Interview with Lauren Schiller from Inflection Point
Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller (Apple Podcasts, website) is a show about women who are changing the world – solving problems, encouraging young girls to pursue ambitious paths, starting up companies, and challenging the status quo. The show was selected in late 2016 as a participant in PRX’s Project Catapult, an immersive and intensive podcast training project intended to help public radio stations launch podcasts or take existing shows to a new level through a creative design thinking process. Inflection Point recently launched a new season and the influence of Project Catapult is evident. It has helped refine the show into an even more polished product than in the past (and it was already great!).
Host Lauren Schiller has had a long career in radio, advertising, and journalism, and her incredible passion for this show and the messages her guests convey is evident in every episode. I have reviewed Inflection Point twice here on Audible Feast (5 stars both times!). You can read my most recent review here to learn more about the show and why it resonates with me so much. Read on to find out more about Lauren and how she crafts the inspirational Inflection Point interviews.
Audible Feast (AF): Tell me about the origin of the show and your vision for it.
Lauren Schiller (LS): The show launched in 2015 on KALW in San Francisco. But in a way it started when I was a little girl in Pittsburgh, PA. My mom took me to a march on Washington, D.C. for the Equal Rights Amendment–and the quest for equality has always been a topic of conversation in my house and in my career. In 2014 I started to notice that the topic of women was bubbling up in the media, more and more women’s conferences, and so on. I like to say women were “trending.” There was a lot of conversation out there about women and leadership: what does it take to be a female leader, how to gain power, how to behave, even what to wear, and who do you give power to as a leader? What was missing in the radio and podcast space was people talking with women, instead of talking about them. There were really no other shows like this at the time on public radio, or really in the podcast space. In fact, there were articles out there about how women were already under-represented in podcasting and it was still a young medium.
AF: How did you get on air with KALW?
LS: I pitched the idea of conversations with world-changing women to KALW Station Manager Matt Martin. He gave me the opportunity to create a couple of pilot episodes and then he aired them during Women’s History Month in 2015. For the initial pilots, I interviewed two women I knew personally and two who were recommended by those guests. When they aired, lots of women contacted me who were interested incoming in to talk.
The station has a great history with women – in World War II the station had a training program for women engineers, it was one of the first stations to air Terry Gross on Fresh Air, and it has a rich history of supporting women in radio. The story of how we got on air demonstrates the importance of having someone (in this case, Matt Martin) who believes in you and helps you move an idea into a reality. There is an ongoing question around how women succeed–is it that women need to work really hard to break through, or do we need sponsorship and acceptance from the community or workplace? I think it’s both. Matt and KALW has been a great partner in this.
AF: Can you tell me about what Project Catapult involves?
LS: PRX (the Public Radio Exchange), in partnership with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, created a program called Project Catapult to provide funding and training to seven shows from public radio stations this year. It is a really innovative approach to podcast development based on a ‘design thinking’ process–which means that we put the listener at the heart of everything we do and we test and learn as we develop new ideas, or “prototypes.” For Inflection Point, we came in with a very simple interview show format and were attracting great guests, but we felt it could be a more immersive and personal experience for both the guests and the listeners.
Through the Project Catapult design thinking process we learned that our listener wants to be inspired but she also wants to learn something tangible that she can apply to her own life. We also knew that while women have taken great leaps forward we still have a long way to go to get to equality. Understanding our audience and dialing in on what is happening for women in our society helped us shape the new format, the types of questions I ask, and my role as host.
The Project Catapult experience gave us the time and space to prototype new ideas, get feedback and hone the show. I think we will continue to think of every new episode as building on the previous episode. When you listen to the new season you will hear the new sound, which we are really happy with. We also have a new theme-line, “how women rise up.”
AF: You’ve had a great variety of guests on the show-you’ve had women from different cultures, economic backgrounds, professions, some famous people and some who might live down the street – what are your criteria for who you interview and how do you find people?
LS: There is no shortage of great candidates to be on the show. Every guest has someone they recommend and I get a lot of recommendations from listeners. I’m constantly trying to build a mosaic that includes different backgrounds, experiences, races, and experiences. When I first started the show, most of the guests were tech entrepreneurs who went to Ivy League schools. The things they were doing were very cool but were all very relatable to each other. So I needed to be intentional about finding people from different backgrounds to share different perspectives. I still read the New York Times in paper form, and find a lot of interesting people to contact through articles I read there and online of course, but I also just try to get in touch with people I find inspirational that I think my audience would connect with. And, I listen to a lot of public radio.
AF: How do you network to connect with the famous people?
LS: I work with publicists often, and honestly, if I reach them directly, 99% of the people I ask say yes. Sometimes, if a guest is too practiced (which happens occasionally with a really famous person), it’s hard to have an authentic conversation, something you haven’t heard from them before, but I enjoy drawing that authenticity out–and talking with them about this driving question–how do women rise up?
AF: I imagine you probably want to ask many of your guests the same questions, since they’re all women doing something to make the world better. How do you keep your questions fresh and not repetitive?
LS: There is no formula. I do a lot of research, and then approach every conversation with one thing they’re doing that’s really interesting to me. I think about what I’m excited to learn about the person, and what about their story will inspire others.
AF: How do you keep innovating and responding to what will resonate most with listeners?
LS: It’s a combination of generally staying in touch with the world by reading avidly and intuitively paying attention to identifying trends and patterns – I’ve always had a knack for that. Especially after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I’ve thought a lot about where we are going as women: there is a divide in our country about whether women even need help or not, what does it mean to be a feminist, how do we achieve equality–and is equality even the end game? There is so much to talk about right now.
AF: Do you already, or do you have any plans to partner with education groups to share your interviews or at least direct young women to your great bank of interviews?
LS: The door is wide open to that. Our goal is to reach a large audience and there is so much we can learn from these amazing women.
AF: Finally, what podcasts do you listen to?
LS: All the Project Catapult shows! Us & Them, Out of the Blocks, We Live Here, Versify, Second Wave, and Que Pasa Midwest.
Subscribe to Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller wherever you get podcasts, and check out the great website to scroll through all of the guests Schiller has interviewed – you’ll find interviews with Eve Ensler, Annie Leibovitz, Reshma Saujani, and Gloria Steinem, plus a myriad of interviews with simply inspirational women whose names you might not know but who are changing the world.