The Toronto media veteran gives candid advice about asking “hard” questions and why it’s ok to cut an interview short.

>Currently the co-host of Canada's biggest drive home talk radio show #TheRush on Newstalk1010 in Toronto. Jay “Mad Dog” Michaels is a celebrated Toronto radio veteran, who has dominated ratings with the biggest stations, and was twice voted "favourite Toronto radio personality." So if your favourite actor or musician or newsmaker has been on air in Toronto, they have probably chatted with Mad Dog. We are privileged to have him join us for an interview about interviews.

How do you prepare for an interview?

Take a look at what they have talked about before.

This seems like the simplest thing in the world and it might seem like it's almost cheating but it's really not. If you are interviewing anybody, they have been interviewed before. So watch the interviews. Read the interviews that they've already done. It allows you to
get a glimpse into what they respond to, and what they don't respond to.
I was interviewing Nelly Furtado. When I was researching and watching interviews. I noticed that she had done her new song on a Portuguese variety show with a huge band and I also saw her do the same song solo in english. I said right out of the gate, “actually one of the things i love about your single is you are just as comfortable on stage by yourself, as you are when you’re singing in portuguese, on tv in front of three million people”. That immediately tells her that this guy does his research. This guy is paying attention. This guy's plugged in and then they immediately get relaxed a little bit.
So the biggest thing for me is I watch, I read, I know the subjects.

What should be the goal of a good introduction?

They are talking to you for a reason, get to it.

When you were interviewing someone they generally have something they're selling. Always fit that into the beginning of the interview. For instance, you know if you're going to talk to a musician you can start with the name of the new album. You might say this is where it’s available for streaming or downloading. Get the stuff that they need to sell out of the way first, in maybe the first or second question.

What do you think makes for a good interview?

You don’t have long to engage the audience.

It should hook you in the first sixty seconds. You can tell in the first sixty seconds whether or not the interest is there, for the artists and the interviewer. Chances are you're not gonna listen to the interview unless you're already interested in the person and they are being interviewed by someone who is engaged.

What are common mistakes that people should be aware of?

Not Listening.

So often people are conducting an interview and they're so concerned about getting the questions right and they're not really listening to the answers. What I tend to do is, I'll just write down an intro and then four or five questions. I may only use the first question. I might get to all five questions. But only by listening can I know which question should be next. Or if I should ask a follow up question that maybe I didn’t write. Yeah, an interview is bad because someone isn’t listening or is not prepared.

What do you do when an interview is going badly?

Don’t be afraid to pull the plug.

End it. Yeah because I mean if I'm there and I'm engaged and you're there and you're not engaged. I'm not gonna waste your time, if you don't want to be there. I'll just “thank-you that’s all I’ve got:” And half the time, they will actually perk right up and say, “oh actually do you want to ask me about this or that?”. Or they will just say “great thank you” because they didn't want to do the interview anyway. If they don’t want to be there, if they don’t want to be professional, then don’t waste your time.

What’s your advice for when you have to ask a difficult question?

You can ask anything you want

What’s interesting is that I have been on both sides of it. I worked in music radio, and I work in hard news. The only difference between a hard question in music and a hard question in news is you're not allowed to ask a hard question in music. If you ask a hard question in music, then the publicist will pull the artist, and you will get in trouble. So, you’re not allowed to ask them about a bad break-up or an arrest. In news, you can ask all the hard questions you want. You’re just never going to get an answer. So one way to look at it is, there are no hard questions. At least not any that will get answered.

What’s your advice for a podcaster, who wants to get better?

Can you make the subject relatable?

You can't just go into it without a plan. It may change, you may have to adapt. But a lot of great podcasts had to change before they found their audience. You need to give it time until you find your niche. Make sure you’re not just doing a podcast for the sake of doing a podcast. Try to find the most human way to talk about whatever your subject is. This job is about talking to interesting people, about interesting things. But it’s when you can make the subject human and relatable that you're doing your best.

Blue Jays fans everywhere know the voice of Mike Wilner. For eighteen seasons he has brought the game and it’s stars to radios across Canada. Since starting his career in the late 80’s, he has been talking to, and about, athletes in every sport. From spring training in Dunedin, Florida to the Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, from aspiring amateurs to legendary professionals, Mike Wilner has talked to them all. So we are very fortunate that he can join us for an interview about interviews.

How do you prepare for an interview?

Go with what you know.

Really good question because often I don't. Generally my preparation is based mostly on living the daily life of the baseball season. I know what to ask from having watched the last game, and having been around them all season. If I want to talk about a specific thing that happened in the past I'll look it up but I've gotten pretty good at knowing those kinds of things generally. When doing long form interviews with former Blue jays, I’ll go back and confirm that I remember certain events the way that it actually happened.

What should be the goal of a good introduction?

Milke Wilner-In BoothStick to “who” and “what”.

When you introduce somebody you want to let your audience know who they are and what they've done but you don't wanna take any of their stories that way. I think it should be super short. It should be this is who I'm talking to and this is what we are talking about.

What do you think makes for a good interview?

Put yourself in the listeners place.

I think that the job of an interviewer is to stay out of the way. The most interesting interviews or the one where the subject is doing ninety percent of the talking, and the interviewer just draws things out and listens along with the audience. If you're listening, and thinking “I want to find out more about this subject” and they ask about that subject, than you are doing the right thing as an interviewer.

What are common mistakes that people should be aware of?

Milke Wilner-Pitch-Talks

Remember why your audience is listening.

I mean it is like a flip of a coin. Making it too much about the interviewer and not enough about the subject. They're not there to hear about you or about your life. They're here for the person you are interviewing. Don't interject your own experiences. Don’t steal their thunder. Don't tell their stories for them.

What do you do when an interview is going badly?

Ask about their pets or hobbies.

Generally for me, if it is a bad interview it's because I'm getting one word answers. It’s your job to make them more comfortable, and to find a way to make them talk about themselves. Most people are actually uncomfortable sitting down to talk about themselves. So maybe take the subject off of them at least for a moment. See if you can get them to open up a little bit try it from a different perspective, from a different angle.

What’s your advice for when you have to ask a difficult question?

It’s part of the job.

To be up front about don't try to hide it, don't try to sneak it in. Don’t look for a “got ya”,or anything like that. I'm very upfront about it. I just say, “look I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask you this” and then I ask what needs to be asked. I don't talk to the politicians or world leaders. I talk to athletes, I work in the toy department. So the most difficult question I generally have to ask is about a mistake that I believe has cost their team.

What’s your advice for a podcaster, who wants to get better?

Want to get better? Repetition.

The most important thing is, the more you do something the better you will get at it. I'm a veteran interviewer now but I was very different thirty years ago. Because you figure out what works for you and what doesn't, and that's what gets you better. Work at it as often as possible


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