(By Lance Anderson) Storytelling is at the heart of most podcasts, whether you are being interviewed, recounting an anecdote to your co-host, or even standing alone on stage telling a personal narrative story into a microphone, podcasts tell stories.
Over the past three decades, I’ve performed hundreds of stories in a variety of venues and mediums, including on my original 2005 podcast Verge Of The Fringe. Although my new podcast is rough, raw, and ragged, I’ve also heard thousands of stories and I teach storytelling workshops. So here is a list of 10 storytelling tips that can help you engage and hold your listeners — and have them coming back.
1. Authenticity: When telling a personal story, being true to yourself is the master key. If you do nothing else, tell your story the best you can using your own authentic voice and phrasing. Tell the story the way you feel it.
2. Setting And Character Go Together: At the beginning of any story, let the listener know when and where the story is taking place and who the main people are (characters) involved. Try to set the scene with simple, yet evocative details matched with a sharp character sketch that can be told in just a few sentences.
3. Keep The Story Moving: Once we know where and who the story is about, we now need to understand why the story is being told. The listener should learn the events that happened and the choices and motivations of the people involved. This is the body of your story, with the actions you and the other characters took — and the ramifications — that build towards a climax.
4. Be In The Moment: When you are telling a story, try to take yourself back to the scene so that you can relive the details and feelings for the listener. If you can put yourself back into the story you are telling, the listeners will follow.
5. Words Matter: If you are talking on an audio podcast, the words you choose along with how you say them are your main tools to tell the story. Don’t worry about finding the perfect word, just do the best you can to choose the words that conjure up the feelings and details of the story. As the Beat writers used to say: “First thought, best thought.”
6. The Poetics Of Song: Songwriters are the popular poets of our time. Reading poetry and listening to songs with powerful lyrics will sharpen your skills, allowing you to say more with fewer words. Also consider reading the autobiographies of musicians, since their deep understanding of poetic language infuses the prose of their personal stories. For instance, Billie Holiday’s “Lady Sings the Blues” is filled with tragic and triumphant incidents, told with searing images.
7. Cinematic Imagery: With your words and voice, try to create cinematic scenes for the listener. An example from one of Leonard Cohen’s most personal songs illustrates how much his friend has aged with the line “your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder.” A simple yet precise detail, that is easy to visualize and implies a larger set of events.
8. The Color Of The Senses: While teaching storytelling workshops, I soon learned that the importance of colors in a personal narrative quickly became evident. There is a big difference between a raincoat and a blue raincoat, and an even bigger difference between a blue raincoat and a “famous blue raincoat.” Descriptions of sounds, smells, and feeling by touch are also an instant way to draw the listener into your story.
9. The Humility Of Humor: Using humor is always an effective way to help engage an audience, especially self-deprecating humor that can disarm a critical or skeptical listener. You don’t need to prepare one-liners, just highlight the absurdity of a situation and consider using funny phrases, names, or words to help make your point.
10. Know Your Ending: If you know where you are going, you’ll be okay even if you stammer and ramble in the middle. Your ending is your anchor that brings you back home and ties the whole story together.
Finally, when you are telling your personal story on a podcast, be true to yourself and don’t worry about what the experts or the critics think. Always remember, you are the captain of your own ship.
Lance Anderson is a writer and storyteller who started his storytelling podcast Verge of the Fringe back in 2005. He then founded the groundbreaking group LA Podcasters that same year. His new experimental podcast is called Verge of the Dude. (http://vergeofthedude.com). Follow Lance on both Twitter and Instagram @1lanceanderson