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Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Lesson 2 of 21

Audio: Power of Emotion & Connection

Alex Blumberg

Power Your Podcast with Storytelling

Alex Blumberg

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Lesson Info

2. Audio: Power of Emotion & Connection
Every medium needs specific elements to move audiences – audio needs emotional honesty. Learn to convey it.

Lesson Info

Audio: Power of Emotion & Connection

So, you've got this power, you've got this power of a sort of emotional connection, that audio has, and you've got this-- So, what audio, I think about different media and what it wants, or what it needs, and I feel like television, it sort of wants movement, it wants actual things happening in front of the camera, it wants conflict, and when I think about audio, what audio wants is it wants honesty. It wants emotional honesty, and when you supply it, it's very effective to the audience, and so, it can come up in all sorts of different venues, so I have been doing, and I've been using it, actually, as part of my ads, this sort of power of audio to sort of form honest connection between the listener and the person talking. I've actually sort of stumbled on something that I think actually works well as a way of sort of doing my ads. So, I've started this podcast called StartUp, which is about me launching my podcast company, and that's a little logo that we have in the iTunes store, and ...

so, we've done five episodes right now, and we have these ads that we run on it that we've been doing, and I've been doing the ads in this interesting way. For people who haven't heard StartUp, I'll just play a clip of StartUp, just to give you a sense of it. So, I've basically left my job at Planet Money and at This American Life, gone out to start my own company that is gonna tell stories, podcast stories, we're gonna launch a bunch of shows, we're in the middle of it right now, and as part of that, I've been documenting the process, so I've been documenting all the conversations I've had with investors, I've been documenting conversations with my wife, just sort like, laying bare this process, which for me, has been surprisingly nerve-wracking and emotional and confusing and bizarre. So, that's the thing, so we just got to episode five, which was all about the process of trying to come up with a name for our company, which was, again, all this stuff seems simple, and it turns out to be very, very complicated. It only took us seven months to come up with a name. And so, I'm just gonna play a clip right now, this is a clip where my co-founder and I have been sort of going back and forth over different names and we finally come up with one that we like, and then I go home that night and I share it with my wife. Orello. Orello? Orello. What is that supposed to mean? Well, it's "ear" in Esperanto. (woman laughing) Oh my God. That's so dumb. That's so dumb. God. (playful guitar) So dumb it's good, though, right? (woman laughing) What? Whose idea was that? It came up organically. How does that come up organically? I was like-- Speaking Esperanto? One of the things that my former boss and mentor Ira Glass always says is that, especially in public radio and in journalism in general, there's like, you're only allowed a couple of emotions. You know, you're allowed sort of brooding, you know, "This is horrible," and you're allowed sort of maybe judgment, like, "Oh, you did something bad," but you don't really get unbridled sort of joy very often, in at least the traditional media, like the news media, but it's a great emotion, you know, and it's a wonderful thing to sort of like-- So, it doesn't have to be sadness or honesty, it could mean actual belly laughs, you know, are very, very effective, so anyway, that's-- Every time, my favorite moment in that clip is where you can hear her clap, 'cause she's like-- So, anyway, that's StartUp. But I was talking about how I'm harnessing the power of honest connection to sell products for sponsors, and our sponsors are Mail Chimp, right? Mail Chimp does a lot of podcast ads. You've probably heard 'em. They're an email service. And, when I was launching the show, it came up organically that I was just gonna do the sponsorships sort of the same way that the show was being done, so I sort of did this documentary-style sponsorship, where I would play the special music so you knew it was the ad, but then I would sort of do like a little mini one-minute story about the company, and that worked, and then with the Mail Chimp spots, what I decided to do was just talk to somebody within the company, within Mail Chip, about whatever. I'd talk a little bit about Mail Chimp, and then we'd have this sort of nice little conversation, and they're 35, 40 minutes long, these spots, and my only goal with the spots is to get some honest moment from the interview. Something where you hear a person sounding like a person, all of a sudden, that you can connect with. So, I'm gonna play two of them, there are two of them. The first, this is the naming episode, so I called up the guy from Mail Chimp, and I asked him about the name Mail Chimp. How did you guys come up with the name Mail Chimp anyway? It was around the time of the Super Bowl, I think maybe 2001. There were a lot of chimpanzees in commercials at the time, and there was kind of this trend of chimps being used to sell things, and so-- For all you millennials out there, that really happened, it was a trend. There was a chimp trend. It was weird. So, that was it, it was just-- Excuse me, I spit on-- Sorry about that, guys. (all laughing) So excited about these ads I'm drooling! I'm so excited I'm literally drooling on stage. (stammering) So, that is just, again, in an advertisement, it was just funny to hear him sort of embarrassed laugh, right? Like, it's a funny little embarrassed laugh, it's a very human moment, and it's very authentic, and all of a sudden, it doesn't matter. You just form a human connection with Mail Chimp because he's giving this shy little chuckle, right? That's one. My favorite one is the one that we did