Let’s start with a big one. Mike Duncan. The grandfather of history podcasting. His original show The History of Rome is a 179 episode romp from the mythic founding of Rome to the last emperor in the west. It is a commitment, but I’d recommend a listen to the entire series. Mike’s storytelling develops throughout the series. He brings in obscure points as well as the main narrative structure.
His subsequent series Revolution starts with the English Civil War and moves through pretty much every revolutionary movement since then. He’s currently up to 1848. The storytelling techniques he hones in The History of Rome are on full display in Revolutions. Again, a highly recommended listen.
Another approach to history storytelling is by Lars Brownworth in two separate shows: 12 Byzantine Rulers and Norman Centuries.
The Doc Project from CBC in Canada is worth a listen too. I don’t always resonate with the topics but the storytelling is sublime.
A recent discovery, for me, has been Nomadtopia. This podcast is about people living a, funnily enough, a nomadic lifestyle. Guests discuss not just their travels but how they finance them. The twin themes are interwoven delightfully. If you’re bitten by the wanderlust bug or just want to hear how different people express their own stories, this one is great. The interplay between guest and interviewer is also instructive if you want improve your own interviewing skills.
The China History podcast and the History of China podcast, both different yet in the same space approach storytelling differently. The former ran a quick, relatively, overview of Chinese history and now runs seasons on areas of particular interest. I find the style entertaining yet I know of at least one other person who can’t deal with it. The latter, History of China podcast is in the style of Mike Duncan’s History of Rome. Begin at the beginning and come forward in time. It too is told superbly and really goes in the weeds but always comes back to the main narrative in a chronological way.
Sampling a few episodes of each will let you see the different yet equally effective storytelling styles.
A less formal way of telling a story is the “Four Friends and Mic” format. The Navigator podcast is one such show as is Brexitcast. With the Navigator, there are a number of topics to cover and a variety of positions from the members of the panel. Whilst there isn’t a clear beginning, middle and end process, the discussion draws upon each panel members’ input and builds upon it. Almost in a workshopped storytelling process. Brexitcast is similar in nature but based upon the politics and machinations of London, Brussels and the other EU member states reactions and responses to the divorce proceedings.
The key point I’ve found whilst listening critically to all the podcasts mentioned is the acceptance by the podcaster that their personality is an integral part of their storytelling process. Finding your voice will release your podcast creatively. We all put part of ourselves into our work. Learning how much is the key. I know with World Organic News for the first 20 to 30 episodes I was more concerned with the recording, editing and processing of each episode than discovering my voice. Then one day it just hit me, I’d found it. The tone, cadence, inflection and voice projection all felt right. Putting of publishing until that point probably wouldn’t have worked. I think the production pressures force us to find our voices or they arise through the process of being live.
All of the above is pertinent but there is another level to storytelling and it’s much more personal.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the podcaster announce they’re moving homes, having babies and or getting married. There are two examples which really stand out for the effect they had on me and, I’m sure, many other listeners.
The first was an announcement from Sharyn Eastaugh of The History of the Crusades podcast. A regular as clockwork podcast that fell silent for a few weeks back in 2015. I understand, things happen and then a new episode popped up in the feed. It ran as normal until at the end Sharyn came on to say she’s never spoken unscripted before and then proceeded to tell us all that she’d lost her husband. She then went to say even though she thought she’d drop podcasting to just deal with life, it turned out she needed that routine more than she’s realised.
This is an amazingly open, vulnerable moment to share with anyone but to put it in the feed is another level of openness altogether. We heard a small but significant part of her story and loved her for sharing it with us. It is the intimacy of the spoken voice which allows these connections. I’m certainly not advocating a weekly roundup of our lives at the end of each episode. I am pointing out this podcast producer felt it was both legitimate and sound to share with her listeners and it had a profound effect on me, at least.
The second person to do something like this is Carl Rylett from History of Europe, Key Battles podcast. Carl announced he was taking some time off from the podcast as he’d just been diagnosed with a tumour. When a few months later he hadn’t returned to the feed, I emailed just as he was getting ready to hit the mic. One that first episode back he filled us in on his recovery and then went on with the show.
Again, open vulnerability which led to a deeper connection between the producer and their listeners.
It is the privilege of a podcast consumer to be served content we enjoy it is beyond a privilege to be invited into the lives of those to whom we listen. If something momentous happens in your life consider sharing it with your listeners or maybe a short blog post but remember the story of the podcaster is also a part of the podcast whether we choose to reveal openly or not we are showing ourselves to the world. Through our choice of words, through our use of grammar and vocabulary, the cadence of our speech and our interactions with others on our shows, we are showing the world whom we are. And we are part of a story, let’s tell it!
So if you have your idea and haven’t published yet, get on with it. The world awaits and so does your own growth and development.