Power Your Podcast with Storytelling


Lesson Info

The Story Formula

What I want to do this segment is sort of dive deeper into something that I touched on in the last session, which is the story formula, which is really a formula for how to keep your stories from being formulaic. And I'm going to talk a little bit more about it. I'm going to give you some examples, and then I want, so, just so that you're in the mindset, I'm going to want some of you to get up and try to tell your story using this formula. Anything that you're working on right now, a story that you have coming up, the story of your business, the story of the podcast that you're trying to launch, whatever it is, I want to try to sort of see if we put our stories into the story formula. So, I'm going to review it though, the formula. And the formula is, I'm doing a story about X, and it's interesting because of Y, right? Before I put everybody here on the hot seat, I'm going to set up that this is a very safe place. I'm going to share one of the earlier stories that I ever pitched. And j...

ust to sort of like, just to, this is an unusual formula for people to use. It's unusual to sort of formulate their ideas in this way, and it's unusual to, it's hard work. It's hard work for me, it's hard work for everybody to try to figure out like what is the most compelling way of framing the thing that I'm trying to discuss? What is the the thing that like, sort of takes it out of being sort a stock hacky way of thinking about something and turns it into something that seems fresh and exciting? Like it's really hard, it's really hard. And it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of practice, but I am living proof that you can cross the chasm, because I will now share with you one of my first ever pitches. I wanted to do a story about community gardens. For some of the more public radio-minded folks in here and out there, you might recognize community gardens as one of the oldest, hoariest story ideas that you could ever come across in public media, so that's why it's especially embarrassing. This was the first pitch that I ever sent, and I sent it to This American Life, which is sort of the paragon of public radio storytelling. I sent it before I was a producer there. I sent it back in the early, like, in 1996. And what's even more embarrassing is that even back then, it was absolutely cliche. But I didn't even know... I was like, I wanna do a story about community gardens, but I didn't know which garden. I didn't know what I wanted to talk about in community gardens. I had no idea what was possibly interesting about community gardens. I didn't have a character that I wanted to talk to about community gardens. I was gonna show up at some random community garden and then talk to who, exactly, I didn't know. But what I did know is that I knew what I wanted This American Life to name the show that my community gardens story would be a part of. (audience laughs) I wanted them to name that show flowers from the dead earth. (audience laughs) Which I thought was a really clever title, because I thought it was a line from a T.S. Eliot poem called The Waste Land, a poem which I'd never actually read, (audience laughs) and it turns out, I'd misquoted really badly. 'Cause the actual line from T.S. Eliot's actual poem is not flowers from the death earth, but lilacs out of the dead Land. (all laugh) So out of the six words that were in the line that I was trying to quote, I'd gotten two right: the and dead. (audience laughs) So, all that to say, I didn't do a very good job with that pitch. And but what's weird is that even if I had, and I didn't know about the formula back then. I didn't know about, it was a while before I would come up with this formula, I wanna do a story about x, and it's interesting because of y. But even if I had known the formula, I don't know what I would have said. I'm doing a story about community gardens, and it's interesting because, I had no idea. And, I don't know. I mean, I suppose I could have said I'm doing a story about community gardens and it's interesting because they're a vital part of the community. Not very interesting. It's interesting because they're a refuge from the bustle of city life. Again, not very interesting. I didn't know what was interesting. And so, and so, all this to say, it's hard to do all this. If I had come up with something that had to be interesting about community gardens, I mean, I could maybe make something up now. I wanted to do a story about community gardens because they're actually drug laundering. That would be interesting. Of course, that was not the story that I had back then, and that might not be true. So, so anyway, all this to say, like, this is a safe, supportive place. We all are like, it's hard to do this. But what I do wanna do now is put you on the hot seat and get you, I think it's a very useful exercise, no matter what you're doing, to try to frame your story, whatever that story is. If it's an actual sort of radio story, it may be a radio report as in you're