Want to tell a good story? Listen to Ira Glass
August 18, 2009
Ever tried to tell a story at a party that just bombed? I’ve done this a few more times than I care to count. We all have, right?
Thankfully, Ira Glass, host of This American Life, is attempting to remedy that. He has a YouTube video series about how to tell engaging, compelling stories. This is useful for anyone who:
- Would rather not watch another cocktail party story crash and burn
- Has a personal story to share with a large audience in a polished form
- Has information to share in a professional context — information that might snag people’s hearts, move them to action, entice them to buy something or help change their understanding of an issue.
Ira Glass knows storytelling better than just about anyone I can think of. I have heard second-hand (and I have reason to believe) that in this age of channel surfing, most people who stumble upon a radio broadcast of This American Life stick with it and listen to the whole, one-hour show, even if they don’t know what it is or weren’t planning to listen to it. It’s engaging enough to hook just about anybody, even though the show is little more than average people (who don’t have radio voices) telling stories that often sound like,
“OK, this one time this really weird thing happened to me. Isn’t that weird?!”
But Ira Glass makes it one of the most compelling programs of our time. The radio show is popular enough that it became a cable TV series. If he wanted to, he could probably use the show to affect great political or social change, and it’s possible that is happening already.
How does he do it? Here are some of the nuggets of goodness I gleaned from the video series:
An engaging story needs
Action/Anecdote + Information + Reflection (at least one of these should provide something previously unknown, unheard of or not considered)
Questions that are raised, questions that are answered
His approach comes straight from radio broadcasting, but there are elements of it that apply to just about any kind of communication. Rather than muddle up his words any further, I’ll just link you to the video series. Here’s a link to the first installment. Click here for the entire series (4 parts, each about 5 minutes) from Public Radio International.