Ira Glass, revered radio personality, is the longtime host of This American Life–– a program that epitomizes compelling storytelling. Full of non-fiction essays, short stories and memoirs, This American Life has been on air since November 1995, a formidable seventeen years. Ira Glass is probably as well known for his distinctive nasally voice as his premier storytelling chops. Here are the two major building blocks of storytelling, according to Glass.
1 –– The Anecdote
Glass says in its purest sense, a story is simply an anecdote, a sequence of events and actions. You know, something like a + b + c = d + e. The most boring story you can imagine is still compelling, Glass asserts, because there is suspense and momentum inherent in the anecdotal form.
He also points out that baiting the audience is essential, as the storyteller should be constantly raising questions and answering them. This back and forth keeps the audience interested and intrigued by the anecdote.
2 –– The Moment of Reflection
Glass reflects that an anecdote fails when the storyteller forgets to include a moment of reflection. The moment of reflection is the point of the story; it reveals something new to the audience. It answers the audience’s omnipresent question: “Why am I listening/viewing/reading this story? What’s in it for me?”
Essentially, an anecdote should consist of a back and forth between action and reflection. This oscillation should be interwoven as seamlessly as possible within the anecdote. A moment of reflection should follow a moment of action, and so on and so forth.
Use these storytelling building blocks in your next presentation. As Glass shrewdly points out, no matter how prosaic the topic, if you put it into a story framework, it has momentum and suspense automatically. Your audience will be compelled to listen to hear what comes next. Don’t underestimate the power of storytelling. If stories are such an intricate part of our lives, why would we forgo using them in our presentations?