Ira Glass at the Sydney Festival

For almost two hours in the Sydney Town Hall, Matt and I sat listening to Ira Glass talk about how he uses radio to tell stories, and about how to interview people in a way that will make you “fascinating-er”.

Here are a few notes I scribbled down, and my immediate thoughts on them. I’m interested in becoming a better story-teller, and Ira must be one of the best today, so it was great to listen to him.

He talked about his college degree, in semiotics (when he graduated, his parents put an ad in the local paper – “wanted: semiotics major. High salary, no experience required”. When the ad was printed, they clipped it out and mailed it to him. Cruel.

But semiotics taught him to ask the question “How does the story give pleasure?”. It’s this question that informs his editorial decisions in preparing the radio show. He said that he uses the lessons he learned in his degree every day.

It’s clear that production quality is important to him – he used his iPad throughout the show to play excerpts from past shows, and from his radio production days gone by, but also to include background music Ben hr was talking.

When you interview someone, it’s worth asking, at every step, “What happened ? How did you feel?”. This will give you better pieces that can then be remixed according to he wider arc of the story, when you find it.

After a few beats of the story, it’s time to insert a moment of reflection; what does it mean, in the general principle?

Radio is not naturally a visual medium. To help people relate to the story, you need to make it visual.

To help people tell their story in the most animated way possible, have them tell you the dialogue – they will perform the story.

A lot of time spent on creative work is invested in finding an idea that’s decent enough to make your work about. Finding an idea is a job in itself.

We’re used to getting news in a casual, personal aesthetic now: the staid formality of the newsreader is feeling increasingly distant.

Make sure you put people in the middle of the story so they can relate to the characters.

Finally, Ira told the story of the Arabian nights, and concluded with the observation that narrative is a Trojan horse to help us access our feelings about issues.

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