What Presenters Can Learn From Country Music

I’m not a particular fan of country music. I don’t go out of my way to avoid it, but I’m not a particular fan. I’ll listen to it if it’s on (usually) but I don’t actually try and find it on my radio, if you see what I mean.In a bit of banter on Twitter with one of my followers, Josh McCormack (@joshmccormac), we were looking at how quickly country singers could tell a story – often quite a complicated story – in only three or so minutes. If you’re not convinced, check out something like the classic “Coward of the County”. Read the lyrics and look at how ‘sparse’ they are.

Everyone considered him the coward of county
He’d never stood one single time to prove the county wrong.
His mamma named him Tommy, but folks just called him yellow,
Something always told me they were reading Tommy wrong
In just a few seconds Kenny Rodgers sets up the whole background and backstory.

A verse later and in just a few seconds there’s a whole world of love and then horror.

There’s someone for everyone, and Tommy’s love was Becky.
In her arms he didn’t have to prove he was a man.
One day while he was working, the Gatlin boys came calling
They took turns at Becky, n’there was three of them.
and from then on the fate of the Gatlin boys is sealed. Tommy, of course, isn’t a coward – he’s just been walking away from trouble when he could.
The Gatlin boys just laugh at him
When he walked into the barroomOne of them got up and met him half way cross the floor
When Tommy turned around they say, “Hey look! Old yeller’s leaving”
But you could’ve heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door.
It’s what’s not said, the stuff you read between the lines, that adds all the subtlety and detail. All the singer does is present some bare facts. The verisimilitude comes from inside the head of the listener. Presenters should take note as there are a few things they can learn here!

Firstly, brevity in story telling. The fewer words you use, the fewer words the audience has to listen to and the cleaner your story. There’s less chance of people getting bored, or doing their own thing. If all else fails and you don’t manage to bring your audience along with you, at least you’ve not wasted much of their time. Let’s face it, no one ever made themselves unpopular by finishing early!Secondly, people respond to a thing better if there’s an emotional connection between them and it – and a great, great way of making that connection is if the people in your audience have done some work, as it means they’re invested.There’s some doubt about how true this story is, but that doesn’t matter here – because there’s a story that Steinbeck wrote a six-word short story.

For sale. Baby shoes; never worn.

Obviously that’s not a story: that’s more like the wording for an advert in your local post-office shop window.The real story is what you make up in your head to explain to yourself how you got to the point where the story happens. Let’s call that ‘backstory’ – and it’s this backstory which makes people remember things. The effort they put into something, the connection they make with something, is what renders it memorable. (There are other reasons thing can be memorable, of course, I’m not claiming exclusivity here! 😉 ) For a presenter this explains why we’re told to use stories all the time.It’s not that stories are useful in and of themselves, it’s the emotional connection they create that’s important.What that means, in turn, is that now we understand why stories work we can make better informed choices about which stories to use (and how) and what else we can make as alternatives to stories.If a picture creates backstory better, or faster than your words, use a picture. If a story works, use a story. If a question you ask the audience helps them create backstory then use a question. If telling the person sitting next to them helps create backstory then use that.It’s not rocket science, once you get the hang of it! The killer question to ask yourself is this: for each point I want to make, how do I best create backstory for my audience?

This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Simon Raybould – View the original post .


Published On: 30th Oct 2015

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