We don’t half wang on about storytelling in the research industry. Well in most industries, really – it’s everywhere. But we’re supposed to be better at it than others. Writing debriefs and ‘telling the story’ is the hardest part of what we do and, having spent another weekend wrestling a story out of a confusing mess of conversations, I’m struggling to remind myself that this is something I’m supposed to excel at.
Telling the story was the biggest learning curve I faced when dipping my toes into the heady world of ‘can’t beat them? Join them’ podcasting. (See my previous blog about my new research ‘toy’.) I quietly went ahead and produced a pilot back in January. I chose a client brand I love – one that’s been generous to Razor over the years – and tried using audio to tell their consumers’ stories in a way that works differently to debriefs and videos.
And boy is it hard. I’m on the cusp of having a second try and here are a few lessons I’ve learnt:
- You can’t just ‘wing’ the story. It’s all very well assuming that a story will simply emerge from a spontaneous conversation (as spontaneous as any conversation can be when you’re trying desperately hard not to interject with pointless hums and haws). If you don’t know what story you’re trying to tell in advance, you might just find the story takes longer to emerge. Plan more.
- Push the boundaries. I’m no therapist. As a moderator I’ve often been in a position where I’ve hit an emotional nerve in a conversation and the professional in me acknowledges it and then moves on. But if you do that when capturing an interview for a podcast you’re likely to stop the tape just as it gets interesting. I now know to plan and tease out those moments of raw emotion and not shy away from letting them happen. We have the interviewee’s consent and we’re not there to just listen – we’re there to tell.
- It takes time (and two). I had no idea that an editor would bring such value to the party! This time round I’ve brought mine in at the beginning so he can help me shape the content before I even start. He will instinctively know what textures I need to weave in to make a better listen.
But the most important thing I’ve learnt is what I should have known going in to this experiment. And that’s that any good story must have some drama. Something has to happen. If nothing happens, if there’s no narrative arc…then it’s nothing better than an eavesdrop.
Here’s a snippet from my first attempt. I might as well put it out there. I’ll embark on round two and let you know whether I’ve learnt from my mistakes.