I recently took my husband to a taping of Freakonomics Live as a birthday treat—you’d be surprised at how entertaining it is to watch radio.. The program wasn’t a typical Freakonomics episode. Instead, it was Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, a special segment in which invited guests try to stump host Stephen Dubner with an unusual tidbit of knowledge.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Freakonomics is a storytelling podcast that makes behavioral economics interesting. (Listen here if you don’t believe me.) Host Stephen Dubner tackles topics from how to be creative to is our political system broken, using an economics lens to consider each topic. The podcasts are a curriculum on how to make mind numbing topics like the supply curve interesting.
In Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, Dubner turns the table on his audience, inviting participants to stump him. Sounds simple, right? After all, he can’t know everything. But the real challenge facing the audience members isn’t stumping Stephen, it is making their obscure topics interesting. That’s a skill most people don’t practice enough.
The first participant stood up and asked Dubner if he knew what the most popular street food was in New York City before hot dogs, pretzels and knishes. The question intrigued the audience, getting everyone to put down their cocktails and listen. The answer? Oysters.
The participant was the executive director of a nonprofit that is reseeding New York harbor to regrow the three billion oysters that once lived there. Oysters filter water, an inexpensive and all natural way to clean our waterway. He could have started with why it was important, and lost his audience. But instead he started with why it was interesting, and captured everyone’s attention.
This is a lesson all nonprofit leaders should remember. Don’t tell people how your organization makes a difference. Grab them with a story about why your organization is interesting.