When was the last time that you experienced a very compelling speaker? Do you remember what you liked about the story? Were there any elements that you found particularly interesting?
Maybe you remember a few nuggets. Some very vivid images, a funny anecdote, or the speaker’s powerful charisma. Or maybe you just remember the overall feeling that you got from the story. When we experience very compelling speakers, we often think that these speakers have a natural talent, that they are born that way. Let me tell you this. 99.9% are NOT born that way. They train to become great storytellers.
All the storytellers that I’ve interviewed, have put in rigorous practice to get to where they are. They use specific techniques to become more engaging, more inspirational and more memorable. The good thing? Everyone can do that. Everyone can learn the techniques to become a master storyteller. Here are 5 storytelling techniques that will transform your stories:
1: TELL A PERSONAL STORY
Why it matters: You will find plenty of situations, where people tell stories of other companies, famous people or folk tales. That’s all fine. These can be very interesting. Just keep in mind that with these types of stories you won’t create the same level of connection as with a personal story. You don’t need courage to tell someone else’s story. It doesn’t require authenticity, vulnerability, and realness. If you want to inspire, motivate, and influence people, you’re most likely to succeed if you tell a personal story.
How you do it: Tell a story about a challenge that you faced in your life and how you overcame it. It doesn’t have to be a challenge that took place in a professional setting. You can pick any situation from your private life as well. Just make sure that the lesson learned is relevant to your audience.
2: MAKE THE CHARACTERS RELATABLE
Why it matters: Most of the audience have pretty normal lives. If you tell them a story about an extreme event (like a near-death experience or how you ran five Ironmans in five days), it may be an interesting story, but, likely, the audience won’t relate. The same applies to stories about famous people. It may be riveting, but it will be tougher for your audience to relate to a story about Steve Jobs or Nelson Mandela.
How you do it: If you want your audience to remember your story and act upon it, make it relatable. Pick a character that the audience can identify with – like a customer, boss, co-worker, or family member. Additionally, you should also communicate a challenge or struggle that the audience can relate to.
3: USE EMOTIONS
Why it matters: Emotions are the main reason why we remember things. Telling a purely data-driven story will often have no effect on the audience. We don’t remember facts unless there is an emotional component attached. If you want to affect behavior and change mindsets, you need to bring emotions into your story.
How you do it:
- Reactions: Show how the character reacts physically and emotionally to the obstacle. E.g. “His heart starts pounding, he feels a big lump in his throat, tears fill his eyes.”
- Inner monologue: Show the character’s inner monologue – the dialogue the character has with himself/ herself in silence. Recreating your inner monologue, draws the audience in and makes them feel like they were listening in during your thought process. E.g. “Ah, I can’t believe this. Everyone will think that I’m a failure…”.
- Pause: When something surprising happens in your story, pause and feel the moment for a few seconds. Silence is a powerful tool to communicate an emotion.
4: USE DIALOGUE
Why it matters: If you limit yourself to one “voice/character”, you are missing out on an essential tool to make the story more compelling. By adding dialogue between two characters to your story, you can turn a dry story into a more relatable story with real people.
Another reason why dialogue is powerful is that it makes you sound more conversational.
How you do it: Make sure to include a dialogue in your story – most commonly when the character encounters the challenge. What does the actual conversation look like between the two characters? Don’t worry if you don’t recall exactly what the characters said. Often the stories happened months or years ago. In that case, create the dialogue as you think it happened.
To make it even more interesting for your audience try to speak as if you were the other character. What is his / her body posture? How does he/ she speak? If you can, try to mimic any notable traits and use facial expressions to show their feelings in addition to their words.
5: CUT UNNECESSARY DETAILS
Why it matters: Beginner storytellers often think that “the more details, the better”. As such they go into great length, describing every single detail, from location to attire. This can work if you’re writing a fiction book, but not if you’re telling a story in a professional setting. Most leadership stories fall into the range of 3-5min. Very rarely do you have the time to go into 15-minute long stories. Therefore, every word that you use should serve a very specific purpose.
How you do it: Once you’ve written down a draft version of your story, review every single sentence and ask yourself: “Does it help in any way to deliver my message?” or “Does it help to make my story more engaging”? If there is a sentence or phrase that doesn’t add value, don’t hesitate to take it out.
Go ahead and try it out. Use these storytelling techniques the next time you tell a story in front of a larger audience. They will love it. Keep in mind that facts aren’t always memorable and that a numbing cascade of numbers won’t inspire people to spring to action. Good storytelling offers a route to the heart, sticks longer in the mind, and will leave a call to action that delivers results.