Without a story it’s going to be boring

Episode 8 – Full transcript

It’s all about the power of story in Episode 8. I’m looking at what Gimlet Media suggest and what they actually do plus I look at the problems of making a story too without losing all the spontaneity.


  1. Gimlet Academy podcast
  2. Mystery Show – episode 2

Full transcript

In 1992 bill Clinton used the phrase, “It’s the economy stupid!” as part of his campaign.

In 2020 Gimlet Media make it pretty clear for podcast success, “It’s the story stupid!” That’s what I’m focusing on this week. How can we turn our podcast into a story that is so addictive? People can’t stop listening.

Hello and welcome to, Can I Make a Hit Podcast? Last year I almost quit podcasting for good after several failed attempts, but I decided to give it one more go. I want to answer the question once and for all. Can someone with a full time job still produce a podcast from their home computer, which becomes a hit and rivals the quality of the big production companies?

I’m documenting that journey as I go along and sharing what I learn with you. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you’re listening to this now and on Instagram and on Twitter at @ @hitpodcast2020 that’s @hitpodcast2020 I think it was about 20 years ago, and I was at a wedding and this room was full with people. And the wine and the beer of course, was flying and people had been celebrating the marriage of, of two of my friends and after the bride’s father spoke, as obviously you always have the speeches after dinner, right? I was the next person up because they decided that I was going to be a best man.

And so I stood up and I remember opening my mouth to start to speak. and with each word that I spoke, I remember looking at the audience looking for reaction. You know, did they like what I was saying or didn’t they?

After a few minutes there wasn’t much of a reaction, but I wasn’t too worried because my story was gradually building up to it’s punchline. I delivered my punchline and the crowd, well to be honest they carried on talking amongst themselves. My joke went down like a lead balloon, such a heavy lead balloon in fact that I could almost imagine it in front of my face, crashing out on the floor and smashing through the ground at the actual venue.

I had to accept that I was a naff storyteller. But if this podcast, the one I’m working on now is to have any chance of success according to Gimlet, I’m going to have to turn that ability around and become a great storyteller. Like NPR.

If you didn’t know two weeks ago, I listened to the Gimlet Academy podcast from one of the world’s big podcasts makers and to hook people in, to stand out from the rest of the podcast out there, the answer to that according to Gimlet comes from the story and the structure that you put in your podcast.

You know, NPR, Serial, This American Life, the podcast people talk about and not effective because of a long interview, they’re effective because of the story.

Now, that’s not just narrative based podcasts. You know, Joe Rogan might talk for hours, but when you listen to what he does, he immediately, the moment he gets his guests in, he gets them talking about a story which engages people straightaway. But story-based narrative podcasts, according to Gimlet, then take this to a whole other level.

And if you look at the success of like S-town and Serial, you can see what they mean.

So I’ve got an idea. I’ve got some great editing software that I was talking about last week as well to help speed up this whole process. There’s a lot of other things we still need to tackle as well from production point of view.

But the next thing I need to do is to try and turn these ideas into some sort of reality. But before I can interview anyone or even search for guests, I need to think about, who I need to talk to?

And I’m going to waste my time approaching people at random if I don’t have some idea about who I need, but how am I going to do that?

Well, the answer comes obviously from the story.

Just a reminder. What is a story? According to the Gimlet Academy, remember this is a podcast series on Spotify, completely free you can listen to, got a link in the show notes, but what is story?

Basically it starts at the beginning, as you might expect, then it builds through a series of steps, series of sequences that build up to a point to the end, and within that you’ve got emotion, you’ve got color and description and stuff like that, but it is a beginning, steps that progress up to a point, which is the end. So how do I build that for my podcast? To get started, I’m going to need some sort of story outline right.

So I sat down and I brainstormed what would be the story behind my podcast idea. Let me just remind you of the pitch for the podcast again.

When you get old, will you gradually give up on life or will you get a second wind and live your later years like a kid agai. We hear from people who refuse to get old and share the secrets of staying young forever with us.

So that’s the pitch of the podcast. That’s the main idea. So then I need to start building this structure in my head. So I sat down and I brainstorm what would be the core things I would want to know in order to explain to me that pitch. So the idea that you can stay young forever and how to do it. And I came up with six areas I suppose. The first one was the moment that everything changed.

So for someone who’s going through this, cause remember we need to get some guests who are going to talk around this.

So the moment everything changed when they decided I’m not going to get old.

The activities they do and seeing it through their eyes as a person of their age. You know if your taking up skateboarding in your sixties how does it feel looking at all these 20 year olds around your or even teenagers?

Number three, the challenge you faced in making it work. You know it’s not easy refusing to get old. People expect you to get old. You know are you losing friends because they get old and boring. What did your partner say?

Number four, regrets. Other things they wish they’d done earlier in their life. I’d love to hear what people thought about that and how they would do it differently now based on the experience now.

Number five, what are the secrets of staying young? You know is it fitness? Is it mental attitude? How can they give advice to us on how we can stay young?

