Tell Better Personal Stories By Using the Content Decision Tree
by Tracy Johnson
There’s nothing like great radio talent telling personal stories from observation and real-life experiences. That’s unique content that nobody else can do. It’s also among the greatest risks of running listeners off your radio show.The line between being self-absorbed and relatable can be razor thin. You need a content decision tree to determine whether your story is worthy of air time.
Preparing and performing personal stories is one of the hardest things for radio personalities to master. Many shows try it and fail, usually because of lack of planning. For others, it seems to come naturally and easily.
When you’re struggling to find a path in telling a personal story, here’s a process that can help find a relatable entry point while directing you through the content of your story without being boring.
A Content Decision Tree?
A Content Decision Tree is a series of questions that helps fine-tune your show prep to insure that you’re not coming off as self-absorbed or inside.
It’s like a funnel to keep you on the right side of the It’s Not About You: It’s All About You equation.
The first decision is to find out if your story has been properly curated. Just talking about what you did and what happened to you isn’t a story. It’s just reciting facts. This is a sure path to failure.
Decision #1 is to identify the entry point for the break, and insure it’s interesting.
That’s where a Three Legged Stool can help. The stool is the three main entry points through which content must pass to make it on your show. It’s explained in detail in a lesson on content in the Audience Magnet course.
But even if it passes this first filter, you can still end up with self-absorbed stories that fail to resonate with the audience.
After you’ve passed the content through the Three Legged Stool and brainstormed how to tell the story, take a closer look, continuing to the next decision in the Content Decision Tree.
The next step is a series of challenging questions that forces you to defend and re-think the story with your composite listener persona in mind.
Decision #2: Does this story stand on it’s own? In other words, is it so compelling that listeners would want to hear it just for the content in the story?
If it doesn’t stand on it’s own, add to it by answering these questions:
- What do I want to happen?
- What should have happened?
- How could this have turned out?
This will almost always make your story more provocative and exciting. In some cases, it could change the story completely.
Decision #3: Is the story about something that actually could happen to your target audience persona?
Decision #4: Does your listener care about the story and about your experience? Or is it a story that doesn’t connect with anyone but your most passionate fans?
You don’t have to have a “yes” for each of these questions, but you should say “yes” to at least one or two. If not, maybe you need to brainstorm to find a way to make the story more exciting.
Adjusting The Story: Decisions 5-7
As you refine the break, continue to the next set of decisions:
Decision #5: Who is the story about? Design the story with a central character, probably you if it’s a personal story. Every story needs a perspective. But, are you the best character for the story? Or would it be more entertaining if someone else were the main character? Many personalities struggle with IMEWEUS (over-use of I, Me, We and Us) when telling a personal story, and they’re better when making someone else the main character.
Decision #6: What will make listeners feel a connection to the main character? This is usually the result of conflict or friction being introduced.
Decision #7: What surprise will be saved to the end? Sometimes just leaving something out until later can create a sense of intrigue that causes listseners to wonder what will happen next.
All of these adjustments can help you get to a “yes” in Decisions 2-4.
Next Steps: The Three E’s
Once you answer these questions, revise the story plan, using the Three E’s of Entertainment.
Enhance: What details can be added to make the story more interesting?
Embellish: Find the main points, then insert some details that can add drama by turning up the volume at the right times.
Exaggerate: Facts rarely make a good story. You need a little exaggeration to cut through and get attention.
This process always makes stories better because it forces you to think about the best possible way for the story to be told. It’s hard at first, but it doesnt’ take long until it becomes a habit.
When you pass stories through the Content Decision Tree, try to place an emphasis on the It’s Not About You half of the equation. That’s the part that’s puts the listener interest first. When you find that connection, it’s much easier to tell the story with perspective.
The result will be a glowing story that shines the spotlight right back on your character brand.
Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.