The interviews from my perspective

(Part 1 of 4 in series, The interviews from my perspective)

This ongoing series of posts will contain my memories and thoughts from the interviews which I have been doing for the Movers Mindset podcast.

You can—obviously—listen to each interview. But in this series I want to share things about the interviews. I realized that I have begun to tell stories about the interviews, and people are fascinated by those stories as much as by the interviews themselves.

And so I want to share snapshots—imagery and ideas conveyed through storytelling—from the interviews. The podcast is about, among other things, sharing stories and for every interview I have at least one great story I want to tell.

Stories from before the interviews, or after. Or the people in the room you didn’t hear, or beautiful spaces I get to visit, or the time of day, the light, the vibe, the orgin-story of how I first met the guest, how they affected my life or my journey, …

I’m already 27 stories behind and even the most cursory romp down memory lane has brought countless stories to mind.

So, Craig, “Is there a story you’d like to share?

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A conversation with Mandy Lam

(Part 2 of 4 in series, The interviews from my perspective)

27 — Mandy Lam

The conversation with Mandy was the first time I tried simply recording a long conversation, which we published with almost zero editing. I had been talking to people on our team about trying this form of recording, but at some point, you just sort of have to jump in the pool.

I don’t remember where or when I first met Mandy. I don’t remember if someone said, “you should interview Mandy.” “Who?” “Mandy, over there— here, I’ll introduce you.” …or maybe we first met training. I really don’t recall. But I do recall that after a conversation we were like, yeah, let’s do an interview. At some point. Somewhere. Some when.

Then a few more conversations. Then a few stories at Gerlev, and then we were at the 3rd Évry Move event and we kept saying, “we should make time for an interview.” So after dinner one evening, we kicked our feet up in a hotel room overlooking the fountain in front of the Évry Cathedral.

…and talked for more than two hours trying to decide what to talk about in her interview. Two terrific hours of great conversation. We kept looking out from the 4th floor, with the big window swung open wide to the warm night, and thinking, “This is Évry. We’re just casually chatting about communities and life and everything… in the middle of Évry.”

…and the huge water fountain in the plaza sounding like a waterfall.

…and we really should press record soon.

“…ok, so, we’ve now been talking for 2-and-a-half hours. We should probably press record soon.”

Finally, I was like, “fuck it. ready?” and I hit record. Then we talked for another two hours. We recorded this sleep-drunk rambling conversation, and the whole time I’m thinking, “this is going to be so bad. No one will ever want to listen to this.”

Weeks later, I finally listened to it.

There’s a team of people behind the podcast and they  always want to know how each interview went. I bet you’ve heard the phrase, “like pulling a rabbit out of your hat,” used when—with a touch of panache—you manage something akin to snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

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These posts contain my thoughts and lessons learned from the behind the scenes of the interviews. These are the stories from before the interview, or after, the other people in the room you don’t hear, the places we visit, or just the vibe. You can also find them in the Movers Mindset community tagged with behind-the-scenes. If you’d like to listen to the interviews, check out Movers Mindset’s episode directory.

Road trip to Dylan’s

(Part 3 of 4 in series, The interviews from my perspective)

I met Dylan Johanson in 2013. I went to an ADAPT certification course at Kutztown University run by Parkour Generations, and Dylan came down from upstate New York. He hadn’t really had a chance to train with a lot of other people, so this was the first time that he had had a chance to be in a group of roughly 27 candidates for the course, which was enormous. He was just so happy. He was basically running, jumping or laughing the whole time because he had never found such a large group of people with the same passion.

The first day he was sort of playing the, “I’m old,” card because he was in his late 30s at the time, having started parkour after quitting his previous business life. When he eventually bumped into me, it was like, “hey, fellow oldster!” We just sort of clicked, and we wound up walking from the training spots to where lunch was and back and forth. When I started doing the podcast years later, I was always thinking his story was interesting because of—as he talks about in the podcast—his early “days of the ninja”; He would just pick a straight line through Kingston on a Sunday when everything is closed and run over fences, dogs and all that.

He’s over 3 hours by car from me, but I kept trying to find ways to get up and train with him. I made a couple road trips up to his different iterations of the gym. When I finally got a chance to interview him, it was so fun to sit down with no distractions because normally the people that I hang out with, we’re meeting at events, we’re meeting at parkour gyms and things are crazy. For this interview, it was just this chill opportunity for us to sit at his house and relax.

The story of how I got to the actual pressing of record was that I went to a winter retreat that was held in the Catskills. After the event was over, instead of driving the four hours back to where I live, I just drove 45 minutes across the Hudson River. It’s a fond memory for me because I had the quiet drive-time to myself, and I was driving west into a glorious sunset after a deeply introspective, winter immersion retreat.

I drove across the Hudson, and I went directly to the third incarnation of his gym; The gym that I had not yet been to. Everything just came together. There was an adult birthday party happening that evening at the gym, so when I got there, the place was packed with people and all his instructors. I showed up, dropped my bag and went to play on things. It was like the very beginning, “Hey, Dylan, how are you?” “I’m cool.” …and right into showing each other things to try and challenges. It was this perfect, closed loop back to how we met simply jumping and playing.

