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Tracy Johnson
The AHA Moment to Unlock the Power of Personal Stories
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Ah, the power of personal stories. It’s one of the most important skills for all personalities, but the power must be unlocked or it can be destructive.

That moment can happen at just about any time and you usually can’t see it coming. Many times, clients become frustrated waiting to hear improvement on the air and in the ratings. This is especially true if management has an analytical background. They sometimes don’t understand why a personality can’t immediately begin performing in a different way.

But it takes time to develop new methods and adopt new habits. It’s like pushing a giant boulder up a hill. You work and work and work, often thinking that you’re not making any progress. It’s frustrating because it’s so hard and it takes so long. But then, suddenly, almost like magic, you reach the top and everything changes.

Working with an air personality that was really struggling to relate off-air experiences without being self-indulgent, the light finally came on.

When it did, everything changed for the better. He finally unlocked the power of personal stories.

And you won’t believe what triggered the growth.

The “aha” moment came from a most unlikely source: Tommy Chong, half of the famous comedy team Cheech and Chong.

Unlocking the Power of Personal Stories

When Chong was in prison, he met Jordan Belfort, the famous Wolf of Wall Street (It’s a good movie, and a good book. I recommend both), whose character was played by Leonardo Dicaprio in the movie. Chong encouraged Belfort to pass the time by writing his life story, then proceeded to critique and coach him through the process.

In the book Catching The Wolf Of Wall Street, Chong constantly sends Belfort back to the beginning to find his character’s voice in writing the book. The advice that finally causes Jordan to get it:

“There are two things about writing you can never forget: First, it’s all about conflict. Without conflict, no one gives a shit. Second, it’s about the most of.”

Sharing this story with my client, the light came on. He finally realized what it meant to apply the Three E’s of entertainment.


The Three E’s in Personal Stories

It’s not about presenting the facts of the story. It’s about creating a story from the facts. That means adding a healthy dose of the three E’s of Entertainment: Exaggeration, Enhancement and Embellishment. That’s adding what Chong calls, “the most of”.

When he added drama (conflict) and suspense into his storytelling, the stories went from “blah” to “wow”. Almost instantly, his content was more compelling, more interesting and more relatable.

In the book, Chong goes on to coach Belfort  on writing to the “most of” concept:

It means you always write about the extreme of something. The most of this, the most of that, the prettiest girl, the richest man, the most rip-roaring drug addiction, the most insane yacht trip.

Exaggeration with conflict was the aha moment that turned on the creative power for my client, and it could do the same for you.


Personal Stories Come Alive

Here’s an example of how it sounds on the air, with Radio Hall of Fame members Jeff & Jer. This two-part segment features Jerry telling a story about an embarrassing, relatable situation that has happened to everyone.

In this segment:

  • Jerry takes his time developing enough details in the story to build drama. With the right details, we can feel his anxiety when he realizes that he has a “situation” on his hands.
  • He owns the story, but tells it in a self-deprecating way, never taking himself too seriously. In doing so, he becomes a sympathetic and relatable figure.
  • The story is true, but it’s enhanced by embellishing the details. This happens in the preparation process by thinking about how to present the story in a way that causes a stronger response from co-hosts. This in turn results in listeners having an emotional connection to the story.

Personal Stories Continue, Part II

The show breaks for commercials at the perfect time. Just when you think the story is about to end, it reignites by transitioning from a payoff (Jerry’s escape from the situation) to another sub-plot that takes it to another level.

Who’s going to tune out before they hear how the story ends?

This segment elevates the story to become what the show referred to as a Didja Hear moment. The story becomes memorable and repeatable by introducing new characters into the plot, especially Don the Valet. Whether or not the details in the outcome are real-life or fiction, it’s believable and plausible.

A show prep technique is to prepare your own performance to spark a response by asking “What else?”. What else could have happened? What else might have taken place? What else could we do with this? What else would make this story work?


Power of the Personal Story Conclusion

Every personality tells stories differently. That’s a good thing. It’s what makes you stand out from everyone else on the air. But every storyteller can improve their skills by applying some of the basics in story structure. This is particularly true when learning to unlock the power of a personal story.

What’s the key that will be your “aha” moment? What has worked for you?

Side Note: The book referenced above in the Tommy Chong example is the followup to the original The Wolf of Wall Street.  Both are a good read, even if you’ve seen the movie.


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