# Thursday, 11 March 2010

If you are reading this blog, you probably know, I have been recording and producing the mildly popular online TV show Technology and Friends for over a year. I have recorded and released over 75 episodes and I plan to release a lot more in the future.

Recently, a number of people have asked me what goes into producing an online show.

There are four aspects to the show that I'll cover in this series: preparation, interview, equipment, and post-production. In this article, I'll cover preparing for the show

Finding a Guest

Everything starts with the interview and the interview starts with a good interviewee and a good topic.

I attend quite a few conferences and user groups, so I get to hear a lot of good speakers presenting technical material. I will often pick a guest because I have recently heard him or her deliver a good technical presentation and I want to record those thoughts for others to hear. I look for people who are knowledgeable and passionate about a topic and who can communicate well.

A conference is a good place to find guests because

  1. Conferences tend to attract a lot of smart people to a single location
  2. Speakers at a conference come prepared to talk in detail about a topic
  3. Most people cannot attend every session of every conference, so this gives a wider audience to the speaker
  4. I can sit in the session ahead of time and educate myself on a topic prior to speaking about it on camera.

A user group is also a good place to find a guest. Many of my interviews were recorded immediately after a speaker delivered a presentation at a user group. The challenge here is that user groups tend to end late at night and you must ask the host facility to stay open an extra half hour while you record.

I have also recorded interviews with co-workers that I know are knowledgeable on a topic. In most work environments, it’s possible to reserve a small conference room in which to record.

After I identify a good speaker, I approach him* and ask if he is willing to speak on camera for a half hour or so.

I nearly always give my guest the flexibility to schedule the time of the interview. People are busy and I recognize that they are doing me a favor by taking the time to record with me.

Selecting a Topic

I like to keep my show short and focused, so the guest and I need to agree on a topic. There are really only 3 criteria for a good topic.
1. The guest must be knowledgeable about the topic. Our goal is to share information with the viewers.
2. The guest must have some passion for this topic. Passionate speakers make for much better shows.
3. The topic must be of interest to my audience. Typically anything in the technology field meets these criteria, especially if it is new technology.

I try to avoid repeating topics, but I will cover the same subject twice if the second guest can add a new perspective.

If we are at a conference or user group, I often suggest that we talk about a topic on which they are presenting. This works well because the presenter has spent time preparing a presentation and knows the material really well. However, he may want to discuss something different. For example, a presenter may be researching and writing a book on a different topic and want to speak about that. As long as I feel the topic will be of interest to my audience, I'm happy to let my guest select it.

Location

As often as possible, I try to find a quiet place to record interviews. This should be a room with a door I can close and shut out external noise. Ideally, this room should be small and should have covered walls. Large rooms with bare walls echo much more. 

Unfortunately, this isn't always possible, so I try to find as isolated a place as I can.

Of course, the room must have available power for my camera and microphone. (My camera will run on batteries but I don't like to risk this)

Prepping the guest

Prior to the interview, I discuss with my guest what we will talk about. I nearly always write down an outline of the conversation. Depending on the situation, I have a couple approaches.

  • I may sit in on their presentation and take notes. Then, I can ask open questions and guide the guest through an abbreviated version of the presentation.
  • It may be a topic that I am already familiar with. In this case, I outline what I think are key points and I review these with the guest. They are free to add or modify my outline.
  • It may be a topic with which I am not familiar. In this case, I rely on the guest to create an outline. Generally, I ask them the key points they want to cover and I write them down in outline form.  I also spend a little extra time learning about the topic in advance, so I can understand it well enough to ask follow-up questions or spark an intelligent dialogue. I find these conversations are enjoyable but much harder.

I also try to chat with my guest for a few minutes before the camera rolls in order to help him relax and establish a rapport. In more than one case, I had just met the guest prior to the interview.

In the next article, I'll discuss the interview itself.


* For simplicity, I will use the masculine pronoun when describing a generic guest. I have had many female guests and plan to have more in the future.