Eventually the birthday party ended, they closed the gym down, and I went back to Dylan’s to crash for the night. When I travel for podcasting, everything goes with me in one backpack with the rest of my stuff, and normally I just sleep on the floor with my favorite little air mattress. After dinner, I got upgraded to a futon, and it was a great end to terrific day.

In the morning, we sat around his house chatting. His house has some terrific quiet space where you can really recharge. There’s a lot of wood. It’s very much a home. There’s also Tesla, Dylan’s super-sweet love-hound pitpull, and she’s in the podcast too; You don’t hear her, but we talk about her. We sat in his living room with our feet on his coffee table, drinking coffee out of silly-shaped coffee mugs, and just talking about our ADAPT course and other random stuff. I often say that all the episodes are my favorite, but Dylan’s is one of the first where I realized how much having the chance to spend time with the guests before we do the recording changes everything.

The interviews always show the guests’ personality, and you can really get to know them, but it doesn’t work if I literally just walk up and say, “Okay, you ready?” “Yes.” And then press record. It’s priceless to have spent the day before jumping and playing at the gym, dinner at his home, and all night we’re thinking, “what are we going to talk about tomorrow? A leisurely morning with the dog, coffee, and then when we finally did press record, we were just so ready to talk that his interview just clicks. They just fall out like that. There’s little bits here and there that get cut or some do-overs, but it was just so fun.

His story that he tells in the podcast about making ninja lines through quiet, downtown Kingston… that’s literally who Dylan is. Not that he does that every day, but he is literally the person who runs and jumps and plays. In the episode, he talks about some of his favorite spots in Kingston. After the recording, we threw down the recording gear and drove down to Kingston. We went to some of his favorite spots, just randomly jumped on stuff, playing and enjoying ourselves for hours.

It was a fun session for me because it was just the two of us, and we’re both a little older. Now, he’s way better than me athletically, but to get a chance to once again move with this guy that I enjoy training with so much, and in the spots that are his places where he just kept going, “Oh, you got to try this. Oh, you got to try this.” I never had a moment to get bored, he always had the next place in mind. He’s super energetic and fun to follow around.

I didn’t know Dylan when he had his day job. I only met him after he had quit and started working on parkour as a full-time, “how am I going to turn this into an actual project?” job. Simply put, he was trying to create a community. It was in that timeframe when I met him at the ADAPT course. I started running into him at other events, and when he created his first gym I went up. I made another visit when he opened the second incarnation of his gym. I didn’t go up and train with him when he first started his community, but I’ve known him for that whole time.  Eventually he had created the third gym, and that’s when the random confluence of events created the chance to go up for an interview. As I was driving up I was thinking, “I don’t know anybody who’s opened three gyms.” Like three iterations of the same community gym, and that was why that kind of became a thing in the episode; It was me coming to him at the point where he had now done the third one. That’s why when I ask him for advice, he’s very much like, “Yeah, don’t do it. Don’t open three gyms.”

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These posts contain my thoughts and lessons learned from the behind the scenes of the interviews. These are the stories from before the interview, or after, the other people in the room you don’t hear, the places we visit, or just the vibe. You can also find them in the Movers Mindset community tagged with behind-the-scenes. If you’d like to listen to the interviews, check out Movers Mindset’s episode directory.

Someone has to be the first guinea pig

(Part 4 of 4 in series, The interviews from my perspective)

The story behind episode one is challenging. How much do we want to know? How much do we want to share about the birth of the podcast? That all plays into Episode One. I picked Adam as the first guest because I wanted a guinea pig. I had bought a Zoom recorder and some microphones and cables. There’s a guy who did our audio editing for the first two years, and I had sent him some test audio files just to verify that when I press “Record” it does what we think it does.

I had been training with Adam for years, so I approached him and said, “Hey, I’m thinking about starting a podcast. You want to sit down and have a conversation?” In hindsight, I now realize it takes a lot of chutzpah to actually say, “Okay, I’ll sit down with microphones,” but he was totally up for it. I said, “I need a guinea pig. I’m going to screw it up, and I want you to just be game for a radical F-up.” And, sure enough, now I realize the zeroth rule of podcasting is always press “Record” and then double-check that you’ve actually pressed “Record.” These days we actually have a system, because sometimes it still happens. The person who sits in and listens actually takes notes and uses the time codes from the recorder. So you have to actually look at the recorder, and if the timer isn’t running, we know that I haven’t pressed “Record.”

So, of course, when I sat down to record the podcase with Adam, we started right into it. I had looked at my watch and noted the time when we started, but 13 minutes into it I looked at the recorder and realized the recorder wasn’t recording. I said, “Hey, Adam, remember when I asked if you’d be a guinea pig because I’m going to mess it up? I messed it up. We’re not recording.” So then I pressed “Record” and we started over.

