Lea teaches business people not so much how to tell personal stories, but how to use the principles of storytelling to shape strategy, to roll out new initiatives, or frame business proposals. However I learned most by asking more about her process at the Moth and with her radio show, Strangers.
Lea Thau is interested in stories with high stakes. Experienced with the anti-hero stories that dominate the Moth, she looks for stories that contrast the darkest dark with light. This is kind of extreme sports of storytelling. It takes, “hours, and hours, and hours” to get it right.
Where she used to spend hours coaching storytellers to tell a story that reduced itself down to a well rehearsed twenty minute performance, she now gathers hours of interviews that must be edited down. She never has less than 5 and has had up to 20 hours of audio recordings that she edited down to a short twenty minute show.
How in the world does she pick and choose from that much material?
“The first rule is that, what happened ≠ the story of what happened.”
Lea Thau, Former Moth Creative Director
This gives some perspective on the kind of time it can take to research, develop and tell a powerful story. When we are lucky, the right story pops into our mind just when we need it. Art can be spontaneous. On the other hand, finding the right story can also take a lot more time than business people expect. If you love the power of stories, don’t balk when the process gets complex and finding the core meaning feels like hard work.
At the end of the day, storytelling is not a checklist, it is a process.
As a master editor Lea shares one of the primary principles that help her choose – and will help you choose from all the possible detail of an event which details to include.
Editing is about making choices based not only on what actually happened but on which details will demonstrate the meaning of what happened.
Lea’s new show Strangers on KCRW (also a podcast) explores what she sees as a deep cultural shift in how we define “friend” and “stranger.” Is a person you have never met a stranger, even if you’ve been playing video games with them for years? Who is your friend? One episode dives into the world of online dating. One examines the difference between growing up rich and growing up poor. Another explores the happy marriage of two exceedingly normal people who had an arranged marriage along with hundreds of other couples at the 2005 “Moonie” wedding along in Korea.
Lea Thau had a nose for stories and an ear for storytelling perfection.
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