Audiocraft 2016 credit Ash Berdebes

A practical guide to crafting stories that connect

hfriedlander, 18th July 2017

The Audiocraft Conference, now in its second year, is a day of audio discussions and workshops to ask, “where are we at right now, where do we want to be, and how will we get there?”

Guiding proceedings is a stellar line-up of some of the sharpest, savviest radio minds including Jess O’callaghan, Lee Tran Lam and Megan Tan. Get a taste of the conference as these producers take us through their processes and offer practical tips and techniques on how they draw out stories and interview subjects.

Read, research and rethink your approach 

Megan: Finding great stories is an ongoing process – it’s like wanting your body to be toned and in shape all the time. Every day I try to carve out time to sit in front of my computer and research stories that I’ve never heard. If I come across a story and I find myself thinking about it while I’m brushing my teeth or taking a shower, then I know that it’s “sticky”, and I go after it. A lot of times I think we can get stuck on an idea, but if we don’t pursue it then we don’t know what the story could become. Finding great stories for me means:

  • Carving out a daily rhythm where you’re constantly reading articles and you’re keeping your eyes peeled for stories that challenge how you see the world.
  • Being hyper aware of your surroundings – you’re always on a story hunt.
  • Asking friends of friends of friends.
  • Getting feedback from others so you know you’re not going after a story with no legs.
  • Casting a story. Sometimes I’ll think, wouldn’t it be great to find such and such, doing this. And then when you’re researching, you have a vision of what kind of story you’re trying to find.

Lee Tran: Interview subjects will connect with you more if you show you’ve done your homework. Kara Swisher was on Ezra Klein’s podcast and talked about some of her techniques. She 

Audiocraft 2016 credit Ash Berdebes

was about to interview President Barack Obama and noticed he had a long, wordy way of talking paragraphs – and she had an extremely short interview time – so she upfront mentioned this to him and it broke his habit of giving long wieldy answers. She also noticed that he gave better answers when he was challenged or a bit angry (because he’s surrounded by people who say “yes” to him all the time), so she added a little conflict to her questions and got the response she was after.

Always ask questions and get feedback from others

Jess: Technology has opened up hundreds of ways to engage with audiences, but so many of them are inauthentic. What interests me right now is: how can you use deep engagement with an audience to inform the stories you tell and how you tell them? In radio, that could mean teaching people online how to record their voices to be incorporated into your story. It could mean meeting with stakeholders in your story for more than just interviews, talking to them early in the process about shaping narrative and possible angles that you haven’t thought of. Episode #1515 A Walk in the Park of All The Best was workshopped with about ten women in my living room before we knew what direction it would take. We then asked women to record their own walks home on their phones, and recruited musician Alyx Dennison to turn the walking home tape into music.

Lee Tran: A lecturer once said to me: “Don’t be afraid to come across as dumb”. If you don’t know an answer, it’s better to ask for clarification than worry that your question is “too stupid”. I asked Dan Barber – one of the world’s best chefs – about why he grew his own special strain of wheat and he gave this incredibly technical answer. And I said, “but if you’re not a wheat nerd, what’s the difference?” And he laughed and gave this wonderfully articulate and memorable answer – about how it doesn’t slap you in the face like a glass of wine, but when you grow your own wheat, you’re reminded that it’s a grass and it actually tastes of something.

Jess O’Callaghan is a former Executive Producer of All The Best. These days, she produces The Party Room and RN Drive.

Lee Tran Lam runs The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry blog and podcast. She also presents Local Fidelity on FBi Radio.

Megan Tan is the creator and producer of Millenial - a Radiotopia podcast about manoeuvring your twenties. 

Audiocraft is a valued partner of the CBAA. Photos by Ash Berbedes.

This article was first published in CBX Magazine in April 2017.

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