of internet users read and comment on blogs and new sites, listen to audio or video podcasts, share photos online using sites like Flikr, and regularly turn to services like Yelp and TripAdvisor to get user reviews of restaurants or vacation destinations.
This broad adoption of social networks is profoundly changing the way people find and share information. It’s also creating powerful online communities that can stage activist campaigns, lead consumer revolts and even influence the outcome of elections.
So why isn’t the same thing happening at work, where we spend most of our waking hours? With only one in five of today’s employees fully committed to their jobs and companies struggling to motivate a cynical, disengaged workforce, one would think there would be a rush to build social networks at work. Yet many companies still ban them.
Businesses are worried that employees will waste company time on “social notworking,” or they’ll share confidential information, or do something stupid online that will damage the company’s reputation. They are also concerned that installing social networks will cost time and money with no measurable return on their investment.
And yet despite these issues, social media are slowly being put to use by some leading companies. These early adopters have taken the risks and made the mistakes that beginners make. In the process, they have found many useful, practical applications of the new tools and technologies, from business-friendly equivalents of Twitter and YouTube to full-blown in-house social networks where employees can create their own profile, keep up to date with their work mates, rate and comment on company news, and collaborate on projects.
The early adopters have found that issues of productivity and security can be addressed with clear policies, sound planning and disciplined implementation. And the cost of using these new online tools is low, and often free of charge.
So, what does this all mean for employers who find themselves behind the curve?
Successfully implementing the new tools and technologies of what’s been dubbed “Web 2.0” will require new ways of thinking about the role of employee communications in today’s organization. Traditionally, management has been the keeper and careful disseminator of company news and information, but business communication is now moving inexorably to a model where employees will have the power to create their own content, customize information according to their needs, and build their own internal networks and online communities.
Web 2.0 promises to be a powerful new way to engage employees and improve the effectiveness of today’s organization. It’s time for the workplace to invite social media to be its online friend.
Ron Shewchuk is a North Vancouver-based business consultant who helps companies communicate with their employees. He was also the host of RonCon 2010, a conference about employee engagement and social media held in Vancouver March 22 – 24 and in Calgary March 24-26. Find out more about Ron at www.ronshewchuk.com.
My friend David Murray is speaking at next week's RonCon 2010 conference in Vancouver and Calgary next week on the theme Buried Treasure: Unlocking Long-lost Wisdom to Renew our Profession. A couple of years ago he found the first -- and it turns out, the best -- handbook on employee communication, which happens to have been published 70 years ago.
Last Friday I was a guest on Vancouver media celeb Christy Clark's popular call-in radio show talking about social media in the workplace and the sorry state of employee engagement. (Listen to the interview here.) After covering the ins and outs of social media in the first segment, Christy opened up the phone lines and the conversation turned to the quality of life at work, and the big gap between companies who treat their employees well and those who don't.
We got two great listener calls, which served as a microcosm of what's going on out there in the working world. The first caller works at a small business that's clearly doing things right, with a positive, supportive environment and employees who are great ambassadors for the company. The second caller was a bitter, still-disgruntled retiree who had spent his career in an industry with a long tradition of bad morale, low engagement and acrimonious labor disputes.
Over the past couple of years I've been talking with communicators all over the continent about what Towers Perrin has called the Engagement Gap - the huge disparity between those whose organizations are getting it right, and those who have essentially lost what used to be a meaningful, human connection with employees. And what I'm hearing is that, although many companies have not come to grips with this slow-burning crisis, we're entering a period of great opportunity - a rare time in which real change is possible. Organizations are realizing that the old ways of communicating are not working, and as they struggle to dig their way out of the recession there's an unprecedented willingness to try new strategies.
Whether it's being driven by desperation, or frustration with the status quo, or good old fashioned human ingenuity, the communication revolution is happening.
I had the pleasure of visiting San Antonio, Atlanta and Tampa Bay last week on a short, intense speaking tour with my friends Suzanne Salvo and Steve Crescenzo.
The theme was The Communication Revolution. It was like a mini-version of RonCon 2010, focusing on hot topics - what's going on with social media in the workplace, how to use visual communications to grab the attention of your audience, and how to inject a big dose of creativity into the stale, boring world of corporate communications.
With the help of facilitator Betsy Pasley (a great communicator in her own right), we delivered a half-day conference that got local communicators inspired and motivated to start using the new tools and push their employers to shake off the cobwebs and inject some much-needed humanity (and fun) into their communications.
Here's a short video showcasing what participants had to say about the session in Tampa Bay. It's a great example of what can be done with a Flip Cam (thanks Adrienne Schutte!), iMovie desktop video editing software and a little bit of practice.
I have a moving story to tell. As part of my sponsorship arrangement with IABC Calgary and IABC/BC for RonCon 2010, I agreed to give one full conference registration as something that could be raffled off or given away in a draw to help promote the conference and to give one chapter member in each city an opportunity to go at no cost.
And so on the eve of the Olympics we had a big IABC social event to mark the arrival of the Winter Olympic Games. There were about 80 members present and we held the draw at the end of the evening. And the man who won was Fred Morley, one of the most senior members of the chapter. He was completely thrilled. And we all celebrated that he’d won. Thanks to Ballistic Arts for the video clip.
That’s where my story begins. I got a note from him the next morning, which I’m sharing now, with Fred’s permission, along with my response:
What can I say? A complimentary registration to RonCon2010. What more could an IABC/BC member ask for?
As much as every fibre in my body is telling me to go for it, RonCon2010 really belongs to a younger IABC/BC member. Had I been faster off the mark last night I would have said "thanks" and asked that another name be drawn. But I wasn't and the more I read and reread the programme content the more I know it really should go to a younger member who has a few years under her or his belt and is now ready to take on more responsibility. Having this seminar on one's resume will be a definite plus.
Why am I having such a hard time writing this e-mail?
But facts are facts. I am now 71 years old and retired from the business for six and the things I will learn from RonCon2010 will be only for my knowledge and pleasure. In the past 40 years IABC/BC and its forerunner, the B.C. Industrial Editors Association have been good to me and it will be selfish of me not to let this opportunity go to a younger and more active IABC/BC member.( As I remarked to Adrian Harper when we were walking to the Skytrain station, "I'll bet nine out of ten people in the room tonight are wondering who the hell is Frederick Morley?) I'll leave it to you three to find the best way to make the change. If I may though, I have one favour to ask; may I come to the RonCon2010 barbecue session?
Well, Fred, you are better known than you think. I love the humility and grace of your letter, and I’m going to honour your request in a special way. You can come to the Communication Cookout and any other RonCon 2010 sessions you want as my guest, and in the spirit of your request I’m going to offer one more full conference registration for the B.C. chapter to give away and we’ll soon announce how we'll do that.
Fred, I think you exemplify the values of this association. Your generosity of spirit reminds me of why I’m a member of IABC. So thanks very much and I’ll see you at RonCon 2010. You’ll be the Grand Marshall of our Communication Cookout!