Michael Lewis’ Storytelling Hack

For at least the past decade of coaching on-air talent, one of my go to pieces of advice for creating good content breaks on air is this:

Know how you’re getting in and how you’re getting out.

So, I was excited to see one of my favorite writers, Michael Lewis (The Blind Side, Moneyball, The Big Short), say something similar in a video promo for the Masterclass he’s teaching. Here’s his quote on storytelling:

“The broad meta hack is that if you think about your beginning and your ending when you start it’s amazing how a lot of this stuff starts to tell you how to lay the story out.” – Michael Lewis

I like Michael’s approach much better than another one of my favorite writers, Stephen King. Who’s also, of course, a legendary and incredible storyteller who’s written 65 novels and counting. When you read his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft you’ll discover that his process is significantly different. When King begins writing he often has no idea how it’s going to end. That’s incredible when you consider how well he interweaves multiple storylines, foreshadows upcoming events and develops dynamic characters in what sometimes ends up being a thousand-page novel. Although, that also might be why some of them are a thousand pages before the editor gets ahold of them. While there’s no denying that this process works for Stephen King, who by the way owns 3 radio stations in Maine, Michael Lewis’ process is more likely to work well for most radio on-air talent.

Here’s why:

Personality radio is all about storytelling. I’ve mentioned before that I believe The Hook is The Key to Great Storytelling, and I think on the radio that’s certainly true because it keeps the listener from changing the station and if it’s good enough gets them to turn up the radio and more actively listen. Plus, we tease to the hook so it’s best to start there. But, I think Michael is right that the ending, or out in our world, is nearly as important. Having those two things flushed out in advance better informs the talent’s decision on exactly what details need to be included to make sure the listener isn’t confused and which ones should be cut so they don’t get bored. Plus, on team shows, it gives the host a North Star to follow so they can avoid any derails and detours by other members of the show.

The truth is, all on-air talent need some level of scripting. Some, especially if they’re brand-new, need to fully write out the entirety of their breaks. Others do better with a couple bullet points. A select few only need a rough idea how they’re wording a couple key things, like the in/out. But, virtually NO ONE wings it 100% of the time on the radio and consistently creates great radio. I’ve been coaching talent for a quarter century now and I’ve been around radio literally my entire life and I’ve never once witnessed or worked with someone who can regularly do that. I have however, worked with LOTS of on-air personalities who think they can consistently do that and use it as an excuse to not properly prepare for their shows, show up at the last minute, say things like ‘what are we gonna talk about?’ seconds before the mic cracks and then feel justified because every once and awhile they strike gold.

What do you think, should talent go into every break with a minimum of the in and out pre-planned or not? Comment below or email me at Andy@RadioStationConsultant.com.

Pic designed by Valeria Aksakova for Freepik.com.

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