The World of Telling Stories with Sound also gives clues about how to tell any story. Here are some clues about how to tell a great story.
- Paint a picture with words and sounds. Audio is actually a visual medium, because it comes alive for people when they start to “see” the images you’re talking about and describing with words and sounds. Audio is NOT a good medium for sharing lots of statistics and dry facts. Those only work if they’re sprinkled in occasionally or richly described.
- Reveal emotions. Audio works best when listeners are touched through their emotions, so that they “feel” the importance of the story. That means that pauses, sighs, a voice that is filled with emotion, and sounds that include emotion make a difference. So does an emotional layer to the story’s content.
- Share puzzles and plot twists. People naturally tune in and out of listening to a story. The way to catch a person’s attention is to share a question that leads someone to ask themselves, Why? or What happens next? You need to layer these in so that one puzzle leads to another, to satisfy the curiosity that people have that keeps them listening.
- Share one story, and be ruthless about cutting out the tangents. People’s attention to a story works best if it’s just one story, told from beginning to end. In radio, people can’t go backward and re-read a paragraph to make sense of what follows. So if you have a sound that’s not clear, TELL people what the sound is BEFORE they hear it. If you have a significant character, IDENTIFY THE CHARACTER BEFORE they start speaking, so that people know who’s talking. ASSUME PEOPLE ARE UNINFORMED, and if you have a group with initials, such as FDA, TELL PEOPLE the FDA is the Food and Drug Administration. These cues will help people stay with the story and not get lost. In a similar vein, tell the story without tangents and trailing into cool but non-essential details that don’t lead back to the story you’re telling. Be ruthless about cutting out the tangents, and the resulting story will be crisper. This rule can be shamelessly broken when you’re recording a story from your own child or from your grandmother.
- Strive for “Driveway Moments,” or even better, for “Dishwasher Moments. A Story is top-notch when people listening to it in their car actually will sit in the car, and not come inside, until the story is done. That’s a driveway moment. A simpler test is to do the dishes while you’re listening to a story, and notice when you pause and want to listen more clearly, or find yourself chuckling or being “into” the story even as you’re doing the dishes. Doing the dishes is also a good test for whether the story is easy enough to hear with noisy distractions nearby.