ted talks

PODCAST EPISODE #40: Boyd Huppert, reporter, KARE-TV


At the end of this podcast, I joke, “I can retire the podcast now!”

Don’t worry … I don’t plan to retire it. But I probably could, now that I have interviewed one of the most revered and decorated storytellers ever.

My guest for Episode #40 is Boyd Huppert.

The feature reporter for KARE-TV in the Twin Cities is known nationwide for his absorbing and touching stories, which regularly find their way to NBC Nightly News and the Today Show. For many in local TV, Huppert is an idol — the man whose career and talents we all dream of having. I can’t think of a single storyteller who does it better.

In recent years, Huppert has also become known as a teacher. He works with stations worldwide, speaks at conferences, and last year even gave a TED Talk:

Huppert will also, I’m proud to announce, be the keynote speaker at this year’s NPPA Southeast Storytelling Workshop, being held in Atlanta June 10th and 11th. I am organizing and co-hosting the conference with photojournalist (and one-time podcast guest) John Kirtley of WLOS-TV in Asheville. We welcome anyone looking to improve as a storyteller and receive inspiration from some of the best in the country, particularly our keynote speaker.

Click here to learn more and register for the conference, Feel free to e-mail me with questions at the address below. In the meantime, enjoy this podcast with a legendary storyteller who speaks about his background, offers advice for getting the most out of workshops, and gives his insights and tips for young journalists.


3 GREAT STORIES: Starring candles, Peru, & a dozen scientists

Every week, I shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

Hundreds gather in Roseburg to mourn shooting victims (10/2/15, KING-TV): On its own — and, really, that’s all that matters — this is a powerful story of the upsetting, unfiltered emotions of a community after last week’s school shooting in Oregon.

What makes it more impressive, from a behind-the-scenes standpoint, is how quickly this story was produced: from start to finish, in 70 minutes.

KING5 reporter Alex Rozier and photographer Dan Renzetti were dispatched to Oregon to find compelling stories, and they discovered one here in a candlelight vigil at a nearby park. Renzetti makes some beautiful maneuvers in his shooting and editing; I found particularly poignant his allowing a candle to naturally light one interview subject. Rozier writes the piece with care and context.

I would love to hear their takes on this, but I imagine the compressed time frame forced a certain level of precision and focus. Regardless, Rozier and Renzetti produce a package that brings home the emotions of a tragic situation.


PODCAST EPISODE #22: Dr. Paul J. Zak, on the science of storytelling


I have had numerous conversations with storytellers and journalists about why storytelling works.

But until recently, I had never thought about having that conversation with a neuroscientist.

A few weeks ago, I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling”. The author? A professor at Claremont Graduate University named Dr. Paul J. Zak.

I found the article compelling and reached out to the professor. He responded, and he joins me on this episode of the Telling The Story podcast.

Zak’s lab recently studied the ability of stories — through numerous forms and media — to develop oxytocin in the brains of their viewers. Oxytocin, says Zak, “is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others.”

Here are the big three rules for producing the finest in oxytocin-inducing work:

1) You have 20 seconds to get my attention. Rick Reilly once wrote, “Without a good lead, they”ll never appreciate your death-defying twinkle-toe transition in the third paragraph.” According to Dr. Zak, the science bears this out. Storytellers have a brief window to grab their viewers, listeners, or readers. This works regardless of medium, although, Zak says, people give print stories a little more leeway.

2) You need to provide a character to which your audience can attach. Conflict is important, too. “We avoid tension when it comes to our daily life,” says Zak, “but we love it when we’re watching a story.”

3) Don’t be afraid to get deep. A story, even of the shorter variety, benefits from emotional complexity, meaning a storyteller should try to build various storylines and themes into a piece. This revelation left me pleasantly surprised, as Zak talks about how the brain responds to ebbs and flows within even a 30-second commercial, let alone a 90-second TV news piece.


3 GREAT STORIES OF THE WEEK: Starring Bill Gates, finding meaning, and giving back

Every week, I will shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

I’ll be honest: I found the coolest story I read this week in an in-flight magazine.

Perhaps I have just been traveling too much.

I have taken two trips, involving six flights, for work in the last two weeks. Eventually I found myself with nothing to read, so I picked up the US Airways in-flight magazine … and I found a gem.

The famed author Andrew Carroll gave the magazine an abridged introduction to his just-released book, Here is There. I found it engrossing. In the article, Carroll recounts a few true but hard-to-believe stories from U.S. history, such as:

  • the time the brother of John Wilkes Booth saved the life of the son of Abraham Lincoln
  • how a group of Confederate rebels tried unsuccessfully to set Manhattan on fire

Carroll is a terrific storyteller, and I have since purchased Here is There and am awaiting its arrival in the mail. I decided to include his abridged introduction as an honorary great story this week, and — believe it or not — the in-flight magazine version can only be found in virtual magazine format online.

So you too can now experience the joys of getting inspired by an in-flight magazine, completing with the ads for two-karat tanzanite rings and indoor kart racing.


And now, the 3 Great Stories of the week:

Bill Gates: ‘Death is something we really understand extremely well’ (5/17/13, Washington Post Wonkblog): This is a classic example of where a story is best served by a straightforward Q&A format.

Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein goes in-depth with Bill Gates, still the world’s richest person according to Bloomberg News, about his latest ambitious endeavor: the literal eradication of polio across the globe.

But the interview really gets fascinating when Gates discusses the ways in which different countries treat the reality of death. Some of his assertions are simply haunting, such as the following:

When you’re running a poor country health-care system, you can’t treat a year of life as being worth more than, say, $200, $300 or else you’ll bankrupt your health system immediately. So, with very few exceptions, you do nothing for cancer. If you get cancer, you’re going to die.