Friday, November 6, 2009

Interview Like a Pro: Lessons from Maestro, Susan Bratton

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Susan Bratton, the co-founder and host of the successful, Dishy Mix Podcast Show [listen to our podcast here]. I've known Susan for just over a year now and what I can tell you is that she is the MASTER when it comes to podcasting. Why I say this is that I enlisted her help during SXSW last year to do a series called Community Powered. The series focused on some of the "smarties" in the social space like some amazing folks like Lee Odden, Professor Henry Jenkins of MIT and authors Chris Brogan & Patricia Martin sharing their wisdom on the social web and how companies big and small could tap into its power to transform their business.

As a fellow podcaster, I was amazed at the thought and preparation that went into Susan's invite, prep and interview process. I am fairly thorough myself but Susan takes this stuff to a whole new level which is part of the impetus for this blog post.

Prior to my interview with Susan a few weeks ago, she sent me a list of questions to answer before we did the show. In addition to doing a lot of podcasting, I've also been interviewed a fair number of times by bloggers, podcasters and members of the traditional media. What I will tell you is that this list of questions was second to none. Of course I couldn't resist publishing it as it really got me thinking about myself, my job and my priorities in life. I'm including a link to some of Susan's other successful interviewing tips (if you currently interview or ever plan to interview someone, this list is a must listen).

Here are the questions she asked along with my answers. In the spirit of transparency, I promise that whether you like it or not, you'll know a lot more about me after you read this:

What do you want my listeners/viewers to know about you?
That I’m a smart marketer that is helping Powered and it’s customers tap into the power of social. If you can work in “funny” and “authentic,” that works too. ;)

What is your plan for yourself 10 years from now?
Retired. And I’m not kidding. That won’t mean that I won’t be working but rather that I can blog, travel, spend time with my family and do a little consulting on the side as appropriate, especially for non-profit companies.

Who I admire people who ______?
Work hard AND smart. Dave Evans is one of these people.

What has been your most positive speaking experience to date and why?
Two – one was a panel I did at a LOMA | ACORD event. I led a panel in front of 3,000 people from the insurance and financial services industry. Total adrenaline rush. The second was keynoting at the Inbound Marketing Summit in Dallas. I hit the timing perfectly and had several people come up to me after to learn more about Powered (that’s always my goal with speaking).

If you could keynote any conference or event, which one would it be and what would the title of your speech be?
TED – I’m not holding my breath on that one. One that I might have a shot at is the DMA. While I don’t love the conference itself, those are the people whose minds I need to change. Title of my speech would be “When Will You Understand that Today’s Advertising Models are Broken?”

What is one of the most outrageous things you’ve ever done?

Ummm, do you really want me to answer that? From a professional standpoint, it was announcing my departure from Mzinga to move to Powered on Twitter. On my 10,000 tweet no doubt. On a personal level, peeing on the Kremlin back in 1991 (oops, did I just write that?) LOL

In what area do you feel superior to most people? What talent or capability of yours is remarkable?
I don’t feel comfortable using the word “superior” because that makes me sound arrogant. I do feel like I have two great abilities however:
  • like you, I am an uber-networker. I’ve been doing this long before the SocNets were around 
  • I’d like to think that I bring the right mix of humor, authenticity, how to and creativity to teaching people how to use “social” to improve themselves and their businesses. I do this on my blog, on Twitter, at live events and podcasts.
What dark or traumatic event has actually had a beneficial impact on your life?
About 2/3 of the way through my stint at Fidelity Investments, I got myself into some hot water that nearly put my job in jeopardy. While many of the issues leading up to this “low point” weren’t my fault, I shared some of the blame. This ended up being one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had.

What is your life purpose?
To be a great husband, dad, brother, son and co-worker.

Name your single most amazing personal gift/talent.
As I mentioned before, I am a MEAN networker. I can also throw a nasty curve ball. ;)

Describe a time when you felt like a failure and tell us how you dealt with it.
Covered this earlier in my “most traumatic experience” but instead of jumping ship and leaving Fidelity, I stuck around, built myself back up and was actually about to be promoted to Vice President two weeks before I left to go to Mzinga. I learned a TON about the importance of being humble during this process.

Who has been your greatest teacher?
I’ve really had five (sorry, can’t pick just one). My 11th & 12th grade French teacher, Ms. Latin, my dad, Rick Lyman at Fidelity, Barry Libert at Mzinga and Francois Gossieaux who kicked off my “social” career in earnest.

If you could work for another company, which would it be?

If I could wave my magic wand and make one thing work better in your business or career, what would it be?
Believe it or not, you’re “waving” it right now. We just need greater awareness and your inviting me on your podcast (among other things) is key.

If one press outlet (Internet, TV, Radio, Anything) would feature you, which would it be and what would the headline or story be?
I’d pick either NPR or the Wall Street Journal. Those are THE places to be featured in my mind. Title would be “Game Changer” and it would be about me helping Powered change the game for big companies using social.

