Tips for podcasters

Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Snappy answers to frequently asked questions:

Your answer’s as good as mine. Probably better. Depends on the interview’s goal. If you’re a funny TV host, and your goal is at least partly to entertain, it’s great interplay between the guest and the host, with lots of laughs or emotion along the way. But most of us aren’t Stephen Colbert; our goal is to connect our audience seamlessly with our guest and his or her insight. To that end, the less of us and the more of the guest and the guest’s wisdom the better. Some of the best interviews I’ve done have been those in which I just ask a little question and let the guests run with it. I get the first words (the words that explain why the guest is interesting or important) and the last words (to say whatever I want); I don’t feel compelled to be anything more than just a low-profile instigator along the way.

What’s the best way to structure an interview?
Depends on your intent: Do you want a full interview segment, or just soundbites? (I recommend going for the full interview, so you have that option even if you just wind up using soundbites.) Ideally, you script a strong intro and a strong close and insert well-scripted questions in between. Here’s a piece I wrote with four tips for creating a great audio interview. Here’s slightly more basic advice, created mainly for students.

How important is it that I not interrupt someone?
Very important. Makes editing harder. If you’re interviewing someone in person or on Skype, you can prep them in advance to watch for your hand gestures, like the raised finger to indicate you’d like to interrupt; or the “wind it up” motion to indicate you have all you need and it’s almost time to close or move on to the next subject. If you have a sense of how much you need from your guest, or how longwinded she or he is, you can coach them beforehand with guidance like “Hey, we have a lot to cover in a little time. Do me a favor and think in terms of (2-, 3-, 4-, whatever)-sentence answers, OK? If I need more on a subject, I’ll ask a followup question.”

What kind of questions should I avoid?
Yes-or-no questions. And plain statements that aren’t questions. (See my interview tips above.)

I can only interview someone by phone. How do I get great sound?
Each of you can record your voices using a smartphone as you talk over a landline. (Clap a few times at a recording’s start to create marks for syncing.) Then your guest can email or otherwise share with you the audio he or she has recorded at that end for melding with your voice. Key to doing this right: Make sure the phone is about 5-6 inches from the speaker’s mouth, preferably pointed at the corner of the mouth so as to avoid popping Ps and blowing Bs. Note: Some phones (early iPhones, among others; newer ones are more flexible) aren’t able to send long recordings. If you’re not sure, you’ll want to test or record in short increments (8-10 minutes) and so each segment’s not too big. Or give each user software that has no limits. (I use Twisted Wave.) Failing this—for instance, if timeliness is more essential than quality—you can use Google Voice, which records both ends of the conversation at phone-quality.

I’m interviewing someone by Skype. What should I do?
Use the best microphone available, ideally a nice USB mic attached to the computer. These don’t have to be expensive; the Blue Snowball, for instance, can be had for under $50 and it works fine. Failing that, an iPhone or other smartphone headset can be better than a computer’s onboard mic. But the onboard mic on most desktop and laptop computers can work reasonably well, too. The key is figuring out where the mic is located on a computer and getting yourself and your guest to sit as close to your computers’ mics as possible. It’s not always intuitive; the mic on some computers is in back of the screen, for instance. On some MacBooks, it’s along the edge—a couple of pinholes next to the headphone jack.

How do I get the best sound when I’m not recording in a studio?
Regardless of the tech you use to record, minimizing echoes is the biggest key to a professional sound. (Clap and listen carefully and you’ll get a sense of how much echo a space has. It’s often a lot more than we realize in everyday life.) For someone using a smartphone to record, simply draping a coat over one’s head can (look stupid, yes; but also) improve the professional sound of the recording tremendously, eliminating the sound of one’s voice bouncing off a nearby wall, mirror or computer screen. Another option: Unmake the bed and get under some pillows or a blanket. Or make a fort out of couch cushions.

