3 Principles To Master Storytelling
How to Tell Better Stories
The ability to tell a good story can come in handy in a variety of settings, from social occasions to job interviews. To tell a better story, start by keeping a log of ideas as they come to you. Draw on your life experiences, observations, and chance happenings. Craft a great story by giving it structure, clarity, and detail. Know your audience, and tell a story that fits the crowd. When you deliver your story, make eye contact, try not to seem robotic, and vary your voice to bring your story to life.
Coming up with Good Stories
Draw on your life experience.The most meaningful stories convey a message by relating it to an actual series of events. Illustrating a point by relating it to your own experiences will impart a personal, authentic quality. Draw on funny happenings, barriers you overcame, or lessons you learned.
- True stories are great for illustrating a message, but don’t fret if fiction is your forte. Telling a more imaginative tale still involves the same strategies, like sticking to a clear structure and delivering your story effectively.
Jot down story ideas.Keep a journal to log your story ideas when they come to you. Try to keep one handy at all times so an idea never escapes you. Even if you just jot down a quick sentence or thought, you can return to it later and use it to craft a great story.
Connect a story idea to a message.A great story has a point. If you’re making a speech or trying to motivate a team, think of the moral of your story, or the point you’re trying to make. Look through your idea journal or think of a life experience that connects to that message.
- For example, if you’re trying to inspire your employees or coworkers to meet a deadline, you’d want to tell them a story that illustrates perseverance despite tough obstacles. You could convey that moral by recalling a time they succeeded as a team in the past despite the odds being against them.
Don’t make it all about you.No one likes to hear a person go on and on about how wonderful they are. While it’s best to draw on your own experiences, try to make the hero of your stories someone other than you.
- For example, stories in which you play a major role could involve you learning something from a mentor or making a mistake. That way, your story will be more authentic, you’ll engage your audience by making yourself vulnerable, and you won’t seem like you’re just boasting.
Crafting Better Stories
Follow a clear structure.Whether you’re telling a story at a cocktail party or a job interview, it should follow a logical structure. A good structure allows the audience to easily follow along and has a rhythm that engages them in the action. To stick to a clear structure, you should:
- Start with an introduction to set your story’s scene.
- Describe the inciting incident, which presents the challenge or conflict.
- Raise the stakes and add a personal connection by adding context and detail to the challenge.
- Proceed to the climax, or your story’s main event
- Finish with the resolution, which is when you can reflect on the moral of your story.
Match the length of a story to the setting.There’s no ideal story length, and the appropriate length will depend on the time and place that you're telling the story. However, you should generally limit your stories to a few minutes. Stick to your story’s structure, avoid getting too verbose or complicated, and try not to go off on tangents.
- For example, if you pass by a coworker and tell them a story, you'll probably want to limit it to around a minute. Imagine if someone in an elevator with you started telling a long story, didn't finish it when the doors opened on your floor, and held you up until they were done.
- On the other hand, guests at a dinner party are there to socialize and talk, so you can make your stories longer and more engrossing.
Make the opening and closing memorable.A good opening will grab your audience’s attention. Start off on the right foot by telling your best joke, asking them a question, or introducing your moral or message. When concluding your story, bring it back to the beginning to help the audience understand the journey you’ve described.
- Suppose you're telling some friends about the time your boss took you out to lunch and, on the way to the restaurant, drove through a puddle that soaked you through your open window. You could open by saying, "Have you ever wondered what your boss really thinks of you? One rainy afternoon, I found out the hard way that I'm a lot less precious than a leather auto interior."
- Wrap your story up by saying something like, "And there I am, shivering like a wet dog and soaked in dirty, side-of-the-road water, and all my boss can say is, 'Quick! Grab something to wipe the seats!'"
Add engaging details.The right details will capture your audience’s interest, place them in the action, and bring your story to life. However, make sure you don’t bore them by providing tedious details in each sentence.
- For example, “That evening, deep in summer’s dog days, was thick with muggy Coastal Georgia heat,” is a more engaging detail than, “It was uncomfortably hot and humid on the night of August 26, 2019.”
Practice telling your story.Great storytellers might seem like they’re improvising on the spot. However, telling a great story is an art form, and practice makes perfect.
- Try saying the story to yourself first. Then tell it to various groups of people and work on parts that didn’t seem to go over so well. Just make sure you don’t tell the same story to the same people!
Delivering a Great Story
Know your audience.You probably wouldn’t tell a story that deals with delicate topics at a job interview. Likewise, your friends might find a story about your professional accolades boring and self-congratulatory. Keep your audience in mind and tell them a story that appeals to their interests.
- Save stories about wild nights, sensitive political or social topics, and other potentially inappropriate content for good friends. At work or with people you don't know well, keep your stories PG, or as least likely to offend someone as possible.
- For example, you could tell a new coworker about the time the software went down at the worst possible moment and, despite the chaos that ensued, somehow it seems hysterical in retrospect.
Make comfortable eye contact.Maintaining comfortable eye contact will help you come off as authentic and believable. However, you should find the right balance. Look at someone for a few seconds, then make eye contact with the next person.
- Glancing between people or shifting your eyes too much can seem untrustworthy.
- Looking away and not making any eye contact is also suspicious.
- Holding eye contact with one person for too long can make them uncomfortable.
Try not to seem robotic.While you should rehearse your story, try not to deliver your story as if you were reading off a script. Practice your speech, but make your deliver seem off the cuff instead of stale. Instead of trying to be perfect, give yourself some room to improvise.
Use your voice to make your story more engaging.When you speak as a character in your story, use a different voice to make it clear the character is speaking and not the narrator. At tense or serious points, try lowering your volume and slowing your delivery to put your listeners on the edges of their seats. Quicken your pace and increase your volume to communicate action and energy.
Video: Kevin Hart's 3 Secrets To Hilarious Storytelling
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