Storytelling - with Linda McLachlan

@thearena


Craig:
Hello, I’m Craig Constantine.

Linda:
Hello, I’m Linda McLachlan.

Craig:
Linda is the host and creative spark behind a podcast called The Arena, and we’re going to also put more information inside the Podcaster Community. So if you’re listening and any of this interests you, you can reach out to Linda or you can, of course, reach out to me by heading over to forum.podcaster.community.

Craig:
Let’s just dive right in. Linda and I talked a little bit before we started, and I think the thread I want to pull on is related to storytelling. And I’m curious about what you’ve learned. You mentioned that the learning about how to tell stories, how to use storytelling to draw in the listener, that that’s what’s really drawn your interest with podcasting. So what are your thoughts on some… maybe things that jump out at you about storytelling that you didn’t realize when you started The Arena?

Full transcript…

Linda:
I think what interests me and continues to fascinate me is that I ask basically the same questions, but the story that comes out is always quite different. And in creating the podcast originally, I hadn’t necessarily decided that I was going to stick with the same questions, but that is the way it went. And it felt like it gave it a good backbone around which I could then find other questions to ask and build it out.

Linda:
But what really became and has become important to me is making sure that I’m telling a story that is compelling for the listener to follow, and following a pretty classic story arc that Bernadette Jiwa has offered through the story skills workshop. And that was a great companion workshop for me, especially in the middle of podcasting, of understanding and getting that story or that narrative structure into the podcast.

Craig:
How far into your personal podcasting journey where you when, I’m going to say, you had the aha about story? How far had you gone before you realized that you wanted to pay more attention to storytelling?

Linda:
I think it was a few months into… I don’t know. I would say a couple of months into the actual workshop that I also began the storytelling workshop, because you can’t do one-

Craig:
Over achiever, right?

Linda:
Exactly. You can’t do one at a time. You have to do multiples. So it really, I think, just helped support everything that Seth and Alex were talking about. And for me it was like, “How am I going to communicate this stuff? How am I going to tell these stories in a helpful way?” And so creating that, like I say, that backbone or that narrative arc was really, really helpful for me.

Craig:
Do you find that you’re able to… I’m guessing you have a seed idea for the episode. You’re like, “Okay, I want to talk about this.” And then based on what you’re saying about story structure, you come up with some sort of story arc, so you have an idea of what the show, that particular episode, would be. And how much are you finding that it changes? So is your initial drafting architecture, does that play out or does it frequently come out completely different?

Linda:
I wouldn’t say it comes out completely different. I more often than not will have a conversation with my guest to understand what their story is and get an idea of what the themes might be that are going to come out. And so again, I ask largely the same questions, but I will anticipate perhaps sometimes where that guest will go in their story, but there are always surprises. What I think is going to be the pivotal moment for their life can often be… What they choose to talk about is quite different. And it’s not as though they’re backing away from a moment that is difficult or transformative. It’s that they in their mind see it as being very different than what I might choose. Oh, lost connection to server. Attempting to reconnect. There we go. Okay.

Craig:
I don’t think that would actually have been noticed in the recording. I think the audio files pick that back up.

Linda:
Okay. Anyway. Sorry.

Craig:
We’re also experimenting with SAM caster. What I wanted to ask off of what you were just saying is, do you think that they… So I’m thinking of the guests, do you unpack it? In words, do you say, “This is how I construct my episodes. I have an idea for a story arc. And here’s how I think you [inaudible 00:05:08] like.”? Or do you… it’s all really close to the vest and then you start talking to them. And then what I’m wondering is, do they notice that they’re… I’m going to say… I love to verbify things… they’re being story-arced. Do they notice that, or do you just show that to them upfront?

Linda:
Some of them certainly listen to other episodes, so they may be aware of the fact that, “Okay, I know you’re going to ask me this question or that question.” But I think there’s still a level of surprise as to how it takes them… I mean, I see it as-

Craig:
In the moment how it takes them.

Linda:
Yeah. Yeah. And where it takes them. And sometimes I’ll ask another question that will sort of take them further into the story, but the sort of key questions are pretty much all the same.

Craig:
Do you post-edit a lot? Do you find that you’re just coming in like a surgeon and just trimming out things to make the whole piece tighter? Or do you find that, “I captured a pretty good story,” but with a bunch of additional work, you can editorially make it be really good? How much do you feel like you have to get in there into the nuts and bolts after the fact?

Linda:
It really depends on the person and their storytelling style. How tangential we get. So some of them, it’s like a chainsaw that you have to go in with a chainsaw first, and that’s the first edit. And then subsequent edits might be a little more surgical, but I do a lot of editing. I would say I do a fair amount of editing, and that is perhaps my lack of skill in terms of interviewing at this stage.

