What's It Like to Go on NPR? Inside One HubSpotter's Experience

June 15, 2015


Some people don't need the spotlight to shine. But sometimes, even the quietest of our peers can be coaxed into sharing their expertise and positive energy -- leaving us, the audience, the better for it.

This is what happened to my colleague Beth Dunn when a fun flowchart she created about exclamation points turned, months later, into an interview with National Public Radio (NPR).

Although Beth is well-known for her great writing amongst HubSpot employees, most of what she writes is either internal or anonymous. As the writer of HubSpot's beloved internal newsletter and the delightful and often comedic microcopy in our product, Beth doesn't have her name on many places for the world to see.

But every so often, Beth does create content for a wider audience -- like that flowchart, "Should I Use an Exclamation Mark?" The flowchart challenges the overuse of exclamation points, asking readers whether using words would suffice to convey emotion in their writing.

When Beth cooked up that flowchart with designer Tyler Littwin, it had the whole HubSpot content team laughing. (It also changed our habits around exclamation points forever, but that's another blog post for another day.)

Turns out we weren't the only ones who loved it.

The segment on the NPR podcast, How to Do Everything, is "absolutely charming," wrote our VP of Content Joe Chernov in an email to our team. "The hosts are fun and funny, and Beth is just as likable and just as delightful. I smiled throughout the entire episode."

When I spoke with Beth about her experience, though, she let me in on a little secret: She was super nervous before, during, and after interviewing for the segment. She even had an anxiety dream about it. And who could blame her? NPR podcasts are downloaded an average of 84 million times per month -- a number that's exciting and intimidating all at once.

But Beth's whole experience interviewing for NPR's podcast made for an interesting story -- one I wanted to share with anyone curious to know what interviewing with a well-known radio show is like. So I sat down with Beth to flesh out the details. Read on to learn what it was like to be vetted, preparing for the interview, what the interview was like, what she would've done differently, and more. 

Getting Vetted by NPR

It all started with an arms race of sorts.

One of the hosts of NPR's How to Do Everything podcast found himself emailing back and forth with a publicist. During their exchange, he noticed the publicist had used exclamation points in a few of her emails, while he hadn't been using any in his. To meet her level of enthusiasm, he started adding exclamation points into his responses. But things quickly spiraled out of control, and soon, neither of them were using any other form of punctuation.

His realization? Exclamation points are an unhealthy habit, and he wanted to see if he could rid himself of them entirely.

So he asked the podcast's producer, Gillian Donovan, to do a little research. Her Googling led her to Beth's flowchart. (Thanks, inbound marketing.)

"[Gillian] emailed me on a Friday morning and asked, 'Would it be possible for me to give you a call this afternoon?'" Beth told me. Like many of us, Beth was familiar with NPR, but not with their How to Do Everything podcast. So she poked around the podcast's website and gave some of the episodes a listen.

That afternoon, Gillian called Beth to chat about the flowchart and get a feel for whether Beth would be a good person to interview for the podcast. "She vetted me on the phone, and then said she'd talk to the hosts to see if they were interested in what I had to say." If they were, Gillian would call back on Monday.

Beth naturally spent the rest of the weekend convincing herself she wasn't going to be on the show.

"I was replaying in my head how the vetting phone call went, and thinking, 'Yeah, I probably didn't come across as interesting or witty or funny as I wanted to, so they probably won't use me.'" It was a defense mechanism, of course. She just didn't want to get her hopes up.

Preparing for the Interview

When Monday morning rolled around, Gillian called Beth with good news: The NPR hosts wanted her to be on their podcast, and they'd be interviewing her over the phone that very afternoon.

She only had a few hours to prepare. She spent the rest of the morning surfing the podcast's website some more, rereading her article and other content she'd written on the topic since then, and making note of the key things she knew she wanted to be sure to hit on during the interview.

"I tend not to take notes, though," she told me. "I've learned over the years when doing the occasional phone interview that if I take notes, I over-rely on them. ... [Instead,] I try to memorize as much as I can."