What are the three actions you’ve taken in the last 2 years that have had the most positive effect on your bank account?
  • Ha! Well, coming to work for Powered didn’t hurt. 
  • Signing on with a financial advisor kept my wife and I out of trouble during the most recent downturn 
  • Moving from Boston (expensive) to Austin (inexpensive)

What is the specific area of knowledge where you think you know more than anyone else in business? For what are you the penultimate expert?
I’m not sure I know more than anyone else here but I’d say I’m probably in the top .1% in the country when it comes to combining the power of traditional marketing and social. As for penultimate area where I’m an expert, I’m a pretty darn good photographer with my iPhone.

How do you keep up with and consume industry-related news? RSS Reader, email, surf sites?
Twitter (following specific folks as a filter), Google Reader, Yammer and a strong network of smart people in Austin that keep me abreast of what’s important

What’s one efficiency trick you use that you can share with us?
Find GREAT filters and use them as a cheat.

Describe your vision of personal success. When will you KNOW you are successful?
When friends and family can say to me, “oh yeah, I’ve heard of your company.” Secondarily, financial independence.

What’s one thing you are doing right now to change or improve yourself?
I’m constantly working on my listening skills and attention to detail. I try and be conscious of these two “areas for improvement” on a daily basis and work iteratively to improve these two areas.

Is there a place in your life where you are not walking your talk?
Not always as good a dad as I could be. I tell my kids not to yell and find myself doing that to them more often than I’d like. From a professional standpoint, I need to do more on the measurement front with our own business.

Describe a major change in your life you navigated successfully.
I’d say my move from a “digital” marketer to a “social” marketer back in 2006 was pretty successful. I’m also proud of the fact that I played a large roll in transforming Mzinga from a non-entity to one of the top 2-3 players in the social space back in early 2008.

Describe an experience that moved you to tears.
The birth of our first child — this was on two fronts. One, she was emergency c-section. Two, holding your child for the first time is beyond words.

If you could spend your time any way you wanted, without any financial worries, what would you do?
Traveling, playing with the kids, having dinner with my wife, on the beach, scuba diving, taking pictures.

What is your favorite conference to attend and why?
SXSW – best networking around (oh, and some pretty decent parties too).

What book you most recommended to your friends? Or Have you ever bought multiple copies of a book or music to share because you were so moved? 
From a business perspective, I liked Groundswell a lot and have recommended it to a number of friends. On the personal side, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was a pretty freaking amazing book. Can’t wait for the movie.

Who is your mentor?
This is somewhat ever changing right now. Let’s say that I more influenced by folks than being actively mentored. People like Todd Defren (Shift), Peter Kim (Dachis Group), Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter), Bert DuMars (Newell Rubbermaid), my fellow podcast host, Jennifer Leggio (ZD Net), Rachel Happe & Jim Storer (The Community Roundtable), Tim Walker (Hoovers) and Kyle Flaherty (Breaking Point Systems)

What is the axiom by which you live your life?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That and “Pay it forward.”

How much do you think luck has played a role in your success?
Zero. I have hustled, worked hard and made my own luck.

Who are three of the most amazing people in Advertising and Web 2.0 and why?
You would be one of them. You’ve done a gorgeous job of combining the two. Barry Judge of BestBuy and Tim Armstrong, now at AOL.

Are you on the boards of any companies or charitable organizations?
I am. I am currently on the advisory board of BuzzGain,, Social Media Marketing Institue and Dialogue. I also sit on the interim board of the Social Media Club. I need to get on the board of a non-profit or two [post script: I am playing the role of team leader for Team Austin raising money (for) and awareness of men's health issues. This is for a project called Movember].

What is the one thing people misunderstand most about you?
Good question. I guess it’s them thinking that I’m “social media” guy when I’m really a marketing guy. Social media is obviously a big part of marketing but it’s not the only thing I do.

For what do you want to be remembered professionally?
The fact that I helped 3-4 companies get achieve success through digital and social marketing efforts. That and the fact that I know my shit and that I’m always happy to help others learn.

The worst “fork in the road”-bad-decision that you regret.
I wish I had gone the startup route earlier on in my career. That’s no disrespect to Fidelity because I loved my time there but I see friends like Tim Armstrong who went startup and is now running AOL after being the president of sales at Google.

Your most sinful, decadent, guilty pleasure?
A good slasher movie. Lots of blood and guts.

The thing you did that pushed your edge the hardest in your whole life?
Definitely grad school. Balancing working 30 hours a week, paying for school and trying to keep up was A LOT of work. It didn’t help that I was only 21 at the time.

If you could change one thing about the business world it would be ______?
To make it more innovative and less fearful of change.

Where will social networking evolve from today?
Like the internet, I think social networking is just going to become like electricity over time. It will be ubiquitous and people won’t even think of it as social networking.

How do you chill?
I love to grill, have a few beverages with my wife and/or friends. Take in an occasional ball game. You know, guy stuff.

Your greatest achievement?
Landing meetings with the Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, Dan Rosensweig, COO of Yahoo and Jeff Jordan, President of eBay within a three hour window back in 2003. That was pretty cool.

What do you value in your friends?
Humor, authenticity, reliability.

Who is the wisest person you've met?
My friend Mukund Mohan is pretty damn wise. Tim O’Reilly also fits this bill.

