Episode 63 – How to ask good questions

Welcome to Season Nine of Let’s Talk SciComm! We’re thrilled to be back with another season, chatting each week about our very favourite topic – how we can all be more effective when it comes to communicating about science.

We’re kicking off the season talking with our good friend Dr Shane Huntington OAM (@DrShaneRRR) – in case you haven’t listened yet, you can get to know Shane on episode 9 of Let’s Talk SciComm! Shane is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Little Big Steps; a charity helping kids with cancer.

Shane is also a speaker, trainer and facilitator. He has been providing consulting services in communication and strategy for over 25 years and is the host and producer of 3RRR’s science radio program Einstein A Go Go. In 2020 he was awarded an Order of Australia in recognition of his science communication work.

In this episode we asked Shane to share his advice on how to ask good questions. Whether you’re going to a conference or interviewing someone about their work, being able to ask interesting, thoughtful questions is an important skill. And given Shane has interviewed thousands of scientists over the past 30 years on radio, he’s a great person to get advice from!

Shane is also a prolific writer with articles on Medium.com read more than 100,000 times. He is the Founder and Director of the Innovation Group Pty Ltd, a scientific equipment supplier in Australia and New Zealand since 1999 and is a Senior Associate with consulting firm Outside Opinion.

Until January 2019 he was Deputy Director of the Melbourne Academic Centre for Health (MACH) which he established in 2011. Prior to his work in the Faculty of Medicine, he was Principal Strategy Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor of The University of Melbourne, Prof. Glyn Davis.

From 2005 to 2008 he was the CEO and Founder of Quantum Communications Victoria within the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne. Quantum Communications Victoria was a $9.3Million Government funded centre which developed telecommunications security based on Quantum Physics and exported Australia’s first quantum product.

Shane’s specialty was in Photonics and Imaging and he has published more than 75 refereed journal papers during his 10 years in research.

Shane was the Founder of the Telescopes in Schools Program, a Victorian based initiative designed to bring the wonders of Astronomy and education to low SES schools in Melbourne’s Northern and Western suburbs and rural districts through the prevision of research grade telescopes and support.

He holds an honorary appointment at the University of Melbourne in the School of Engineering and is an Ambassador for the Lost Dogs Home.

You can follow Shane and learn more about his work here:


Jen (00:00:00)
Hello and welcome to Let’s Talk SciComm, a podcast by the University of Melbourne’s Science Communication Teaching Team.
I’m Associate Professor Jen Martin and my wonderful co-host is Dr Michael Wheeler, and we believe that science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.

Jen (00:00:38)
Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of Let’s Talk SciComm.
I am delighted as ever to be here and of course also to be joined by my friend Michael. Hello there Michael.

Michael (00:00:58)
Hey Jen, I’m very excited for today’s episode.

Jen (00:01:01)
Well I reckon today’s a pretty special one because we have a very special guest.
Not only is our guest [an] extremely good friend of mine, someone who I feel so privileged to work with. But by my calculations he’s also only the second ever person that we’ve invited to return for a second episode of the podcast.
So please join me in welcoming our friend Dr Shane Huntington. Welcome back, Shane.

Shane (00:01:27)
Alright, thanks Jen. Thanks Michael. It’s interesting. You know, when you get invited back to something as, as you know, either means they couldn’t find anyone else or you didn’t screw up the first version. So either way, it’s good to be back.

Jen (00:01:41)
Well to everyone listening, if you haven’t listened to episode 9 of this podcast yet, you really should, and you’ll find out that it’s absolutely that Shane did not screw up.
So Shane, we’re not going to go back through all of your bio. We’re going to tell people they have to listen to a former episode. How does that feel?

Shane (00:01:57)
That’s fine by me. I really hate it when people read out the bio because it usually puts you in the class of you know, over promise and under deliver.

Jen (00:02:08)
Well I do think, you know, we need to be clear why we want you back. You have this incredible career in both science and science communication as a physicist, as a radio presenter, radio host, radio producer, radio anchor, all of those things.
And I do have to say that your experience and expertise in science communication and teaching others how to do science communication is something that I’ve just got a huge amount of respect for. And I’ve learned a lot from you.
So I first met you 18 years ago, Shane. And I know, time flies. And in that time, it’s just been such an amazing joy for me to have the opportunity to be on Triple R’s Einstein A Go-Go radio show with you. Your, your amazing baby. And so Shane, you’ve been hosting radio for more than 30 years, right?

