Suicide Bomb

02 February 2007 · 5 comments

I had a mortifying experience yesterday. I was a guest for a live interview on a radio station in Seattle — I crashed and burned. I was an embarrassment. Fortunately, the hosts made a graceful exit and let me off the hook.

I like to think that I’m generally a fairly confident guy. I write well. I can carry on an intelligent conversation. I’m a trained salesman. I acted on stage in high school. In college I could deliver (and enjoy) speeches of all sorts. I can even hold my own when interviewed for the newspaper or for a podcast. But when it comes to speaking on live radio, I’m a nervous wreck.

Yesterday morning a host at KOMO radio in Seattle e-mailed to ask if they could interview me about the nation’s negative savings rate and about what people can do to save for retirement. I knew that this was treading dangerous ground, but I agreed to participate. (Over the past year I’ve been trying to “just say yes”. Basically I try not to shy away from situations that normally I’d avoid.)

As the interview approached I felt nauseated. I remembered two other times I’d been interviewed on live radio (about completely different topics, and long, long ago), and how those interviews also went poorly. I remembered how when Kris asked me to say a few words at a dinner party once, I mumbled and fumbled and stumbled over myself. “But I’m good at this,” I told myself, trying to psych myself up. “I was one class short of a minor in speech communication.”

It didn’t matter. The moment came. The station phoned me. The hosts were gentle. They asked leading questions. They did their best to help me. But my brain froze and I couldn’t remember even basic concepts, concepts I deal with every day. Retirement? Savings? HA! All I could say is, “People should start saving now.”

After my minute or two on the air, I was shaking all over. A year or two ago, this would have been enough to drive me into a deep, blue funk. The new, improved J.D., however, couldn’t help but find the whole situation amusing in a sad, pathetic sort of way. I immediately fired off an e-mail apology to the hosts. One of them replied:

Those little freezes happen all the time! Don’t worry. I’m just glad we got your website out to our listeners. I expect you’ll be getting more interview opportunities and we’ll certainly keep you in the mind for the future. Main thing is not to focus on it…and make a bigger deal out of it than it is. Don’t draw attention to the freeze….People normally listen with just half an ear…and as long as you try to keep going they won’t notice even if you aren’t saying what you want to say. You could try to have a couple talking points written down that you can go to…But relax and enjoy. Think of it as a one-on-one with a friend.

I thought that was a gracious reply. I also posted a question at Ask Metafilter: How do I learn to speak well in radio interviews? The tips there are very good. I’ll make note of them.

In times past, I would have felt defeated by this. Now, though, I see it as a learning experience, a chance to improve for next time.

And there will be a next time…

1 Mr. Anonymous February 2, 2007 at 09:16

Next time maybe you should have a few drinks before you go on the air… ;-)

2 Kris February 2, 2007 at 09:28

When I go to court as an expert witness, it is helpful to keep in mind the thought that I WANT them to ask me questions, and that I ENJOY answering them. That is, they have given me an opportunity to talk about something I love (chemistry!). I still get nervous, of course, but thinking this way somehow persuades my inner self to treat it as something I’m eager for, rather than dread. At times I’m actually sorry when I’m excused from the witness stand. Come on guys– throw me some hard ones!

3 Michael Rawdon February 2, 2007 at 10:43

Wow, well congratulations – at least – on being noticed enough that radio stations want to interview you!

I’m not a confident public speaker either, although I can do it when I need to. I’ve never given an interview, so I have no experience in that arena; when I’ve done teaching in the past, I’ve mainly gotten by through a mastery of the material – which is easier when teaching since you know what the subject matter is going to be. But a dynamic speaker I ain’t!

4 Lisa February 2, 2007 at 12:39

I second Michael… Congratulations on being noticed. That’s a wonderful accomplishment, particularly since you’ve been doing GRS for a relatively short period of time. I, for one, am impressed.

I guess the best cure for radio paralysis is to do it more often. Yes!

5 AdamD February 2, 2007 at 20:57

Thanks for sharing, even if it means dwelling on it for a little while longer. The host’s reply was great.

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