The success part of life looks good to others. The best parts are actually the simple daily experiences. This is true whether you’re an actor, a teacher, or a waitress. I know because I’ve been all three. – Lauren Graham.
Today we’re going to talk about another communication tool. Storytelling is one of those crucial things that goes back to the beginnings of civilization. At early on, you had people like Homer, who could take these stories and go town to town and tell the stories of other places and other times in history. A lot of times, they also had a moral value to them. That ability to tell a story captures our minds. It helps us connect with people in such a great way.
We’ll be talking about a book by Vanessa van Edwards called Captivate. The Science of Succeeding with People. She says that stories bring us together. They sync our brains. And you can tell that when it comes to television, or even dramatic podcast, or anything, even this podcast can help everyone understand if you can tell a story. Even kids at a very young age understand the power of stories. It’s also easy to swap and share stories because they’re so universal to the human experience.
She talks about having Trigger Topics. You want to bring those things together, which will be a common theme that people recognize. They want to be able to see pieces in that story that relates to their own lives. Then she talks about having Sparkling Stories. These are stories that have laughs and aha! Maybe a few groans. Then to have a Boomerang, which brings the conversation back to the person or people you’re talking to. So let’s say that you’re giving this incredible story, you’re talking about this problem. You’re sharing this whole thing. If you cannot bring it back to your audience, whether it’s one person or 9000 people, they will wonder why are you even telling me this? Why did you just go through this big long thing, and it has nothing to do with me? That’s where you have to bring it back. So she suggests starting with the Hook. Get people curious and excited to hear what you’re going to say next. And so you want to make sure that you use provocative, descriptive words that bring in the senses. That makes people interested in what you’re saying.
Try to build this intrigue into the story itself. So people are thinking, “Oh, my gosh, what’s happening next?!” It brings people in and makes them excited to hear what you have. Using those provocative words, those descriptive words will help you make that enjoyable.
There’s another podcast out there called the Art of Charm, and they had an article about how to tell a great story. They caution people not to worry if you think you don’t have any stories to tell. Everybody has stories to tell. We have all these experiences that we live through, that we laugh through. Everybody has a story to tell.
They discuss something called the Crash Opening. You’ve all seen it in television shows, or movies, where you don’t start out saying here are all the people. Here’s what they do. Here are their names. Here’s their backstory. At the beginning of the show, or the beginning of the movie, you immediately see a giant crash. And now you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh, what’s happening?” It’s a fascinating way to start a story. So challenge yourself to find a way of telling a story that immediately creates this crash or this gigantic splash that gets people started.
Do you have to analyze what kind of crucial information the audience needs to know to understand the rest of the story? That’s really where you start writing down your story. And when does it start to get interesting? Back it up a little bit, and that’s when you know, that’s when your story should begin. When you tell a story, you don’t want to be telling the story of your life. This isn’t an autobiography, particularly if you’re trying to convince people or trying to help someone in a certain way by giving them an example of something. So keep the story very short, and explain how the part of your personal story is helping to describe what you’re about to discuss.
Once you figured out where you’re going to start in your story and the main points you need to share, you have to think up a logical order for your story. Stories are impactful because they’re not just a set of data facts. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And so, putting those things in the right order and making it have a proper sense of balance within the story will help you to really grab people. You’ve heard people tell a story. They’ll say, “Well, the other day I was in the store… Wait a minute, wait a minute, let me back this up. First of all, I got into my car, and I realized that I forgot my. Well, let me back that up, hold on one moment. My dog was barking. And so at the same time, I was trying to grab my wallet, my dog started barking and I got confused, and I forgot my wallet.” Maybe it’s an intriguing story. But that just got super confusing because you backed up the story twice and didn’t tell it in the proper order. So making sure that it has that will make the story impactful. And if you do have to back up the story, then make sure it’s intentional.
And make sure that you remove some small details that aren’t relevant to the story because the whole reason that you’re telling a story is to give a message. And you want to make sure that message is highlighted as the main point and that the story around it connects it to the listener. And they said that is the magic of great storytelling. And what the people at Art of Charm talk about is that telling a story makes it or breaks it when it comes to other people. But you have to realize that what’s powerful about the story is the information it sends and how it connects to the listener. That’s what’s important. And when thinking about it, think about the stories that captivate you. So they recommend finding the emotional core of any story. That’s really how the storyteller feels about the events they’re describing. But it’s also what you want the listener to feel inside when they hear it. So what made the story happen? How did it motivate you? How did it trouble you? How did you feel in the surroundings? And how do you think now that it’s over with? If you can express those feelings inside your story, it will help connect you to people on an emotional level. And not just on an intellectual level. It says structurally. You want to find opportunities to weave feelings and motivations into its events. And it doesn’t have to be as complex as it sounds. They said you could either say “I couldn’t believe it,” or, “But at that point, I was terrified”. And you can see that that emotional change inside the story can make the story work for you. And so good storytellers know how to make that story compelling, how to weave in those emotions, and cut down the extra information that bogs the story down, or make people sit there wondering, “Why am I even here? What’s the point of the story? Wonder what I’m going to do after lunch today?”
Another thing they say is that a good storyteller builds a rapport with the audience themselves. They look people in the eye. They create a connection to the listener. They said the magic of great storytelling, or any rapport building exercise, there’s one simple rule in place, “High risk, high reward, low risk, low reward.” That means to tell a great story. Sometimes you have to do something risky. You don’t want to get yourself in trouble. But you want to follow that amazing line of risk and a story. Because of that risk. And a little bit of self-disclosure, it will give you a deeper connection with your listeners. There’s a bit of a risk that you’ll expose too much of yourself. Maybe you’ll embarrass yourself. But it may be that you will connect with the listener more than ever.
And like anything else, becoming a great storyteller is about doing it over time. The first time you tell a great story, it might not be great. But as you get better and better and better at it, you’ll learn where that line between risk and reward or too much disclosure and pain will come in and get you. So you’ll get better at it as you go along.
They put these disclosures about yourself into three different levels. Light Disclosure is a funny story about yourself. Maybe it’s a little bit embarrassing. But again, it clearly has a beginning, middle, and end. And it’s usually something funny that happened to you in the course of daily life. Then there’s the Medium Disclosure that’s a little bit more serious and involves your beliefs, your opinions, your ideas. It’s a bit riskier because there’s someone out there who’s going to be affected by your thoughts and your feelings. They say Medium Disclosures are best when you’ve already built some connection to your listeners. They need to feel safe before you start revealing things that are even a medium kind of risk. Otherwise, they’ll walk out of the room feeling uncomfortable. And then comes the Heavy Disclosures, and those are the riskiest and most painful kinds of stories where you are sharing what they say are your fears, your failures, your insecurities, and your pain. The risks are hard because if you don’t tell the story correctly, it may make you sound pitiful, weak. Your listeners might laugh at you instead of feeling it with you. They may feel something very negative about you. So you got to be careful about those high-risk, Heavy Disclosure stories. But sometimes, the most remarkable stories on the planet involve those risky stories.
They also say that good storytelling comes with practice. You practice your speech with yourself. You practice it with other people. They say that you head off to a Toastmasters meeting, which is a great piece of advice or join a storytelling group. Maybe you start reading stories at your local library to get better at it. But whatever it is you need to do, you have to get practice and doing that. So here are some suggestions they give to get some practice with the story. First of all, start listing out some of the favorite stories about yourself. It’s just a brief overview of some of the favorite stories you either love to tell or love to think about. Pick one of your favorite in the list and list out the important pieces of that story. What happened, and write them down in a way that makes sense to you. And put them in order. Then comes the backstory. How did you get to this point of your favorite story. And then they say just go ahead and start practicing. And you want to get to the point where you practice without your notes. You don’t want your story just seeing canned, over-rehearsed, or like you’re reading any kind of a script. They say that telling stories are a bit like telling a joke. You want to try it a few different ways and remember the important parts and emphasize different bits of the story.
When I was getting started in podcasting, someone from a very well known podcast made a mistake. And they left all the different attempts at them saying specific sentences in their podcast. Not only would they say the sentence they were going to say, but it probably said some of the main sentences four or five times was an editing mistake happening all the time in podcasts. But for me, who is someone who is brand new to podcasting, I got a chance to listen to how this very professional person was able to change the tone of the story by saying the same sentences in many different ways. It helped me. I was glad she made a mistake because it taught me a valuable lesson about tone. Try it out, try telling your story with some different voices with some other ways of saying it, try it funny, or maybe try it serious and see which one comes off best.
They also suggest that you try to avoid some of the pitfalls when it comes to public speaking. And some of them are things like vocal fry. And vocal fry is hard to do. But it’s something like where you’re kind of gravelly in your voice. And then there’s up talking because I’m not sure what I’m going to say. And I’m not sure what I’m going to do. But I hope you like this? One of the problems with up talking is it makes you sound very insecure. I do it. You know it’s a fault of mine too. But try to avoid that if you can get away from it. And then there’s always pronouncing words correctly. You’ll see people will talk about the shreets, its streets. Take some time when you’re trying to become an excellent storyteller to say things correctly.
Have your body language match your storytelling. You can always use it in a more literal sense. If you’re grabbing something in your story, you can reach your arms out. If you’re hugging someone, you can spread your arms out like you were hugging them. And sometimes, if you’re comparing two separate ideas, you can use your right hand for one idea and your left hand for the other idea. But make sure your body language matches the kind of story you’re telling. Also, keep in mind that you want to have a good look on your face, that you are gesturing frequently. Otherwise, you kind of look like you’re almost falling asleep yourself. The Art of Charm podcast said that stories are always about the journey. They’re not necessarily even about the destination, or how the person ends up at the very end. It’s about that process of getting from the beginning to the end, and all the emotion built into that.
They said the number one reason why the endpoint of the story is really not what you should focus on is because sometimes people can’t identify with the end of the story. They identify with the struggle you’re having, getting to the end of the story. That’s what really connects with people so that you can bring them in. If I were telling you a story about how I lost all this weight and got in shape. You might be sitting there saying well, good for you. I can’t get there. It’s not great for me. But if I talk about the steps and the struggles, you identify with that because you’ve had struggles too. The story will connect with people, even if they’re not going after the goals, you’re going after, even if they’re not trying to do the things you want to do. And if you talk too much about the end goal, it’ll sound like you’re bragging. It’ll sound like you’re gloating. People won’t be that interested.
Keep in mind that storytelling is not a competition. It’s about connecting, in your way, with your own story. It’s not about beating other storytellers and being better than they are. Sometimes that will cause us to overstate the story and force it to be something that it’s not. This is not a competition. This is your story. Also, make sure that you keep in mind the knowledge of your audience when telling a story. If you’re talking about something, and it is over their head, the story will not connect with people. If you’re using technical terminology or concepts that you know, they don’t know. Then the story is not going to land no matter how great the rest of the story is. You always have to speak to the level of the person that you’re talking to. And that doesn’t mean talking down to them, but it might be using fewer abbreviations, less technical terms, and talking about what it is. I’ve seen people speak and trainers speak, because they want to sound smart. And maybe there’s some insecurity that they don’t feel like people trust that they know what they’re talking about. And they will come out on day one of training and try to blow people’s doors off. With all this technical talk, all these terms. These people have not been exposed to the material yet, and maybe they know peripherally what that kind of thing is. They don’t know what you’re talking about, however. It’s day one of training. And so even keeping the story detail at the listener’s level, that’s what’s going to make it land.