Shane (00:02:54)
Yes, it’s about 30. I’ve been anchor for a little less than that.
But as a host on the show, I just clicked over the 30 year mark, I think.
So it’s quite a you know, when you start counting decades, not years, you realise you’ve been there a while.

Jen (00:03:09)
It’s, I mean it’s extraordinary. And to point out, this is all volunteer. This is all volunteer work. And part of why you were awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, which I’m just going to congratulate you on again, ’cause I think it’s so amazing.

Shane (00:03:20)
Thank you.

Shane (00:03:22)
So look, Shane’s a physicist. He’s a really, a master strategist. He’s the CEO of a kids’ cancer charity and many other things.
But really Shane, the reason why we wanted to have you back today is because of your many skills, I think something that you are really remarkably good at is asking questions.
And to me, I think asking questions is just a completely underrated skill because you know, whether you have the opportunity to interview someone as we do on the radio, or whether you’re at a conference, just wanting to ask a question at the end of a talk or a poster session. Or whether you just want to have a conversation with somebody, I think asking thoughtful questions is really essential.
And I feel like many people hold back from asking questions because you know, we just feel worried we’re going to be judged. Oh, that’s a dumb question. And that’s a shame, ’cause if we don’t feel confident to ask questions, I think we really miss out on a lot.
So that’s the premise for today. How do you ask good questions?
So Shane, I thought the place to start would be, tell us a little bit, how did you get started in radio? And were you already skilled at establishing rapport with people and asking questions and kind of crafting conversations before that? Or is this absolutely something that you had to learn on the job?

Shane (00:04:40)
Yeah, look, I think the answer is both. So I started as a guest. I was an honours student at Melbourne University, and I was invited onto the show by one of the existing hosts at the time as a guest.
And I didn’t screw it up. And one of those hosts left and I was asked back to take that person’s place and just never left after that.
So that was kind of how it started. But I will say when I started on radio, it was a very different scenario to where I’m at now. I would agonise over interviews. You know, preparing questions and trying to work, reading up about the person’s work and so forth.
And that is something that I think is where many people start. You know, that’s where you need to start. But by comparison, if I do an interview now, I might get you to send me a paragraph about your work. And during the music break prior to your interview, I’ll read it. And then I’ll just sort of interview you cold, no prepared questions.
And what I’ve learned over the years is that for me, that is where I get the optimum response from people. And the reason for that is sort of multifaceted. But part of it is understanding why I’m asking the questions.
So, first of all, point number one is I have to interpret somehow what I think the listening audience wants to know about. So it’s not necessarily what I want to know about. So that’s part one.
Part two for me though is asking questions in a way that gets the best out of the guest. So again, it’s not about me. It’s about making sure that I facilitate a scenario where they can do their very best and sound as interesting and intelligent and engaged with the work as possible.
And that, you know, that can be quite challenging sometimes. Not everyone comes across that way immediately. But I think if you facilitate the right environment, if you listen back to all the interviews, say the last hundred I’ve done, I think it’s been like 125 this year, I then think there’s a single person that doesn’t sound interesting and engaged. But that’s not the way they all walked into the studio.
And so that’s our job to do that. It’s not about us. It’s about them and our audience. That’s part of the way I approach it.

Michael (00:06:56)
Hmm yeah, it’s really interesting ’cause people can be completely different in different environments and different scenarios and when they’re talking to different people.
So you know, they might be talking to one person and feel not as much at ease. But I guess the real skill of a great interviewer like yourself is being able to put them at ease and get the best out of them as you say, which is really interesting.
I also realise this is probably our most meta episode yet because you know, I just have to acknowledge that you know, we’re trying to ask you great questions about how to ask great questions so…

Jen (00:07:31)
No, no pressure.

Shane (00:07:32)
I know.