working on a story that you wanna sort of workshop right now. You're not exactly sure what's interesting about it, and you wanna sort of put yourself, you know, you wanna try to workshop it here. If you are telling a story about yourself, like, you're telling a story of your company, and you wanna try to sort of, you know, you have to get, and it's interesting because if it's successful, I make a lot of money, that's not a good y, right? You need a y that other people find interesting, not just you. So what's the y of your story? What's the y of your company? What's the y of the thing that you're trying to do? So, who's ready to start? Who wants to go in the hot seat? All right. There we go. I live in the hot seat. Exactly. I wanna do a story about why artists work so hard to make their art, and it's interesting because they often don't know why. What do you think? It's interesting because they often don't know why. How many people say, how many people would say, okay, I wanna hear that story. Help me. Anybody raise their hand? Uh-oh, I think we need a different y. Yeah, I need help. So, I wanna do a story about, say it again? I wanna do, really what I wanna do, I wanna do a story about why artists are making their art, like, individual artists, right, and it's interesting because they often don't know why they're compelled to make art. Talk a little bit about why they don't know. What don't they know? They really often don't know what's actually fueling their need to make art, but then when you dig deeper, you can find out why. What is fueling their need to make art? Pardon? What is fueling their need to make art, do you think? Well, that's what I'm going to found out. (both laugh) But do you have examples of things that have like... I think it's just an innate need to express their humanity and to connect with other people, and that's way abstract. This is a difficult subject, because it's already hard to talk about. There's this, this, this, there's this quote, I think it's David Byrne, I'm not sure, that talking about music is like dancing about architecture. So it's a really tough storytelling topic. So one thing that I always do, that I often do in this situation is sort of like, you have something that is drawing you to this topic. There is something that fascinates you about this topic. And often, what coming up with the right formula is is about getting in touch with the thing that you're actually drawn to about this. 'Cause, and I think I'm the perfect audience, because like, I sort of don't give a crap about artists talking about their art. And I think a lot of people don't. But that doesn't matter, because like, I have been, I have been riveted by artists talking about their art in certain settings in certain situations, and I think it's possible to do it. So what is it that, what draws you to the topic? I'm an artist. That doesn't work, right. You know, and I actually help artists to uncover what their purpose and their mission is, and their value proposition, like actually pull that out of them. So... What is the, yeah, go ahead, Morgan. I just was gonna say, I think that there might be a difference between artists not maybe knowing. I mean, I think they know why they're making art. It's just a matter of finding the words and talking about it, and they feel that, I think a lot of times, artists don't feel like they need to talk about it, because what they're producing is what they're putting out into the world. But, you know, just through talking about their practice and just breaking it down into like, thinking about it as this object that they're just creating and talking about, sort of just being transparent about, like, the building blocks of what led up to making it, and it helps them to determine why they might have started making something. Mmhmm, yeah. But I think with, you know, you, you know, you talked quite eloquently about your art yesterday, and most, a lot of artists, can't do that, or don't do that very well. But was she talking eloquently? I mean, I think this is where we're getting to. Like, when she was talking, a lot of the moments that we remember did not contain the word art in them. Like, when we were talking about the moments that we remember, there was the moment of this sort of like, amazing moment of realization with her husband. There was the realization with Angela, her coworker. There was the salad. There was like... None of that was like... There was Lite-Brites, right, but that was also sort of a nostalgic moment about childhood. So like, what is, and I think that's what you're getting at, is there's a connection between art and making art that has nothing to do with the mechanics of art. That's what I'm saying. I don't even care about your art. I don't care about your damn process. I don't care about your materials. I don't care and no one else does. (audience laughs) What we care about is... They don't! (all laugh) In general, in general, it's not an interesting story. No, I mean, and this is the thing. You said it. We're trying to, like, there