How can I make the interview more conversational and casual to get good information?
If you're aiming for a talk-show vibe, you can achieve a lot by constructing and ordering your questions thoughtfully. As I explain here, it’s not an easy thing to write a script (or questions) so that, when read, they don’t sound like they were written and they don’t sound like they’re being read. Note: This isn't so important when you're in the hunt mainly for soundbites or quotes; in that case, your goal is to get your listeners useful, actionable information as frictionlessly as possible. They’re not listening for small talk. Either way, reduce the noise: The “uh-huhs” and the statements that repeat or foreshadow exactly the things your guests have said or will say.

Bonus tips:
  • Avoid the urge to make statements, like, “So, that works pretty well for you, then.”
  • Avoid the old reporter’s trick of seeming to agree with your interviewee to get him or her to keep talking. This is fine if you’re just taking notes, but it makes lame (momentum-killing) listening and difficult editing if you punctuate interviewees’ answers with things like “Huh” or “That’s great” or “Yeah.”
  • Bite your tongue. Your job is to be a question-asking machine. Ask questions and then get out of the way. The easiest way to do that is to write out your questions in advance. You can always ad-lib, but do so knowingly. If you have nothing substantial to say or add, just move on efficiently to the next question.

More questions? Need hands-on help?
Drop me an email.

[Adapted from advice to a Meyerson Strategy client; originally published January 15, 2017, and updated in 2019.]

What is Meyerson Strategy?

Friday, June 7, 2019
Meyerson Strategy is intelligence gained from close to two decades watching audience behavior, often minute-by-minute, on Chicago’s most prominent web news site.

Meyerson Strategy is insight built on years in radio—where the mantra “Don’t be a tuneout” is baked into every story. Radio has fought tuneout almost from its inception. Now, when every organization finds its competition just a click away, “being a tuneout” is something no organization can afford.

Meyerson Strategy is innovation, honed on the startup frontier.

Meyerson Strategy is training, based on years of college lecturing and business consulting (American Bar Association, Crain Communications, Northwestern University, American Institutes for Research, Boeing Co., Direct Energy, and more).

Is your email newsletter going unopened? Is your website unvisited? Are your Facebook posts unshared? Is your podcast falling flat? Is your staff daunted by audience metrics? Meyerson Strategy will work for you.

A case study

A major professional organization, concerned its content wasn’t delivering the audience it could, asked for help. Meyerson Strategy gathered available analytics and then dissected subject lines, Web headlines and layout, social media performance, podcast structure and metrics.

That analysis demonstrated what was connecting and what wasn’t—and how to use insights from the one to improve performance of the other.

Outcome: Five successive months—and 10 of the following 12 months—of record pageviews for a site that previously hadn’t seen two successive record months. The owner of the company that helped develop the site calls the results “astonishing.”

Meyerson Strategy is about connecting great work with growing audiences—at the speed of news.

What is Meyerson Strategy? In a word: “Astonishing.”

If your great work needs to reach a larger audience, you need astonishing results.

You need Meyerson Strategy.

Read more recommendations.

Then email Meyerson Strategy.

Or call 708-TEQ-NEWS. Operators are standing by.

Meyerson, recommended

Monday, May 13, 2019
A career devoted to creating content that keeps and builds an audience—from award-winning radio news that kept music-loving audiences from punching the button ... to what became Tribune Co.’s highest-clickthrough-rated editorial email product, Daywatch ... to creation of the innovative “Tinder for radio news” app, Rivet … and the critically acclaimed Chicago Public Square local news platform: Content strategist, podcast and radio engagement expert, email and social media pioneer—linking great work with growing audiences online, on-air, in print.

A sampling of recommendations. Many more posted to LinkedIn:

Clients

Jason Sherman, President, SHERMAN communications & marketing:I hired Charlie … to conduct spokesperson training with me for a billion-dollar, global healthcare client of mine. We co-trained six senior executives from all over the world during a half-day session. Charlie was brilliant, funny, thoughtful, and very effective. He helped to both put the participants at ease and raise and help them manage tough sample questions. His perspective as a journalist and professional interviewer was invaluable. Charlie’s years of experience … make him a terrific asset and partner.”

Sheryl Beck, Broadcast Representative at SAG-AFTRA:Charlie is exceptional! He created and led a social media training for our broadcast members that was so dynamic and informative, people just couldn’t get enough. He shared his vast wisdom, tips and insight and, at the same time, pulled virtually everyone into the discussion with participants sharing their best wisdom, tips and insight. The only problem was the training was just not long enough! At two hours, no one was ready to leave.”