next, which was sort of like, again, I was talking about the name. This was our second ad that we ran in this one. If you were naming the company today, do you think you'd call it Mail Chimp? I don't know that we would have the-- It's hard to say. You started to say a word, and then you stopped yourself. I was gonna say, I don't know that we would have the courage to call it Mail Chimp today. I think, you know, we've become so familiar with it and it has become so rich with meaning to us now, just having lived with it for so long that it feels like a great name, but I don't think that, by itself, it really is particularly meaningful, and it doesn't have, you know, it just feels-- Not grown up? Yeah, not grown up at all. So, again, I went a little Dave Ramsey on him, right? He started to say something, he said another thing, and I was like, "It sounded like you were gonna say something," and he got this, again, a sort of honest little moment. So, again, this is, to recap sort of what we've been talking about, emotion is one of the things you're going for. Honesty and emotion, sort of honest, authentic feeling. Are there questions so far about what we've been talking about? So, we have a lot of people who are jumping into the chatroom, and they have all different experiences, all different backgrounds, so as we get going in this course, I thought it'd be great if we could hear a little bit from our students here, as well from people online, about their objectives, and what they're looking to get out of storytelling, how they're specifically using it. Does anybody here have any examples of that, or what you're looking to do with your storytelling specifically? Yeah? I just launched a podcast called We Are L. A. Tech. It was number two on New and Noteworthy last week, so I'm really excited, and when I interview people, I wanna be really honest. I wanna do what you're doing, which is why I'm so excited to be here, and I don't know how to do that, which is why I'm here. So, I focus on L. A. Startups, and I wanna have their really personal, honest experience, so that it could benefit the community. People know what resources they could go to, and there's no bias, there's no consultant they need to pay for, they're just listening to a really authentic conversation, they're able to take that, and so that's my intention. I would love to learn how to get even richer conversation with them, and also, you're so comfortable being yourself on your podcast. I wanna learn how to even get to that deeper level too, without feeling like, a huge fear of mine is, "Oh my gosh, if I get too deep, "then I won't look professional, "nobody will take me seriously." And so, I'd love for you to discuss that at some point. Yeah, well, I think, and I'm gonna be talking a lot about that. I think one of your main jobs, if you're being a successful interviewer in audio, is to look like an idiot a little bit, not to be afraid of looking like an idiot, certainly. And so, what happens, and we're gonna be talking a lot about that, but what happened to me all the time was that I would come back, I would go out, and I would do a story and I would talk to all these people and I would get all this tape, and I would come back, and it happened early in my career all the time, I'd come back and I'd be listening back through the tape, and I would realize that I didn't understand what they'd said to me. Like, I literally had just been saying, "Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh," and then I'd get home and I'd have to write the script, and I couldn't explain it, because I'd been afraid of looking like an idiot, and being like, "What do you mean by that? "I don't understand that word." So, that's not exactly what you're talking about, but in some cases it is, and your job, when you're an interviewer, your job is you're the proxy for the audience. If you have a question, the audience will have that question. If you are skeptical, the audience will be skeptical. If you are bored, the audience will be bored. And so, I think a big job that we have, if we're interviewing people as part of our livelihoods, as part of our jobs, you have to be in touch with your own confusion, and you have to be in touch with your own boredom, honestly, 'cause you're the one, if you're bored, other people are gonna be bored too, and so you have to be-- and that was a hard thing, 'cause that means that you have to be a little bit-- it feels impolite, it's not impolite, 'cause they don't care. Often, they're nervous about talking to you, and so they're happy if you come in and say, "Actually, I don't wanna talk about that. "Let's move on to this other topic." They're like, "Oh, thank God! "Somebody's taking charge." Really important. I am so drawn to your podcast that I can't wait all the time, and I would love to one day be that podcaster that's able to tell a story where there's listeners-- Two more sessions. What? Two more sessions, it's all gonna happen. Who else, what are other people's goals? Will you pass the, yeah. So, I have a triathalon podcast for the San Francisco area called The Pure Energy Podcast, and I do a lot of interviews, but I also like to incorporate a storytelling aspect, and so, I wanna learn more about how, a lot of my listeners, they want content, they wanna know, "What are the best exercises for me "to prevent running injuries?" Or, "What are the best races that are local?" or training tips or things like that, so I'm interested in how to combine a lot of content, where you're really focused on delivering information, delivering it in an entertaining way that includes storytelling, but the focus and purpose of my podcast isn't necessarily on the nose storytelling. I think that this is a really important point, and I feel like this, I'm really glad that you asked that, 'cause I feel like people talk about, podcasting is such a new thing, and the word is sort of so new, and people think it's one thing, and so people will actually say, "Do you listen to podcasts?" But people would never say, "Do you watch TV?" They say, "What TV shows do you watch?" "Do you read books?" No, "Which books do you