is, like I said before, there are things that we care about that nobody else cares about. And like the first step of trying to figure out how to tell your story better is to recognize that, is to recognize that some of the things that I care about, nobody cares about. And like, that's important, but there's something that I'm connecting to it that if I could explain to people, I could get a wider audience, and that that's just a matter of sort of like, figuring out what it is that draws me to this thing that is more universal. So we have a couple, and I think we're closing in on something here. So what would be a... Yeah. So, sometimes the question is changing the x, also. Like sometimes, you start out with a bad x. But anyway, go ahead, yeah. So, from what I connected with yesterday and from what you just said and from actually what I'm interested in, I'm doing a story about artists creating, and it's interesting because it's sort of their self-actualization. So yesterday, what we connected to is you had life moments of self-actualization. You recognized something about why you're here. You're close. I think if you're using the word self-actualization, that's a red flag. But close. Like, jargon is a bad thing. What do you mean when you say self-actualization? Like, you had moments of clarity about your life, your own growth and why you're here and how you are connected to others, and how you express that. Uh-huh, okay, all right. Close. I think we're closer. What do you got, what do you got? We're closing in, I think. I'm doing a story about working artists, I think, 'cause that's something people are really interested in, people who are artists for a living, and it's interesting because a lot of them have fascinating and unexpected origin stories. Because I think we're getting at, is like what is that moment that made you either make the switch to being a working artist, which I do think a lot of people are interested in, or at what point did you decide, like, that something was doing it. All right, say it again, say it again. Okay. I'm doing a story about working artists, 'cause I think that narrows it in, and it's interesting because a lot of them have unexpected origin stories. Work? Who says we can stop there? Who says we still need to work? Stop there? Still need to go? All right, okay. All right. I think you're getting there, I think you're getting there. What do you got? So actually, the truth of it is that I help artists actually articulate or lead them towards their purpose and their mission by having them examine the most painful times in their life. Okay, wait. The most painful times in their life is a good y. What's the y? What's the x? Sorry. Suffering makes great art. Yeah. So you're helping... What's the x, though? And what's interesting is, I do it by making them relive the most painful moments in their lives. So that's a good y. What's the x? Because art transforms. Yeah, but put it in x. I'm doing a story about... I'm doing a story about... Think about it. Ryan's got something. Yeah. I'm doing a story about people making beautiful things, and it's interesting because it usually comes from the most painful moment in their life. What about that? Does that work? (audience murmurs in agreement) All right! We got it. All right. (all laugh) Nice. Okay. All right. There we go. Hey, Alex. We've got some people sharing examples in the chatroom too of things that they are doing. We've got an example here from Josh K who says I'm doing a story about a guy renovating his kitchen, and it's interesting because in doing that, he learned that changing on room in his home could completely change his family life. What do you guys think? I wanna hear that story. Right? Okay. And that's all it is. Literally, it's just like, your gut. When you hear this formulation, it's in your gut, you're like, I wanna hear what comes next. You're on the right track. And if you don't hear, I wanna, I don't, and if you don't hear that, like, it's not working. So it's just literally, it's just paying attention. Was that? And we all feel it. You feel it when you hit it right, and you feel it when you don't. One other thing. Just getting back to that, because I feel like I'm doing a story about people making beautiful things and what's interesting is that it comes from the ugliest moments of their lives. That's a great formulation. It's not exactly what you're doing, I don't think. No, actually, it is. It is, okay. Good, good good. Yeah, that is actually what I'm doing, is actually I believe that art transforms pain. If you think of like, if you think of like a really, some of the sad lyrics, they're often really beautiful. Yeah, I know. Definitely true. All right. Who's got another one? All right, let's go. Cara. Well, I need help, so. Absolutely. We're here to help you. Us and the internet. I'm doing a story about maybe the impending or looming death of libraries, and it's interesting because at our library, we're packing 300 people into the library on a Friday night. What do you think? Do you wanna hear the story? Sort