Craig:
I think I’d push back on lack of skill. My thought was I normally do, in my primary podcast project, I do long conversations that are like an hour and a half. Sometimes we record more than two hours with the guests that we’re talking with. And I’m not actually trying to create a story afterwards. I have the luxury of it’s like, “Well, the third time we made a joke about the parrot in the room, we can just cut that out.” So, I mean, I go in and we remove things, but I think I’m maybe being lazy or taking the easy way out by not really attempting to craft a story arc out of it. There’s probably something to be said for both styles. I’m not saying, “Oh, I should do it your way,” because I don’t know if I have that much energy in me.

Craig:
Can you think of some… I’m not quite sure how to word this question. So you overhear people talking about your podcast. You hear a conversation somewhere, and off to the side somebody is talking about The Arena. What other podcasts would you like to hear them talk about right before they say, “Oh,” you hear your three, "this one, that one and The Arena are really cool. What kind of circles would you want to be thrown in with in other podcasts?

Linda:
I love On Being. Krista Tippett is an amazing interviewer. I suppose, from a coaching standpoint… Although, it’s such a different thing, Brene Brown, I guess, because she’s a… I’ve read the complete works of Brene Brown, and it was an inspiration for The Arena. I don’t know. I have a really broad cross section of…

Craig:
Of tastes.

Linda:
Yeah. I mean, I listen to a broad cross section of stuff. So Simon Sinek is somebody else whose podcast I quite enjoy. And it’s in a similar genre of-

Craig:
Yeah. That’s what I was fishing for is what… If you think of… There’s no such thing as pigeonholing, but if we stick you in the story, the structured as story arc podcasts, and what other ones jump out. And Krista Tippett’s On Being… Sorry, brain slip. On Being is, I would say, it’s not… even if you listened to the edited one, it’s not really a storytelling. I mean, she’s clearly done a ton of work, and she clearly knows how to coordinate and organize and, “Let’s go for a stroll,” but she knows where she’s going. And she has ideas about where she hopes that they go, but it’s not really story-driven. And that’s what I was looking for. And so Simon Sinek is one. You don’t happen to remember the name of the title of it do you? People can find it by just… Search for Simon Sinek. S-I-N-E-K, I think it is.

Linda:
[crosstalk 00:09:56]. Positivity. Optimism. A Bit of Optimism, I think it’s called.

Craig:
A Bit of Optimism. Just because I’m thinking if people find… Obviously today we’re talking about storytelling and story arc, and if people find that interesting, I’d love… I always love when people can go off on tangents of like go deeper on something or follow up with you and ask a question or say, “Hey, I’m interested in being on your show,” or whatever. And that’s one of the things I want to do in this series of episodes that we’re recording, this particular podcast, I want to talk a lot about meta. So storytelling and story arc is what we’re on today.

Linda:
The other person… Sorry to interrupt is-

Craig:
No, no.

Linda:
It would be Jule Kucera, who was in pod six as well. And she has a similar thing where she has a formula in terms of how she walks her guests through their story, but the questions are very different, but it’s a great… And you anticipate it as it goes along, that you anticipate, “Okay, what is it going to be? What is the hard time, and what is the hope?” And the way she structures it, I think is really great.

Craig:
Interesting. I know that you’re also coaching for the… I always pause, because it used to call it The Podcasting Fellowship. Now it’s called the Podcast Workshop. Is that what it is?

Linda:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Craig:
Podcasting Workshop. That’s like I know what I’m talking about, but I’m like, “Which name is it?” So anyway, now I know you’re coaching in that. And it seems to me, there’s an interesting opportunity here to ask you about the people who are coming in by the hundreds to learn to podcast. I know the course material doesn’t really get into how to build your actual episode. It leaves it up to the students. So you’re building poetry reading, or you’re doing interviews, whatever you’re doing. Are you seeing students who sort of get into a stream together where they’re using storytelling, or do you think storytelling is something that it’s a little harder to discover on your own, and you kind of need to have somebody teach you how to use storytelling? I’m just wondering, because you have a unique perspective, having seen a lot of people learn to podcast and being involved in the coaching of that course.

Linda:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s interesting. I’m going to say I’m not sure. I feel like the structure is a good one to learn, and it was helpful for me, but I’m not sure that I necessarily see a lot of people embracing it as a structure.

Craig:
Embracing storytelling as a structure, yeah.

Linda:
Embracing storytelling as a structure.

Craig:
I think that’s a more advanced structure. I don’t know if I thought of that until I saw it in courses or people talking about it. So I don’t think it’s an obvious structure. It is an excellent one. Yeah.

Linda:
Yeah. I mean, I’m still relatively new to the coaching group, and so I haven’t seen necessarily enough, I think, across the different cohorts to be able to say, “Oh, well this is something that people are starting to use or that people are looking to try and build their podcast around.”

Craig:
Cool. Yeah, I think I’ll just say, is there anything else that you were thinking on your way in here today of like, "Oh, I wonder if we get to talk about… " I mean, it’s a little tricky because until we started talking, we didn’t know we were going to be doing storytelling, right? Anything else about storytelling jump out at you?

Linda:
Yeah, I think that… I mean, the wonderful thing about podcasting as you know, is that… Oh, a train.