read?" So, I think podcasts, there's a whole range of reasons why people listen to podcasts, why people do podcasts, and for some people, it's almost like an interactive email list. It's just a way of staying in touch with your-- it's a way of literally talking to your customers, and that's a wonderful way of using the form. For other people, what my company, what I'm trying to do is sort of on the whole other end of the spectrum, where it's like media and entertainment. We're trying to essentially be the HBO of podcasts, and we're creating shows, and they're gonna be really expensive, and they're gonna be everybody's full-time job to do, and it's gonna be a whole different-- it's like we're going in that direction, and then there's everything in between. So, a lot of our shows are gonna have absolutely no actionable information, right? People are gonna be listening entirely because it gives them pleasure or something, but not because they're gonna learn anything useful. A lot of our shows, they're gonna learn lots of useful stuff, so we're gonna do a bunch of stuff. So, I think, getting back to your point, I feel like the tricks of making engaging audio and making engaging interviews works no matter what you're doing, so whether or not you're just sort of trying to get information across to a community of listeners who is interested in the same thing that you're interested in, you can still use these tricks to make it engaging and to make it, to sort of harness the power of audio. You're still working in an audio medium, and so you still want to use the things that audio is good at. Yeah, absolutely. What other, yeah? Hi, I'm a consultant to nonprofits and other do-gooders, and storytelling is definitely a trend in the-- so, everyone's kinda got the memo that they need to be telling stories. They don't know how, so I'm excited to get some real concrete storytelling tips and how to draw the stories out so I can help my clients tell stories that help people connect and support their issues. And are you the one who's gonna be telling the story? Are you telling your own stories to your clients, or are they the ones who are gonna be telling their stories? Give me an example-- Yes. I mean, I tell my story to my clients to get them to engage with us, and then we help them tell their story to get clients or supporters, or change policy, or change behavior, whatever it is that they're trying to achieve in the world. Right, right. So, yeah, we do a lot of training, that's how we introduce ourselves, and we tell a lot of stories about our other clients, so yeah, we tell stories, we try to model that, but a lot of times they'll say, "We get it, we know we need to tell stories to connect, "we know storytelling's the way to connect people," but they just can't figure out how to draw it out of their work, or how to do it without exploiting their clients, is another thing they get concerned about, and also, frankly, I have a challenge with-- I work with mostly social justice groups that are looking for system change, and telling stories about individuals sometimes makes people think about the individual, it doesn't make them think about the systems. Right. So, that's another challenge, maybe a 2.0 challenge. Well, that's interesting, because I am gonna be talking about that a little bit, about sort of like, there's mechanics of telling a story that I'm gonna be getting to later on in the session that I think will be helpful, but story, those mechanics can be applied to a person in a particular moment in a particular day, or they can be applied to, you know, a century of societal change over time, and you're sort of using the same tricks, just whichever scale of the story that you're telling. And so, often, what we did and do at Planet Money was we would have a personal story and we would also have the larger societal story, sort of trying to marry them. It's tricky, I'm not saying-- it's a hard thing to do, but I feel like, if you can do it right, it really can illustrate, that's one of the hardest stories for people to grasp is the sort of larger, broader societal stories. They don't happen in real time, so they're hard to convey sometimes, but it can be done. What are other, yeah? Hi, so, I work for a local museum, and produce a lot of media about artists, and a podcast called SF MOMA Artcast, so we're dealing with artists who are incredibly creative people, but not necessarily the most dynamic or the most media-friendly, but have really complex ideas that they're trying to talk about, and our job is to make art and artworks really accessible to the general public, so it's sort of this combination of dealing with these people who are telling these really complex ideas and stories, but making it into something that people wanna listen to, and people can hear their personality and get a sense of their personality, but also get all of the information necessary to understand the artwork, so instead of this, a lot of information, but how to space it out and give it a story and give them personality and a life. Yeah, that's a-- That is really interesting, and I think this is one of the ones where this is one of the harder nuts to crack, is sort of telling the visual medium, and artists talking about what they see in their art is like a really hard listen, you know? 