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What Public Radio Can Teach Nonprofits About Effective Storytelling #13NTCradio

Will Coley, nonprofit dude turned public radio evangelist, Minnesota Public Radio reporter Sasha Aslanian and interviewee Valencia lead this session to help nonprofits cultivate "driveway moments."


  1. What's so special about audio?
    Coley says "there is a real LOVE for public radio." Minnesota Public Radio reporter Sasha Aslanian shared her storytelling piece with Valencia, a local teen experiencing homelessness. "Sasha made me feel really at home with audio," says Valencia. The confessional nature of audio were vital to this personal story. 

    Advantages to Audio
    Listener: participates with imagination, more intimate, easier to multitask while listening.
    Producer: eye contact is easier (better interview), easier to record (lower threshold to entry).
    Interview Subject: Microphone is less intimidating than camera, there is a sense of confidentiality and privacy.

  2. Aslanian's piece featuring Valencia allowed the content to be more than informative, but also funny and emotional. She was able to connect emotionally with the audience in a way that inspired some of them to think about Valencia as their own child. 
  3. Spoken audio includes:
    -radio talk shows
    -radio stories
    -"audio posts"
    -audio slideshows
  4. Data: Pew reports say that 89 million people listened to the radio in 2012. Two-thirds of traditional radio listening occurs away from home (in the car). Radio is alive and kicking. Internet consumption and mobile apps are driving this continued growth. 
  5. Storytelling: 
    Next, nonprofits can be wonky and inflexible when it comes to storytelling. Aslanian's story on victims of sexual exploitation were featured in a story that connected the audiences with their stories but protected their privacy at the same time. Protecting the privacy of interviewees is a complicated process for Aslanian but she does her best to adhere to privacy considerations while balancing a good narrative. 

    Surprise is an element of storytelling. Aslanian strives to rise above her audiences expectations by integrating a surprise or turning point in her narratives. Valencia's story exemplifies how they presented a story on homelessness that also dispelled the myths of homeless kids. 

    Presenting information is a challenge for audio stories. "We want to give people all the facts, we want to cram it all in," says Coley. You have to speak in plain English, be concise and not overwhelm audiences with information. Also, people can't rewind on radio, they must understand it the first time. So, there is a challenge in winnowing down information so that people can understand it. 

    Building tension is vital to developing a compelling story. "Will this person get what they want?" says Aslanian. Tension drives the story and engages people to keep listening. 
  6. Producing: How an you make the best sounding story?
    Finally, creating a good story with rich sound is a challenge. Investing audio materials is not too expensive  All you need is a mike, cable, headphones, and a digital recorder, approximately $500 worth of equipment. More and more radio producers are using mobile phones to record audio. The voice memo app on the iPhone has some limitations, mostly if the recording is long. SoundCloud is also a viable option, providing some limited editing within the app and easy sharing. 

    Aslanian recommends recording in spaces that are upholstered to avoid "bouncing" sounds. Living rooms and carpeted spaces are best for recording. Additionally, holding the mic right under the interviewees chin, "like an ice cream cone," is the best technique. For ambient sound, Aslanian uses a "shotgun" mic and stands some distance away to gather sounds that set the scene. 

  7. Recommended editing tools:
    -Audacity (free)
    -GarageBand (free)
    _Hindenberg ($95)
    -ProTools ($700)

    Coley recommends you "write like you talk" in regards to assembling a script. The simpler, the better for audio stories. 
  8. Recommended Resources:
    -HOW Sound
    -Follow public radio reporters on Twitter and share you enthusiasm for their stories by sharing them.