of. What's the part of it you wanna hear? Those 300 people, right? So that's sort of unexpected, there's 300 people. All right, so let's workshop this a little bit. So you're doing a story. Tell me more. Well, and it's through storytelling. Libraries are dying? Well, there's a worry that libraries will go away because of electronics books and Google and people don't need, or there's a perception that they might not need libraries anymore. Your library is dying? Sorry? Is your library dying? Not at all. It's very vibrant. Mill Valley Public Library. (audience laughs) Okay. So, so, okay. I think the y is the problem. Like, you're sort of, sometimes you set yourself up with a really boring y, and then you really kick it out of the park with a super exciting, I mean, with a really boring x, and you gotta really knock it out of the park with a super exciting y. So can we, is there a way to do it without like, without the libraries are dying? Like, what else is there? Yeah, anyway, that's just a thought. I don't know, maybe there's another way to do it. Spirit, what have you got? I'm doing a story about how to have a thriving library and it's interesting because we pack it 30-500 a night, and then I would wanna know like, how. I think the 300, I think the 300, I think we're on the right track. The 300 people is working. That's working for us. That's an interesting y. I think you need to work on the x. What are other libraries? Instead of libraries are dying, let's flesh that out a little bit. How are they dying? Yeah, what do you got? Yeah. Well, can her library be the x, 'cause I'm a lot more interested in someone's library. I'm doing a story about my library because it's bucking the trend of the fear of the death of libraries, or because we figured out a way to pack the place every Friday night. Yes, but then you... I think her y... Okay. I think her library should be the y, 'cause you wanna end on her library. I think what we need is a better, like, the x was, your x was, I'm doing a story about the death of libraries. And that's not what you're doing a story about. I'm doing a story about... Yeah, I'm doing a story about libraries, and yeah, maybe it's like the y. I'm doing a story about libraries and what's interesting. So the death of libraries is just sort of like, that's just a bummer, right? So you're sort of like, it's death, and it's also something that I associate with like, you know, that many people associate with sort of like boredom, and like, it's not exciting. It's exciting to us, but it's not exciting to many people. So, but anyway, let's keep going. What do you got? I'm doing a story about the unexpected rebirth of libraries because a few years ago, it's interesting because a few years ago, many were shutting down and we're going to hear from three libraries using creative ways to pack people in. Okay, getting there, getting there. Can we spice it up a little bit? I think that's really close. What do you got? Yeah? What do you got? I was just gonna suggest for the x, 'cause I really like the, you know, it's interesting because we're packing people in every night but I'm doing a story about the role of libraries in communities or not just like, it's about libraries, but sort of saying that, it's hinting at that it plays an important role in communities. It's not just a place to go get books. Right, right. But, again, the role... Again, I would argue that community is also one of those buzzwords that doesn't really mean that much, and sort of like, it's a super general world, and it's sort of like, I would put community in the same camp as self-actualization and sort of like other jargon words. Like, it's sort of like, it's like a sort of a, it's a word that I ban. 'Cause it just doesn't, it's too general. It doesn't mean anything. It's one of those great words that has a lot of meaning. It's like, it's like, it's like the labor market to economists. It has all this meaning, but it's like jargon to everybody else, and sort of like with the self-actualization, same thing. So, okay, go ahead, Richard. What do you get? I'm doing a story about thriving libraries, and it's interesting because of the decline of the printed word in the digital age? And it interesting because... I'm not sure I get the connection. What do you mean, it's interesting? Just like, you know, less people are actually going to libraries, reading books. It's becoming more digitized, and libraries are really a place of like, printed material. Well, how about this? How about, I'm doing a story about libraries, and it's interesting because most of them are closing down and losing patrons, but my library is packing in 300 people every night. And like that's just like super, you just like, it's sort of cheap. You got a long line. But I feel like that, to me, that's like, that's what's interesting about this, is that like, most of them are like dying, and yours isn't. And so that's what you're going to talk about, right? Yeah. And it's just a matter of like, and then it's just sort of making it more, less general about