All Blogs

5 Essential Tips for Mastering Podcast Storytelling: Techniques To Apply [In 2024]

April 11, 2024 Deciphr AI
Blog cover

On this page

Back to top

In podcasting, storytelling is more than a skill—it's an art.

A storytelling podcast can transport listeners to another world. It makes them emotionally invested in your show, all with the use of audio. By tapping into the art of narrative, podcasters can grow engagement rates and drive home impactful messages. 

In this guide, we’ll share podcast storytelling tips, case studies, and metrics for success. Stick around as we uncover how to nail the craft and make your own stories stand out.

What is Storytelling in Podcasts?

You might think storytelling is just for books, movies, and narrative podcasts. But that’s completely false. 

A storytelling podcast weaves facts, emotions, and narratives into one engaging show. 

Pod Sound School shared in an 11-minute video, “It can seem difficult for many podcasters who work with non-narrative material or educational content to implement storytelling into their shows... but it's actually very easy.”

There are so many stories you can tell around the topic of your content, regardless of the genre or format. In fact, anything can be a story if packaged the right way. 

For starters, you can share a personal story, testimonials, case studies, or ask guests for stories.

Examples of podcast storytelling: business story, personal struggle, testimonial, case study, guest experience

Storytelling goes beyond stating facts or conducting standard interviews. Great podcast storytelling elicits emotion, keeps one engaged, and connects ideas and people through audio experiences.

Why is Storytelling Powerful for Podcasts?

Humans are wired for stories. We’re drawn to movies, books, and even conversations because of the stories they contain. From Shakespeare to Eminem, great storytellers have left an indelible mark on history. 

But why? Here’s how storytelling affects the brain, according to media psychologist Pamela Rutledge.

How storytelling affects the brain: neural coupling and spike in dopamine, cortisol, and oxytocin

Neural coupling

When you listen to a story, something pretty cool happens in your brain—it starts to sync up with the storyteller's brain. 

This is what we call neural coupling. Your brain is stepping into the shoes of a podcast’s characters. You end up experiencing their struggles and emotions as if they were your own. 

This happens because the parts of your brain that deal with empathy light up. When you're lost in the heartfelt story of a host or the struggles of a podcast guest, it's not mere entertainment. Your brain is actually going on a journey with these people.

Dopamine, cortisol, and oxytocin release

When you're wrapped up in a story, your brain releases chemicals. This makes you feel good, focused, and connected. 

  • Dopamine. When a story grips us with an emotional high, our brain releases dopamine. This enhances pleasure and engagement with the narrative.
  • Cortisol. Ever feel tense during a story's conflict or cliffhanger? That's cortisol kicking in. It sharpens your attention and heightens your memory recall.
  • Oxytocin. This comes in when you relate to a character or a story tugs at your heartstrings. It builds empathy, compassion, and trust, making you feel a deep connection to the person.

In podcasting, storytelling is especially potent due to its audio format. They can be experienced by listeners while they take walks, commute, do errands, and relax. This creates a more personal connection between podcaster and listener.

Podcasting’s ease of access and ability to weave into the fabric of daily life? It’s what makes podcast storytelling a powerful and unique medium.

5 Podcast Storytelling Tips

Not all storytellers have what it takes to capture attention. Be a step ahead of the curve with these podcast storytelling tips from the pros.

1. Create Interesting Characters


Podcast storytelling tip: create interesting characters (summary and key takeaways from blog)

Listeners like well-developed characters that they can relate to or learn from. When preparing for an episode, find a way to develop your characters. 

To make characters feel relatable, Pod Sound School suggests to dive into their world. Who are they? How do they think and feel? What do they believe in? These details help your audience get a clear picture of who they're rooting for.

Tip: If you’re doing interviews, find a webinar or old interview of your guest. Upload that into Deciphr AI and get a summary of what they talked about. That’s whatcha call research. 

Case Study: This American Life

This American Life is a storytelling podcast with solid character-driven stories. Their episodes introduce real people with interesting stories. What this does is it makes listeners feel like they know these characters.

In Rest Stop, the episode is about people at a rest stop on the New York State Thruway. The story doesn't focus on one character. Instead, it offers intimate snapshots of the people who pass through or work at this rest stop. 

Many of the people interviewed have universally relatable stories. Whether it's the loneliness of the road or the joy of a much-needed break, listeners can see a bit of themselves in these characters.

What You Can Do

  • Embody Depth, Especially in Brief Appearances. Ensure every character, no matter how briefly they appear, has depth and authenticity. A short, impactful exchange can be more memorable than a lengthy but shallow one.
  • Balance Unique and Relatable Qualities. Balance unique character stories with relatable elements. This helps listeners connect with and reflect on the characters' experiences.
  • Share Real Emotions and Vulnerabilities. Characters should display real emotions and connections. Showcasing their vulnerabilities makes them more compelling and memorable to your audience.

2. Show, Don’t Tell

Podcast storytelling tip: show, don't tell (summary and key takeaways from blog)

Reveal stories through scenes, sounds, conversations, etc rather than just stating story facts. By using descriptive words and sound design, you can create a much richer story.

Let your audience smell the coffee, hear the bustling streets, feel the tension. It's all about creating an immersive world. 

Case Study: Unsolved Mysteries

Unsolved Mysteries is all about mysteries, from terrifying abductions to unexplained deaths. The storytelling podcast uses masterful sound design and descriptive text to set the scene.

In Double Murder on the Fifth Floor, the episode uses sound to pull listeners into the crime scene. It has echoing gunshots, eerie instrumentals, and the cracked voice of a victim’s daughter. This sound design is strategically placed to leave a lasting impact.