Michael (00:07:33)
Yes. Very, very, very meta. But curious to dig into that a little bit more, Shane.
And you said you’ve learned a lot over the time that you’ve been doing this.
And I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the role listening plays in asking good questions, because it sounds like perhaps you’re able to change up your tactics or your, the questions that you’re going to ask on the spot if you’re not doing as much pre-planning. You’re doing more planning in the moment and kind of thinking on your feet.
I’m guessing listening plays a role there. But curious to hear your thoughts on what you’ve learned about listening.

Shane (00:08:13)
Yeah, look it’s, it’s really essential I think, to what we do. And I often get asked, “Can I see the questions before I do the interview?” And my answer is simple. “Well no, because I haven’t written them.”
And sometimes I think some people don’t believe me. But it’s like, well actually I don’t, I don’t write questions. But the reasons for that for me are pretty simple.
I’ll ask the first question when the guest comes in, which is somehow related to what they’ve sent me. But then my second question will depend very heavily on the response to the first question. So that’s where that listening does really come in. And there’s two facets of that.
One is the material they give me. So the actual information, the knowledge and where I might want to go as a result of that knowledge. That’s part one.
Part two for me is what’s more important. When you give me a response to your question, somewhere in that response, you’ll say something that sounds like you’re a little bit more passionate about that bit than the rest. That’s what I chase, ’cause that’s what will give me the best interview.

Michael (00:09:15)
Hmm, yeah.

Jen (00:09:16)
And Shane, the thing that… I listened to what you’ve just said, I was listening very carefully, as I should be. And it absolutely rings true to me because I’ve seen you do that. I’ve seen you do that over years and years and years.
You are really good at picking up on what somebody would really like to talk about. And I think that’s why our show is successful and why people love it.
But for someone who’s not very experienced at asking questions. And I put myself in that category. You know, I’ve done a lot of radio, but I don’t do interviews you know, anywhere near as often as you do.
I think it’s a really hard balance between listening carefully and staying fully focused on the person you’re interviewing, as opposed to going into your own head and into kind of anxiety mode of, Oh my gosh, what am I going to ask next? What am I going to say next?
And clearly, you’ve got to the point now that you’re just supremely comfortable that you know it’s going to be fine.
You don’t really need to think too much about what’s coming. But can you go back, I don’t know, 10 or 20 years?
What’s your advice for somebody who is nervous and anxious? How can they stay in the moment of listening and put off the inevitable going into their own head and planning what they’re going to say next?

Shane (00:10:24)
Absolutely. And Jenny, first of all, I would say there are moments where I sit there and think, What am I going to ask next? So that doesn’t completely go away. And sometimes that depends on the clock and on the sort of answers you get.
So you get some guests who give you, they’ve been taught to give you really short sharp answers. And you know, you’re 3 minutes into a 12 minute interview and you’ve, you’ve expended all of your questions at that point.
And so you know, I feel that sometimes too, even now. But if you come up to me after the end of our show and say, “Hey Shane, let’s go and have lunch.” I’ll give you this look that’s like, Jen, I’m exhausted. Leave me alone. Right? Because it actually takes a lot of energy to be that switched on and that cognitively engaged for even just a-10 minute interview.
And what I think happens sometimes is people, they don’t quite give themselves credit for just how much energy and effort goes into a good interview. It can really knock you ’round. And I find it sounds very professional when you hear it every week, the work that we do.
But I walk out exhausted, even after all the experience I’ve had. Because being up, being engaged, being the person the interviewee needs to see and hear, that’s a job.
You know, recently, I interviewed the great Peter Hitchner. You know, the news reader here in Melbourne. And I gave Peter the whole show. It was a one hour long show.
So that’s a one hour, you know, like 50 minutes of interviewing. And I basically wrote down about five directions I wanted to go with in the discussion. And that’s all we had.
But I knew a lot about him and I knew how conversational he could be. So the prep for me was knowing the individual I was interviewing, knowing what they were like conversationally and knowing what areas of interest that that person had. That I knew if I just asked that question, I could probably go to the bathroom, come back and they’d still be talking ’cause they’re passionate about that.
So, so that’s… the prep is not just about what questions to ask. It’s knowing the person, knowing what they love, knowing their style, all of these things will help you as an interviewer.

