Live Storytelling: An ancient, compelling platform

The more that I think about live storytelling, the more I’m impressed with it.

Every story that I’m engaged with on a daily basis has been finely tweaked, edited, trimmed and polished with days or weeks of attention.

Yet there are people out there who participate in live, oral storytelling, who speak to an audience without notes or facts, and tell a story beautifully.

I’m truly fascinated with these speakers who can deliver compelling, gripping stories in their presentations. It isn’t an easy thing to do; more of an art form than anything else.

The Moth Radio Hour

I came across this type of storytelling while listening to NPR. I tuned into a new station, and they introduced me to a new program called Moth Radio Hour, an anthology of stories told by speakers to a live audience at a theater hall. I can honestly tell you, I never remember the drive home on the days it broadcasts. My full audible attention was directed towards the speakers. It truly is an experience.

In any case, the program would be extraordinary to see live, a romantic and thoughtful alternative to the movies or a play. Many of these events take place in New York City, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. If you are ever in town, be sure to hit up a show. Here’s the Moth Radio Hour’s scheduled events.

One speaker in particular, Edgar Oliver, with his haunting voice and presence, is a must listen. His true story account of his life growing up in Savannah, Georgia, with his sister, who both want desperately to escape the grasps of their paranoid and dementia-ridden mother’s controlling grasps.

This type of ancient storytelling has stood the test of time, and the power of these stories tell me that something about the medium is everlasting, so long as humans are capable of communicating.

While live storytelling isn’t a perfect science, and probably isn’t a recommended way for journalists to get their messages across, I think it ought to deserve an immense amount of respect from any kind of storyteller. Broadcast or print, fiction or non-fiction. These stories are masterful in their own way, and they are in no short supply.


Why “shoveling” between formats doesn’t work

The headline says it all.

It doesn’t.

I thought we had all learned our lessons about “shoveling” our content from one medium to another without tweaking it, even print-to-online stories. But no.

As much as I love NPR, they are the culprits for inciting enough irritation to write this post.

I clicked on a story. They offered a soundbite from the radio of a written story. Naturally, I clicked on the radio version, and I thought I would skim the story at the same time. Easy enough.

No. The story was ver batim the same story the radio reporter said. It was like looking at a transcript.

Why this is so frustrating is because of a few reasons. This applies in general to all news organizations, by the way:

1. It wasted my time: I would love to invest my time into reading and listening, but only if there was something unique to experience from each format. I don’t want to waste my time watching a video, when I know what happens (who does).

2. It’s lazy: Don’t put up duplicate stories on your website just because they are different formats. Each medium has it’s advantages to bring to a story. If the reporter wasn’t hustling enough to get info for a print story, or do a quality video, then he/she shouldn’t do it.

3. It’s wasteful: Using storytelling formats is a great thing, if you use them correctly. We have all of them for specific reasons. It’s a shame to see potential for something great to be tossed out because of “shoveling” stories.

Stories are like languages, you can’t get by using cheapo online translators to converse with someone. You need to be somewhat fluent, understand dialects and regional differences. Videos, audio bites and print stories all have their own flows, and transitional elements. I would expect a major broadcasting network like NPR to know this.

Lesson: Don’t duplicate your story. Expand your story with each format you introduce. If you do, you certainly won’t regret it.

If you want to see an example of a story that does it right, check out Denver Post’s American Soldier feature. They intertwine all their formats well and integrate each with great web design.