'Cause you're just engaging two totally separate parts of your brain, and the medium demands-- like, art is entirely a visual medium, it's entirely designed to be consumed visually, there often isn't a narrative associated with it, it's often just sort of emotion and sort of, "Here's the feeling that I'm having here," and like it's a concept, so it's a really-- so, that's like, I think it's definitely doable, but it's a matter of sort of choosing-- you have to choose the things that audio likes, you know, when you're doing the podcast, and there's a lot of stuff that they're not gonna be able to talk about, probably, just because it's not gonna work as audio, and so, part of what you're doing is you're understanding sort of, "What does the medium want? "What works well in the medium?" And going for those moments, and then, knowing which moments to leave aside. We did a project at Planet Money where we followed a t-shirt, I see the t-shirt right there. Liz is wearing that t-shirt, yeah. This is a t-shirt we did at Planet Money where we made the t-shirt, and we followed it around the world as it got made, so it was this project that we did on the podcast, and we did radio stories and sort of visual stories about them. We did these online video documentaries, and we did a bunch of radio stories and a bunch of podcasts about that project, and we visited the cotton fields where the cotton was grown, we visited the factories where the workers made the shirt, we talked to the people who actually made that shirt, and we put it together into a series of stories. It was really great, but we realized very early on that what the video people were gonna be capturing and what the audio people were gonna be capturing, backing up, it was the same story, but what they actually did on the ground was very different, entirely different. In fact, we had two separate teams doing it, and what the tape, what the audio people were going for, the stories they were telling, the moments they were going for, were very different than what the video people were going for, and so, a lot of it is just sort of, it ultimately told the same story, but there was different information, there was stuff that video was way better at, like there's this one thing in the video where part of the story about Bangladesh is that there's this huge group of people, there's like four million people who work in the garment industry in Bangladesh. There's this enormous volume of people, and radio can't really convey scale. Audio can't really convey scale. It doesn't really do that very well, so you can say, "It's four million people "working in the garment industry in Bangladesh!" It doesn't mean anything to people. Numbers don't mean anything to people in audio, so we knew we were gonna focus on personal stories, this larger global thing, we're gonna mention it, it's not gonna be as vivid, but then there's this image in the video of this walk to work. So, in Chittagong, the city where the thing-- there's this walk to work, and it's just like people are just streaming into the factory sector, and it's just this road overflowing with people walking to work with the tags on the thing where they go, and you can just see it, it's a river of people, and it's immediate, it becomes immediate, and so video is great at that. And so, often what you're doing when you're making a podcast is you're choosing, "Here's what I'm focusing on "and here's what I'm gonna leave out "'cause it just doesn't work in the medium." Yeah? I wanna get in touch here with our online audience who've been sharing, and this one comes from Heather, who says, "I work in a low hourly wage job, "but starting a podcast is a way to grow "and hopefully change my station in life," and then Monica says that she's producing a community radio hour on her local peace and social justice program, showcasing brilliant artists and community organizers. Samuel Hanson runs a podcast called Relatively Prime that tells stories from the world of mathematics, and he says, "I try to focus on the human stories, "as I fell that it better allows "people to engage with the subject of mathematics "that they may have had a bad experience with in the past, "and I'm hoping to better tell their human stories." And finally, Emma D. says, "I'm a graduate student in engineering, "and I believe describing my research "is like telling a story, "so I hope to get better at it through this session." Right, excellent, that's great. Yeah, and I think, again, if you're doing a podcast on the side, like the person who was in the job that she wasn't totally satisfied with and trying to start a podcast, I think that's a great idea, and that's how I got my start was sort of doing something that I-- I didn't have really a job. One of the first audio stories I ever did was as a friend of mine was turning 30, and so I went out, I started late, actually, a friend of mine was turning 30, and so I went and interviewed all of his friends. He was my best friend. I interviewed all his friends about, like, "What does it mean that this guy is turning 30?" He had a very youthful personality. And then, they all told these little stories about him, and then I cut it together into this thing that we played at his birthday party, and it was just, the thrill of creating that thing, and then the fact that people liked it, it wasn't a job, it wasn't NPR, it wasn't doing anything, but it was like that sort of, in a weird way, gave me this confidence to start doing it. And so, I definitely applaud, like, follow your-- The problem is that you can get a little bogged down in what it should sound like, you know? So, I would say pick somebody that you love, and then try to imitate them, and then, by imitating them, you will arrive at your own voice, but I think that copying is a great thing to do. (laughing) In the beginning, in the beginning. That's how everybody starts. You start by copying the great masters, and then you develop your own voice. Nobody springs forth like, "I'm an original voice on the stage." No, that never happens. Willow, you had a question, yeah. Oh, well, this was just going back to, "Why are we here?" Mm-hm. So, I'm working on starting a new show/podcast about the outdoors, and I come to this from a news background. I've been working in public radio for several years, but it's been in the news department, so stories for us tend to be, like, we'll tell a little personal vignette at the beginning, and then the story is about the topic, not about our character, so I wanna learn how to flip that, essentially, and make it about the story and like, "Yes, we'll talk about the larger topic a little bit maybe," but I want these to appeal to everyone on a very personal level, and so that's kind of where I'm at from here. Right, right, and definitely, the way to the larger topic is through the personal, absolutely, so I think that's true. People, more so in audio than in other media, I think-- you can capture somebody with a beautiful