Michael (00:12:37)
Hmm, yeah, that’s really interesting. And you mentioned that you you’re asking the questions for the benefit of your audience. How do you know what your what questions your audience wants you to ask, asking for a friend?

Shane (00:12:50)
Yeah, yeah. It’s… look that’s a, that’s a tricky one. But you know, I think there’s some things that sort of jump out. Like if we were talking about a new, a new cancer drug and you said to me, “Oh, look, this drug is, is great. We’ve been using it so far on people’s kidneys, and it seems to remove all cancer from there.” You know, the next question, I think naturally would be “What about the rest of the body?” So there’s some things you can kind of guess people would want to know, you know. And that’s from their own personal experiences, what sort of things would I want to know next. And sometimes it’s a bit of a guess.
I’m sure a lot of the time it’s just my enthusiasm in certain areas. You know, if we have a person in who’s talking about space or the moon or something. You know, I’m just, I’m just going to go wild. But what I, what I then have to do is say, Okay, this part of the questioning is more about me than my audience. So I have to make sure I’m making it relevant to my audience so that they can share my passion.
Because ultimately, what you want to do is get the listener to feel some of the passion, either from the guest, or the host, or preferably both. And that’s what makes good radio. You know, that’s what makes a good podcast is when you can hear that interest between people.
Like if… it’s interesting to me how good we are at picking things out from the audio. If I’m saying something and the interview is boring, and they don’t react to that but they just ask another question. You can, you can hear that. As an audience member you can hear that. So there’s got to be some sort of to and fro. It’s got to be a two way deal otherwise it’s not good listening.

Jen (00:14:26)
But I think Shane that’s also absolutely a learned skill. So my daughter is part of a team who does a radio show. She’s been doing it since she was nine years old. And it’s absolutely a learned skill for children to understand that unless you kind of reflect back to the person you’re interviewing something about what you’ve just heard that it sounds terrible.
And to a kid they’re just excited to ask the next question you know, ’cause they do obviously prepare questions more as you would expect 9 and 10 year olds to do. But to watch this group of kids that I’ve done a lot of work with develop over time that ability to just hold back on their excitement and engage with what somebody has just said, it’s a skill that takes time to learn. But once you hear the difference it’s pretty obvious.

Shane (00:15:09)
Yeah, absolutely. And with all these things. You know, like I think back, I’ve listened to old episodes I’ve done from you know, 20 years ago and I feel a sense of a cringe. Is that the way that I conducted that? Some of them aren’t bad but you know, that’s definitely not the way I would do it now.
But I mean one of the things that I think is consistent throughout though for me is, you need to have a good narrative. And this is where that idea of dumping some of the questions you’d pre-prepared is really important. That you’re happy that it took you so much work. But it’s like well, I’ve just got to dump them because the narrative I’m now in the middle of with this guest does not lend itself to those particular questions anymore.
So you’ve kind of got to go where, where things are valuable for the narrative because as human beings we love narratives. We follow along. And you know, it’s the storytelling. But if it’s just sort of individual siloed questioning, then that is not something I want to listen to at all.

Michael (00:16:02)
And I think it’s actually quite comforting listening to you, knowing that you’re working so hard as an interviewer. Comforting for the people that you’re interviewing and for our listeners and people who are interested in engaging more with the media about their work or being interviewed about their work.
It’s comforting because if the interviewer has the flexibility to kind of shift and change and you know, go down kind of one route or another. It kind of means that the guest can also be flexible right? And they can bring in you know, points that they’re really passionate about or they feel are really important rather than kind of feeling like they’re stuck on you know, I can only talk about this one topic. Well actually, they can you know they can be a bit flexible there. So yeah, it’s great to hear you describe that.

