Anatomy of a Great Personal Story

Anatomy of a Great Personal Story

by Tracy Johnson

There’s nothing like a great personal story to hold listener attention and endear air talent to an audience. They are character-defining moments of unique content that no other personality can copy. But personal stories are hard to tell, and often fraught with peril.

Much can go wrong in telling personal stories. Sometimes they become self-absorbed. Often they lose focus, deteriorating into a sea of useless details that nobody really cares about. On occasion, a co-host takes the story on a detour, from which it never returns.

But when it all comes together, it’s simply magic.

Rachelle and Carder: A Great Personal Story

In Houston, Rachelle and Carder are the morning team on Contemporary Christian KSBJ, one of the country’s most successful CCM stations. The show is terrific, full of relatable, listener-focused content.

We’ve been working on creating stickier stories, with tactics that lead listeners to a dramatic conclusion. And they nailed it.

Listen to Rachelle’s story about a sweet and hilarious moment with her son.

Anatomy of a Great Personal Story

This break is filled with great things! Here are a few of my favorite moments:

  • They never rush through the telling of the story. It’s relaxed. The story unfolds, but never loses momentum.
  • Carder plays the role of storyteller helper to perfection. He is actively involved and engaged, but never gets in the way. His comments make Rachelle’s story better!
  • Rachelle reveals things about herself. She has a special needs child. Music is a big part of her family life. And there are several clues to her character in the telling of the story.
  • They preserve the outcome. Delayed Resolution is a critical part of storytelling. Many stories fail when the audience can anticipate the punchline. Rachelle keeps the surprise for the end.
  • Didn’t you get caught up in wondering what was going to happen next and how it would turn out? She leads us directly to the pay off. I’d stay in my car for that!
  • The use of Dialogue in the punchline added to the picture she painted. The listener can “see themselves” in the scene. It’s so much more powerful than just narrating what happened.
  • And, it was efficient. At 2:20, this is a perfect example that it doesn’t take 7 minutes to tell a story.


Learning to tell personal stories from real life observations should be at the top of every personality’s list of long-term objectives. It’s the one thing that bullet-proofs you against all other competition.

When it works, it sounds easy, almost effortless. But it’s not. Telling great personal stories on the air is hard. That’s why I spend so much time teaching it to my clients and in the Audience Magnet Course and emphasize it in seminars, such as this Storytelling webinar on demand.

How are your personal storytelling skills? Send along your audio. I’d love to hear it.


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