Craig:
The little town that I’m in has a railroad line that runs about a half mile from my house. That’s on my end.

Linda:
My grandparents lived close to a railroad track. And so late at night you’d hear the lonely whistle of the train. I love that, so.

Craig:
There’s an old Paul… Actually it’s Simon and Garfunkel, but there’s an old Paul Simon lyric about everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody thinks that’s true, as part of the refrain.

Linda:
Yes.

Craig:
Anyway. We’re off on trains.

Linda:
Anyway, we digress. But you know what, I actually love the fact that there was that interruption, because sometimes it’s such a great thing, I think, in some ways we get really focused on, “Oh my God, we’ve got to have this pristine sound.” And every once in a while, there’s sort of this random thing that happens. I was listening to Carole Blueweiss’ podcast Wisdom Shared, and she was interviewing this young woman, and all of a sudden there was this argument that was happening in the background. Mum and dad and daughter or something was having this heated discussion, and Carol just dealt with it so well, and she kept it in. And I think that there’s a realness. There’s a humanity that one can allow to come into the podcast that from a storytelling standpoint it, I don’t know, somehow elevates and humanizes the person that you’re interviewing when there’s that kind of random, the dog comes in and barks or something and-

Craig:
Right. Or you hear bumps and sounds or coffee or, yeah.

Linda:
Yeah, my brother started… I was talking to him the other day, and he started playing with the folding charger for his iPhone or something. He would just nervously start, and it was like, “What are you doing?”

Craig:
“What is that noise?”

Linda:
“What is that noise?” Anyway. So I guess the thing about podcasting, which is such a wonderful thing, is that there are no rules. And so being able to just be in a creative mindset, tell the story you want to tell, share the stories or the information that is important for you to share with the world and be creative with it, concerning yourself with the rules. And as much as I’ve talked about having a story arc and having a story structure, within that there is an enormous amount of freedom.

Linda:
And so, whether you’re a dancer or a musician or whatever, and you want to create, restrictions can sometimes create opportunities.

Craig:
Right, exactly.

Linda:
You say to a dancer, “You’ve got an eight by eight foot square that you have to dance on, and you have to create.” And if you give seven different artists that same restriction, the possibilities are amazing of what they would come up with. So I just think that take the restrictions, take the goals, and make them your own. And just go with that moment of creativity, and concern yourself less with what others are doing. Be aware of it, explore, steal like an artist, but also allow your creative juices to flow and really just put out in the world what you most want to be able to do. Because it is one of the most unrestricted areas of creativity right now that gives you license to put it out in the world without any sort of restrictions. Other than obviously you’ve got to pay for a few things to make it happen, but…

Craig:
Yeah.

Linda:
Anyway.

Craig:
That’s terrific. I think one of the hardest parts of podcasting is what do you say after somebody else says something awesome, and I want to just press stop?

Linda:
Mic drop.

Craig:
Yeah, mic drop. Except no, I’m not dropping my good mic. Yeah, no. I think you’re spot on with those insights. And that’s what I want to end on is that great thing. So if you’re listening, press rewind, you can back up 40, 50, 60 seconds and listen again. Please come find us inside the Podcaster Community. Catch up with Linda. She’s easy to talk to podcast-wise and also just via messaging. And unless you have anything else you want to end with, I think we’ll stop there.

Linda:
Sounds great. Thanks for the opportunity.

Craig:
No, thanks for showing up and being the first guinea pig. Thanks Linda. Bye.

Linda:
Kay. Bye.

2 Likes

Thank you @craig, I think the best part is at the 13:47 point. :laughing:

Here are a few of the podcasts we talked about and a few more that after I thought about it, are perhaps better examples of ‘storytelling’.

Serial - The Improvement Association was amazing.
OnBeing (love the spin off Poetry Unbound too). Not really story telling but great skill in the interview and guiding her guests in telling their story.
A Bit of Optimism - his recent Episode 36: The Awesome Responsibility with Kyle Carpenter I thought was particularly great but Kyle was also a great teller of his own story.
Hard Times & Hope - Love the structure @JuleKucera uses.

Thanks for the conversation!

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@thearena Linda, thanks for your kind words. Regarding structure, you and I are doing such similar things with our structure–the same/almost the same questions and looking to create the classic three-act structure for the storyline. And like you, I’m continually amazed by the variety/surprise/emotional geography of guest’s responses.

@craig Thank you for creating this podcast (as well as this community)! I like this ‘behind the curtain’ view of how other podcasters approach their storytelling/podcasting/etc.

Thank you both!

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My Pleasure! Thanks for the feedback. :slight_smile: Grab a spot: How to be a guest on the companion podcast

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Oh this is weird–I’m listening to you on a podcast right now so when I got your reply my initial reaction was, “How can Craig answer while he’s in the middle of a conversation?”
:rofl:

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update: I’ve added a transcript to the original post. Enjoy!

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Based on this episode, I created a written-to-be-read article, On Storytelling.

I’d love to do more of these, but I need to wait until we have more supporting members to offset the cost of the transcriptions.