the, you know, sort of less trendy, like the death of libraries, and more about like, most libraries are closing. It's just, again, getting it more specific and less general, sort of, is like often what we're talking about. What else? Who else? Yeah, Brie, and then, oh, go ahead. She got the mic faster. What about like, I'm doing a story about 21st-century libraries, and it's interesting because people are gathering for unexpected reasons? That could do in a pinch. Which one do you like? Okay, so we got two. We've got, I'm doing a story about 21st-century libraries, and it's interesting because people are gathering for unexpected reasons. I'm doing a story about libraries, and it's interesting because most of the mare closing down and losing patrons, but mine is packing in 300 people a night. Of those two, which would we go for, do you think? First of, packing it in 300 a night. How many vote for that one? And what's the other one, of 21st-century libraries, it's interesting, they're coming for unexpected reasons? That got the librarian vote. No, but I think you're on the right track. I feel like this is, again, it's sort of like, you felt it, right? In your gut, you're like, oh, right, I want to hear about that library that's bucking the trend, this particular library. I wanna hear the story of this particular library that is bucking this particular trend. And so, often, it's about like sort of like making it immediate. Yeah. I have just a quick question for you. Some of the stories that we've already heard, could you go back and give us the x and y, let's say for like the, the post... I was afraid somebody was gonna ask me to do that. (audience laughs) Yeah. Moving on. (audience laughs) Let's see. Could I do that? Yes. Let me see. Let me come back to that. I will, I swear to God. I'll come back to it. Let me just think about it, 'cause it's gonna take me a lot of time of me pacing up and down on the floor. I wanna hear your stories. Okay, yeah. I'm excited. I'm doing a story about thriving startup cities, and it's interesting because in under two years, L.A. went from not being on the map to the top three of startup cities in the world. What do you guys think? You wanna hear that story? Pretty, you're close. Like, pretty good. I'm like, I'm mildly intrigued, I would say. My interest level is at like, sort of like, orange, red being the most interested, I don't know, green being the least interested. All right. So, how can we spice it up, though? You're doing a story about... Talk more about it. Use it, don't use it in the formula. Just tell me what you're doing. I love startup cities, I guess. I'm from L.A., and my podcast is on L.A. startups, but I went backpacking through 14 countries meeting startups in all the, in 14 different countries, and it was amazing to see how we're this global community. But I was able to watch Los Angeles go, because I started my startup before there was any startup anything in L.A.. So I am able to pinpoint every last thing that made it be on the map for the top three. So I'm particularly passionate about that happening. I know the formula. Tell me more about the formula. You were able to pinpoint everything that happened in L.A. to make it the top startup? Yeah, because I was there for it all. Yeah. And I had a startup before, so I got lucky. I was just in the right place at the right time. But, so, so you've identified this formula that sort of like cities go through that makes them sort of like, incubators for startups. At least that L.A. went through, and then when I was meeting with other startup cities, I've been trying to gather data on what they've been going through to understand how that compares, because I do know Los Angeles. So I'm trying to see how that compares to what L.A. went through. And I don't think San Francisco counts. I think that's like, its own, and that's the top one. Got it. All right, okay, but this is interesting. I feel like what you've said is more interesting, just now, is more interesting than your formulation. So let's try to get the interesting stuff that you've put in there into your formulation. Yeah. Yeah, Morgan. I just had a question if there was something that made, like, L.A. startup culture unique or the way that it grew so quickly, compared to everywhere else? So, yeah, there's two things, and there's one really specific to Los Angeles that we have, you know, media and Hollywood. We have YouTube and so much access to video, content creation, but actually, I think so that kind of like, gave like a power play in that, but the seed that planted it, which is actually something that could be applied to any startup city is there was a company-working space called Coloft, and I met with the founders before they opened Coloft, and they had discovered coworking in San Francisco. And they, we were in the initial, like, when they were building their building, we had these meetings. It was me and someone from Startup Weekend, and, you know, and then, and we would talk about like, how to make their coworking space successful, and they