In hindsight, I’m really glad I fell on the sword on the first episode, because it taught me to be humble about when I screw up in a recording. If we’ve gone down the wrong path or I ask a dumb question, I immediately own up to it, like, “Whoa, we screwed this up,” or “You know what, that fire engine went by and screwed up your answer.” It taught me a lesson right out of the gate about being humble about the physical craft part of podcasting, because we really only get one chance. If the take that we get isn’t the greatest … It’s our responsibility to present the guest in their best light, and if there’s something wrong with the take, we need to own up to that. So that was the technical side of the first episode.

Tracy was helping at the time and doing some guest research. We had done a bunch of research on Adam and I had even written out some questions. Looking back now, I realized that writing out all your questions is the right thing to do, although I don’t do it now. But what I should’ve then done is crumpled up the list and thrown it away and gone into the interview with nothing between me and the guest. I had a piece of paper—actually, I think I had my computer. I realize now that, yes, you want to think of the questions, but then you also want to just try and forget them.

I stuck to the script with Adam and it worked out well. Adam is very good at talking and finding a thread, but I really wasn’t helping him very much by providing him with a conversation. That’s one of the things that I realize now is really important for guests, especially some guests who are a little more reticent to talk—not just to have the recording equipment and be able to create the physical space, but to create a conversation between myself and the guest where the guest is interested in continuing to talk.

With Adam, I served him these individual questions tennis-style and then asked a follow-up question or made a comment while he was answering. I pretty much just let him run on his train of thought and then I would present him with the next question. The episode is interesting though. The material is good; it still holds up three years later. But I can hear that it’s just me serving him simple questions. I love listening to it occasionally, because it reminds me of how the way that I craft the story that the narrative in each episode is vastly different, which is just a result of me listening to other people’s podcasts and listening to how people structure them, how the craft works, taking courses, and things like that. So that’s a bit of the technical and a little bit of in front of the mic.

There is a moment in that episode pretty early on where I mention an essay that Adam wrote. I don’t know how we found it, but we had come across this essay on the internet that was actually from Adam’s entrance application for college. I said, “Elsewhere you’ve written about … ” and named a couple of things that were in the essay, and it really made him do a double-take. He said something like, “Wow, you really, really dug at me. I kind of wrote that satirically. I don’t know how you ever found that. I need to go look at my social media to see where I had that online that I had forgotten about.” It was a fun moment where I had caught him off guard and at the time I thought, “Oh, that was interesting.” It took me a while to learn this lesson, but, looking back, I realized that just because I have information that’s interesting or even something a little bit controversial about a guest doesn’t mean I actually want to use that.

I’ve found that it can be hard sometimes if I know too much. You can’t forget something, it’s always going to be in the coloring of your questions. But if I know too much and I say, “Hey, I know about this,” that can really change the tone of the conversation. It can be too big of a gun to bring into the conversation. A lot of times it’s more fun to just know all these things about the guest and then to ask them a leading question to give them the opportunity to bring it up if they want. And then if they choose not to, the conversation just flows where they want.

Sometimes I feel more like I’m trying to create rapids in a river and then see how they whitewater raft down what I’ve created. It’s more like creating opportunities. “Hey, I have a couple of these obstacles and we’d like to roll them into the path. You want to go over this one or do you want to go over that one? Or you can go through the open field.” It took me a long time – maybe 50 interviews – to really figure out what I need to bring in, in terms of knowledge about the guest. 

Sometimes there are things that the audience needs to know about because they’re just so awesome and the guest is just going to be too humble and, I’m like, “I’m sorry we have to talk about this because it’s awesome.” But a lot of the time, the things I know about the guests don’t really need to be brought in. It’s just background that helps me color what we’re talking about. So that first interview really went amazingly well considering how I just leapt into it like, “What could possibly go wrong?” There’s a lot that can go wrong, but it really, really well.

I would say the greatest lesson I learned was having nothing between me and the guest. It took me a while to really learn the lesson to literally not put things between me and the guests because I continued doing that for several episodes, but that was the only interview where I showed up with a script or list of questions. I had an idea about how the whole interview should go and that, in my opinion, does not work. It certainly doesn’t work for the way that I do interviews and the way the podcast works.

You can totally think about how you want it to go, but don’t bring that plan to the actual interview. Don’t attempt to lead the guest to a particular place that you have in mind. That was the takeaway. I didn’t learn it immediately after Episode One, but that lesson is there in that first episode. I would say it’s probably in the first six episodes, because there’s some things that changed with seven – it became a lot more nimble at seven and beyond. I think that’s the biggest takeaway: Don’t go in with a preconceived idea of where the conversation is going to go.

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These posts contain my thoughts and lessons learned from the behind the scenes of the interviews. These are the stories from before the interview, or after, the other people in the room you don’t hear, the places we visit, or just the vibe. You can also find them in the Movers Mindset community tagged with behind-the-scenes. If you’d like to listen to the interviews, check out Movers Mindset’s episode directory.