nature shot in video, and you don't necessarily need a person there, because you can sort of see the lovely landscape or you can see the beautiful animal or whatever it is, you form a connection to that, some sort of sensory connection, but in audio, you can be in the most beautiful place in the world, and people can't see it. You can be like, "Oh my God, it's so beautiful!" Nobody cares, right? They need a person there who's like, talking to you. So that's the way, yeah. Audio depends entirely on people, and that's one of the frustrating things about it too, sometimes, but I think it's also one of the amazing things about it. Who else is here for various reasons, yeah? Sure, go ahead, Susie. Hi, I have a book coming out about how to start a food business, and I want to have a companion podcast that tells stories of artisan food makers and growing food companies. I've done one podcast, which isn't live yet. I kind of was balking on the format, the length, the production values, found someone to edit it, and I just kind of froze, 'cause I was like, "I don't wanna put it out there "'til it represents what I want it to be," so, being here, I hope to, you know, you told how you put together the clip for your friend's birthday and it sounded so easy, and I dunno if it was, but I want to figure out how to get in a flow where I can produce the podcast once I start it. Right, right. And I think it's also part of what a lot of the challenge is for us here today is to try to decide what, again, a podcast can be so many things. A podcast is like This American Life or Oriya, those are both podcasts. They each have a staff of 15 working, you know, year-round to produce 26 hours of content, right? So that's like, on the one hand, you have that, and then, on the other hand, a podcast can be a really great live-to-tape interview that's 60 minutes, you record it for 60 minutes, then you press a button and it's up, you know? And they can both be great, and they can both be exactly what you're looking for, so part of what I think everybody here needs to decide is sort of like, "What kind of podcast am I doing? "Am I gonna do basically live-to-tape "but with a little editing, maybe with some of the stuff, "you know, sort of cut out? "Do I wanna do a scripted something? "Do I want to do a little bit of like--" which is sort of what I'm gonna be talking a lot about, sort of like, "Here's the moments from that interview "that I like, but I also wanna put in some narration "and then cut it together into a little story. "Do I wanna get really fancy and do something "that's got music and sort of ambient sound, "like I'm doing all sorts of experimental stuff?" And I feel like all of those things are possible, but it's up to, I think, part of the decision for all of us here is sort of like, what do we want to get out of our podcast, and how serious, what kind are we gonna try to do? Jasmine, yeah, what are you here for? Well, I'm not a podcaster, I'm a photographer, and I decided to kind of start something on the side, and create micro documentaries, and through a series of mistakes, I realized that what I was able to do, how I was able to interview someone audibly, was much different than visually, and I was actually happy for that mistake, because I had to go back and interview just with a small microphone, and her narrative became very different, and I wanted to know for future projects, how can I better tell stories in that way, and then somehow, find a way to marry both visual and audio? Yeah, that's great, and actually, I've noticed this happen sometimes, you know. Often, a lot of people will come out of, like, I'll be playing some of her work, Chana Joffe-Walt, who's a colleague of mine at Planet Money, and she now works at This American Life. She's just a fantastic audio-radio reporter, and she came out of photography, and she went through the very same thing. She had done a bunch of photography projects, and then she ended up interviewing people, and she was putting it together into this multimedia thing, and she ended up just loving the interview part, you know? So, that was on her way, but I think because, you know, you're telling stories, no matter whether you're taking pictures or whether you're interviewing people, and it's just a matter of, like, what do the different forms require? Yeah, absolutely, that's great. I'm gonna be talking a lot about that. Nancy, yes? Hi, I'm really interested in your perspective in ideas about the structure of the interview. I do a lot of interviews with artists. I'm writing a book on ceramic history of Northern California, and fortunately, we still have many of the practitioners here, and so I make an appointment, often I know these people, I've done my research, I've read a lot of interviews, I've read articles and things, and I have found that I have the most success in terms of getting new information structuring it like a conversation, as opposed to, "These are my questions, "boom, boom, boom, boom," and I also have found that sometimes my questions that I have in my mind are not the ones I ask, and we kind of walk down this trail of conversation, and I just wanted to hear more from you about how you prepare for your interviews, and what you're looking for, do you have in mind what you wanna get out of those? We'll absolutely be talking a lot about that. I have a whole section on sort of, like, the art of the interview. In fact, I think it's the one coming up. (stammering) But just, in answering that question right now, I think there's a tension, right? So, you definitely wanna prepare. Part of your job is you know more than your audience knows, so you have to make sure that, even if it's something that might be old to you, it might be new to your audience. So, part of it is preparation, figuring out how do you prepare, we're gonna do that sort of live. I'm gonna interview somebody live here, and we're gonna talk about how do you prepare for it, how do you decide what to ask? You definitely want it to be conversational. Conversational works best, but you also don't wanna get sidetracked down a road that maybe they wanna talk about that you