Tips From Some Pros On Prepping ‘Everyday People’

First, take a couple minutes and listen to this song. It’s been in my head all day.

I’ll wait.

OK, you’re welcome.

Now, about those “everyday people.”

This post is basically about those we’re looking to book for two-ways or as podcast guests.

Not everyone we interview (live or recorded) is used to being on the air or as part of a podcast. They may not know much about how we work, what we’ll do with the material we gather or that there are words they shouldn’t say (unless those words are essential and we’ve warned listeners they’re coming).

There are staffers on all the shows and desks who have years of experience walking guests and interviewees through the process. If you’re new to the world of pre-interviews and booking or just want some advice, pick their brains. That’s what I’ve done. Here are some tips from Liz Baker, Miranda Kennedy and Viet Le, and from Jonathan Kern’s book Sound Recording: The NPR Guide To Audio Journalism And Production:

- “If we are putting a fairly green guest on the air,” Miranda writes, “it’s a good idea to say we want to run through some tips with them to help them sound their best and most natural, while also sticking to some basic guidelines for broadcast.”

She often tells such guests “it’s especially important to be straightforward in a radio interview. Imagine you’re talking to someone who only cares a little about your topic, and is only half-listening, because they are driving or brushing their teeth.”

Miranda sometimes reminds folks “that live radio has a few basic rules, including to try to stay away from overly sensitive topics or words. One way to put this: if you’re not sure your friend or aunt would like her kids to hear that topic or word, just don’t use it.”

- “If it’s a first-person narrative we want,” Viet says, “I ask them to think of some anecdotes.  If it’s supposed to be a fun interview, I’ll remind them to be fun (sometimes people forget.)  If it’s a complicated idea, I’ll ask them to think of a good metaphor.  If a person had long answers in the pre-interview, I’ll remind them to try and keep it succinct.”

This may sound basic, but Viet notes it’s also important to make sure it’s clear to guests whether they’re on live or being taped. Yes, sometimes need to hear that.

- Liz says her main advice “is to always do a long pre-interview (at least 10 minutes).” That could reveal a potential issue: “If the person is using [foul] language in the pre-interview, chances are they’ll let it slip in the real one too- even if they say things like ‘don’t worry I won’t say this on the radio.’”

When doing pre-interviews, she believes in being “a normal person having a normal conversation” and being sure to “admit right away when you don’ t know something or are confused.” Guests, she says, are more at ease with the idea of coming on the air when they know we’ve taken the time and care to understand their stories before the interview.

- One of Jonathan’s tips in Sound Recording is that during pre-interviews it’s important to “listen for people who have interesting things to say and novel ways to say them.”

“The fluency of the guest,” Jonathan writes, “is most important when the guest is going to be on live.” One key step in such cases, Justine Kenin tells him in the book, may be “to get people clear about their thinking before they’re even on the air.”

It’s critical, adds Jonathan, to eliminate confusion – not just about why we want to talk to this person and what we’re doing, but also something as basic as when we’re going to do it. “Go over the time precisely,” he advises.

Those are just a few tips. As I said above, there are experienced hands across the shows and desks who can be consulted. Talk to them.

Now, back to Sly and the Family Stone.

Bonus content from NPR Training:

15 Principles Of Show Booking

(“Memmos;” Feb. 5, 2018)


February 5, 2018

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