Where Do I Fit In?
Hello friends,

As I write, I'm on an airplane. Seated in business class. Trying not to cough.

Don't worry. It's not Covid. I just have a tickle in my throat. Luckily, the flight attendant is passing out free drinks.

Prosecco is good for soothing a cough, right?
I didn't plan to write this newsletter from a comfy seat in business class. In fact, when I arrived at the airport this morning (two hours before my flight) I was pretty sure I wasn't going to get a seat on this flight at all. It was oversold. And I was told that I'd get my seat assignment at the gate.

When I got to the gate, no seat assignment. Dozens of names were called, still no seat assignment. I had planned to write this newsletter from the airport terminal, but that goal was abandoned as I anxiously waited to learn if I'd be bumped to a later flight.

Finally, I was given a lovely aisle seat in the exit row. Score!

And then, as soon as I sat down, I was upgraded again. To business class. Amazing!

So now I am writing this newsletter from business class, with my feet stretched out in front of me, sipping on Prosecco.
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The tickle in my throat went away. Thanks for asking.

I tell you all of this, not to try to humble brag about my excellent seat assignment luck.

I write all of this to make a point.

As storytellers, we're always deciding how much of ourselves to put in a story. Today, I decided to share quite a bit of myself. Tomorrow, I might make a different choice.

I've been thinking about this kind of thing, because I recently received this question from an old college friend.
When interviewing people, what are your thoughts on how much to insert yourself (personal connection to the story, topic, etc.) into the interview?
Such a good question!

As interviewers, sharing a little something of ourselves accomplishes two big objectives.

A. It makes our interview subject a little more comfortable with us and, hopefully, a little more willing to trust us with their story.

B. It models the behavior that we want. If we want our interview subject to share their experiences and emotions, we should too!

But there are definitely some things to keep in mind. And so... a listacle. Because everyone loves listacles, right?
1. What kind of story are you making?

For the most part, those of us in the podcast world have a little extra leeway to insert ourselves into our stories – and therefore our interviews. And certainly, there are types of journalism (advocacy journalism, for example) where the reporter's point of view SHOULD be part of the story.

But if you're doing a straight-up journalistic treatment of some person, event or issue, your point of view probably doesn't belong in the story. And if your point of view doesn't belong in the story, it probably doesn't belong in the interview.
2. How relevant is your perspective?

There are times when not sharing our connection to a story feels dishonest. If you're a former foster care kid doing a take-down of the local foster care agency, and you don't disclose that you were once a part of that system, it's going to seem like you were trying to hide your agenda.

On the other hand, if you're doing a story about the ballet and you saw the Nutcracker once when you were a kid, maybe that's not important?

Lots of people have been to the ballet without their lives being changed by it. Unless you had a transcendent experience, it might be best to just keep the focus where it belongs, on your interview guest.

Remember, every second you spend talking during an interview is a second where your guest's voice doesn't appear on the tape. And isn't their voice the entire point?

So when you decide to take up some of your precious interview time with talking -- instead of listening -- make sure it's worth it.
3. How much are you willing to share?

I'm not asking how much you're willing to share with the person you're interviewing. I'm asking how much you're willing to share with everyone who hears your story...and everyone they mention the story to...and everyone the story spreads to after that.

In short, if you're not comfortable with the whole world knowing your business, you shouldn't share it with your interview subject.

Now you might be thinking, what's the big deal? I can just edit out the overshare before the episode is dropped.

A few years ago at Third Coast, Sook-Yin Lee of the podcast Sleepover brought up this exact issue, and she made a really good point.

If you share something during an interview, and then cut it out later, you are – in effect – misleading your interview subject. You have used your personal story as a means to encourage them to open up. But if your personal story is only going to be shared with one person, and their personal story is going to be shared with the entire internet, that's not really a fair trade, is it?

That's not to say that your story always has to be included in the final cut. Sometimes, it's going to feel irrelevant or self-indulgent or just not very interesting. But the fact remains, if it's not something you'd be willing to share with the whole world, you have no business sharing it during your interview.
4. Are you sharing in service of the story/interview?

I feel like I ask myself this question with almost everything I do. Does this fancy sound design make my story more clear, or does it just make me feel good about my mixing skills? Does that celebrity interview add value, or does it just make my podcast look cool? Does this clever one-liner illuminate my story, or does it just make me feel smart?

Basically, am I doing this in service of the story? Or am I doing it in service of my own ego?

The same question applies to sharing your personal stories during an interview. What is your purpose? Are you hoping that it will help the guest open up? Are you hoping you can compare and contrast their experience to yours?

Or are you just trying to impress them with some little detail you feel like you have in common?

Be honest. Is this share going to make your guest feel more comfortable, trusting and heard? Or by making this about YOU, are you going to just be pulling the spotlight away from THEM?
5. What is your role?

Are you a producer? A reporter? A host?

The truth is, if you're a host, you SHOULD be sharing more of yourself more often.

And I'm going to say something that, sadly, is part of the reason why so many hosts are assholes.

(And if you are a host, please, please don't be an asshole.)

It's a host's job to establish and maintain a relationship with the listener. And I use the word "relationship" for a reason.

The host isn't just a disembodied voice that guides the listener thorough a story. They should be someone the listener wants to spend time with. Someone they could imagine striking up a conversation with in a bar/coffee shop/bookstore.

This is why hosts have so much power. The listener feels connected to them. They miss them when they go away.

(This is also the reason so many hosts are assholes. They feel invincible – like the show wouldn't exist without them. And that leads to a huge imbalance of power between hosts and the people who support them. So, again, don't be an asshole. With great power comes great responsibility.)

Anyway, all of this is to say, if you're a host who is actively trying to establish a relationship with your listener, you're going to need to insert a little more of yourself into your interviews.

And as a host, trying to establish a relationship with your audience doesn't make you self-centered or self-indulgent. It is literally your JOB.
Hmm...there are probably other things to consider as you think about how much of yourself to share in an interview. But, to be perfectly honest, I've finished my glass of Prosecco, this seat is really comfy, and I think it's about time for a nap.

More next time...