What is the air speed velocity…

So, I’ve been wondering—to those of you who do interviews—does anyone else find they tend to ask overly complicated questions, or do you somehow manage to make them concise?

All through my podcasting and interviewing journey it’s been illuminating to listen to my finished work after a significant amount of time has elapsed. Often I end up with many weeks or even months between when we record something and when it comes out. There’s nothing quite as motivating—at least for me—as hearing my own work… and cringing and wincing and being horrified… anyway. Along the way I’ve been sniping my most egregious problems as best I can.

…and the current issue I’m trying to work through is my use of questions structure as “A, or B?” You see I did it at the top…

So I’ve been wondering—to those of you who do interviews—does anyone else find they tend to ask overly complicated questions, or do you somehow manage to make them concise?

I do this all the time.

So no more of…

I’ve been wondering, what do you think air speed velocity of an unladen swallow, or do you think that in order to ask that we need to know if it’s the African or European variety?

No no no Craig stop asking complicated questions…

What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow? …and then shut. up.


Practice practice practice

Depending on your own personal history, there isn’t necessarily a lot at stake in how you conduct yourself at a cash register. What I’m trying to get at with my idiosyncratic cashier-focused story is this: there’s a vast difference between the habit of getting by, and the habit of getting better, and you may, without realizing it, be free to choose between them.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2020/02/getting-by-and-getting-better/

I’ve not gone down the exact same rabbit hole as Cain. However, being intentional with my work on the podcast interviews is amazing—it’s the same iterative path of discovery as he’s describing.

I’ve done well over 100 interviews—indoors, outdoors, quiet spaces, noisy spaces, while healthy, while sick-ish, with shy people, with insanely energetic people, during the day, at night, across sunsets with natural light, English-speakers and English-as-second-language speakers, old-ish, young-ish, men, women, couples, teams, while working alone and with an assistant, sleep-deprived and well-rested, with the occasional tech problem, in comfy chairs with tea, in an unpadded folding chair for 12 interviews in a row, well-fed and ravenous, . . .

None of that matters.

The conversations are always amazing. Time after time, once we get into the flow state, it turns out that people are interesting— most of the time surprisingly interesting. The more I work at this, the more I’m coming to believe that the art of communication, and in particular conversation, is the single most important skill for a human to possess.


Being a listener

It feels different to be a true listener. You fall into a different brain state—calmer, because you have no stray thoughts blooming in your head—but intensely alert to what the other person is saying. You lose track of time because you are actively following the point the other person has brought up, trying to comprehend what she means and if it relates to other points she’s brought up. Your brain may jump to conclusions, but you’re continually recognizing when that happens, letting it go, and getting a better grip on what the speaker really intends to communicate.

~ Indi Young from, https://alistapart.com/article/a-new-way-to-listen/

This agrees with my experience conducting interviews for the podcast. I’ve now spent several hundred hours intentionally practicing listening. I’ve learned a lot of different things in the process of interviewing and creating a podcast, but what I’ve learned about listening has proven by far the most valuable. Learning how to listen changes every interaction with another person.

Occasionally I wonder if I can sort out some small set of actionable advice from my experience thus far. I haven’t been able to yet, and I think it’s because the act of being able to objectively review your interactions is necessary. It’s one thing to have a conversation, but when it’s recorded and you can return later to review what you said, and what you thought you heard, that’s mind-altering.


Prompts and it’s not a test

When you’re in a job interview, a podcast interview, a sales call, a meeting… if we take the approach that this is a test and there’s a right answer, we’re not actually engaging and moving things forward.

~ Seth Godin, from https://seths.blog/2018/08/ignore-the-questions/

In an interview, if a guest slips into this-is-a-test mode, things get awkward. If I ask, “what’s something people get wrong about you,” the guest will think I’m looking for dirt, and that I want something they’d not want to share. Or worse, they wonder if I already know something, and suspect I want to drag that skeleton from their closet.

But the sort of interviews I’m interested in creating are ones where those involved are working together to create something interesting and respectful of the subject. So it’s important to create the environment where the guest naturally treats questions as prompts. It turns out that this is easy to do.

If I honestly want the good sort of interview, then my actions follow automatically. I share things about myself and doing so invites the other person to share. I take things seriously which conveys that I value the interaction and what I’m hearing. I express my interest directly by asking interesting questions; questions which show the other person I’m generally curious. Overall, I demonstrate that I’m listening because I’m interested rather than because I want to do something with what I’m about to hear.

I’m listening to comprehend; not listening to respond nor refute.