don't necessarily wanna talk about. One of the things that I think you wanna-- You are doing this. This is your podcast. You're the one in charge, and so, you wanna follow people if they're going in an interesting direction, if it's interesting to you and what you think your audience is gonna be interested in. If they're going in a direction that is interesting to them and some other audience, but not you and your audience, then it's your job to sort of bring them back, so that's the tension, and it's always a tension. Well, that's what I've found, is that people often say what they wanna say, and they don't wanna answer the question, and so-- Yeah, yeah. How do you get around that without just being like, "Just answer the question!" Let's backtrack to that, yeah. That doesn't work, by the way. Don't do that, got it? Yeah, absolutely, who else? Anne first, and then you, yeah. So, I work for a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs in emerging markets, and I have two specific questions. So, marrying the personal story to the larger societal story has been really difficult for us, because-- It's difficult for everybody. It's a hard thing to do, yeah. Well, the first half of it is, how do you ask the right questions of the entrepreneurs so that you're not getting generic answers, because oftentimes they tell you things that they think you want to hear, and I think keeping it conversational helps, 'cause when we're out at the bars and they're telling me their story, it's so interesting and so compelling, but then when it's in a more formal capacity, they kind of fall back into what they think you wanna hear, so that, I wanna learn about how to ask the right questions. The second piece is, organizationally, we need to tell that larger story, why is it important to work with small business in Kosovo, and what does that mean for the country at large, without seeming too forced and contrived, and you can make that leap and say, "80% of the economy is built by small businesses, "these small businesses provide benefits "for the entrepreneurs," and then, the conclusion is we are saving the world. So, how do you bridge that without seeming too inauthentic-- Without seeming corny? Yeah, exactly! Right, right, right. Yeah, I mean, that is-- Well, the fact that you're worried about that is the first step towards solving that problem, but here's the thing, that not being corny, there is no formula for not being corny, because corniness is the formula, right? So, when you are corny, the definition of corny is sort of something, I don't know the formal-- I don't know what the formal definition is, but often the feeling comes from somebody saying something formulaic or expected, and so, part of what I'm gonna be trying to do is create a framework where you can break out of that, where you can get to something unexpected or authentic, but it's hard, and it's just a matter of sort of trying over and over again, and I'm gonna be talking a lot about ways that you can get around the canned speech problem, which is a real problem, and ways that you can sort of think about telling your story in a way that is not the expected way to tell the story. That's where the formula comes in. I have a formula to get around the formula. (all laughing) Yeah, let's get from somebody, yeah. One more that we have online here, in this comment they say, "I'm a former longtime BBC foreign correspondent, "and now I'm focusing on humanitarian issues. "I'm sitting listening to this in Nairobi "and plotting ways to get NGO types, "experts, and journalists telling stories "of crisis in better ways. "Having spent 23 years in radio, "I'm convinced that audio has a huge role to play, "but we need to get really creative about it." Yeah, absolutely, and you know, again, I think part of it is sort of like recognizing what audio is good at, and part of it is recognizing the limits of our own flawed humanity, and what I mean by that is, no matter what we wanna think about ourselves, we care more about the things that are close to us than we do about the things that are far away from us, and that is just a fact, and I hate that fact. I hate that fact about myself, I hate that fact about us as a species, it is the truth. And so, one of the things that we've found is that there's a way of sort of connecting-- So, audio has the ability to bridge that gap better than others, because you can talk to somebody in Nairobi, and you put yourself in their place more than you do with a video, but still, they're probably speaking with an accent or whatever, and a vast majority of Americans are not, or whatever, so there's a way of distancing ourselves that we do, and the trick is often sort of finding a way to connect the larger story, make it universal, in a way, and that's a tricky thing, but I think it absolutely must be done. And that was actually part of the t-shirt project. That was one of the reasons that we did this t-shirt project is we were saying, like, "We are connected to this world, "and we're connected through our clothes," and once we made it about our clothes, it enabled us to talk about societal change and factory life in Bangladesh in a way that people felt connected to all of a sudden, here, whereas if we had just gone into the factory in Bangladesh and talked about-- it would've been a great story, we would've gotten the exact same sort of moments and everything. I don't think it would've had the impact domestically that it did, but because we're flawed creatures and we care about our t-shirts, and then that helps us care about other people, I'm all for that. If you can find a way to make people care about people far away through some sort of trick, do it. I think that absolutely is-- that's what our job is, is to make people care, and often, we sort of conclude like, "People should care! "Why don't they care?" And they don't care, people. It's your job to make them care. We're all the same flawed people, so we need to be made to care. So, kind of what you said about getting people to care, maybe also to take action. So, my day job is I produce a podcast for a science network called MicrobeWorld.Org, so