Exaggeration Is a Key to a Great Story

Exaggeration Is a Key to a Great Story

by Tracy Johnson

Following this week’s seminar on Storytelling Tools, I received an email from an attendee. The thing that impacted him most was the example I used from comedian Louis C.K. His point was that the story could have happened to anyone, but Louis made it exciting by building it up through exaggeration of key points.

That’s right. Storytellers understand the value of the Three E’s of Entertainment: Embellish, Enhance, and Exaggerate. That’s one of the tools that enables great storytellers to share their personal lives in an intimate way without sounding self-absorbed.

The famous Jeff and Jer show were masters of this concept. Jeff Detrow told me:

You have to apply the skills of an improv troupe. They call it advancing the football to create anticipation for the outcome. That means everyone on the show must avoid distractions by being focused, prepared, and, ready to play. And it helps to learn how to build a story up through exaggeration.

Magical Moments Through Exaggeration

Exaggeration doesn’t mean lying or making up important aspects of a story. It simply means making it more entertaining.

Detrow continues:

Magical moments happen when you constantly think, “How can I make this bit larger? How can I say or do something that will make it bigger, and more memorable to the listener?”

Aha!  That’s it. What will become memorable enough to catapult a segment from ordinary to extraordinary? By using the Three E’s, particularly exaggeration.

The Louis C.K. story in the seminar is a perfect example. He talks about playing Monopoly with his two daughters, something most parents can relate to. On the surface, the story is ordinary. But it becomes memorable and repeatable when he exaggerates dialogue with his six-year-old. I highly recommend watching the seminar to get the concept.

The magic happens when a storyteller is alert enough to catch something that can be repeated or replayed to generate buzz by stepping on the gas and making it larger than life. That’s how it becomes memorable.

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Exaggeration – With Structure

Another important element is building a segment from beginning to end or from Hook to Pay Off. This requires preparation, of course. But it also takes a certain amount of discipline.

Detrow explains:

We had to learn to delay the payoff. Dropping listener bread crumbs makes it bigger. These techniques are another form of exaggeration. If the material is strong enough, we can create a cliff-hanger to lure an audience across a stop set, to another hour, or serialize it to the next day. Advance a story to just the right moment where people have to know the outcome, then find a way to delay the resolution. This creates drama in a big way. And that makes a story seem more important and definitely more memorable.

Exaggeration Impacts Ratings

PPM programming tactics have reduced opportunities for personalities to develop spoken-word content. At many music stations, the focus is on shorter breaks. Programmers tend to eliminate everything that doesn’t absolutely have to be there.

That’s a fundamental mistake. Don’t sacrifice dramatic moments for brevity trying to chase PPM ratings. In a world where attention is harder to earn, exaggeration is more important than ever. And exaggeration takes a few seconds longer to build.

An adjustment may be necessary. But it does not remove the responsibility to entertain.

It forces talent to create great moments within that structure. That can be done, but realize when to let it breathe when you feel what Jeff & Jer called a didja hear moment coming.

Those moments are often the result of a well-told story.

To do this, you probably have to exaggerate. But never lie. And yes, there is a difference.


Some personalities struggle with The Three E’s Of Entertainment: Exaggeration, Embellishment, and Enhancement. But it’s a fundamental aspect of entertainment in all forms. Understanding how to build a radio story that causes listeners to lean in to hear more is an art that leans heavily on this concept.

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And the reward? It never gets old. Detrow recalls:

I remember being 16, filling in on a morning show in my hometown, and getting to the school office to sign in late. The school secretary commented about something I said that morning about a news anchor’s new glasses. She told the other secretary about it.

It felt great. And it still does.

What will you say tomorrow that could be memorable?


The Radio Storyteller’s Toolbox Seminar on Demand

The Three E’s of Entertainment

Air Personality Profile: Jeff & Jer

How to Storyboard a Topic

A Classic Example of An Amazing Story Arc

Storytelling Basics Seminar on Demand

eBook: Storytelling Basics

Complete Resources To Learn Storytelling Skills

5 Steps of Storytelling Demonstrated to Perfection

14 Storytelling Tricks To Make You More Interesting

How Improv Skills Help Radio PerformersTake The Audience To Disneyland

Delay The Pay Off: Like This Example From Modern Family

Do You Polish Entertainment Out Of Your Show?


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