Shane (00:16:49)
Yeah and there’s, there’s another element there that you sort of reminded me of Michael. Is that in most of these circumstances is quite a tremendous power imbalance between us and the guest. And it’s, it’s very interesting to me because one of the goals should always be to try and minimise that feeling of a power imbalance from the guest’s perspective.
So you know, when guests come into our studio, I will meet them as they come in. So you know, it’s not like in some scenarios where the god-like host you know doesn’t see the guest until they finally come into the studio.
I’ll go out and I’ll give them a tour of the station. I’ll tell them where the bathrooms are ’cause I know everyone’s going to be nervous. I indicate to them that I expect everyone to be nervous but that’s okay and it’s our job to help them and…
And so I make them feel as taken care of and comfortable as possible. So that there isn’t as much of a power imbalance. As some, you know, if I… You know, oh well, “You’re my 127th guest this year. You know and just sit over there we’ll get you in a minute.”
People feel very deflated by that, whereas it’s a special event for us to have anyone give up their time on a Sunday morning and we want them to feel that.
And it’s amazing how many… We have so many PhD students coming through. And they all say afterwards, “Oh that was really great. It was, it was so quick and everything was… You know, I’m so happy with the outcome.”
And we’re like, “Do you remember you were about to throw up right before we started ’cause you were so nervous?” But, but that’s our job to do that, our job to make sure that they are taken care of.
So I think a big part of it is minimising that power imbalance so that people feel comfortable in their own skin essentially, you know. And comfortable being the expert in the room ’cause they are, on their topic so yeah.

Michael (00:18:30)
It’s really interesting I guess thinking about those processes that you’re going through. You know, you’re going to great lengths to make the guests feel comfortable. You’re going to great lengths to really listen to them attentively.
And you’re putting a lot of energy into that. You mentioned before you were, you’re often exhausted after interviews because of the amount of effort that you’re putting into them.
I’m curious to kind of ask whether, what do you think that does to your brain? Are there crossover benefits to other aspects of, of your life, when you’re meeting people at a networking event. Or if you’re asking questions you know, in another context. Do you feel like your experience as a host has had crossover benefits to other aspects of your communication?

Shane (00:19:15)
Yeah, I would say the like most important thing I’ve had in my science strategy career, everything I’ve ever done has been doing the show with Triple R. I’ve learnt to communicate so much better.
I’ve learnt to focus so much more on the audience needs, which is whether you’re going for a job interview or you’re applying for a grant or whatever else, that is the cornerstone of good communication.
And understanding how your audience thinks and the way they go about their business and the way they engage with what you’re doing.
And working in this environment has really made me focus very, very intensely on that. I think I’ve, after 30 years of it, I don’t even know where I would be without that input into my life because so many people come in and depend on you doing this in a good way, in a caring way that matters for them.
And I come across some people, I’m sure you would too in your communications courses, where they’ve had one bad media experience from someone who was a bit mean or something. And it tarnishes their entire life for, for those interactions.
And I think we go out of our way at Three Triple R to make sure that that first experience is a beautiful one that they feel great about. And they want to share with their friends, family and colleagues.
So I sort of take that same attitude of care into other things that I do because I think it’s, I see the immediate benefit of it, in that work in Triple R. And you know, if we’re all acting a bit more like that way everywhere else I think society would be a lot better off right? I mean it’s, it’s not hard.

Jen (00:20:45)
100%. And I just think about the huge ripple effect that your care and kindness has Shane. Because as you say, if someone has a really bad experience with the media, it’s highly likely and reasonable that their response to a future request will be “Nah, I’m not putting myself in that situation again”.
Whereas after coming in and being with us at Three Triple R their response is likely to be “Yeah, actually I’d love to. That was really fun”.
And then as that person gets more and more opportunities to practise and get experienced, it becomes [a] more comfortable and confident experience for them. So I think there’s a huge ripple effect of that approach.
But Shane, talking about kind of being kind and inclusive and all of the things that you do so well and really care about I have to ask the obvious question. “Is there such a thing as a dumb question?”

