Four Keys to Creating a Great Audio Interview

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Charlie Meyerson
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Photo credit: Kenny Louie / Flickr 

—–

SCENE: Your boss’ office.

Boss: Hey, you know how a few years ago everyone was all like, “We need a video for our website or our app, or whatever?”

You: Yeah.

Boss: Well, now everyone’s all like, “We forgot about audio. We need audio for our website and our app, and whatever.”

You: So?

Boss: We need audio for our website and our app, and whatever.

—–

Look around you.

On the street, on the bus, on the train. In the fitness center, on the running path, in the bike lanes…

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… and, of course, in cars …

You’ll see more people than ever listening to things.

The irony for traditional broadcasting: Because those people have so many more choices, a smaller percentage are listening to what’s historically been considered radio.

That’s an opportunity for all other would-be audio creators. Including you.

The Interview

If you or your organization are considering that adventure — creating audio for a website, an app, iTunes, Soundcloud or some other platform — one of your simplest and most compelling options is the interview.

Your subject could be a colleague, an expert in the field, a customer. It could be the employee of a rival organization.

Whoever your subject, the resulting content can generate a quote that can make for great headlines, subject lines or social media sharing.

On Orbit’s blog, you’ll find an excellent guide to conducting interviews by email for publication as text (something I first tried in 1998).

A well-conducted audio interview has much in common with the email interview. But the dimension of sound adds a few layers to the prep work.

At Rivet, where we’re reimagining radio for digital delivery and consumption, our unique listening metrics are teaching us what it takes to create compelling audio in a digital world — a world where competing audio is a click or a swipe away. Specifically, we’re learning what it takes to get people to listen past a piece’s beginning and then all the way to the end.

Here’s an example. It shows what happens after more than 700 people began listening to an interview with then-Tribune columnist Melissa Harris.

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Note how many listeners, able to skip easily to the next story, bailed before hearing even 25 percent of the two-minute piece. This demonstrates just how hard it is, in a world of unlimited listening possibilities, to get an audience to settle in for an audio segment.

How to Create An Interview

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating an interview that can be posted to the web with minimal or no editing, and that, unlike most live radio, can have a long and relevant shelf-life.

Step 1: Craft a Compelling Intro.

The first thing heard in your audio should be a one- or two-sentence version of what’s ahead, beginning with the most interesting and relevant phrases and sounds you can muster. Only after establishing a reason for listeners to stick around should you take time to do things like ID yourself, your show, your guest and your underwriter or sponsor; and, if you must, to insert theme music (which — anecdotally — seems to be a tuneout).

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(A sample script intro aimed at minimizing tuneout)

Tip: Incorporate a riveting sound-bite from within the forthcoming interview into your intro. You can carefully craft your “live” intro (the one you read while you’re sitting with your subject), to include a brief pause where you can later insert a cut.

The key is to write an intro that alludes to a question you’re sure you’ll be asking. Example: an interview with two veterans of the Second City comedy organization, Tom Yorton and Kelly Leonard.

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Photo credit: Charlie Meyerson

Tip: Spare your listeners the waste of time that is “Thank you for joining us” or “Thanks for being here,” either at the opening or close.

That just brings things to a halt. (Because we all know what comes next: “Great to be here.” Or “Thanks for having me.” And then a brief, awkward pause.)

Keep it moving, start to finish. Thank your guests as profusely as you like — before or after your recorded segment.

Step 2. Get to the Questions.

You don’t need a lot of them. Anywhere from one to five questions can make a fulfilling interview. Freed of live radio’s need to fill a specific timeslot, digital audio interviews can last just as long as they’re interesting — no need to stretch, no need to edit for length. Just make sure it’s interesting, start to finish. In that regard, shorter is better.

A few notes on questions:

  • Write them down — word for word, if you like. Audio and email interviews have that in common. Practice your questions, too: As with any writing, reading them out loud is a good way to ensure they make sense and sound good.
  • Avoid yes-or-no questions, because you may get just “Yes” or “No” for an answer — a show-stopper.
  • Avoid simply making statements. Your subject may have nothing to say about what you say — another show-stopper. Your job is to be a question-asking machine and then get out of the way.
  • Your most important role as the interviewer is to act as a translator for your audience. Listen to what your subject’s saying. If you don’t get it, odds are your audience won’t, either. If you get an answer you don’t understand, ask the question again a different way. Or ask for an explanation of a specific word, phrase or idea you didn’t get. Remember — and, if need be, remind your subject — your main job is to help your subjects share their knowledge and opinions with others. Your job’s not done until you understand what your subject’s told you.
  • Save your best — most controversial, engaging — questions for the middle or late part of the interview. That’ll give you and your subject time to warm up to one another. But don’t save toughies for the very end; if your subject has to leave or break away early, you wind up empty-handed.
  • Ask the tough questions. If you want to ask a tough question — often the best, most shareable part of any audio experience — here are two ways to do it without making yourself the villain: (1) Blame it on someone else: “Some people have said you’re a crook. What do you say to them?” (2) Take responsibility, but apologize for it: “This may be hard for you to answer, and I wish we could avoid it altogether, but are you a crook?”

