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How do you make your interviews sound natural?

Nirish Shakya has conversations with guests about human-centred design, and wanted to talk to me about how we can make our conversations sound natural, but also engaging. And how do we let our guests do most of the talking?

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00:00:00Nirish
When you listen to other expert podcasts and coaches and you go to podcasting training and bootcamp and things like that, it feels like everything's important. You got to do everything right. You know, the sound, the, interview, the, the marketing, you know, everything has to be perfect.
00:00:14Mark
Welcome to what's your problem, where I try and make podcasters lives easier, one issue at a time. My name is Mark Steadman. I'm a podcast producer, consultant and coach, and in this episode, I'm speaking with Nirish Shakya of the Design Feeling podcast.
00:00:33
Nirish has conversations with guests around human centered design. And when it's to talk to me about how we can make our conversations sound natural, but also engaging. And how do we let our guests do most of the talking? A balance which is massively off kilter with this particular show. Uh so I kicked off with Nirish, asking him what makes a conversation engaging for him as a host.
00:00:58Nirish
Well, first of all, I think the, the topic of the conversation probably needs to resonate with me in terms of oh yeah. That's actually a really useful thing to know, and I think the level of energy, if someone is talking like, you know, yeah. You know, I don't care about this thing and they're not showing any passion, I'm like, yeah, I don't care either.
00:01:21
So. I want to be able to hear the passion in the voice in terms of AIA, you actually care about this topic enough to make me want to care about it.
00:01:30
And third thing that makes, makes it engaging for me is just being friendly. Like I want to talk to people who are friendly and nice and positive, not people who are like assholes and you know, like, but not lots of friendly. So I think those are the, the podcast where I tend to feel more engaged, listening to the conversation.
00:01:50Mark
That warmth, that sort of warmth of personality, bringing that in that, that feeling that, that friendliness, you can't make that happen. That comes from the other person. The best thing you can do is, is when you show up is to show up and be as friendly as possible. And so one of the things that I like to do, possibly on another kind of shows that are a little less formatted or trying to be a little less tight is I'll hit the record button as quickly as possible and get that bit out of the way so that we can then have a conversation.
00:02:21
I often don't have a formal start to my interviews too much. I don't even, I don't like to think of them as interviews. Cause again, you know, we're trying to strive for this natural conversation thing, or this natural sounding dialogue. I like to come in with having a chat. And then I, I know later when I come to edit this, I can find the editing point. And because I trained, did a little bit of journalism at university, one of the tricks that I'm a big fan of, and I think I've mentioned this in previous episodes is going in from the introduction that I record later, and then the next voice that the listener hears is my guest.
00:03:02
That's easy to do when I'm finding that edit point. You know, I haven't started a, started off with the formal question of right now the interview has begun, you must tell me everything about yourself.
00:03:14
So I think, you will find that edit point as you just naturally start to have a conversation. And at some point, yeah, you need to kind of segue it, but it's only a, it doesn't have to be a sharp turn.
00:03:26
One of the questions you had that I really liked when you were sort of bringing this, this stuff up is how to interject.
00:03:33Nirish
From my experience I'm, I've interviewed, um, a few guests now, and I ask the question and they start answering the question. And sometimes they just don't stop. They just keep talking. And it's really good stuff. Like they're telling me, like things actually want to hear about. But then I feel like, okay, this is getting a bit too long and I should probably either interrupt or ask them another question. But. I find it rude to do that. Cause I don't usually do that in normal conversation. I don't like to interrupt people, but then if I don't interrupt now, they're going to just keep talking. And this is going to derail my, the structure that I've got in mind.
00:04:13Mark
so that's an interesting one. So you said too long, is it too long or is it too boring? Noe we're not going to talk about anyone specific here, but is that,
00:04:19Nirish
Let's not name names.
00:04:20Mark
No, no, no.
00:04:22Nirish
Probably a bit of both. Probably it's starting to kind of, um, be, become less and less relevant to the listener.
