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This content is taken from the University of Wollongong's online course, The Power of Podcasting for Storytelling. Join the course to learn more.

What makes a story compelling?

Something happens to someone that sends them on a journey: there is a beginning, middle, and end.

Personal insights that comment on the world and life itself, as part of the journey.

Warning: strong themes included in this step.

Components of your story

Every component you choose to include in your final audio file either adds to or takes away from the story you tell. These aspects include:

  • The music

  • The host, and how they facilitate the story

  • The voices of characters (key people in your story) and how you piece these together

  • Related sound effects

  • The use of silences and timing

  • Good writing

  • Tight episode structure - a beginning that sucks you in, good pace and texture, a satisfying ending

Give your audience details to relate to

The core purpose of constructing a story involves creating emotional connections with your intended audience. This is how you create a relationship with each person who listens. Organise the components of your story to make your listener feel something. It is also important to give enough details to create commonality between the story, characters and the life experience of your audience. Know your audience.

Phoebe’s Fall - Introduction[1]

As a listener, you may relate to this excerpt:

  • Due to being a parent of adult children whom you worry about
  • Due to your desire for justice
  • Because you have experienced an injustice
  • Because of having lived in or visited Melbourne

Actions and reflection

According to Brian Reed, presenter of the hit podcast S-Town, actions keep the momentum of a story going. The listener naturally can’t help but follow the succession of actions. Similarly, when a character personally reflects on why they made the choice they did or why they think something went wrong, that also helps the audience understand and relate to that character. (You often need to make this happen by asking them about it in the interview). Although the actions and reflections of a character move the story along, it’s the listener’s ability to relate their understanding of life and the world as they know it to the story which keeps that story alive.

An example: Superpower - August 17, 2018[2]

Brian Reed

Another tip from Brian Reed: There is always a stake driving the story forward.

“When people come to us with ideas this is often one of the things missing from the ideas that they bring us. They will come and say, “hey, I met this really fascinating guy, he is like a war veteran, or he has traveled the world, and he has such fascinating stories - he has had such an interesting life, he is a funny guy. He will be great to do a story”. And actually, it probably wouldn’t be a good story because what you’d end up with is a descriptive profile of an interesting person…“

Want to learn more?

Listen to Brian Reed talk about ‘Constructing a compelling story’.

You can read more by checking out Siobhan’s critique of S-Town attached at the end of the step.


  1. The Age Melbourne. Knowing Phoebe [Internet]. Phoebe’s Fall. 2016 [cited 19 September 2018]. Available from: Acast (web link)

  2. This American Life. Prologue [Internet]. Superman. 2016 [cited 19 September 2018]. Available from: This American Life (web link)

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This article is from the free online course:

The Power of Podcasting for Storytelling

University of Wollongong