Listening with Curiosity with Larry King
"All of the above, [but] curiosity first."
How do you become an incredible listener?
Today I’m excited to welcome an extremely special guest, one of my mentors, and legend, Larry King. Larry is recognized worldwide as one of the best media personalities of our time. He’s widely known for his TV interview and phone-in talk show, “Larry King Live” on CNN.
In this episode, Larry shares the broadcasting secret that afforded him immense success during his 63 years in the industry. Considering his remarkable career and legacy, you’d be surprised to know that his journey started from these three things: Curiosity, enormous empathy, and lifelong passion. If you ever find yourself wanting to know and understand the people and events around you, I can assure you, all you need to do is listen.
THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL
- The key to interviewing well is to refrain from establishing an agenda. It’s important to avoid being predisposed to liking, disliking, agreeing, or disagreeing with the person. Since Larry chose that position, he understood that what he needed to do was listen openly.
- Listening is the most important part of interviewing because the answer usually leads to a question. That’s why he never prepared questions in advance.
- The best interviewers ask good, short questions. You can ask “why” all day.
- Always focus on the subject at hand. Be present. Do not concern yourself with yesterday’s subject or tomorrow’s.
PASSION & PRESENCE
- When asked how he was able to remain so present during interviews Larry shared that he can only attribute it to love and lifelong passion.
- Larry explained that he had always done what came easily to him: broadcasting. It’s what he always wanted to do. He originally thought he would become a baseball announcer.
- He tells us that he fell into interviewing very early. Singer Bobby Darin was the first famous person he interviewed and loved it from the minute he started the interchange. He loves challenging interviews and interviews where he can get someone to come forward that didn’t want to come forward.
- After 63 years, he still gets a kick out of doing it. When the light goes on, something goes on in him and it reflects in what he does. It’s his passion.
- I asked Larry about how he was able to turn around difficult interviewing situations and he recounted this story:
- There is an organization called Aces (American Fighter Aces Association). Aces are pilots who have shot down more than 5 enemy planes in warfare. It was a social organization that would meet once a year to tell war stories.
- One year the Aces convention was being held in Miami where Larry started his career. There was an Ace that lived in Miami who had shot down 7 planes during WWII. The team booked him to be interviewed by Larry on the radio show. Larry had to speak with him for one hour with no backup.
- Larry recalls the man sitting down and having very sweaty palms — maybe he was nervous about being interviewed. The first question Larry asked him was what attracted him to flying. The ACE gave very short responses, like “I just liked it.”
- Unsure of what to do to get the Ace to engage more, Larry began to ask new questions. Instead of talking about shooting down planes, he changed the conversation to overcoming fear.
- When you get new questions you get new answers.
- He asked the Ace if there were enemy planes above the radio station right then and they had one lone plane available to fly would he go up and fight. The Ace immediately responded that he would.
- Larry made his interviewee comfortable by relating the situation to himself, considering how afraid he would be if he had to fight.
- After that, the man opened up and began giving 10-minute long responses.
- Larry recalls asking the Ace how to deal with fear when you are up in the air with nowhere to go. Do you ever overcome fear? To which the Ace responded, that you never do. Instead, he let fear drive him. His fear of being shot down maintained his staying up.
- The hardest people to interview are ordinary people with non-ordinary circumstances. For example, a widow after a husband is killed in a crash or a parent that lost their child. People that are in unusual circumstances that they had no control over are the toughest interchange.
- You have to have enormous empathy by asking yourself, what if it were me. He shares how he recently lost a child, to which Larry says, “there is no way to comprehend or explain it except you try.”
- All you can do is all you can do.
- Passion, empathy, and curiosity are all necessary parts of successful listening and interviewing.
- Larry admits he lost interest in school after his father died when he was nine years old. He barely made it out of high school and never went to college.
- He tells us that he always wanted to be on the radio but he didn’t know where to go or how to do it. One day he was walking down the street in New York; he was 22 years old with about 5 different jobs, and a friend of his pointed out a guy that was the chief of announcers at CBS. The man’s name was James Sirmons.
- Larry walked up to Mr. Sirmons and asked him what advice he would give for getting into radio broadcasting. He told Larry to go down to Miami because there were a lot of stations and no union. He also explained that the older people on the radio were leaving and younger people were moving in so he should give it a shot.
- At 22, Larry went with no money down to Miami to live with his uncle. He remembers going door to door to radio stations and being turned away because he lacked experience.
- One day he came to a very small radio station on Miami Beach, WAHR. The program manager told Larry to read the news on the microphone to test himself. Larry had never read on the mic before but the producer told him he sounded pretty good, at which point he told Larry that if he would stick around the station to learn, he could have a spot when one opened.
- Larry said he lived at the station day and night learning the shift responsibilities. One day the station manager called him in and told him that he would be the new host because another guy was leaving. He recalls being so wildly driven and realizing his life’s dream was about to come true.
- Ten minutes before going on air when the program director asked him what name he was going to us. Larry’s last name was Zeiger. Back then that name was considered too difficult for people to spell so the director suggested “Larry King”, inspired by a paper ad from “King’s Wholesale Liquors”. Larry agreed and would soon get a legal name change.
- It was finally time for Larry to go on air. The music was playing, he says and he brings it down to speak, but no words would come from him. He turned the music back up, then down again, but nothing. Suddenly the program director kicked open the control room door and says, “This is a communications business, damnit, communicate!”
- Larry remembered turning off the music and saying, “Good morning, my name is Larry King. This is my first day ever on the air, and I’m scared. This is what I wanted all my life and I don’t want to blow it. Please bear with me.”
- Professors of English told him that what he discovered that day was the secret of a broadcaster: There is no secret. Be yourself.
- If you are yourself, you can’t make people like you or dislike you. There is a genius in the choice to be honest and authentic. Any error Larry made that day, whether it was playing the wrong song or whatever, people would say, hey it’s his first day, let’s forgive him.
- He was never nervous again because he learned for himself — it is what it is.
SHARE WITH US
- Take a screenshot of this episode, tag us on social media (@LarryKingNow & @JimKwik), and share your greatest “aha!” moment from this episode with us.
- Tell us what life is to you and how you would like to be remembered.
- To learn more about effective communication, check out Larry’s book, here.
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