00:04:29Mark
So my, my thinking, my worry there is I'm thinking as an editor later, I'm thinking about future Mark, and where does future Mark cut from the thing that the person said where they were starting to veer off topic to the point in which I'm interjecting without it sounding like I've just got an, I know it's talking about that anymore.
00:04:47
And. I think you have to sort of watch the clock because what's okay. So, so one of the things that I was thinking of doesn't help necessarily with the, if they're just going on and on not letting you get a word in. We'll get to that. And, and I'll, I'll, I'll think some more about that. But one of the things that I often do is I, I am someone who tends to, has a tendency to interrupt. And I think when we've been on Zoom calls before, that is probably more common in a trait that I have when we have a sort of normal conversation than it is maybe when I'm recording a podcast. Because when I'm recording here, I, I know. And this is something I can get better at in all the conversations. I can make a note if I think must, you know, remember this thing. If my, if my brain's gone, I must talk about this thing now otherwise I'll forget it, I can make a note. And then once we finished that avenue of conversation, we can look at that and go, okay, let's revisit this, this question, or you said this thing that, that came up. It makes you look that you've got an amazing conversational memory. Um, but really you're just there making a note and so.
00:05:49
But I think honestly, I kind of think you, you, you have to do it. And I think because you've got to think about the listener and the fact that this isn't, this is a dialogue more than it is a conversation
00:05:59Nirish
What is the difference between a dialog and a conversation?
00:06:02Mark
I think a conversation is a style of dialogue or is a type of dialogue, but not all all conversations or dialogues, but not all dialogues or conversations because like an interview, like as in like a police interrogation, that's a dialogue. It's not, I wouldn't call it a conversation. You know, an interrogation is not a conversation and I think status maybe plays a part in that. And that's difficult because you now, you now have to potentially elevate your status because you are now controlling the conversation. And I think that's difficult, especially if you've got a guest who are like, I think a lot about status. And it's something that I did a little bit of study of when I was in improv is, is thinking about how we think of high status and low status characters.
00:06:53
Because if you're interviewing someone, who's got this great knowledge on something you tend weak or one tends to elevate them to a higher status. You know, we are sitting at their feet drinking of their wisdom.
00:07:05Nirish
Yeah, I think that's, that's what I've been doing because I've been interviewing people who are a lot smarter than me.
00:07:10Mark
I doubt that's true. Um, there might be, they might have, you know, certain spheres of knowledge that they can talk of, but I, you know, that's, let's knit back though.
00:07:19Nirish
In their area of expertise, let's say.
00:07:21Mark
Okay. and yes, that is difficult, and I think that is lots of these things. And unfortunately, the unsexy answer is they come with practice. and I think that, I think that is something that comes with practice. And I think part of it is, you can get in your head about things very easily. and once you're in your head once that person's talking and you're thinking, wow, this is gold. This is great. There's so much useful information here. Part of what we're doing then is not necessarily listening and focusing and being mindful of the conversation. That's hap that's unfolding right now. And that is it again, it is. Okay. Let's, you know, let's call it, call it a conversation because it is, it is just a heightened version of that.
00:07:59Nirish
I think one thing that I've picked from that is it's, there's a lot to do with the mindset you're bringing into the, into the conversation or the info, the interview, um, and, and the power dynamics that, that creates. Right. And I think. What you've made me realize is that maybe on a, I'm kind of going in being this, um, this, this lower, uh, entity in that, in that, um, dynamics where you're the you're kind of going in and thinking, oh, you know, they are doing you a favor by coming to your show and sharing their wisdom and insights. So you should listen to everything that they say, everything that they say is right and so on. Uh, which kind of, I guess, makes it even more difficult, I guess, puts more. On you to have to listen to everything that they say and not interject.
