How To Know What To Cut

When I teach storytelling for in-person workshops, I have each participant prepare and deliver a story no longer than 60 seconds.

When they have each told a story and shared feedback, I say tell that story again – in 30 seconds. The audience always looks at me like I asked them to flap their arms and fly to the moon, but they do it.

After we hear the 30-second stories, I ask everyone which version they like best; the first story at sixty seconds or the second story at 30 seconds.

They like shorter every time.

When I asked why, participants said the shorter story was “more impactful,” “energetic,” “clearer,” and “more interesting.”

Creating great content is a reductive process. Fewer words equal more power. It is not what you put in. It is often what you remove that makes the difference.

Excellent broadcasters and podcasters go through the same editing process as writers, playwrights, and composers, who jokingly it, “killing your babies.”

For example, if you write a movie screenplay, a finished two-hour movie equals 120 pages or about one page per minute of screen time. The first draft of the classic 1980 film Caddyshack was a whopping 250 pages, most of which went into the recycling bin. (Did they even have recycling back then?)

As you prepare, some of what you throw out is work you love and are proud of, but it does not serve the content. It can feel like killing your babies.

When I review radio, television, or podcast content with a host, they will sometimes say, “it went too long.” I always ask, “what would you cut to make it better?” Here is what often comes up in those conversations.


  • Stuff – content about an inanimate object can be one sentence instead of paragraphs
  • Information – cut dates, announcements, addresses, and numbers to the bare minimum.
  • Opinion – what someone did is always stronger than what someone thinks.
  • Warm-up – “good morning, glad you joined us,” etc. Also: long produced segment opens.
  • Reiteration – I call this “mowing the same grass twice.”
  • Zig-zags – conversational meandering zones out audiences.
  • Excessive sponsor/prize mentions –mention the game prize and sponsor once.
  • Extraneous audio – generic music, distracting sounds, or weak clips.


  • Headline open – a killer first sentence that captures attention and evokes emotion.
  • Characters – individual people bring emotion, motive, and personality to content.
  • Drama – bigger conflict equals better content. Give time to what is at stake.
  • Emotion – use emotional words, vocal expression, and body language to evoke feeling.
  • Wrap – A one-sentence “the end” summary.
  • Great audio – music paired with content, sound effects, and clips that add impact.