Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Dumb Questions: Storytelling Tips from Alex Blumberg

storytelling tips
By Alejandro Escamilla

Where do great stories come from? And how do the people who tell them for a living keep finding them?

This American Life‘s Alex Blumberg explains that the best stories satisfy our collective curiosity — and that the best place to look for a story is in your own uncertainty or lack of knowledge. By being comfortable with the questions, says Alex, you can be sure your story will not only be captivating, but also something that can teach people something they might not have known, either. Make sure to join us for CreativeLive’s brand new podcast with Tara Gentile to enjoy more storytelling from creatives like Chase Jarvis, Sue Bryce, and many more.

Here are Alex’s top storytelling tips:

1. Pay attention to your curiosity. “Curiosity leads to questions. Good stories answer questions,” Alex explains. If you’re interested in something, or find yourself wondering  about the details or implications of something, ask. Other people probably have the same questions, and would enjoy a story that answers them.

2. Pay attention to your boredom . That said, Alex says, “no one else is going to be as curious about the topic as you are.” If even you’re no longer captivated by the story, it might be time to jump ship.  “If you’re even a little bit bored by what you’re learning, chances are your audience will be very bored,” he adds.

Learn how to power your podcast — and your life — with storytelling in Alex’s CreativeLive class

3. Pay attention to your own confusion. You’re trying to answer questions. Before anyone else can understand the answer, you have to make sure you do. Early in my career, I would play an early draft of a story for an editor, and they would ask, “when so and so says this, what does she mean by that?” Usually, I wouldn’t know. Because I hadn’t asked. Even though in the moment of the interview, I’d been a little confused as well.”

4. Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions. “In fact,” Alex says, “often there’s a very basic, very dumb question at the center of a story that no ones asking. One of the biggest stories I ever did, the Giant Pool of Money, was predicated on just such a dumb question: Why are the banks loaning money to people who can’t possibly pay it back. Asking the right dumb question is often the smartest thing you can do.”

Learn more about how to power your podcast — and your life — with storytelling in Alex’s CreativeLive class

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.