Shane (00:21:33)
Look, I don’t think there’s a, so much a dumb question. There’s certainly a misinformed or like there’s, there’s a few groups of questions that I wouldn’t want to ask.
So you know if I don’t read your material well and I asked something that’s inappropriate. Then you know, I’m not a big fan of those sorts of questions.
There are questions that are deliberately designed to get someone to say something that will be utilised by others in a nefarious way. Dumb or just mean, I’m not sure which box you want to put that in.
But in terms of if I’m just exploring things and I want to know more, then that’s great. But let’s, let’s take the example of the average scientific conference or research conference.
One of the things you, I’m sure you’re both aware of is that most people have more anxiety about question time than actually giving a talk. And the reason for that is not that they’re asked a whole of the dumb questions but they’re asked a whole lot of questions with the wrong motivation. So where the motivation is for the individual asking the question to either make themselves look good or the presenter look bad.
And I don’t like using the term dumb questions but inappropriate questions are certainly something we see a lot of. So for me, I try and avoid anything that looks like that because I think it just leads to anxiety and imposter syndrome and all sorts of things that we want to avoid in all of the people that we, we interview.
So I think I’ve heard the dumb question thing a lot. I think there are, there are misinformed questions. If you come into me and you’re talking about topic A and I haven’t read any of your material, odds are most of the stuff coming out of my mouth is not going to be the most enlightened.
But yeah, I think I, for me, I prefer steering clear of the sorts of questions that don’t benefit the individual being interviewed in any way, shape or form, but they’re all about me and how I can use them. Those questions I, I don’t like.

Jen (00:23:16)
Beautiful response.

Michael (00:23:18)
Most people have experience of asking questions in that context that you mentioned. You know, being at a conference and asking questions after the talk.
And I think people probably beat themselves up a lot more about whether they asked a silly question or not. And the fact is that the audience didn’t really notice that at all.
Especially because you can ask questions that you may know the answer to, you maybe you don’t know the full answer to. But if you’re in that context, maybe it’s also about you know, there are other reasons why you might want to ask questions, you know. It’s maybe about networking or having information for the benefit of the audience.
So [I] think those situations are probably in reality a lot more forgiving than you might think they are, as someone at the event asking questions.

Shane (00:24:03)
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’re always harder on ourselves, right?
I mean, you know, I walk out of most interviews thinking, You know, what could I have done differently?
But you know, I’ve got to that point now where I’m like, You know what, that was a really good interview? We got a lot of great material out of that person and we’re happy with that. Could we have taken a different path? Sure. Was the path we took well and truly good enough? Sure.
Our brains are really good at remembering negative things and not good at remembering positive things.

Michael (00:24:27)
Yeah no, absolutely. And speaking of taking a different path Shane, we want to take this interview on a different path now.
The time has come for our quick questions to finish off. So bit of a different flavour, light-hearted, fun questions. Are you ready?

Shane (00:24:46)
I’m petrified. Go ahead.

Michael (00:24:58)
And I’m going to be analysing now as I’m asking these questions. You know, have I been asking them in the right way?
But if you had an alternative career… If you could pick an alternative career to, to what you are doing? What would it be?

Shane (00:25:12)
I’d love just to be a writer. Just write books. Or if they would have me just in any sort of sci-fi series as a main character so I could just live off convention appearances for the rest of my life after one season.
Something like that.

Michael (00:25:26)
That would be great.

Jen (00:25:26)
Well I’d come, I’d come and see you, Shane. That would be awesome.

Shane (00:25:28)
Yeah, yeah. Sign the pictures.

Jen (00:25:33)
Next question, how would you describe your work in three words?

Shane (00:25:39)
Communication, communication and [a] lot of reading.

Jen (00:25:43)
That’s great. So that was 2 words. I love it. So concise.

Shane (00:25:50)
You have to say it twice ’cause it’s so nice. Yeah that communications.
It’s in everything, so…

Michael (00:25:53)
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You mentioned if we asked you out for lunch Shane, you’d say no because you know, kind of exhausted immediately after an interview. But maybe you’ll have more energy for dinner.
I want to ask if you were hosting a dinner party, you can invite your friends along. But in addition to those friends, you can invite along one scientist, living or from history, who would you invite and why?