00:08:49Mark
Yes. And also to know what to say, if the person's made a really good succinct point and you're like, but that's tied that up in a nice, neat bow. What do we do now? Because in a normal conversation, you might look at your, your glass and go, do you want another one? And go to the bar. You know, you, you would find something else you would look around and go, what is that weird piece of artwork on the wall? But we have, we have got that pressure and, and you're right. And as you were talking, I was mindfully trying to be absolutely present in that moment. And yeah, the, the, the danger, such as it is, is if you come in thinking I've got to wring all of this useful information out of this person, a that's, you know, not necessarily then a conversation, but also your, you are putting pressure on yourself. You are then not allowing the conversation to be, to emerge and find the fun and find the interesting bits. Because you can always come back.
00:09:48
You know, something I've said again, I think before is when you have a guest and you can always come back to them. You can always hopefully say this was great. I'd love to do this again sometime, or I'd love to delve into this. And maybe that's something that you can do. When you start to notice the person diving off topic is you can always say I'm sorry to interrupt, that's a really great point. And I'd love us to pick that up in another episode. But if you know this episode, I wanted to focus on this thing, so let's talk about this.
00:10:19
Now, you, and I know you might not want to have them back to talk about that thing. They don't need to know that, you know, you're, it's sounds a little bit ruder than it is, but it gives you the opportunity then to say, I hear what you're saying and what you're saying has value. It's just not worth where we want to go right now. And I think that gives you a bit more license to interrupt.
00:10:38Nirish
Yeah. And I think, um, it's, it's the pressure of keeping it listener centered, right? It's not about you. It's about the listener. Uh, and hence I think like you make a great point that it's, it's not a conversation between just you and the guest. It is about trying to, make it valuable to the listener. But at the same time, what I find, um, is that that additional pressure, makes you, it makes it, um, less natural for me, because you're constantly thinking of, okay, what's in for the listener? What's in it for the listener? What's in it for the listener? And when you're in that mindset, you're not actually listening to the conversation anymore. You're actually thinking of how do I make this valuable to the listener?
00:11:18
And I've had instances where I've gone back and listened to the recording and then was like, That guests actually said that I didn't actually pick that up when I was listening to the person and actually learn more about the conversation or the interview in the recording than in the moment.
00:11:33Mark
I almost have that in reverse. I think because I, I tend, I think to get more into the conversation, I think that's because conversational stuff doesn't come as easily for me, as it might do with other people. So I'm paying a lot of attention to like picking up verbal cues or visual cues. And so I'm doing a lot of like front brain processing as part of the conversation. And so it's all kind of happening there. When I come to an edit, I'm really editing in a very different mindset. And so I think what you're possibly doing is, is the other way round is you're kind of editing in your head while the conversation's happening, because you're thinking where's the value in this? And I think, editing is really taking it's that thing of. I can't remember who it was, who said it, but it's the idea of, to make making a sculpture is basically to you take a big block of marble and a chisel and you chip away everything that isn't the shape that you want it to be.
00:12:33
And that's what editing is. That's why I always say to people like, don't worry about hitting a time. Worry about hitting a sort of a threshold of attention. Because what the editing job is is, is there is just chipping away at the bits that aren't the interesting part of the podcast. And it's hard, it's really difficult to try and do that to yourself in the conversation. Cause you will end up making your life more difficult. and you know, probably having a harder time being mindful, focusing on that competition at the time.
00:13:02Nirish
So, what are you thinking right now in terms of the episode that you will be releasing off the back of this conversation? Are you thinking of, what's going to go in there, are you actually in the moment right now,?
00:13:12Mark
There've been moments when we've been talking where I've been thinking about the edit, but then, because this is a weird format and I've never done something like this before where, and it makes me uncomfortable sometimes because. I'm inviting people to come on and pick my brain, which means I have to talk a lot more than I would do if I was just having a, you know, interviewing
00:13:33Nirish
So you being a coach, right?
00:13:36Mark
But inviting a guest to come on and ask the questions, which means I end up doing a lot of talking with,
00:13:41Nirish
So pretty much you're the guest.