primarily based around microbes, and we tell stories. (all laughing) You said it's called Microbe World. Microbe World. But it's about microbes. I'm just joking with you. They're tiny shows. So, we do video and audio, right? But partially what you did in Planet Money was brought us in with sort of a shallow topic, which was the "Follow This T-Shirt". You got us to care about things like working conditions, and we need to take really hard science, typically, I'm a soft scientist as a social scientist, and boil that down without dumbing it down, while also trying to get people to care about something that they might not be immediately aware of. I won't go on the soapbox about how microbes are gonna save us, but that's kind of a challenge for us in our storytelling, and how to get that done. Right, absolutely, and again, this is something that you are gonna wrestle with. I'm gonna give you tricks that you can try to use, and all it's gonna enable you to do is go and wrestle with this on a daily basis from now until the rest of time, basically. This is the question that's gonna be constantly-- There's no simple answer to that, but I'm gonna give you some tools that help you know if you're on the right track or the wrong track, basically, with that. But like, making people care about things that are complicated or confusing or that they don't think they're gonna care about is a hard thing to do, and so, we're all here because we've signed up to do hard things. We have signed up to make people care about things that they don't wanna care about, but we think they should, because we're interested in it. And so, the trick is-- (crowd laughing) No, but that's true, right? It is true, and so, there are ways to do that. You are interested in it for a reason. You've seen the light, you know about something that is personal, meaningful to you and other people, and so the trick is sort of unlocking what is the thing that you saw in it, and letting other people in on that secret, and that's what we're gonna be talking about, yeah. Did you have one that-- I was gonna say a good example is Ebola. What's going on with Ebola right now is very easy. We're seeing extreme traction on our shows, because people are very scared. Right, absolutely. And for the wrong reasons, mostly. So, it's easy when we have a topic like that, but just something as simple as washing your hands, which can actually affect your health far more than Ebola's gonna affect your health, is something we need to sort of take those people from worrying about immediately, "Ooh, I'm gonna get sick," to maybe how they can help society better by washing their hands when they leave the bathroom. Yeah, a global pandemic is an extreme measure of getting people to care about your podcast. (all laughing) But there's other ways to do it. Hi. Yeah, hi, Faiza. So, I dunno if I should start over. No, you're good. All right, so, I've been a consumer of audios for I dunno, like two years, and I'm trying to make-- I'm a complete novice, and I'm trying to make, I guess, that jump, that leap, from listening to audios and having it kind of integrated into my day to day, to actually producing content, and I'm at the step where I still don't know what the idea is, and why would anyone listen-- To you? Yeah! Why would anyone listen to me? So, that's kind of where I'm at. Yeah, and I just wanted to quickly say that I've been listening to your podcast for years, and I've been listening to StartUp, and my favorite kind of podcast moment is like, when you're on the bus or whatever, and something funny happens, and you laugh hysterically, and no one knows what's going on, they think you're a crazy person, and I want to be able to shake up someone's everyday with joy and happiness, but I don't know what the topic is, you know? Right, right. Well, again, that's the question, right? You're asking the right question. What do I have to offer? And answering that question, that's what everybody thinks, right? And answering that question is gonna be part of your journey. Yeah, absolutely. Should we do one more from the chatroom? Yeah, we had a couple of questions coming in. As I said, there are a lot of people who are just starting out, and Heather wants to know, and again, this is something where people have been voting on this question, they've been clicking the little blue arrow, so they've been voting on this question, but just as we wrap up this first segment, what is your biggest advice that you give to people who are starting out in podcasting, and as we build this throughout on each segment, I know we're gonna be learning more as the day goes out, but just some good general ideas there as we wrap up this first segment. I mean, I think the main pieces of advice, I guess I have two. One is, know what you're trying to accomplish with your podcast. What are you trying to do? Are you trying to do what Faiza's trying to do, which is sort of create, essentially, sort of entertainment, basically, for people, something that's gonna break them outta their routine, something that they will enjoy and wanna come back to? Are you trying to do something that Liz or Esprit is trying to do, which is sort of talk to a group of people about something that they care about? Just know what you're going for. And then, the second thing is, I really do-- Just pick somebody to imitate, and start imitating. You're not gonna come out of the box, if you're just starting out, you're not gonna come out of the box, just-- I have never seen anybody who just emerges fully formed, and knows what they're doing. That never happens, and when you're beginning, you always think that that's what happens, and it is not what happens, and so, know that, and know that your job right now is to suck, (audience laughing) and to try to get better, and if you're in the beginning, that's what you're doing.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Join Alex Blumberg, award-winning reporter and producer for This American Life and co-host of NPR’s Planet Money, for Power Your Podcast with Storytelling, and learn podcast tips on how to tell powerful, memorable stories through audio.

