Clubhouse show preparation — question lines and guest preparation

Part 3 of our series exploring the overlap of Clubhouse and live radio.

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Our panel of producers with live radio backgrounds is back again, and this time they are sharing their best practices for preparing questions and guests for an amazing show.

How do you prepare question lines (q-lines) for guests?

Have a clear focus and stick to it. Every question should circle back to the focus of the conversation or interview — the reason why you’re talking about what you’re talking about. Research your guest and understand how their expertise, experience, and story supports your focus.
— Liz Hames, Showrunner

Your question line is your road map. It should take the listener through the story. It should have a clear destination: that way no matter what happens the host always knows where they should end up.
— Erin Pettit, Show Runner

Start your q-line as close as you can to the heart of the story. Having a focus will guide you to the first question and help you see what information isn’t essential or can be foregrounded in an introduction. Often, writing the introduction as part of a q-line will help you figure out that all-important first question. Imagine the emotional peak of your interview, based on your research and pre-interview. What questions do you need to write to get to that moment?
— Tori Allen, Showrunner

There’s a formula to scriptwriting for live audio. Make a cover page that lists all the technical and logistic information your host, your producers, and your guests might need. Next, in a clear sentence, write out for your host the focus of the segment: what is the story you are trying to tell — and what is the conflict at its narrative heart? This is an at-a-glance reminder that can help the host stay on track.

Now, because it’s live, the q-line itself (the questions) needs to follow a narrative path. There needs to be a beginning, a middle, and an end to the questions. This way, the host can navigate through a story path and avoid leading listeners through a random series of questions—making for a hard-to-follow Clubhouse event. A general guideline is: one question adds up to about a minute of conversation.
— Dominic Girard, Showrunner

Showrunners Liz Hames, Dominic Girard, and Tori Allen
What kinds of questions bring out the best answers? What kinds of questions should you avoid?

Good questions get you information. Great questions get you stories. Sometimes the best questions are the most obvious ones. Follow your curiosity. Avoid yes/no questions, leading questions, and questions where you’re just showing off how much you know about your guest.
— Alison Broverman, Showrunner

Shine the spotlight on the guest. Get to the point quickly and avoid preamble that’s going to eat up a lot of time — time that could be spent hearing your guest’s amazing story. Also, the question “how do you know that” can lead to some evocative answers. It can be a challenging question, or it can elicit a great story or emotion.
— Liz Hames, Showrunner

“What was that like?” “How did that feel?” and “What happened next?” work for a reason.
— Dominic Girard, Showrunner

Open-ended questions for sure, but the guest needs a little bit of guidance and focus as well.

“When you moved your elephant-training operation to your living room, what were the biggest challenges?” And of course, try to put yourself in your listeners’ shoes. What would they want to ask? Probably something like: “Who cleaned up afterwards?”
— Erin Pettit, Show Runner

Conquer your fear of silence. Sometimes, saying nothing is a better prompt than asking a follow-up question.
— Dan Misener, Director of Audience Development

Silence can be a really powerful tool for a host. Imagine drinking a glass of water as you wait for a response, it can help you get over the awkwardness.

Also, “take me back to that day/moment etc.,” is one of my favourite question set-ups because it can often send the guest into story mode and help them paint a picture we can see. I’m not a hardliner on the “no closed questions” because that’s how we talk. Questions should sound natural. We don’t all talk in open-ended questions all the time. That’s public radio speak. Sometimes you just need to ask a yes or no question and follow up.
— Tori Allen, Showrunner

Erin Pettit, Show Runner and Dan Misener, Director of Audience Development
How do you prepare a guest before participating in a live audio show?

I’m leaning way into transparency in guest prep. If we want to bring new voices and perspectives into live radio/CH, we need to acknowledge that they are not media pros. Be as clear as possible about how the interview/event is going to be set-up, how long it will take, and what you expect of the guest. If you have a background in public/live radio it can be easy to forget how foreign this can be for some people.
— Tori Allen, Showrunner

Your guest’s job is to have a natural conversation in an unnatural environment. That’s tough for anyone. So anything you can do to break the ice and relax the guest will be welcome. A little chit-chat goes a long way before you go live. You’re just two human beings talking.
— Erin Pettit, Showrunner

Make sure your guests are comfortable with the tools you’ll use. It’s hard for a guest to fully engage if they’re worried about their audio quality, or connection, or the brand-new USB mic they’re using for the first time.
— Dan Misener, Director of Audience Development

Don’t tell them the questions in advance — it invites the guest to consciously or unconsciously prepare their answers. And that takes all the fun and humanity out of the interview. Do walk them through the general thrust of the interview — give them a sense of the kind of story you are telling together. If there are specific anecdotes or points you want them to bring up, tell them. And finally, remind them that this is actually really fun, it’s not open-heart surgery, and that we want them to enjoy themselves. Oh — and offer them some water (or tell them to get some if they’re remote).
— Dominic Girard, Showrunner

Let them know you won’t ask them anything they don’t already know. You’re talking to them because of their expertise, whether it’s on a given topic or their own story. And if they don’t know the answer, it’s okay for them to say so. If you pre-interview a guest (which is usually a luxury only afforded to public radio), let them know about any moments in your conversation with them that resonated with you. That might be something they might want to repeat during the live event. And, if it is a remote interview, as opposed to in-person, remind them to wear wired headphones! And, to be conscious of any “nervous ticks” that may make a sound, like finger-tapping or jiggling a leg.
— Liz Hames, Showrunner

The other pieces in this Clubhouse series are:
  • Part 1 focuses on pre-show preparation.
  • Part 2 focuses on the qualities and role of a host/moderator and why a producer is vital to any live audio show.
  • Part 4 deals with managing issues during the live show itself, from bad guests to resetting the room.

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