Aurora Aguilar, Editor of News, Modern Healthcare: “We had Charlie present at our annual editorial retreat. He gave us great insight into our distribution of content and offered some good advice on how to more successfully engage our readers through better headlines and concise writing. I would recommend Charlie for any editorial strategy consultancy.”

Molly McDonough, editor and publisher, ABA Journal: “Charlie was a positive, energizing force for me and my co-workers. I appreciated the time he spent learning about our operation, then pointing out ways he thought we could improve, and most importantly, showing us how. I especially liked that he rolled up his sleeves and spent one-on-one time with staff answering questions, editing and coaching. His observations and suggestions led us to make immediate changes that proved good for us and our readers.”

Sarah Rand, partner engagement and communications consultant, American Institutes for Research. Charlie was great to work with on our podcast. He helped with the podcast at every step of the way from conceptualization to editing. Our team constantly kept Charlie’s mantra in mind as we created the piece: Don’t be boring! And the podcast turned out great!”

Stephen Anzaldi, internal communications manager, Northwestern University. “When I brought him in to share lessons with my colleagues in the Northwestern University news office, he took it to the next level. Charlie is incredibly effective in clarifying, helping to cut through the noise that has become online communication. Our email news alert is more crisp and sharp as a result. ... I’m tempted to go back to j-school to sit in on more of his lessons.”

Dan Haley, publisher, Wednesday Journal Inc. “Several years ago our weekly community newspapers were trying to figure out how to drive traffic to the updated news coverage we were posting to our then new website. We had breaking news on the site but people were still perceiving us as a weekly news product. Charlie ... directly laid out the solution. We had to build an e-mail list of our readers so that we could push out our news updates to them. That solution is probably the most central element of our success digitally. Now, multiple times a week, we send e-mail updates to many thousands of our readers. Today that seems obvious. Eight or 10 years ago it was a fantastic insight from Charlie. He is clear-eyed, problem-solving, direct-talking.”

Bob Rowley, director of media relations, Northwestern University. “Charlie ... presented a fascinating and informative lecture and Q&A for my media relations team at Northwestern University on maximizing our audience and sharpening our Web content. He’s a pro, a wise man and a great colleague. He knows the Web and the news business and would bring great insight and value to any non-profit organization, public institution or private enterprise.”

Linda Lenz, then-publisher, Catalyst Chicago. “Charlie examined the audience data for our weekly news e-blast and our Feedburner feed, finding patterns that prompted us to make changes—mainly in layout and headlines. Almost immediately, our Feedburner ‘reach’ rose 50%, and our e-blast click-throughs are trending up. Charlie presented his critique in a manner that made them easy for all of us to swallow. It was time very well spent.”

Sophia Madana, then-digital/social media specialist, VanderCook College of Music. “I attended a lecture Charlie presented on email marketing. ... After implementing his tips, the open rate of my email campaign is nearing 20 percent and the click-through rate has increased significantly. I happily recommend Mr. Meyerson as a consultant to any company or organization looking to amp up its digital presence without feeling too overwhelmed.”


Colleagues

Steve Scott, news anchor, WCBS Newsradio, New York City:Charlie’s not just ahead of the curve; he’s often the guy drawing the curve for others to follow.”

Alison Scholly, former chief operating officer, Chicago Public Media: “Charlie Meyerson is ... creative, well spoken, pays attention to detail, challenges conventional wisdom and has an affable relationship with all colleagues, whether they work in the news department or not. I worked with Charlie for many years at Chicago Tribune Interactive, and his leadership was frequently sought out by others because he was insightful, witty, respectful of others and worked tirelessly to collect and share audience insights with his team. I would hire Charlie into many leadership positions, but especially into roles that require consistent high effort, thoughtful decision-making, strong relationship-building skills and the ability to glean audience insights and take well-reasoned risks.”