Storytelling is in our DNA – integrating its principles into a podcast not only helps you tell better stories, it allows you to authentically and emotionally connect with your audience. In this class, you will learn the unique approach to interviewing and story composition, which has made This American Life a fan favorite on public radio stations across the country. Alex will share production techniques you can use to create a multi-layered sensory experience and share tips for standing out in the ever-growing field of podcasts. You’ll learn: 

  • How to develop your narrative instincts
  • How to prepare for an interview to get the best answers
  • The elements of a good story

Alex will teach you how to create a “driveway moment” — that experience when the story is so good, it makes the audience pause what they are doing just to listen through to the end.

Whether you already produce a successful podcast, are a creative entrepreneur looking for a new marketing method, or just a public radio-loving audiophile – this class will help you tell better stories.


Matt James Smith

The best storytelling resource I've come across bar none. I've read all the books, paid for all the online courses, listened to all the podcasts but for me none have been anywhere near as useful, engaging, moving, fun and outright inspiring as this course. If you're trying to tell stories with factual material, whatever your medium, this is as good as it gets. Regarding those reviewers saying it was haphazard and underprepared - huh? He doesn't offer strict formulas and perfectly structured, detailed approaches, but that's because he's the real deal. Those things only exist for snake-oil-merchant online "story gurus" who charge through the nose for "the perfect strategy" (*cough* Patrick Moreau *cough*). Alex offers what he can of tricks and formulae, but where it's about experience and gut feelings, he's honest. Thank god. Superb.

Gregory Lawson

This class is great on multiple levels. Are you interested in interviewing? There are great tips and techniques. Interested in Storytelling? Great insights into the basic structures and tools to test how compelling your story idea is. Interested in podcasting? Great tips and ideas here too... Alex is a seasoned pro, has an easy, approachable style and allows his class (and you) time to really consider and work through the concepts. Excellent all the way around!