Sometimes I don’t quite know how to mark milestones. I’m unsure how to celebrate myself, or how to invite other people to celebrate with me.
So today’s post is about something that happened a month ago. Sorry for the delay… but here I am, finally writing about something I am massively excited about.
I was interviewed on The College Info Geek podcast.
For those of you who have been readers for a while, you’ll know that podcasts are among my favorite things in the world. I listen to podcasts while I’m walking, washing dishes, traveling by train, knitting, driving, whatever. I consider all non-reading, -writing, -interacting time to be an opportunity to dive headlong into an overheard conversation, a venue for learning and being invited into a new kind of learning and growing.
I love podcasts.
Not so long ago I discovered the College Info Geek podcast, in which Thomas Frank interviews folks about student success, career preparation, and generally how to be awesome at college. I had already connected with him through twitter and through his blog, so I listened to a bunch of his podcast episodes, plucked up my courage, and emailed him a request to appear on his podcast.
He said yes, and less than a week later we recorded an interview. You can listen to it at “On Earning Two Free Master’s Degrees Through Volunteering With Katie Dwyer.” And if you get the chance to listen, I would really love to hear what you think!
What I learned
I’ve imagined being on a podcast for a long, long time. I’ve pictured myself chatting away, holding witty, insightful banter sessions with the Slate Gabfest crews, or being called upon to answer some obscure question for Stuff You Should Know. I even have the hubris to imagine someday answering the smooth, inviting questions on Desert Island Disks or On Being. I have spent literally hundreds of hours with the voices of podcasters in my head. And since I’m prone to delusions of grandeur, I’ve imagined myself among them.
So here’s what I learned from being on a podcast
1. Getting there is all about clarity of idea, knowing the program, and getting up the courage to ask.
As I said, I’ve followed the College Info Geek blog and brand for a while now. I know the kinds of topics Thomas Frank has covered, and the types of people he interviews. When I wrote to him, he knew my name, since we had connected on Twitter (he had even included My College Advice on his list of the best student blogs). I wrote a brief, clear pitch of what I thought I could offer his audience by way of insights and anecdotes. And then, after wavering only briefly, I got up the courage to pitch the interview.
2. Preparation makes a huge difference.
Obviously I was nervous. I was terrified I would say something stupid, or would not be able to answer a question, or would babble on and on. But I prepped, just like I would for public speaking or for a test. Here’s some of what I did:
- I listened to past podcast episodes of his show. I paid attention to trends in his questions and topics he touched on with multiple interviewees. I noted his style, which is conversational and personal. I also paid attention and made note of conversations he had had with other interviewees which were similar to mine, and noted the ways in which my advice and experience were similar or different.
- I outlined some of what I wanted to say. An interview is not a speech, and you don’t want to read your interview responses or pre-prepare too much. But I did do a lot of thinking about what we would be talking about. I bullet-pointed what I hoped people would get out of the interview. What were some examples I could use? What stories could I tell? Some of this preparation was used directly during the interview. Some of what I said arose on the spot. But that preparation meant that I was more articulate, focused, and calm. I was able to answer with the kind of clarity I expect from my writing—with forethought, examples, and a sense of purpose.
- I asked for help. My friend (and occasional guest writer for My College Advice) Miles Raymer is also a big fan of podcasts. I got on the phone with him to talk through what we think makes for a good podcast conversation, and how some people mess things up. We agreed on some general principles (from not talking too fast to admitting when you’re not sure of an answer), as well as some things that don’t matter (worrying about how your voice sounds, imagining the interview being permanently available on the internet, etc).
- I got some equipment. It makes a big difference if an interview sounds good. And, it turns out, a basic headphone set with a mic is an extremely small investment. I paid $15 for a set-up that otherwise would have been recorded on iphone headphones. As some of you might have picked up on from previous blog posts, I hate spending unnecessary money. I decided this was necessary. And I am really, really glad.
I arrived at the interview feeling calm. I hadn’t done everything that could have been done (I hadn’t listened to every single past podcast episode). I possibly could have done more research to back up my stories with statistics or trend data. But I did what I needed to do to feel confident and secure. I took the action that needed to be taken. And so I arrived feeling calm and clear.
3. An interview is not a conversation
Even an interview that sounds like a conversation is not a conversation. It’s an interview. The purpose is not that the two participants know each other better and have a nice interaction—the purpose is to create something (in this case a podcast episode) that will be meaningful to an audience. It fits somewhere between a blog post, public speaking, and an elevator pitch.
This is an odd social space to inhabit, since you want the interaction to be positive and natural while also organizing your thoughts to share information and insight, and not simply chatting.
I think I walked this line in varying degrees of success in the interview. I’d love to hear what you think.
4. You Have Verbal Ticks You Don’t Know Exist
Since when do I begin the answers to questions with the word “totally”? When did that start? What does it mean? How do I make it stop?
We never sound like we expect in our own heads. It’s a weird thing to learn about tendencies and patterns you might not want once they are made public. There’s no going back now, though, so I guess we’ll just have to figure it out, right? Totally.
5. The World Doesn’t Change When Your Podcast Goes Live
Perhaps this is me at my most foolish, but I had not been able to stop myself from imagining fanfare in the streets, an outpouring of attention, and general applause. The world does not change with a single podcast upload. Good things have come from the experience, and I’ve received some great feedback (particularly from Miles, whose podcasting insights I value beyond all others). I fully intend to leverage the experience to develop new opportunities in the future. But the world didn’t stop turning when I heard my own voice on the internet.
I guess I want to wrap this post up by just saying thank you to everyone who reads and enjoys this blog. Working on My College Advice has taught me so much about who I am, what I know, and what my experiences have meant to me.
If you get a chance to listen to the interview, it really would mean a lot to hear what you think. In the meantime, you might also enjoy "Saying 'Yes,'" "Networking: An Introduction," and "The Theory of Relentless Positivity."