In The Power of Storytelling with Ari Shapiro, the award-winning host of NPR’s All Things Considered reveals the storytelling secrets he’s learned during his career, from finding a good story and choosing the right characters to conducting interviews and even delivering a story effectively out loud. These 12 lessons are a toolkit for storytellers at all levels of experience.
The Power of Storytelling with Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro is an award-winning host of NPR’s All Things Considered and of NPR’s daily afternoon news podcast Consider This. His debut memoir, The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening, was an instant New York Times bestseller. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Yale University. His reporting experience includes covering wars in Iraq, Ukraine, and Israel as well as reporting from above the Arctic Circle and aboard Air Force One. As a live performer, he often sings with the band Pink Martini. He has also created two original solo shows and cocreated the stage show Och and Oy! A Considered Cabaret with Broadway star Alan Cumming.
01: Why Storytelling Matters
Start thinking about the importance of great storytelling with Ari’s walk-through of his audio documentary on Venezuelan migrants for NPR—a story that demanded just about every single one of his storytelling skills, including engaging the listeners’ senses and varying the narrative’s pacing.
02: What Makes a Story Work?
In storytelling, the distinction between success and failure is blurry. Still, how does one try to succeed at telling a powerful story? Here, Ari breaks down three of his prize-winning stories to reveal, in general terms, the qualities of a story that resonate with everyday audiences and prestigious organizations alike.
03: Finding the Story
Before you decide how you’re going to tell a story, you need a story to tell. The good news? You can literally start anywhere. The bad news? You can literally start anywhere. Ari teaches you time-tested skills on how to find a good story, including talking to strangers and thinking about your audience.
04: On Interviews, Conversation, and Silence
Whatever kind of storytelling you’re interested in, an ability to talk with people is key. What are some of the common mistakes Ari sees young interviewers making? How can you best put your conversation partner at ease? Why are nonverbal cues people give you as important as the words they say?
05: Choosing Your Characters
It doesn’t matter how familiar a story might be. If you have the right characters, people will be so riveted they can’t turn away. Here, Ari discusses how effective storytellers find and choose compelling protagonists for their stories—a challenging task when faced with a crowd of potential characters.
06: Building Your Story
You’ve done your research, conducted your interviews, and listed out your scenes and characters. Now, it’s time to start building your story. Describing your story to a friend, starting from your best quote, and creating a simple outline are just three of the techniques Ari illustrates.
07: Telling a Big Story by Telling a Small One
Wars, pandemics, economic slowdowns—How does a good storyteller even begin to address some of the biggest stories out there? Find out with this closer look at the most effective strategies for uncovering the small, relevant, and resonant stories hidden inside overwhelmingly large ones.
08: Storytelling and Trauma
Sometimes, a powerful story requires people—including storytellers themselves—to revisit traumatic experiences. Here, Ari walks you through some specific steps he relies on to elicit stories in ways that are safe, ethical, and that avoid the danger of exacerbating the effects of trauma.
09: Telling Stories That Unfold over Time
If you tell a story without giving thought to the past or to the context of events, then you’re missing the bigger picture and failing to connect the dots. Dive into the techniques of long-term storytelling that offer broader perspectives and deeper levels of understanding.
10: Live Storytelling (with or without Music)
Using his experiences singing with the band Pink Martini, Ari explains the opportunities, challenges, and power of storytelling through live performance. You’ll learn new ways to connect with your audience, and how to amplify the undeniable power that comes from a collective experience.
11: The Power of Fiction
Here, Ari reveals the importance of fiction on storytelling, and how it can help storytellers of all stripes understand the world in a way nonfiction can’t. Ari’s interviews with notable authors, including Amitav Gosh and Nathan Englander, help illustrate the subtle, universal power of fiction.
12: Breaking Storytelling’s Rules
In Ari’s final lesson on storytelling, consider occasions when it’s necessary to toss out your writing rulebooks and discover fresh ways to approach and tell a good story. While Ari can’t tell you how to break the rules (that would just be another rule), he shares how rule breaking has shaped his own storytelling, at times.