Shane (00:26:20)
At this point in time for me, I would invite Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell. So this is the woman who won, who should have won the Nobel Prize for discovery of the pulsar but didn’t ’cause she was a young female PhD student at the time. It’s widely regarded by everyone that she should have done that.
But she is both, one of the most amazing scientists I’ve ever interviewed. I’ve interviewed her twice over a 20-year period, but also one of the kindest people. And the discussions I’ve had with her have been amazing.
But last time I spoke to her, she teared up and cried because she believed that she would finally actually get to see the James Webb telescope launch.
And now a year after that launch, I would love to have her sit there and tell us about what that means to her ’cause she spent 25 years waiting for it.

Michael (00:27:04)
Wow, yeah, talk about passion.
That sounds, that sounds incredible. I would love to hear that interview.

Jen (00:27:11)
Shane, I want to be one of your friends who you invite when that happens please.

Shane (00:27:15)
Yep, yep.

Jen (00:27:17)
Shane, what have you learned so far or maybe what’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far in your career about how to manage this elusive work life balance that everybody talks about?

Shane (00:27:28)
For me, it’s about time efficiency. I try and use my time as efficiently as possible. And I recognise that a lot of things that you do aren’t worth doing.
So, you know, if you think of most scientific careers, I remember mine. There were one or two days that kind of fuelled the next year, just a couple of lucky days.
So, you know, we beat ourselves up against the wall thinking everything has to be done all the time, but it’s not true.
And the one core thing for me that I know is the less I work, the more innovative my work is. And it’s a really hard lesson to learn. But if you work less, you’ll do better. And you know, I proved that in my career. I didn’t work 90, 100 hour weeks ever.
I had a life outside of that. I had kids, I had hobbies, had things I would do. So that’s a big part of it.
Second thing is do the stuff you love. It feels less like work when you really love it. And it won’t tire you out as much if you really love it so.

Michael (00:28:24)
Yeah, yeah.

Jen (00:28:28)
Hear hear.

Michael (00:28:30)
It’s great advice. Yeah, I don’t think I’ve heard that one before. If you work less, the work that you do do is going to be more innovative and creative, makes sense to me.
Very meta question now for the last one Shane. What’s your top tip for asking good questions?

Shane (00:28:44)
Make sure the questions are about the audience and the guest, not about you. It’s very common for interviewers to be focused on themselves, their own profile, and how things make them look.
The best way to look good is to get your guests to come alive and give you great interviews. That will make you look good. You don’t have to, you don’t have to be the focus of it.
You know, that’s not the way they do it. In fact, it often ends up being the reverse. If you’re too self-effacing, too, too concerned about demonstrating that you know so much more than the guests. And you, you see these interviews all the time. They don’t look good. They don’t sound good. They’re not fun to listen to.
So put the guest in the centre position. Right behind them, have the audience. And then you’re the signposts. You’re the guide. If you do that, you’ll get great interviews. And as an interviewer, you’ll look great as a result, and people will be comfortable working with you.

Michael (00:29:37)
Yeah, great advice.

Jen (00:29:39)
Shane, I’m not sure that we look as good as you look when we run interviews. But I do feel that this has been a really useful conversation.I’m incredibly grateful to you for fitting us in and just for having reflected with us on some questions that I think we don’t talk about nearly as much as we should. But I think they’re just so important to discuss.
So I hope you feel like we’ve put you front and centre. I certainly feel like your advice needs to be front and centre. It’s been such a pleasure to speak with you.

Shane (00:30:06)
Oh look, to be honest, it is just lovely being on the other side of the desk. It’s so much easier, as I’m sure you’ll understand.
That it is so much easier when you’re in the room with people who ask great questions and are interested and passionate about what they do. So thank you both for a wonderful interview.

Michael (00:30:23)
Oh, thank you Shane. I realised that maybe the last question should have been on a scale of 1 to 10. How good were our questions? I’m joking, but not joking.

Shane (00:30:34)
Well, you know, we’d have to go through them individually Michael.
But you know, ’cause there was some variation. But you know…

Michael (00:30:41)
Oh, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you, Shane.

Jen (00:30:43)
Yeah. Thanks Shane.

Shane (00:30:44)
Thank you both. Thanks for having me back.

Michael (00:31:05)
Thanks for listening and thanks also to our wonderful production team, Stephanie Wong and Steven Tang for making these episodes happen behind the scenes. And thanks also to you, our listeners, for your support.
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