Radio Personalities: Learn Storytelling Skills The Pixar Way

Radio Personalities: Learn Storytelling Skills The Pixar Way

by Tracy Johnson

Success on the radio is all about storytelling. It’s at the heart of every break every day. To be a better storyteller, it serve you well to learn from the best and the best in telling stories for decades has been storytelling the Pixar Way.

In all, Pixar offers 22 rules of storytelling. Here they are, each bringing value for air personalities:

Storytelling The Pixar Way #1: Friction


You are human. Act like it, and embrace it. Be a real person, vulnerable and relatable. The struggle, the effort is more relatable than the glorious victory that results. Building friction into every story on the air introduces traction to the segment, which gives your audience something, or someone, to cheer for.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #2: Be Interesting


You get tired of the song, the feature, the story, the promotion, the contest, the game…long before they do. It’s your job to create the experience for them. It’s not for you. It’s not about you. it’s about your audience’s experience. That, by the way, happens through you. It takes a certain maturity to step outside of your own experiences and get into the audience’s head.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #3: Develop A Theme


This speaks to preparation in detail. And editing. Oh, and planning. You might want to add thinking ahead. Then revising it. And then adjusting it again.

How many times have you performed a break that took a twist or turn, leaving you in a different place than you began or expected to be? Often, I suspect. Wouldn’t your content be stronger if you planned the story to lead up to that great moment?

Storytelling The Pixar Way #4: Energy


Think about this one. Think about it deeply. Play with it. Apply it. It opens a world of possibilities. This rule of storytelling suggests the forward pace and momentum of the story. It needs a hero, an action, a challenge, a consequence and an outcome. It also suggests that you should use your imagination to Embellish. Exaggerate. Enhance. Entertain.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #5: Keep It Simple


Again, edit. They don’t pay much attention. It takes a lot of time and effort to make it simple enough to understand and really GET it. When there’s too much going on, listeners become confused, and when they’re confused they stop paying attention, which leads to tune out.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #6: Challenge


Conflict creates entertainment. Build a challenge into every single break. This can be a powerful tool to enhance your on-air character’s personality traits as developed in the personality brand profile.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #7: Start At The End


Comedians write punchlines first, then back up and tell the story in a way that gets them to the payoff most effectively. Mystery writers know the outcome of their story before they can possible write the chapters leading to the surprise reveal at the end. Reality show producers tell the story of each episode only after they know the final outcome. Go and do likewise.

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Exaggeration Is a Key to a Great Story

Storytelling The Pixar Way #8: Move Forward


Strive for excellence, not perfection. Perfection is in God’s hands. Don’t wait for your content to be perfect.  It would be great if you could achieve perfection, but you probably won’t.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #9: Opposites


This is a great tactic to get you over the hump. Opposites can turn into positives. When you list the things that will not happen, the opposite is a possibility.

This is one of the tactics we use when defining your five star personality brand. 

Storytelling The Pixar Way #10: Learn From Others


Listen to great radio shows that command your attention. Study them. Tear it apart. What is it that attracts you? Why does it keep you captivated?

As you do, identify the essence of the break or story. That’s rarely the facts, information or details. It lies behind the surface, at the heart of what the break is really all about.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #11: Collaborate


Personalities think they can wing it because they’re talented, or they keep great ideas to themselves to surprise their co-hosts on the air. They may be talented, but nobody can just wing it every day. And if performing with partners, it puts them at a tremendous disadvantage.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #12: Dig Deep


This is where it gets hard, and it’s also where the magic happens. Start with the topic. Your show prep process should turn that topic into ideas, then into on-air content possibilities and finally into entertainment.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #13: Point of View


Think about great movies or characters in movies that have made an impact on you. Your favorites. They have a clear point of view, don’t they? Perspective in each break is everything. If you aren’t putting yourself out there with a strong point of view, you’re generic and nobody falls in love with generic.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #14: Passion


Are you excited about the content you’re presenting? No? Find something else to talk about. Yes? Then do it.

Passion drives reaction. Reaction and response make you memorable. Memorable causes return listening occasions. More listening means higher ratings. Ratings results in bonus checks.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #15: Authenticity


Pixar’s rule is writing a story for a third person or character, whereas your content will be more personal, but it’s still all about appealing to emotions, not the circumstances that cause the emotions. The circumstances are just details, the tools a storyteller uses to connect on an emotional level.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #16: Sympathetic Characters


Building risk or suspense into a break gets the audience involved. When listeners feel they know you and care about you, they root for you. That comes from giving them a stake in your story and causing them to identify with you and like you.

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Master The 5 Rules For Better Stories

Storytelling The Pixar Way #17: Use Everything


One of the rules of brainstorming is “no bad ideas”. In fact, many times those discarded thoughts come back as a great idea in the future. Maybe you launch a break that got nowhere and doesn’t work.Is it a failure? Perhaps, but save the idea and re-work it later. It could be one of the best this year!

Thomas Edison tried dozens of experiments when trying to invent the light bulb. He was asked if he was frustrated at the failure. “Failure? That wasn’t failure. I’ve eliminate yet another thing that doesn’t work.”

Storytelling The Pixar Way #18: Know Yourself


Storytelling on the air must fit your personality. Some great stories with incredible punchlines just won’t work for your personality on the air. Don’t force it. Rework it to make it fit or discard it.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #19: Don’t Be Lazy


You can’t just launch a good idea and hope for something good to happen. These breaks always end up falling far short of potential.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #20: Rework & Apply


One of the most rewarding ways to air check personalities is re-working one of their break by changing their own words in different order to turn ordinary (or worse) into wonderful. It isn’t hard to do. It usually just takes time and creativity.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #21: Identify & Relate


There’s no shortage of topics, content and ideas. Find the ones that are right for your character brand and customize the content to fit your unique personality and style. That means you’ll be leaving a lot of otherwise good ideas on the cutting-room floor.

Storytelling The Pixar Way #22: Prepare Tight & Build


A great way to approach your show is to prepare tight and perform loose. Preparing tight breaks causes you to really know your material so it can be performed spontaneously and with creative energy.


You may not be able to apply all of these ideas on the air immediately, but pick one or two and concentrate on how you can improve your storytelling one step at a time. Then, pick another and keep growing, learning and exploring new ways to entertain your audience. It could be the key that helps you break through to that next level.

Download an infographic of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling here:

Download “Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling” Pixars-Rules-of-Storytelling-infographic.jpg – Downloaded 44 times – 458 KB


Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

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