kept repeating, like, we're going to focus on community first and profit second, and they were like, core on that. And I was like, you guys have to make money, or you'll close! And they stayed really true, and they did a lot of community-based events, but you could tell their heart was like, so much, like, 100%. And it wasn't like a meetup group. It was so much about the community. And then because of that, and because they cared so passionately about their members, their members became evangelists of that coworking and of Los Angeles, and then accelerators started to hear about the evangelists of the coworking spaces, and accelerators started wanting to be a part, and then like, media wanted, and so it was all these little... So you were at the ground zero of like, what turned L.A. into the third largest startup city in in the country. Yeah, it's crazy. Yeah, all right, what do we got? Yeah, Willow. So I'm doing a story about L.A. being the number-one startup city, and it's interesting because it got that way because of people who were not interested in profit. Wow. What do we think about that? That's like, so yes. All right. That worked. That totally worked. Anybody else got something? That was a good one. Yeah. Yeah. What if I changed it, because it's more accurate to say they didn't prioritize profit. That's fine. Sure, that's fine, yeah. I'll take that. For your formula, you can say they didn't care about profit. In your actual story, you can say prioritize. In the formula, just say they didn't care about profit. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, you're right. What else... Are there anything from the chat rooms? Well, we have people who are sharing some more examples. Veldi says I'm doing a story on divorced couples co-parenting together, and it's interesting because the person who used to be the love of your life sometimes becomes something akin to a colleague. I'm interested in that transition, I think. Yeah, I think that works. What do you think? Room? Yeah, all right, you're onto something. Where are you? Yeah, yeah. What else? Anything else from the chat rooms? Let's see. We have people who are just showing some different examples. Here we have, let's see, Fresh Start is saying, talking to those performing love, money, energy, heart, and soul into regeneration. We have a few more that are coming in now. Moneymaking Millennial says I'm doing a story on Cincinnati, some more Ohio love. (Alex cheers) My hometown. Doing a story on Cincinnati, and it's interesting because it's gone from crime-ridden to startup-blossoming. All right, there you go. That works too, that works too. Yeah, you wanna, you got one, okay? I'm doing a story on the trend of building suicide barrier nets on public bridges, and it's interesting because I think the general public is skeptical. The opponents of these nets feel that if they can prevent people from jumping off the bridges that they don't go somewhere else to commit suicide, and I think the general public is skeptical of that. And so, where do these people, what do they do next if they don't jump off the bridge because it has a suicide barrier? Okay, so you're, you've gotta... It was too long, yeah. You got a length problem. But that's what everyone's here for, right? So, I think you're into, okay, so, again, tell me, what's the interesting part? Don't use the formula now. Just tell me what's going on. I'm just gonna sit back. You guys are doing such a good job. You turned Jeff's story into a... It's a bit of a local story, because now in San Francisco they have approved tens of millions of dollars, multi-million dollar suicide barrier net on the Golden Gate Bridge. I think it's really interesting because it seems like it's treating the symptom instead of the cause. And is it, or not? I don't know the answer. I haven't done the story. Oh, okay. Oh, so, when you said a lot of people, I thought you were saying a lot of people are skeptical because you were gonna say, like, that they actually work. It actually does. If you stop people from jumping once, they don't actually attempt again. But you're saying, your question is more like, does it actually do anything. I think the people, the opponents, I think, so this is, you know, I'd have to do more research, right, but I think the opponents of these barrier nets have a very personal connection to someone that didn't jump because of the net and was saved as a result and that they extrapolate that to the general, to the general public. All right. What do you got, room? Willow? You got a formula for Jeff? I don't have a formula, but I have a question, kind of. Because it seems like this story is a little bit different than some of the others in that it's not finished. Like, we don't know what the ending is. Right? They're just putting these nets up now? Like, this is new? So, in other cities where they've built barrier nets, the rate of suicide on that specific element goes down. And so, where did those people go? That's what's interesting to me. Are they being saved, or are they still upset, and