How to tell audio stories: 8 top tips

Class notes from Top Audio Storytelling at School of Journalism and Communication, at the University of Oregon on 30th January 2017.

Image via BBC Online

Today’s pre-class listening: Slate’s Political Gabfest, The “I Think We’re Going to Be OK” Edition.

1. Audio helps other mediums, even if you don’t realize it.

See this example from the movie Everest. The first version has no SFX. The second does. Spot the difference!

2. The Building Blocks of a Good Story

Ira Glass from This American Life talking about storytelling and the role of the anecdote as an effective storytelling format.

See also: Part Two, Three and Four in this short series.

3. Stand-up comedy often uses the same technique

Check out this piece from Tig Notaro which uses a chronological storyline, repetition, coupled with everyday imagery and a “then I said, then she…” technique to drive the story forward.

4. Get your subject to move the story along

Ask open questions. Get them to say what happened next. Fresh Air’s Terry Gross uses the technique effectively throughout this interview with journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Aside from listening to the piece, the transcript is another useful opportunity to see this technique in action.

5. Paint pictures through your narration

Robert Krulwich co-hosts RadioLab. In this clip he talks about his efforts to pitch a story on the collapse of dinosaur flatulence and the decline in atmospheric methane. Listen to how he puts you right at the heart of the newsroom with his description of the story selection process.

6. If you can add natural sound to this, even better!

KLCC’s Brian Bull went for a walk during a recent ice storm in South Eugene (OR). He describes the landscape, whilst the weird and wonderful sounds of the storm permeate his narration.

7. How to tell an audio story in One Minute

Listen to Where You Are From (MM #2140) from The Mason Minute @Stitcher > it sets the scene, and evokes a quick sense of place and reflection, all in 60 seconds.

8. Be passionate

It helps generate empathy. It also helps you to use your whole body to convey your message. Mark Kermode’s review here is a performance. He helps you picture the film — whilst at the time making it pretty clear what he thinks of it. Note how his rage — and animated body language — builds as he reaches the conclusion of the piece.