Broadcast Workshop: Keeping Your Audience’s Attention

Thanks, broadcast reporters, for taking part in this week’s webinar with Ken and Cathy on how to keep your listeners hooked during your stories. Here are Cathy’s key tips in case you missed the action.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to ignore a radio story? It’ll start and then a few minutes later you’re lost and you don’t care. Once you get out of the story, it’s hard to get interested again.

The key to getting and keeping listener’s attention is storytelling.
The key to good storytelling is story structure.
That means a strong beginning, middle and end.

This is especially important with policy stories. You have to share your passion and enthusiasm for an issue in a way that makes people care. As Nancy Updike said at Third Coast a couple of years back, “the biggest enemy is not bad-ness. It’s okay-ness.” You need to constantly ask yourself: “Is there a better beginning to my story?” “A more interesting middle?” “A snazzier end?”

In broadcast stories, our “beginning” is broken down to the host intro and the start of the story itself. Use your host intdo to pique listener interest. Share the news, tell them why it’s a big deal, and then seduce them into listening. Listen to this host intro from an NPR story on school cheating scandals. What do you notice?

-Make it clear
-Lead with the news
-Make it interesting
-Summarize the problem, and give an indication of the solution.
-Keep it short

Story openings are where you hook the listener who is already circling around the bait [the host intro]. Gone are the days of the public radio feature that starts with birds singing along a babbling brook. You need to get people engaged immediately. Tell a story. Be excited about it.

Listen to the way Larry Abramson opens his piece on school cheating scandals. What do you hear?

Now listen to the way Scott Detrow opens his piece on natural gas drilling on Pennsylvania public lands. What do you hear?

-Get right to the point about what’s shocking or at stake. Summarize themes and tensions,
-What gets you personally excited about a story will get listeners excited. Remember what thrilled you in the field, or make a lightbulb go on and start there
-If you’ve got a good character, lead with him or her. Focus on the crazy or compelling details of that person- their behaviors, facial/body expressions, their amulets, tattoos- what makes them ‘them.’

Lets face it. This is where mental drift occurs the most. People get lost in broccoli forest, the back-and-forth of people with competing opinions, or in a sausage-making style of explanation. This happens because middles are perhaps the hardest part of a story to keep interesting. You gotta introduce controversy, explain how things work, and don’t forget, most important: context. How is what’s happening similar/different to other places or other points in time.

Listen to the middle of this story by Brian Mann on regulations to fend off invasive species in the Great Lakes.

Now listen to the middle of this story about how cities decide who gets paid first in a fiscal crisis.

Good, simple, active writing can stave off mental fatigue.
Reveal your Russian Doll: make your middle a story within a story.
Strive to develop characters in the middle of your piece- not just talking heads.
Context— historical, geographical- will feed the listener brain.

The purpose of an ending is to give listeners a last impression of an issue, a place or a person. It’s where you say “the upshot is.” Strive for a light tough. If you see the words “time will tell,” or “for now” in your script, start over. Godly, uber analysis creates distance and removes you and the listener from the story.

Listen to this ending in a Robert Smith piece about NJ Governor Chris Christie’s zealous style when it comes to budget cuts. What do you hear?

Listen to this ending in Ida Lieszkovszky’s piece on why Cincinnati is the only urban school district in Ohio to get a good rating on state report cards. What do you hear?

Look for common ground between opposing sides.
If you have a good character, end with an anecdote that sheds perspective on the larger issue.
As mention, no “for now” or “time will tell” stuff. Just give us the upshot with zest.

Here’s a webinar on this topic:

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