00:13:43Mark
yeah, yeah, absolutely. Um, and that's, that's kind of a weird thing. And I think it's the only thing I can do because I've been podcasting for so long that I'm just inured to like, worrying about the sound of my own voice, worrying about my weird phrasing and like the fact that I do get halfway through a sentence and completely lose the thread because my brain just fires it. Like, I think I've just been doing it for so long. I don't worry about those things. So I'm less in my head, but I know that there have been certain points when we've been having this conversation where I've been going um, I wonder how that OLED it out. Like I wonder what I'll tease out from that bit. and how can I address the balance and you, uh, another question that, that you brought up when, when you asking initially is like that balance between your voice and the guest's voice and how to balance out and make sure that you feel like you're giving the guest enough time and space. And again, I think that's something that can come out in the edit.
00:14:39
So one of the things that I often see a lot of when I'm editing is people, because they're trying to have a natural conversation. And in many cases they are having a natural conversation. They do what we do in natural conversations. They say, Hmm. Yeah, I absolutely, I agree while the other person speaking and they're doing that because they want to show that they're actively listening. I tend to do that when we're on a call like this with more exaggerated facial expressions, big nods, so that, you know, you're getting that feedback that I've taken on board what you've said, but I'm not making those noises because then I don't have to remove them in the edit because I do tend to remove them in the edit.
00:15:16
You will start to find, as you edit, you ask questions that maybe you needed to ask in the call, but they may not need to live in the edit. You might find that point a and point B can segue quite nicely. And sometimes that'll depend on the skill of the interviewee, you know, whether they're sort of media trained and they know about incorporating the question, question into the answer, but you will hit those moments where I'll go, Hey, you know what? I actually don't need this question in here because they jumped off on this really well. And so you can kind of start to remove yourself bit by bit from the conversation. If you need to, if you feel like you're focusing, you're you're in there too much, you can kind of back yourself away in the edit. But there will also be those moments where you're just feeling like you've got to wring everything out of your guests, because they're just not giving you much. And sometimes that just happens.
00:16:08Nirish
In the beginning of the interview, uh, what would be your number one tip for warming up your guest? Uh, for example, when you're in a, in a real conversation, you'd be like, Hey, You know, how's the
00:16:23Mark
You don't have to warm up.
00:16:24Nirish
now you're like, how's the way that you talk about your dog and so on. But all those things like, you know, listeners don't want to hear about, um, the listeners usually probably just want to get to the crux of the value.
00:16:35Mark
So, like I said earlier, hit record as soon as possible, so that you've got that out of the way. Let them know that that's what you're doing. Let them know. Listen, I want to get that bit out of the way. If you say anything that you don't want in later, let me know. I can edit it out. but it just means that we get, get that out the way and we can have, start to have a conversation.
00:16:55
And I think, if they are completely new to you, a complete stranger than maybe jumping in, in kind of casual terms or figuring out like, what is the common thing that connected you, was it a mutual friend on LinkedIn? Was it, um, a tweet that you saw or a blog post that they wrote and, and have a little conversation around that and, or like, you know, how were you finding LinkedIn at the moment? Like I've noticed this kind of thing happens. And sometimes I think there is a danger that we have of trying to be natural, trying to find natural things, trying to sound natural. And that again, gets us in our head and gets a feedback loop going.
00:17:37
So there's almost a moment of, if you don't immediately have something to say may be the, safer is not the word, but maybe the thing to do there is just to let the moment hang for a bit, or even just acknowledge, you know, this is weird, isn't it?
00:17:53
Um, we are in a moment now where we can look at people's backgrounds and we can say, wow, you know, like you've got guitars on your wall, or you've got an on-air light over there, which I forgot to turn on. Find those little things beak, you know what, it's actually just be curious, I think, um, be curious, find something to be curious about that you can then have a conversation about, and then gets them excited that they can talk about.
00:18:15
You know, I used to have. Somewhere on my piano. Uh, I think from Breaking Bad, I used to have, uh, the little burnt pink teddy bear that was in breaking bad, and that would be a conversation piece for some people, and then I can talk about that. Yeah. My friend gave me that as a house warming gift and I'm like, and then I'm interested in, then we're in, we've made a connection. So be curious.