But then she says that her memory's naturally "pretty lousy."

Her secret to memorizing information for an interview like this, then? "Pairing words to movement," she told me.

Matching words and movement is a strategy she's used for years. She says she picked it up as a kid at the Harwich Junior Theatre on Cape Cod, where she spent entire summers performing in plays, running lights, building sets, and so on. While she claims she was "never actually a particularly good actor," she's emphatic that the skills she learned at the Harwich Junior Theatre have served her well throughout her professional career.

For instance, she often played the Jester, who introduces each show and mingles with the audience before the show starts. It was fun, interactive stuff, she recalled, involving a few memorized speeches and a whole lot of improv.

"Jester speeches were three to five minutes long, so they're kind of hard to memorize at first, as a kid," Beth said. "What I learned to do was to pair each important line with a different movement or gesture, like walking stage left, or swinging my arms out wide. Each important beat would be paired with a different motion. You can use gestures, angles, levels, and positions [on the stage] -- all kinds of things. Then your speech is no longer just a monotonous series of words to memorize, but a flow of movement that feels natural and fun. I use it for public speaking now all the time."

And that's, she says, how she got through her NPR interview.

"I memorized different things I wanted to say and imagined tucking them into different corners of my office. When I did the interview, I paced. So I ended up mentioning everything I wanted to say because I remembered where all of those tidbits were hidden."

The Interview Itself

The NPR podcast's hosts called Beth a few hours later for the interview. The whole call lasted 30 - 45 minutes, but the segment itself ended up being a little under 6 minutes long.

Below is the podcast episode, featuring Beth's interview at 0:02:44 – 0:08:09. Go ahead and have a listen.

It was during the interview that she came up with the idea to "fast" from using exclamation points for an entire month. The hosts liked it, and they decided to begin their 30-day detox from exclamation points that very day -- the two hosts, Beth, and any listeners who wanted to participate.

Reflecting on the Interview

When I asked Beth what she would have changed about the interview, she talked mostly about the technical side of things. First and foremost, she said she would've used a nicer microphone.

"I used iPhone headphones with a little mic because I knew I'd want to be pacing around," she said. "But when it aired, I wished they'd asked me to do it on Skype because that would've sounded clearer."

Other than that, though, she felt pretty good about it, despite being so nervous at the start.

"I was pretty relaxed when it was actually going on," Beth told me. "I made the points I wanted to make without sounding like a jerk. What I didn't want was to sound like the punctuation police."

Beth is adamant about that last part. She's not against exclamation points, she just thinks people should pick and choose more carefully when to use them. But as soon as her article came out about the overuse of exclamation points, it became "a thing" all of a sudden. She became known as the person who doesn't like exclamation points.

"I can't get away from it," she says now with a shrug. "Either people are apologizing when they are using them around me, or people are defiant about it and defend themselves." 

"I honestly don't care if people use them on Facebook or on Twitter or in personal notes," she said. "It's in marketing and web copy that it really gets under my skin."

Continued Coverage of Her Idea

During the weeks since Beth's interview on NPR, the hosts of the podcast have checked in on listeners' experiences with the 30-day exclamation point fast, some of whom posted about their struggles with the hashtag #exclamationpointfast.

It was really interesting to hear the struggles the podcast's listeners were experiencing -- "I had one friendship that seems to be a little strained by it," said one -- and the creative solutions they were coming up with. For example, one listener put a shortcut in her iPhone so that whenever she posted two exclamation points in a text message or email from her phone, it turned into a period.

I asked Beth how her own exclamation point fast was doing.

"I've definitely been more vigilant because I don't want people to present evidence against me," she laughed. "I've had a few slips, but that's in keeping with my actual position on the matter. [Exclamation points] aren't evil -- it's just like chocolate. Choose your moment, make sure it's the very best moment for it, and really savor it when you indulge."

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