🎧 ICYMI: Rob Rosenthal on Good Storytelling

Presented by Podcast Movement

Constant work gives rise to a certain kind of dullness and feebleness in the rational soul.

🙌 My Favorite Productivity Trick

Parkinson’s law states that work fills the time we give it. A short podcast task can take an entire morning if we let it. Because without a time limit, work goes the way of an unattended toddler, doddling, meandering, waddling to and fro from one shiny thing to the next.

Sure, procrastination can lead to inspiration (as discussed in the previous issue with Brian Thompson), but when a deadline approaches, it’s time to put your butt in the chair and get to work. 

The Roosevelt Sprint (named after Teddy Roosevelt and similar to the Pomodoro Technique) offers a recipe for engaged productivity. 

It’s simple: Give yourself 30 minutes of full focus on a single task, then take a 5-minute break.

Do this for 3 rounds, then take 30 minutes to step away. Rinse and repeat. 

Suddenly, a daunting task becomes a series of bite-size sprints. 

When I’m faced with an extensive list of writing or production edits, turning to the Roosevelt Sprint not only primes my attention but also shifts my mindset to a more creative state, optimized by a sense of focused urgency.

The boundaries become the path, funneling your brain’s full processing power into each step forward.

Ironically, it’s often work with limits that knows no limits.

🎙️ Signal Flow: Rob Rosenthal

Industry game changers and valiant minds from creative professions share their wisdom, adversities, and paths to innovation.

Rob Rosenthal, host and producer of Sound School

For over twenty years, Rob Rosenthal has taught hundreds of new and emerging producers the craft of documentary audio storytelling for radio and podcasts at Transom.org and The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. For the last fifteen years, he’s made Sound School (formerly known as HowSound), a podcast on audio storytelling where he interviews audio storymakers about the craft. He’s now a freelance teacher and recently facilitated workshops for editors, producers, and reporters at public radio stations and podcast companies in the U.S. and Canada, as well as Radio Slovenia plus Radio Workshop, a podcast company in South Africa. 

I don't know how to communicate without telling a story. I can't get through a conversation without a story falling out of my mouth.

A common question I get: What is a story? Which seems a little peculiar to me because stories are around us all the time. Whether we're talking to our partner at the end of the day, or someone at work, or if you go to church, your preacher talks in stories. Maybe it's because it's something we do so often, we don't think about what it actually takes to craft them.

A friend of mine calls first drafts “barf drafts.” It's not supposed to be great right out of the gate, although accidents happen.

There are no rules for a good story. If it's journalism, you’ve got to tell the truth. There's a rule, and you should wear headphones. But aside from that, there are no rules. There's no secret quadratic equation that the best storytellers are carrying around with them, and they won't share it.

I think a good story well-told helps us understand who we are, how we live, and the world around us.

There should be a good guide for a story, a welcoming person the listener wants to spend time with—whether that's the podcast reporter or host or the actual people telling their own story. (continued below)

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I feel like trailers and first episodes for series and so on, it's like they all went to the same conference and somebody handed out a script and said, “Do it this way.” You can almost time the beats in a reported story. And the same with a podcast trailer where someone's going to say, “And I worked on this story for X number of years. I thought it was going to be such and such, but it turned out to be this instead.” It’s just so formulaic. Don't do that. That's not good storytelling. Be creative. Try to find a new way in.

I listen to too many podcasts. I feel like my phone is getting heavier, just filled with podcasts.

A few podcasts I can’t recommend enough: You Didn’t See NothinExpectant by Pippa Johnstone, The Big Dig from WGBH, and BBC Radio 4’s Lights Out.

I hope podcasting remains a place where everybody gets a microphone. It's the electronic village green. And I love that about podcasting. Does that mean every podcast is great? Nope. But it means that everyone has an opportunity to say what they feel like they need to say because it's such an open platform, and I sure as hell hope that's part of the future.

I love the writing part. I've talked to so many people who find it drudgery. Yeah, it's work. But the writing is when it all comes together. All the research, all the interviewing, all the sound gathering you've done, this is the moment when you get to form it and shape it and turn it into something you want to share with the world.

I'm a bit of a junkie. When I’m writing, there’s an energy and a fullness that emerges out of me that I’m on the hunt for, so when I get in front of a microphone, I can tap into that exact same feeling because I want that energy, that storytelling spark to reach through the ether and touch someone, a listener at a distance.

Sometimes my fingers ain't working, which is a lot of the time. I’ll turn away from the screen and just say stuff out loud to no one in the room to see what comes out of my mouth, and then try to capture that. And oftentimes it sucks, but it can be exactly what I'm looking for. Somehow it comes out of my mouth better than it came out of my fingers.

I don't really know what all this is. By that, I mean this pomegranate, my house, the sky, those trees, this piece of paper. I don't know what all of this is and who we are and why we're here. It all seems like a great mystery to me. I'm cool with the mystery. I don't need answers. However, I do feel as though every time I read a story, I tell a story, I work with someone to help them tell a story, we fill in one little itty bitty blank in relation to the mystery. And that's the gift storytelling gives me.

Conversations, like writing, can reveal parts of ourselves we hadn’t realized were there. Studs Terkel was interviewing a woman and he let her listen to the recording. And when she stopped listening, she took the headphones off and said, “I didn't know I felt that way.”

🎧 Podcast of the Week

My introduction to Cal Newport was through his book Deep Work, which revolutionized how I plan my work day, find and maintain focus, and create a deeper connection with the time I spend on the grind.

On Deep Questions with Cal Newport, Cal answers readers' questions and offers advice about cultivating focus, productivity, and meaning amidst the noise that pervades our lives.

Cal Newport is a computer science professor and a New York Times bestselling author who writes about the impact of technology on society, and the struggle to work and live deeply in a world increasingly mired in digital distractions.

🥾 Further Exploration

Rob’s Sound School episode “Being Present with a Microphone” offers a helpful tip for podcasters—but from the perspective of listening to other podcasts. “Give yourself over to the recording,” he says. “You might be surprised by just how much you hear.”

 

👇 ICYMI 👇

Enjoying The Noise Gate? Why not share it with a fellow podcaster?

Until next time, have a bold week.

– Doug

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