5 Elements of Storytelling Skills (EKG)

5 Elements of Storytelling Skills (EKG)

by Tracy Johnson

In Content Superhero 3: Content That Rocks, we emphasize that storytelling skills are a key to winning. How can you develop those skills?

It starts with understanding story structure, delivering it with drama and making it memorable by branding each segment.


There are five steps to master the mechanics of constructing a break with storytelling skills:

  1. Hook. A magazine attracts attention to their story by the headline. Your hook serves the same function. This is where you seek to capture their interest, and you have to make in personal (for them), relevant and fast. There’s no time to waste. You have 6-8 seconds to get the hook in and lure them deeper into your contest. The hook should rarely be about you, but rather to set up your story that supports the hook.
  2. Set Up. In the magazine metaphor, the set up is the first paragraph. It’s designed to pull you into the rest of the article. Your set up should be quick and to the point, the first step toward the Payoff. This is where you develop the topic so they understand where the segment is going. What drama will you create? Why is it important? How can you set it up in one line? One phrase? Once they’re hooked, give them enough detail to hold the interest. In some cases, such as the Jeff & Jer segment below, your personal story can serve as the setup, particularly if you are inviting listener participation.
  3. Dress Up. In this step, you accelerate toward payoff. How will you embellish, exaggerate, provide detail and color? How does every piece take the audience toward the payoff? This is usually where your personal story could be used. If it’s a phone topic, and your story was parts of the set up, this is where listener interaction comes into play.
  4. Payoff. The most critical element of the process is having an exit. What’s the outcome? The end of the story? What is your out? Some bits don’t have a natural punchline, but rather depend on the talent’s ability to know when a peak has been reached and getting out quickly.
  5. Black Out. Once it’s over, it’s over. Many great breaks are ruined going for one more punchline, one more joke, one more phone call, one more payoff. Find your exit and take it.

Just as in flying a plane, the critical points are take-off and landing, and in storytelling, the most important steps are the HOOK and the PAYOFF. For more on how to execute the five steps:

Go Here Now


Execute With Drama:

Build suspense and expectation into everything you do. It’s how you keep listeners on the edge of their seat. Adding the “What’s going to happen next”  factor into your content is why listeners say in focus groups:

They made me late for a meeting because I had to sit in the parking lot to hear the end of their story.

This is the art of sharing your character/personality through the story, telling it in a way that reveals who you are on the air.

In doing so, build additional hooks into the telling of the story that makes it easier to digest. The TV show Seinfeld was great at this. Remember all the classic episodes that become part of pop culture by establishing catch-phrases such as:

Master of My Domain

The Marble Rye

Yada Yada Yada

The Low Talker

And many more.

For more on the genius of making content more repeatable, go here.


Brand Each Segment:

Here’s another reason branded features work well for radio shows. It provides a frame that helps them quickly “get” the stories and makes it easy to share with friends.

Watch the response to this amazing feature, which is really nothing more than a content container to make the story more relevant.

This is an episode of  Second Date Update: