Have you ever watched or heard someone speak and wondered they were able to grab the attention of the audience and hold it? Perhaps you observed this on a TED talk, an award ceremony or even a party. Perhaps it was on a TV show, a podcast or even a sleepover.
Why do you think people were so enthralled and engrossed in what the speaker had to say? I’ll tell you why.
It’s because human beings are storytelling creatures. Our brains are wired by nature to need stories; it is necessary to our survival as people. Storytelling enables our brains and minds to process complex information and connect with people emotionally and physically.
Most people, when speaking in front of a crowd, know that telling a story is needed if they really want people to listen to what they have to say. However, what they don’t realize is that storytelling is not something that should be reserved only for special settings. Storytelling is needed every day, from conference talks to lunch breaks with employees. A story is an excellent tool to use when you want to motivate someone or clarify a situation.
It is for these reasons that many people, including you, want to become a better storyteller. This begs the question: How do great storytellers command the attention of their audiences?
In this article, I’m going to give you a few tips on how to become a better storyteller. But before that, think about the people you’ve met or know that are great storytellers. Answer these questions about them?
- What do they all have in common?
- How do they behave?
- What kinds of stories do they tell?
- What is their body language?
- How do they tell the stories?
When you’ve answered these, you can dive into these actionable techniques.
Finding your story
The first step to become a good storyteller is to have a story to tell. Our journeys through the world are full of stories. Not all of them are dramatic, but every conversation we have and anything we do can be retold and spun into a very interesting tale. When something interesting happens in your life, take note of it, as it could make for an engaging story to tell later.
What events have happened in your life that made you believe in the idea you’re trying to pass across? Think of a lesson a mentor or parent taught you; think of how a failure led to success in your career. These life experiences can prove to be strong, emotional elements in a good story. It’s okay if you don’t want to share personal work details, but you can share anecdotes that show failure and obstacles that you have overcome to be the person that you are today.
However, not all stories have to stem from your personal experiences. Even the stories that you overhear or other people tell you, can be very useful. Just be sure not to pretend to have experienced something you haven’t; give credit where it is due. If it happened to your friend and not you, say that. The one thing that can sabotage your story is being caught in a lie.
In addition, every time you read a book, watch a movie/TV show or listen to the news, you’re hearing and absorbing stories. Some might be fictional and others can be based on true stories. Whatever the base is, you can use all of these stories as they pertain to the message you are trying to pass across.
Write and structure your story
If you’re going to share a story orally, it’s a good idea to write out what you want to say. It doesn’t have to be the full story word for word; you can just write an outline or a notecard of bullet points you want to focus on. If this is the first time you’re telling a story or you just want to become a better storyteller, then you might want to draft the entire story in full sentences.
It doesn’t have to be a draft that contains absolutely everything you want to say. It should contain the salient points you want to make, kind of like book summaries. You can check out Blinkist, which is the book summary app we recommend for this purpose. Read our Blinkist review to know why we think this app is the best for reading book summaries.
Wonderful stories need to have good structure that will keep the narrative moving and the audience engaged. While writing your story, try to use expressive but tight sentences. Make sure you don’t ramble; a rambling story bores the audience to stop listening. They stop listening, and subsequently, the message of the story will be lost on them.
File out any irrelevant detail that can slow the pace of the story. If the story is based on true life experiences, try to include only the important, notable parts of the story.
With time and skill development, you may become comfortable with adlibbing and improvising. But if you’re new to telling stories, you should be very prepared. If the story is very dramatic and interesting, it can be the foundation of a short story, novella, novel, or even a movie script.
Highlight the times and locations of the events in the story. This will help establish the context of the story. Make sure that your story has a clear beginning, middle and end. The beginning will set the story and the characters, the middle constitutes the meat of the story, and the end will conclude it and show the end point/punchline of the story.
Know your target audience
To become a better storyteller, make sure you understand the demographic of people you are telling the story to. Great storytellers always know why an audience is listening to them in the first place. For example, don’t tell stories that contain adult content and cuss words when children are present. The kind of stories you’ll tell attendees at a tech conference will differ from the kind you’ll tell your close friends at a sleepover.
It’s critical that you do not overthink the details of your story or make yourself too anxious. However, you will become a better storyteller if you stay mindful of your audience at every stage of the storytelling process: your story ideas, the drafting, and the actual narration of your story.
Engage your audience
If you want to become a better storyteller, don’t start your stories with the boring details. Instead, employ a strong hook that will keep your listeners enthralled and wanting more. If you don’t do this, your listeners will zone out within a few minutes.
Instead of saying details blandly, try to be more expressive. Use words that can paint a picture in the minds of your listeners. Try to make them feel what the characters in your story are feeling. Emotion is the key here; it does not matter whether it is empathy, anger, fear or disgust you make them feel. Just make them feel something.
Here’s an illustration to explain how important this is. Below are two beginning hooks to the same story.
Hook One: I was playing my school’s final soccer game when I fell and hurt my knee. I tried to tell my teammates but I couldn’t talk so I just pointed at my knee. The damage was so bad that I thought I would never play soccer again.
Hook Two: It was my school’s final soccer game and all the players were engrossed in the match. The ball was in my line of vision and as I chased it relentlessly towards the goal post, I heard a pop in my knee. I fell to the floor immediately, writhing in pain. I was grasping for breath and I couldn’t talk so I pointed frantically at my knee so that my teammates would understand what had happened. In that moment, I thought that my dreams to be a player for Manchester United would never be actualized.
Which one of these hooks is better? Which one engaged you better and drew you into the story? Hook Two, right?
That’s what I mean when I say that you should provide a hook that will draw your audience in right from the beginning so that they’re constantly waiting for what comes next. To become a better storyteller, you shouldn’t just describe events. You should make the details of your story interesting enough that your listeners never forget it.
Focus on your audience
A lot of people are deathly scared of public speaking? When asked why this is so, many of them claim it is because of anxiety. This is totally true. And for some people, they get anxious of speaking in public because they are afraid of how other people will judge them.
If this is you, then you should know that you’re not alone in this. However, it is helpful to understand that your story/presentation is not really about you. It’s about your audience. You are merely the model wearing the art piece, and the center of attention should be the art piece, not you.
The main reason you’re telling a story is to share an important lesson or message that will inspire the audience to make great decisions in their respective journeys. When you focus so much on yourself (Do these people like me? Am I eloquent enough? Do I sound smart or dumb?), you will not have enough energy to deliver a compelling message.
Pass your message across effectively, and all the extra worries will vaporize. To become a better storyteller, remember to always pin the focus of your story on your audience.
Make storytelling a habit
The only way to get better at something is to do it all the time. It’s the same with storytelling; if you want to become a better storyteller, you have to practice. Make storytelling a habit of yours. The more you practice telling stories, the more you’ll understand your own voice and style. You will be able to see what you do that captures people’s attention and you’ll notice when people begin to lose interest in your story.
You’ll also become more confident as recognizing potential stories/story components, and remembering them when you have to. This will increase your fluidity in storytelling and your range of stories; you’ll be able to twist certain details of a story to adapt to any kind of situation.
You should also try to actively listen to other people when they tell stories. Try to identify the elements of their storytelling that you like and the ones you don’t. Notice the parts that grab your attention and the parts that are not very engaging. Then use your observations to improve your own story delivery.
The journey to become a better storyteller is not straight. It’s different for everybody. For some, storytelling is a natural gift. For others, it is a skill that has to be learned. Whatever the case is for you, I am confident that these six techniques will help you on your journey.
- Finding your story
- Write and structure your story
- Know your target audience
- Engage your audience
- Focus on your audience
- Make storytelling a habit