Lou Carlozo, investment staff writer, U.S. News & World Report: “Charlie is, plain and simple, a visionary of news and radio content. He was the first person I ever met to grasp what ‘search engine optimization’ meant, in the mid-2000s. He was years ahead of his time. The same reporters who groaned at his wise counsel regarding SEO were scrambling to catch up years later. Charlie is wise, smart as a whip, and hands down one of the best news and radio pros I’ve ever worked with. I’m grateful for all he taught me, as it allowed me to go to AOL and achieve fabulous results in a short time. He also has a way of promoting loyalty and team play like few others I’ve met. He’s the best, period.”

Walter Sabo, former CEO, Merlin Media; and former vice president, ABC Radio Networks. Charlie is a great professional ... extremely collaborative and smart. He knows Chicago and understands the needs of the listener and the media community. I would work with him any time, anywhere.”

Boris Geisler, UX & UI design, innovation and production consultant—and architect of the Rivet Radio app: “Charlie is phenomenal! He combines a level of comprehension, professionalism, and joy that I’ve not seen in a newsman and story-teller. His attention to detail and sense of righteousness is what makes him a top-notch leader and strategist. He led Rivet Radio to journalistic excellence and a long list of awards. Plus, if it wasn’t for Charlie, I wouldn’t have the primary news source I enjoy every day! If you’re up to something big, hire Charlie! He knows!”

Former students and interns

Adam Langer, acclaimed novelist, critic and Forward culture editor. “One of the great pleasures of my college years was the time I spent as an intern at WXRT-FM. What, in part, made it such a wonderful and fulfilling experience was the presence of Charlie Meyerson. Always professional, informative, dedicated, and exceedingly well-prepared, Charlie helped me to learn the crafts of editing and writing, particularly under tight deadlines. He was both an excellent teacher and a terrific colleague.”

Scott Kitun, CEO at Technori, management consultant, and Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism graduate. Of all of the many instructors at Medill, ... Charlie ... provided me with the most value, post-graduation! I still rely on Charlie for guidance and mentorship years after having him as my instructor. His vision and understanding of the ever-changing media landscape is invaluable, as is his professional experience.”

Lauren Victory, reporter, WBBM-TV (CBS), Chicago. Charlie Meyerson mentored me since my beginning days as a journalist. When I was in my junior year at Northwestern University, ... Charlie focused on both the old and new of our industry—delving into ethics and the digital future .... Years after my internship, he remains a sounding board for me and a connection to several important journalists in the Chicago area.”

Giacomo Luca, reporter, KXTV-TV (ABC), Sacramento. “Professor, mentor, news director, friend: If you’re looking for the best of these, it’s Charlie Meyerson. He is one of the most influential teachers in my life and I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without him. His News Reporting class was spot-on what it is like to work in a daily newsroom. He brings passion, years of experience and independent attention. He helped instill the skills I needed to go on to become a professional journalist.”

Kim Strickland, author, blogger and airline pilot. “I interned under Charlie at WXRT Radio in Chicago during the summer of 1984. ... He made me feel comfortable at ’XRT, like part of the team, even though I was just a kid, and he found a way to critique my writing in such a supportive and instructive way, I still carry what he taught with me to this day.... On days when I just don’t feel like sitting in the chair, I hear Charlie’s words in my ear, “Have fun and do well.” Do well. And so I try. Because I do not want to let this man down.”



Read more recommendations.

Help wanted: Radio writer/producer (full time)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019
As I sometimes do in this space, I’m sharing word of a job opening with a trusted organization. This time, it’s for my friends at MediaTracks Communications, now in the hunt for only their third producer for the show Viewpoints in 19 years. Here’s the listing:

Writer/producer with overall responsibility for syndicated long-form radio public affairs program airing on hundreds of stations nationally. Duties include maintaining contact with publicists, conceiving story ideas, booking appropriate interview guests, doing research for interviews, carrying out these interviews (largely via telephone), and writing two stories weekly of approximately 11 minutes length in audio magazine form using these interviews. Producer is also responsible for management of program content so it satisfies FCC compliancy needs of affiliate stations. Producer will assist in writing other radio scripts for corporate clients as needed and help contribute to corporate social media presence.

Interested? Drop a note to the esteemed Reed Pence—and tell ’im Charlie sent ya.