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  • Writer's pictureAdrian Monty

Ira Glass: 7 Things I've Learned

In sharing life lessons and the importance of storytelling, Ira Glass' presentation is applicable to all disciplines. It is important to know how to tell stories in a way that can reach a variety of audiences and to learn from those who have succeeded in this task. One of those people, as I just learned, is Ira Glass.

As a side note: I only knew who Ira Glass was before coming to this event because my best friend was excited that he was coming to OSU’s campus. That being said, I enjoyed Ira’s talk so much that I want to listen to and watch everything he has ever done. However, that would include over 600 episodes of This American Life the radio show, thirteen of the television version, about four movies, and a couple books. I’ll do my best.

In the meantime, I will share my experience from his talk. Mr. Glass began with a disclaimer that this list of seven things was difficult to parse down because he has learned so much in his life from chewing and swallowing to how to storyboard and edit a feature film. He did however have much wisdom to impart onto the audience.

1. How to tell a story

Not all stories need to be a big production, but they need to have motion. Ira demonstrated this by mixing some of the audio from his past shows live and then showing a clip version of the same audio from The New Yorker to see how they compare emotionally to audience members. The takeaway here was that as a journalist or story teller, you want the audience to have a thought or question about the story and want to stick with it until the end.

2. Failure is success

The main point that Ira had about this life lesson dealt with recognizing when a story is not as good as what it could be. He stated a line from his personal journalism handbook saying, “killing a story that is good but not great makes the world a better place.” Also, in the spirit of good storytelling he added, with only good intentions, “if you can’t tell a story, you didn’t deserve it to happen to you.”

3. It’s normal to be bad before you’re good

Ira Glass got an internship at NPR when he was 19. He worked there, in that profession, for eight years before he felt like he was in the right place. But looking back at where he was when he thought he had it, he realized he had not even had ‘it’ back then either. He later stated that he thinks he finally nailed it by the time he was about thirty. It took him eleven years to realize that he was on the right path.

4. Amuse yourself

“The world is a place where surprising and funny things happen.” Not all subjects need to be told from a stand-point of doom and gloom even if the main subject is depressing and very real. Even the most real things will have a layer of ‘relatable human dynamics’ to them, those who can find this can tell truly great stories. The examples used for this subheading were a video produced by the writer of Frozen and sung by Neil Patrick Harris from Paul Ryan’s perspective and “This American Life Live” done with Lin-Manuel Miranda.

5. How to interview kids

Ira Glass said that he loves interviewing kids because of their honesty and innocent views of the world. He shows a video from This American Life the television show about a fourteen-year-old boy who claims that love does not exist. Ira interviews this teenager as well as others to get a feel for the state of love on the middle school campus. All of the kids interviewed were so honest with their emotions and true to themselves, a quality that was surely lost to them as they grew up.

6. It’s War

What I got from this section of Ira’s talk was that it is important to assert facts. In the digital world that we live in, it is sometimes difficult to know what is fact or fiction. Many find fiction and take it as fact, and it is up to those who know the truth to fight until the knowledge battle is won.

7. How to Make a Movie

This final lesson was not so much for the audience to learn about and apply to their daily lives, but for Ira to show how cool it is to be part of making a movie. I think it’s pretty cool. He talked about his production work with Mike Bigitalia in Don’t Think Twice, a movie about an improv group based off real events.

Even though I walked into the auditorium knowing next to nothing about Ira Glass or his work, I have taken a lot away from his talk. As an aspiring journalist, it is good to know that it’s okay if I don’t have it all figured out right now or throughout my twenties, but I might get to where I need to be one day.

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