Where were you born? Where were your parents born? Where were your grandparents born? Where were your Great Grandparents born? 
Portland, ME — Portland, ME — Various parts of Maine — Scotland, and various parts of Maine.

Where were you and what were you doing:
12 minutes ago?

Austin, TX — answering these questions

12 hours ago?
New York City, NY -- sleeping

12 weeks ago? 
Lots of places including San Francisco, Atlanta, New York and Boston (but living in Austin, TX)

12 months ago? 
Melrose, MA

12 years ago? 
Boston, MA

24 years ago? 
Amherst, MA

What travel experience changed your life? 
I spent to summers in Russia. It was amazing.

What is on your bucket list? Top 5 things on you would like to do?
  • Scuba dive in the Blue Hole in Belize 
  • Open my own restaurant or cafĂ© 
  • Climb Mt. Everest 
  • Write a book 
  • Spend a winter (summer there) in New Zealand 
What are you doing now as a hobby? 
I love to cook (beyond just grilling) and I love to take photographs.

What activity could you do all day long without getting bored?
Ummmm... other than “that” thing, I think the other thing I could do all day is to cook. Yup, I really enjoy cooking. I could also preoccupy myself once in a while on Twitter. Perhaps you’ve noticed? ;)

What community groups do you belong to? 
On LinkedIn, I’m part of the Social Media Marketing and Community 2.0 groups. As I mentioned earlier, I’m also a board member of the Social Media Club. And I’vs sort of unofficially become part of Bryan Person’s Social Media Breakfast organization (although my roll is minimal).

What is your favorite source for news?
NPR and ReadWriteWeb

Have you ever witnessed a perception-changing event in your life? 
Visiting a maximum security prison in Washington DC when I was 22 was pretty perception changing.

Who defines greatness for you?
A commitment to excellence

Have you changed your lifestyle since the Global Warming issue hit the world stage?
Yes. I’m driving a more gas efficient car now and we do a lot more recycling now.

What is your big wish, idealistic or otherwise?
That my children grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults. On the big picture front, I’d like to see us eliminate civil war in places like Africa and the Middle East.

Where do you draw your strength and inspiration?
My wife to a great degree. My parents are also quite inspiring.

What do you think are the key issues for business professionals in the 21st Century?
Green, social and adjustment to the Age Wave.

From Bernard Pivot: If you were reincarnated as some other plant or animal, what would it be?
Either a shark or an eagle.

From Marcel Proust: What is your most marked characteristic?
My dark, dark, dark sense of humor.

Two questions a la James Lipton:
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
I love nature – particularly the ocean which is one of the reasons I love scuba diving. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was also a pretty inspirational book.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’ve always thought about being a college professor (and might someday).

No kidding, right?

A few weeks after I did my interview with Susan, I had a chance to be the guest host on her DishyMix show and chose to interview my friend, Eric Ryan, who also happens to be the co-founder and chief brand officer at Method. While I did not put him through the same set of questions that Susan put me through, I tried to channel my inner "Bratton." I'll let you be the judge of how I did.

Thanks again Susan for teaching me so much. I can't wait to get back at it with you next March at SXSW. We are going to rock the house!


  1. Great interview questions and answers. I appreciate your answer of What is your big wish, idealistic or otherwise?
    I really impressed by your reply.

    r4 ds

  2. Wow! Seriously... WOW!

    The mark of a good interview is one that uncovers insights that someone close to you might not already know. While some of these weren't new to me, a lot were... and I thought I knew you well.

    The questions... the answers... one of the best interviews ever. Congrats Susan and Aaron.

    Jim | @jimstorer

  3. I listened to the interview and past shows and remain blown away at how good Susan is at the interview. It is truly a unique skill and I'm going to continue to listen to her to hone it on my end.

    Thanks Aaron and Susan.

  4. I have to echo what Jim just said Aaron. That was cool on a whole lot of different levels. Makes me want to eat whatever your cooking and take you diving in Key Largo ( I'm a 2 hour drive away)...Really enjoyed it.

  5. First off - what a great set of questions and answers. I loved reading this. Really made me think because I need to do a better job at finding ways to draw people out. Secondly, incredibly flattered to be anywhere on this list because you have been a big influence on me, especially in how I think about my network and in regard to how I build relationships.

  6. Like @jeffreycody

  7. GREAT stuff, Aaron -- and I'm blown away by Susan's thoroughness. I consider myself a pretty good interviewer, but this is at the Jerry Rice level of preparation.

    Humbled to be mentioned in such good company, too. I'll take it as a beneficial ass-kicking to get good enough to deserve it.

  8. Good read! Amherst! See you at SXSW.

  9. Thanks guys. Glad you agree w/ my point about Susan setting the bar REALLY high.

    -Steve - appreciate you stopping by (and yes, Amherst!) While you aren't mentioned in my list, you are certainly someone that I pay close attention to, especially given the transformational work you're doing in the video blogging space. See you at SXSW!

  10. Aaron,
    It was such a pleasure to interview you. And I'm glad you like my questions.
    Thanks again for interviewing Eric Ryan on DishyMix too. Solid!