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Step 3: Talk Conversationally.

Don’t shout. Your microphone — like that target audience of earbud-wearers — is just an inch or two away.

Tip: Talking conversationally becomes easier when you write conversationally.

Step 4: When You’re Done, Stick the Landing.

Know before your guest completes that final answer that you’ll be jumping in to end the interview. And then just do it. Have your close scripted out and ready to go. For example:

That’s (guest’s title, guest’s name), talking about (brief subject recap). [Optional: Plug for more info (website, phone number, email).] I’m (your name). You’re listening to (name of your feature/organization).

Bonus Tips!

  • So the interview can have the longest possible relevant shelf life, coach your guest in advance not to say things like “today,” “tomorrow,” “this week.” Better: “This year.” Or specific years, like “in 2016 …” If he or she does use phrases that anchor your interview in time, include the recording date at the beginning or end of the piece. For historic purposes, that’s a good idea in any event.
  • Encourage your subject beforehand to be brief, brief, brief. If you ask a guest in advance to stick to two- or three-sentence answers, you’ll probably get five- or six-sentence answers, which will be about right.
  • If you make a mistake or otherwise fumble, don’t be afraid to back up and ask a question again. Editing is easy, but make cuts between your voice and your guest’s — and not from your voice to your voice, which is easy to mess up. You’ll find advanced tips for editing — for instance, how to make your edits imperceptible — on the Rivet blog.

What’s Next?

If you’re creating great audio, let us hear about it. Rivet’s not just an audio source; it’s also a publishing platform, where your followers can hear your latest as soon as it’s published — alongside Rivet original programming, our partners’ content and other podcasts.

Audio’s a wonderful, compelling, ubiquitous medium. The audience for creative and original listening’s never been easier to reach. If you share Rivet’s passion for reimagining radio, we’re here to help you create great experiences.

What audio features have kept you riveted for the first 30 seconds or more? What triggers an urge to tune out? Please share in the comments below.

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Comments (10)
  • This is a fantastic and inspiring blog post, Charlie and Andy! Thank you both for taking the time to offer this and I am going to jump on this idea as soon as I can. Charlie, what tools do you use to record and edit your interviews?

    • Great question, Michelle. And probably fodder for another blog post, somewhere. But one short answer is this: In person, you can just use a smartphone, making sure to get it as close to the corner of your and your subject’s mouth as possible (the corner, to avoid popping Ps and Bs). Then transfer (email, etc.) the sound to a computer for editing with Garage Band or Audacity (free editing software, works almost identically on PCs and Macs). That’s how I recorded this interview with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. http://www.rivetnewsradio.com/share/57110

      • Thanks Charlie, I already have Garage Band loaded on my laptop, so I think I’ll give that a try. Thanks for the great info.

  • great post – Charlie brings lots of experience – many of your tips can be used to compelling written content as well.

  • “Are you a crook?” is a yes or no question.

    • Touché, sir.

      • Better, then: “What do you say to those who suggest you are a crook?”

  • Thank you Charlie Meyerson for share your experience and all these important tips with us, I’ll study and follow them.

  • Oh my goodness. You just saved me from something I hate but hadn’t articulated – the blah blah blah – bad music, “thank you so much” and all about me first. Love these tips! I’m here to learn about your SEO services (based on a Digital Marketer mention) but this is fantastic info for an unusual podcast type service I’m offering marriage therapists. (It’ll be 1 powerful question they answer in hopefully 3-5 minutes.) Very attractive, engaging questions to couples. Your post is much appreciated. Plus the bit about the phone and those two services. I use Audacity but forgot about garage band.

    • Wonderful to hear. Just a reminder that the Rivet team’s shared lots more resources about how to create great audio here: http://blog.rivetnewsradio.com/

      If you want our professional consulting and production help in the podcasting process, we can do that, too! Drop me a note at charlie@rivetnewsradio.com if we can make your job easier.

      And, regardless, Rivet can publish and distribute your podcasts to your followers, as we’re already doing for organizations like the University of Chicago and the Mayo Clinic.

      Good luck!

 
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