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Like a lot of people, This American Life was my gateway drug into what I can only imagine will be a lifelong addiction to audio storytelling. I love audio stories. I listen to them. I produce them. I shake when I don’t have them. There is no cure. I’m hooked.

The show’s host, Ira Glass, once said that, “radio is your most visual medium.” I agree. Sound has the power to conjure vivid images and take us deep inside of our own imaginations in ways that other mediums can’t. If you don’t buy that, put on a pair of headphones, close your eyes, and check out pretty much any episode of Radiolab. You’ll see/hear exactly what I’m talking about.

Audio can also be an intensely emotional storytelling medium. Movies, novels, television… all of these can, of course, stir plenty of emotion in us. However, unlike these other mediums, audio stories can hit you right between the eyes with nothing more than silence.

I was recently reminded of how powerful silence can be when I re-listened to a 2011 interview with comic Louis CK on the popular WTF with Marc Maron podcastAt one point in the interview, Louis recalls a life-changing moment when one of his daughters was born, and the interview takes an unexpected, emotional turn.

Check out the short clip here:

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To avoid capturing dead air, another interviewer may have paused the recorder while the subject composed himself. Or edited that moment out in production to keep the story moving along. In terms of great storytelling, either of those moves would’ve been downright criminal. Because in that 30 seconds of near silence, listeners got to experience all of the vulnerability, love, fear, anger and sadness of this defining moment. It was heartbreaking, captivating and, above all, human.

We spend a lot of time trying to find and tell stories that will connect with people. A lot of the time, we do this by trying to find the perfect words that say the perfect thing at the perfect time. However, when it comes to audio storytelling, perfection often sneaks up on you. Sometimes it comes from something unexpected an interview subject says. Other times, the most genuine moments in a story happen when the words can’t be found and all one can do is reflect on the things not said.

Image courtesy of J L. 

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