I decided to come up with a handful of different techniques you can use to present your message in an engaging and meaningful way.
After making a few preliminary notes, I suddenly remembered that storytelling is bigger business than ever in the podcast world. I mean, of course, audio drama pieces like We're Alive, Serial, and The Black Tapes.
We already know that people love stories, both telling them and hearing them. We find them engaging and entertaining, sometimes even educational and informative.
But how do we adapt the storytelling techniques to our factual podcasts? That depends on which technique you want to use;
The Hero's Journey
Sometimes known as The Monomyth, when the protagonist has to leave their comfort zone on a quest into the unknown – good examples of this are Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, and Indiana Jones.
Usually, they overcome adversity, save the world and/or a loved one, and return home to reap the reward – including a lesson learned.
How Does This Help me?
Using the Hero's Journey to structure your podcast can help you to explain what has brought you to the lesson you've learned and want to share. You can recreate your journey and take your audience with you.
You can also show the risks you took, the rewards you gained, and the newfound wisdom you learned.
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“Welcome to the PC Repair podcast – this week, I want to tell you about the time my laptop crashed due to a power surge, and what I had to do to save my files. It all began one stormy evening in my study…”
“…so by the end, not only did I have my files back, I also had my surge protector to keep me safe in future!”
The mountain structure is a way of mapping the tension and drama in a story. Similar to the Hero's Quest, it's a way of mapping out your story with a peaks and troughs.
It's good for helping you to plot out the key points of your podcast, and is basically a series of small challenges and rising action before a dramatic conclusion.
It’s a bit like a TV series – each episode has its ups and downs, all building up to a big finale at the end of the season.
How Does This Help me?
You can use this to demonstrate how you overcame a series of challenges. Again, it's recounting previous events so it can build tension – keep the audience in the dark until you reach a satisfying conclusion.
“We were finally about to buy our dream home and we couldn't be happier! I didn't know it at the time, but I was about to lose my job the following week. Suddenly, I was under immense pressure…”
“…and the phone rang. It was the musem. They'd authenticated the painting and it was worth half a million pounds!”
Start In the Middle
This technique is also called “in medias res” in Latin, which literally means “into the middle of things.”
It's when you start your narrative in the heat of the action. This gives you a chance to pull in your listeners and get them hooked from the get-go, before starting over at the beginning to explain how it all came about.
It's best not to reveal everything right away, though. Try leaving something that obviously needs more explanation later on, while making sure your opening is interesting enough in the meantime. Give your listeners just enough info to whet their appetite, then go back and set the scene of your story.
Another thing I'd say is that this technique is often best for shorter productions – stringing it out too long runs the risk of losing your audience to boredom and frustration.
How Does This Help me?
It's a great way of grabbing your audience's attention in the first 60 seconds. It keeps them craving a resolution and closure, and it harnesses their attention and focuses on what should be the pivotal element of your message.
“Three weeks ago, I was in a glider which crashed in the forest. I came face to face with a Kodiak bear and I knew I was likely going to die. But one household object – something I wouldn't even normally carry – saved my life.”
“You see, the week before, my mobile phone stopped working, so I went to the hardware store to find something which could…”
‘Wait, what? A bear? How did you get out of that?!` How indeed?
There are just a few classic techniques for telling your story. Naturally, there are many more. The one thing I hope you take from this is that stories are the language of the universe.
And there are no boring stories – just boring storytellers!
Have you tried a different or unusual technique for your podcast's structure? Let me know in the comments section below.