00:18:33Nirish
Yeah, I think, um that's something I need to do more of in terms of just, just loosening it up and just taking it. I'm just having fun with it because I think I've been trying to follow the rules very strictly. Because of the training, the podcast training I've received which told me things I should do and things I shouldn't do. And I think that's making me feel more, um, under pressure off just having to perform, rather than just being in the moment. And like you said, Hey, talk about the plant behind them, or talk about random things, which might not necessarily directly add value to the listener, but it might actually help bring out more value during the conversation
00:19:16Mark
Definitely. And be prepared for lots of stuff to not be for the listener, but that's, it's, it's not directly for the listener, but it is, because it's about making that Conversation sound more fluid and natural to get back to that original point. So it's not content for the listener, but it's context, maybe it's, it's context setting. It's that environmental stuff that, that helps you. Um, because yeah, you're not on Newsnight where someone's just been flung into the chair. It's live. They've got. You know, they've just had their microphone fitted and they've now got to deliver a three minute speech about whatever. We have the luxury of being able to sit with people and other people may disagree with this. But I think if you, if you've got, like, if you get a stellar guest and you've got half an hour with them, you might think, right we haven't got much time to, do the niceties. There's a part of me that thinks, you know, what, if you actually just spent 10 minutes talking about what plant is that behind them? And then you get to have 15 minutes of real intense, like, and when I say intense, I mean, we're really both enjoying this, we're really both engaged in this conversation. Because we've got all that stuff out of the way, now we're actually just focusing on two people talking about something that interests us. Like if what you end up with is 15, 20 minutes of that, rather than the half an hour, you could have had that maybe took a bit of time to warm up and that's better for the listener. I think.
00:20:45Nirish
I think one thing that I'm trying to learn how to do is to not make it sound like a Q and a like question, answer, question, answer. and sometimes I feel like that's where it's heading a look cause a lot of my conversations cause I'm slack so stiff, so nervous just wanted to kind of make the best use of their time that I'm not letting it be a Morphy fun, casual thing.
00:21:09Mark
Use that. use that energy rather than try and fight it. Accept that that is right now where you are. Because I think sometimes, and I'm going to, I'm going to butcher this, but it's, it's like the thing in Buddhism about the struggle, like that being the issue. The not accepting of, of that, that is the problem. And so I think if you can accept, okay, right now at where I am in. Trajectory as a podcaster, I feel more comfortable with structure. I feel more comfortable with the direct, like here's a question, answer the question. You can have fun with that. You can play with it. You can say for the first 10 minutes or whatever, or I've got X number of questions. Let's do them like nicely rapid-fire high, high energy, and then you can always see what comes out of those questions. You can always be sort of furiously making notes of what they've said that you can then come back to after you've answered those, uh, ask those sorts of questions.
00:22:05
I think when you've got something like that, the difficulty in where that's difference. And that rigidity comes from is I think partly by trying to fight it.
00:22:14Nirish
Yeah, that, that's something that I have been trying to embrace more in my life. Um, being bought into a Buddhist family, uh, but not having practice Buddhism properly. that's something that I'm trying to learn how to do in terms of just letting, letting it be
00:22:27Mark
when you figure it out. Let me know.
00:22:28Nirish
There was a story I heard. I think it was a story that I read in the 4,000 weeks, the book by Alva Berkman or someone else I think or another podcast where apparently a Buddhist monk, who's a teacher, takes his, um, student on a walk and he basically instructs the student to not speak a word and just walk. And when they get to a mountaintop, they see this beautiful sunrise. And the student can't keep it himself, and he's like our master, this, this is such a beautiful sunrise. And the master just doesn't say anything, right? He goes, he instructed the student not to talk.
00:23:03
And when he gets back to the monastery, uh, the student asks me to, why didn't you say anything? Like, because it was such a beautiful sunrise, i, I told you it was a beautiful sunrise. And the wasta when the master basically told the student that when you thought about the sunrise and told me about the beautiful sunrise, you're not experiencing the sunrise, you're actually thinking about it, right? And there's a difference there between thinking about an experience and actually experiencing it.