they go somewhere else? Right. But I think Willow's point is maybe like, yeah, well, Hanna, do you have a thought? Yeah. Can you set up a story like this in like, like, if you're pitching to an editor or you are sort of like, you're doing spec work, like, you were like, I would like to do a story about this because I'm curious about this? Well, most editors, and me included, would not assign a spec story to somebody who has, that they've never worked with who has a theory and that is not proven. Yeah, that's just the reality. Like, you have to sort of know the answer. But for the purposes, and it sounds like what you're saying, though, I'm not sure, are you saying, like, I think it's interesting because these nets don't do anything? Is that what you're saying? Or are you saying, I think it's interesting because the public is wrong and these nets actually are very effective? Well, I think that's a good question. So, if it is a spec story, I mean, I'm trying not to inject my opinion into it. I guess I'm curious about what's happening to the people. In other words, is an unknown ending, if you are trying to find an answer to something? Is that an okay story to pitch, or does it need to have a definite ending? Well let's try... I think there's something, like, so you basically wanna sort of like try to find people who have been save by a net. Or I think you're trying to find out if suicide is actually going down. Is suicide going down because those nets are there, or are people finding new places to... Well, there's two issues here. One would be, like, is this sort of the societal story of like, does the suicide net actually work, but then there's this other story, which is a much different story and a much more human story, which is sort of like, and might be better, and might be worse, I don't know, but would be like, I wanna talk to people who have landed in a net and talked to them about what actually happened. There's a sub story. There is the net has to be far enough away that people can't walk out onto it and jump off of the net. The net's actually very far away, so you can get injured if you jump into it. It's made of stainless steel. It's 75 feet down. But no, I think the... We know that the rate of suicide goes down. The people don't jump as often if you build a barrier net. So what happens to them is I guess what I'm trying to... Right. Richard, yeah. I think what might be interesting is I'm doing a story about these nets 'cause I find it interesting to find out what happens when people are given a second chance. That's awesome. That is like, totally, yeah. No, I love that. Like, that's a totally interesting... That sets it up, and then I think that gives you a vehicle for exploring all the other things that you can do. You can do this, you can sort of like, then you set up these people, you talk to them about the second chance. You can get in on the fact and figures about like, does it actually work, does it not work, and stuff like that as part of your story, but then you have like, a human story to talk about, and you have like, a moment to discuss something, the moment where they jump, the moment where they land, talking about their feelings, you know, all that sort of stuff. So I think definitely, nice work.

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.



  • I wish there were rating choices other than either thumbs UP or DOWN, because my rating is "SORT OF." I wish the course had been better edited - within these 10.5 hours is a very useful 6 or 7 hour course. Constant fillers ("sort of" "like" "ah" "um") were frustrating - pause for half a second, then speak. As "bonus material," I think witnessing the sausage-making process of Julia and Alex turning the Ann Rea interview (their conversations, software edits, narration, etc) into the final "produced" version would be very helpful. The course outline is excellent, but some content for the class there wasn't prepared, as Alex admits in the last segment. I'm not happy having someone "wing it" and hope something useful comes about. Sometimes it did, but other times it didn't, or things went off track. Even though he's enthusiastic and charming, and has decades of wonderful experience, more preparation on Alex's part would have made a great difference. Core elements of story were glossed over or entirely skipped. For example, "stakes" were mentioned, but not delved into (what they are, why they're important to share with the audience, how to elicit them from the interviewee, etc.). I really appreciate great advice provided, like (paraphrased) "listeners' boredom and confusion are the enemy," "must provide sign posts to guide where we've been, where we are now, and where we're heading," "we're seeking moments of authentic emotion," "do NOT fill the silence - just shut up!" I also appreciate the wealth of practical "in the field" information, such as effective questions and strategies for soliciting interviews.
  • 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.
  • 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!