The episode is also grounded in real events and even uses actual news recordings. The narration leaves no detail out about the crime scene and events leading up to the murders.

Listeners can hear sounds, visualize scenes, and feel the emotions of the characters. This multi-sensory approach makes the story come alive.

What You Can Do

  • Use Sound Design. Add elements like background music, sound effects, and ambient noises. Doing so enhances the atmosphere of your story.
  • Detail the Setting. Describe the environment, emotions, and context with as much detail as possible. This helps listeners visualize your story and the scene where it unfolds.
  • Incorporate Real Elements. Blend real historical events or actual recordings into your narrative. This adds authenticity and grounds your story in reality, making it more impactful.

3. Have an Organized Structure

Podcast storytelling tip: have an organized structure (summary and key takeaways from blog)

Listeners want a well-structured plot that keeps them engaged from start to finish. They want to be surprised, but the plot should also make sense and be coherent.

Shape your episode into a narrative arc with a clear beginning, middle and satisfying end. Outline plot points that build tension and interest. These plot points bring listeners to the very end of the show where key questions or themes are resolved.

Case Study: Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale is a storytelling podcast that poses as a radio show for the fictional town of Night Vale. Each episode starts with a familiar format – community updates or news. Then, it introduces unexpected twists, mysteries, or events that keep listeners hooked.

Each episode has a self-contained narrative, but also overarching storylines that span episodes. This gives listeners a reason to return and follow the larger narrative.

What You Can Do

  • Start with a Hook. Begin episodes with intriguing elements to capture listener interest. This sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Here are 8 tips for creating strong hooks.
  • Balance Standalone and Overarching Plots. Strike a balance between the micro perspective and the bigger picture.
  • End on a Satisfying Note. Tie up loose ends and offer closure. This is a great time to share key takeaways and next steps.

4. Introduce A Problem To Solve

Podcast storytelling tip: introduce a problem to solve (summary and key takeaways from blog)

The first 20 minutes of your podcast can make or break listener engagement.

When you introduce a problem to a listener, they’re more likely to stay for the rest of the episode. Listeners want to see how people struggle, grow, and finally solve these problems. 

Case Study: Podcasting Made Simple

Podcasting Made Simple isn’t necessarily a storytelling podcast, but it excels at addressing listener-relevant problems. Each episode tackles real issues faced by aspiring podcasters. 

For instance, in Why You Should Consider Rebranding Your Podcast, the host opens with how podcasters see a rebrand as a “death sentence”. 

Then, guest Angie Griffith shares her rebranding journey. She mentions tips and tactics and how it helped her achieve her highest number of downloads yet. 

What You Can Do

  • Focus on Relevant Conflicts. Choose problems that would resonate with your audience. Conduct market surveys and FGDs to help you validate a problem.
  • Showcase Growth and Resolution. Illustrate how characters in your podcast face and overcome these challenges. This journey adds value and depth to your episodes.
  • Avoid Over-Dramatization. While conflicts are important, make sure they’re realistic. Cut unnecessary drama that could detract from the authenticity of your show.

5. Establish a Clear Theme or Message

Podcast storytelling tip: establish a clear theme or message (summary and key takeaways from blog)

Every great story has a clear premise, central question, or message at its core. This is what gives the story depth and meaning. These elements are not always said out loud, but are alluded to and eventually proven by the characters. 

Pod Sound School suggests, “Think about the underlying message of your story. What are you trying to say? This is what will stick with your audience long after they've finished listening.” 

Know the key ideas, emotions, and takeaways you want to get across in each episode. This provides focus when making storytelling choices.

Case Study: Story Collider

Story Collider is a storytelling podcast with science-related stories from diverse folks in the science field. While the stories may vary in tone, they all revolve around the common theme of science.

In Shame: The Stories About Things We Hide, the episode’s theme is already in its title and description. “Our storytellers confront their secret shames and learn to accept themselves.”

Two stories follow suit. Comedian Amy Veltman doesn’t want to acknowledge her embarrassing gastrointestinal issues. Another storyteller, Mike Lambert has secret body dysmorphia that threatens to undo him.  

What You Can Do

  • Identify Your Core Message. Pinpoint the central message of your podcast episode. This ensures that every element of your episode contributes to the overarching theme.
  • Reflect Your Theme in Every Aspect. Your title, description, and the stories you choose to tell should align with your theme. This coherence will make your podcast more impactful for your audience. Here’s how to write winning titles and descriptions.
  • Embrace Diversity. Incorporate a variety of tones and perspectives within your chosen theme. This not only enriches the content but also broadens its appeal.

Top 7 Podcast Performance Metrics To Measure Effective Storytelling

Here are podcast metrics worth tracking to see how well your stories are performing:

  1. Subscriptions. A direct indicator of your podcast's appeal.
  2. Listeners per Episode. Shows how many people are engaged.
  3. Download per Episode. Reflects the popularity of individual episodes.
  4. Downloads by the Time of the Day. Helps understand when your audience prefers to listen.
  5. Average Listening Time. Indicates how captivating your podcast is.
  6. Social Sharing. A measure of how much your podcast resonates with listeners.
  7. Reviews. Provides direct feedback on your storytelling effectiveness.

Learn more about podcasting analytics here.

Conclusion

Turning your show into a storytelling podcast is challenging, but supremely fulfilling when done right. 

Use these podcast storytelling tips to upgrade your narratives. Don’t forget to evaluate storytelling effectiveness through key podcast metrics. And of course, keep innovating and experimenting.

If you’re ready to amplify your stories, consider using Deciphr AI. It’ll take your podcast story and repurpose it for different platforms in different formats. All in a few minutes.