00:23:30Mark
Being in, in the mindset again, like being mindful, being in the present comes with a sense of ease and a sense of relaxation that I don't know if it's easy to do at the beginning of your journey as a podcaster, because everything matters right now. Everything's gotta be right. And I completely get that. Um, and I think that's a good and understandable urge. It's like, I'm a few episodes in each one of these matters. I've got to put a lot of work into this and I think again, perhaps it's the privilege of, of having been done this for a long time and having started so many bleeding podcast projects that the stakes are much lower for me. And if you can find a way for those stakes to be low and to realize, did he feel doing this and enjoying it? This is one of a thousand episodes you'll record.
00:24:16Nirish
Hmm. How do you know like which one of those stakes are real stakes or which ones are just in
00:24:23Mark
That's a great question. I think it probably differs for different people because I think it's about what you find important and what the, what you value in the podcast. I think what the podcast is for, for you.
00:24:36
Is it a means of creative expression in, in that case then? Um, maybe the stakes are really high in terms of making the audio super pristine. Yeah, the stakes will be different for you and you will discover those as you go along. But I don't think they should. I think, yeah, you should find them. I don't think they should come inherited from the rules that someone else's has set out for you.
00:25:01
As much as people like me and lots of other people can advise and say this, this is what we think. You've got to sort of synthesize and figure out well for the show that you want to make for the resources that you have for the people you want to speak to for the impact that you want to have for the time and all that stuff that you have available to you, what are the actual stakes? And you will find that as you, as you go through,
00:25:22Nirish
I think that's a great way to put it because when you listen to other expert podcasts and coaches and you go to podcasting training and bootcamp and things like that, it feels like everything's important. You got to do everything right. You know, the sound, the, the interview, the, the marketing, you know, everything has to be perfect.
00:25:41Mark
I'm exhausted. Just thinking about it.
00:25:44Nirish
but I think, like I said, that, that, um, it depends on you. There is no one right way. Um, but what is right for you.
00:25:53Mark
Because so much of it comes from a good place. It comes from a place of wanting to help people make the best thing that they can. And so there is an element that maybe we have to invite people to, to work a bit harder on some aspects than others than, than they maybe feel comfortable or push people out of their comfort zone, definitely. I think that's, that's useful to do because that's how you grow, but it's also realizing when you're pushing against stuff that really doesn't matter to that person.
00:26:18
I could, I could talk until I'm blue in the face about a particular thing of, of sound quality or whatever. And if I know that the podcast is going to be listened to, by someone in the bath on this, on their Bluetooth speaker, then what am I worrying about? And, and again, you'll find that as you go.
00:26:35
Wow. I've really enjoyed this. Um, would you, uh, please tell the listener, what your show is and where people can find it and why they should be listening?
00:26:43Nirish
Sure. So I recently launched a podcast called design feeling, which is about helping designers, creators, technologists, people who basically solve problems and make things to know themselves fast so that they can use that to knowledge of self-awareness to be more creatively confident, and work on more impactful projects that actually bring them more joy and meaning.
00:27:11
And the reason I started this podcast was because I didn't know myself as a problem solver as a designer. I knew my customers and my users and my clients more than I knew myself. And I was basically driven by external forces when it came to the work that I was doing without actually understanding what am I needs, what do I want out of this?
00:27:31
So I'm actually trying to start conversation with other experts who might be kind of going through the same things in terms of how do I increase my self awareness, my creative confidence, and my sense of meaning in whatever. Doing as designers and problem solvers. So you can check out the podcast@designfeeling.co or any of your favorite podcast platform. Please do follow.
00:27:52Mark
as a voice I could just sit and listen to for a very long time. So I hope that you don't edit yourself too much out of the conversation.
00:27:59Nirish
Ah, thanks Mark.
00:28:02Mark
My thanks to Nirish for joining me on the podcast. Head to whatsyourproblem.me/4 for links to Design Feeling and to the stuff we discussed. There will you will also find it form it to apply to be a future guest on the show. Take care of yourself and i will speak to you again very soon
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