So the Art of Charm podcast gives you eight steps to telling a great story.
- Where does the story not just begin but back it up to before the story begins. So people understand how we got into the position that we got into. They call it giving that point of departure to your account. Think about Spiderman. He was in a lab, and he got bit by a radioactive spider. That’s how the story takes off.
- Articulating what the want or the need is, or what problem are you trying to solve when it came to that story? You set the stage. Now, what is it that you need to do to succeed in this story? Everybody can connect with that on an emotional level. Even if they’re not doing the thing you’re doing, they still understand a desire for something they don’t have or wish they want to happen. And it explains to people why you would throw yourself into whatever situation is about to happen.
- Why did you decide to do what you did? What was that pivot point in your decision that puts you in that direction? Then they say to make sure that you go through how you prepared yourself for whatever journey you’re about to take. How did you plan for it? How did you pack? What did you decide to do? How did you prepare yourself for this? That will bring people in.
- Then, the next part of the story they call the search? How are you going to find the thing you’re looking for? Is how did you launch yourself? How did the investigation begin? Where did you go? How did you start to look for the very thing that you’ve wanted to find?
- They say that these first four steps are about painting the picture, showing the emotion, the thought, the planning that goes into this adventure that you’re telling someone about.
- The next steps are a bit more interchangeable than the first, for which we’re setting the stage by bringing in the emotion and your desires and showing them on your face or in your body or in your hands and gestures that will bring the listener into your story. And that’s what sells the story to the person. So that’s painting the emotion.
- Talk about finding what it is that you’re looking for. Sometimes it’s straightforward. Oh, there it is. I was looking for this my whole life. I traveled halfway around the world to get it. And there it was sitting on a table. But sometimes, finding it is emotional. And if you can also bring that emotion into actually reaching to the place where you see your goal before you, that helps,
- The payoff of the story. Did you get the thing you wanted to, or maybe you didn’t get the thing you wanted to? Perhaps you’re still looking for what you’re trying to do. Maybe you’re still trying to lose weight. Or maybe you’re still trying to get that perfect dream job. Whatever it is, you have to tell how the story is right now, when it comes to that thing you were seeking. The outcome of the story is also about how you are as a human being. Sometimes there’s joy. Sometimes there’s a disappointment. And sometimes there’s just an abject failure in your goals. This is where you bring your real humanity into the story.
- The last point of the Art of Charm podcast is that you want to talk about the lesson you learned. Whether it was, I thought this was going to be great, and it was great. It changed my life. Or maybe it wasn’t great. Or maybe you didn’t get what you wanted, but you learn something valuable out of it. What is the takeaway from your story? What did you learn? There was something throughout this entire story that you learn from this process? And what was that? What can you teach them, so they know when they’re faced with something similar, they know how to deal with it better because they heard your story?
- “Trigger” common human experiences, make it “sparkle” with last groans and enlightenment, and make it a “boomerang” where it reconnects with people in the audience.
- Get people curious with a “hook” or do a “crash story.”
- Find critical elements of a story, put them to back the story up a bit, and then launch the story
- Make your important message the highlight of the story without too many useless facts.
- Build emotion, add some risk and build a rapport with your audience.
- Look at your stories that you love to tell. Pick your favorite, find the right tone, the right gestures, and start the journey.
- Speak correctly and with the right level of terminology and jargon
- Review the eight rules of telling a great story from the Art of Charm podcast
- Come up with a small story in under 10 minutes. That is one of your favorite stories in your life. Get it to be perfect. Get the essential details, put them in the right order, and put in exciting terms emotions and the journey. Practice it and get good at this concise story. Once you get good at one small level, it’ll help you get better at other stories too.
Our fun movie quote comes from Michael Scott in The Office.
“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me. And I think I proved that today at the dojo.”
Maybe the best advice I can give you is not to take any advice from Michael Scott.