And number six, it’s just an all out indulgence of the feeling of why is it great to stay young?

I think that sort of covers it. You know whether you’re interested in this topic or not, you think about those areas, I think that kind of covers the topics I need to do.

But the moment I wrote these down, I said, I think, okay, well, you know what. The problem with this is I’m writing a story before I even know what my guests are gonna say. And this is something that I came across in journalism. If you didn’t know, I used to be a news editor and a journalist many years ago on the radio, and one of the problems you had was that you had to get a story.

So if you went out for a day to find a story, or if you went out for an hour, you needed to come back with something. So you tended to end up having in your head written a story already and you just went looking for the evidence to fit into that story.

You know, there was a, there was a phrase that used to go around newsrooms, which hopefully was just a joke, but it was “never let the facts get in the way of a good story”.

And there was an element of truth in that because if the facts came back really boring, what are you going to do with your day’s work when there’s nothing to fill the air time?

Anyway, I digress.

But it got me thinking about the story. How far do I want to take it, writing it down in advance? And I think the thing here, the first stage with the podcast is to say what are those core areas and just leave that as an outline initially and fill it in with a few ideas.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re a bit bored just hearing those six points there. But the next thing is how do we bring this to life?

Each of those points really is going to be completely empty without a story, without some account we can follow along too and get emotionally involved with. So with each section, I started to brainstorm the kind of stories that I wanted to hear. Not a specific thing, but the kind of areas that I would like to hear so that the guests can still provide the direction

So how do I apply that to my podcast? Well, let’s take the example of area three, which was, it’s not easy refusing to get old.

So what kinds of things might I want to ask around here? The kind of stories that I’m looking for?

I need stories through people’s eyes as a say. It’s societal expectations. Do people treat you differently if you refuse to get old and boring? Do you lose friends as your interests stay young and theirs get older. You know, what is the attitude of the 20 year olds or the teenagers looking at you as an older person? What does your partner say?

It’s those stories that I want to hear from other people who are better storytellers than me about what it’s like to refuse to get old.

So I’ve jotted down a few ideas of the kind of people I’m looking for, but it’s going to be very much down to them, the actual stories that they tell. but it’s given me a framework.

So that’s my approach. But what I was wondering is Gimlet Academy talk about all this, but what does that actually do in practice? So I had to listen to a show that I’m listening to at the moment, which is quite an old one called Mystery Show which Gimlet themselves made and it was actually axed one of the reasons being, because they considered it to be a little bit too ambitious. But in the same sense because it was too ambitious maybe also, it’s a great test case of what can be done when you throw resources at things.

The episode was actually about an unsuccessful book author who discovered a photo of Britney Spears holding her book.

The presenter tries all manner of attempts to speak to Brittany and eventually does. It is a great story. If you want to see the transcript by the way, and you want to listen to the show, I will put a link in the show notes, but within the opening few seconds then, we’ve got this sort of situation presented.

It’s a bit of a downer though, because the author is unsuccessful.

Then bam, we get the next development. So this next step in the story, Brittany Spears reads the book.

You then start the investigation and she describes what she sees looking at the photo Brittany and looking for clothes and each one building, building, building to that point, at the end of the story where she meets Brittany Spears and she finds out about the book.

Now if you look at the overall basic structure with which they would have probably started before they actually went out to try and find Brittany. The overall strcuture was, if you think about it, a scenario, an unsuccessful author, we have a case to investigate.

The aim is to see if we can get hold of Brittany Spears. Try to reach out to Brittany and document the steps and finish with a conclusion.

So it’s the same situation as I’m talking about with mine. On its own that outline structure’s a bit flat, but what brings it to life is the story within each of those elements. The color of what actually happens.

And that’s exactly what I’ve got to do. I need to achieve exactly that.

I’ve got to get my guests great stories to get people hooked in.

One final thing I want to say before I move on to the next bit is when I first wrote down my five to six areas for the show overall, I thought, hang on, these are my episodes, but if fact actually, I don’t know how much content I’m going to get for each one, so I think that progression of six main areas could condense down into three episodes, or it could be six episodes, or it could be 12 episodes depending on how much good content I get.

So what do I need next?

Well, I need someone to deliver those stories and as Gimlet Academy says, that can’t just be me for this to really work. So the next thing is to get hold of some guests. Don’t forget to subscribe on this podcast app that you are listening to me on right now. Join me on social media too. I’m on Twitter and on Instagram at @hitpodcast2020 that’s @hitpodcast2020 and you can find all the links as well on the website at CanIMakeAHitPodcast.com. It’s literally all one word. CanIMakeAHitPodcast.com.

There is, as I always say every week, a lot of advice out there saying you can still make a Hit podcast in the 2020s. If it’s right then you and I could be making one by the end of the year. Speak next week.

Published by Richard

25 years in the communications business. Former news editor, journalist, political public relations professional, social media content creator, and podcast host of www.ThePublicRelationsPodcast.com

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