Until I was 24 or so I was painfully shy. I had a head full of stories but hated being the centre of attention. Sometime after this, I realised the entire human population were as flawed as I was and that I needed to relax a bit and let the world in.
So I did.
Before relaxing and gaining the confidence to participate in conversations, I must’ve been a gravely dull person to hang out with because what does one talk about if they don’t have stories? Random, disconnected facts are probably what.
Many years later, I worked for a man with no stories, and I don’t mean he had a secret past, he did not use any form of storytelling in his communication. He was the man with no stories, and we clashed severely but herein lies the power of the storyteller. I have material from this negative experience, and he has memories of a disobedient employee if he does remember that is.
Now and again at a networking event or party, I don’t want to go to, someone rolls out the old line ‘everybody has a book inside them’.
No! No-one has a book inside them. A book is not a lung. A book is the output of a beautiful but convoluted process of crafting a story or set of information until it is its perfect evolution of the original idea. It takes time and dedication.
If everyone could write a book then why the need for so many ghostwriters but anyway you don’t need to write a book to tell a story, and you don’t need any title to take on the role of storyteller.
And to reduce the power of storytelling into one form; such as writing a book or a script is to do the art a colossal injustice.
The power a storyteller wields is to draw an audience towards them, to talk down an angry school principal or parent, to woo a client or subdue a room full of school children.
It is, the ultimate power and thankfully, it’s not something you need to buy or get a subscription for. You can take core elements of storytelling and apply them across multiple areas of your life.
Or you can share other people’s stories.
You can start with a story a week or a month and learn the ropes.
Whether you’re entertaining people or starting a new business or livening up a dreary workspace, try adding storytelling elements to the conversation and watch your response grow.
What is a good story?
A good story is simply one about a human being that goes on a quest that involves overcoming obstacles. It matters less about the final destination and more about the journey.
Whether it is a journey you have been on, one you constructed or one you’ve heard about, a series of events that have at their heart a human struggle against a force are the most powerful ones.
Contemporary writers and content creators are long onto this. However, there’s still a gap in the fantastic businesses that I see and whose communications fall short of the mark because they haven’t deployed storytelling tactics.
Constructing A Story
Three elements should get you started when deciding what stories to create or recreate.
Firstly, the stories should be responsive to an audience. If you’re in a business that has created products for people who are hard of hearing; you probably don’t want to relay a story of an opera singer missing a note in a performance of Don Giovanni.
But, if you’re at a party or a non-business event, you can circumvent including the specific details by going for a universal theme such as overcoming a fear of rejection or avoiding a situation of violence.
Being responsive means creating a story that your audience wants to hear. A typical deviation from this mission is to create an account that just talks about you or repeating something you’ve heard elsewhere without thinking of the audience.
Your audience no matter how big should get the feeling that you understand them and their worries. Connectivity is key.
Excitable humans love a fun story with a character who pushes boundaries and gets themselves into all kinds of pickles. We love high stakes and stories of people who can do what we wouldn’t dream of doing.
If you can make it funny even better. We all know that laughter is one of the best medicines for stress or anxiety.
If you can add suspense and not give away the ending until the final moment this is another method to make the story entertaining.
Moments of connection with your audience is the goal. Stories that convey empathy and vulnerability will have the most impact. Giving the feeling of a shared experience will deliver a high impact, and the best way to do this is, to be honest about vulnerabilities.
An article in the Business Insider, A former comedy scout explains how to tell a good story at a party talks about the critical elements of a stand out comedy routine.
If I haven’t managed to convince you to use more personal storytelling in your communications, then what about using the stories of others.
Curating A Story
If you can’t think of anything that suits your audience, then borrow from someone else. The retelling of stories is an ancient practice; you know this.
But if you’re curating a story, there’s no excuse for choosing a boring one. Pick something that is at once responsive to the scenario, entertaining and tells the tale of a vulnerable human being.
Established storytellers use vulnerability as a hook to make villains more acceptable in film and books. Why? Because we all, no matter where we are in life, we all understand vulnerability.
Picking a story that contains a universal theme will generally entertain your audience.
Don’t steal someone else’s story because it’s wrong and you’ll be outed as a story thief.
Curating stories in blogging and business communications is highly effective because you’re allowing your customers to see the world through the lens of someone else — the less well known the story, the better.
Is anyone interested in hearing about Steve Jobs anymore? The genius that he was? We’re overly familiar with him now. Chose someone less well known and invoke curiosity in your audience.
If you’re a business with customers, and what kind of business are you without customers, you are sitting on a goldmine of stories. Remember the three elements — relatable, entertaining and vulnerable.
Opening Your Mind To Stories
Open the window to stories in your life and they never stop flowing. It grows and spreads like a fire exposed to high wind. Once you earn your storyteller badge it’s hard to lose it.
The act of listening and observing the world around you will open up your senses to the universe of stories that are bouncing all around us.
Ask someone what they did at the weekend. Ask them why. Ask them what they usually do.
People can be perplexingly disinterested in the lives of others and they’ll never be true storytellers with that mindset.
American humorist and author David Sedaris bases his material on his experiences in life and growing up and talks about the family trait that keeps him making discoveries in an interview with Elle Magazine.
Where to Use Them
If you’re not a natural party-going extrovert the thought of telling stories aloud could be frightening so here are a few platforms for you to try.
Email — especially if you’re a boss or solopreneur. Try introducing your emails with a little story or anecdote. Not only does this entertain the reader straight away, but it shows your ability to link your work with someone in the external world, which in itself is perspective and empathy.
If you can make someone smile in your email or connect with you, that is a double bonus, and it won’t be forgotten.
Pitches or presentations — this is an underused tactic. Why don’t you open a pitch for new business with a story? It could be a fairy tale, or it could be a business story.
Either way, you’ll get better engagement with your audience, especially if you can make them smile.
Marketing and Promotional Material — whether it’s digital real estate such as your website or flyers or promotional material why not start with a story to capture’s people’s attention. A sales pitch or offer is easily forgotten, but a story will stay with the audience for a long time.
I hope this has inspired you to become a story seeker and teller. We’re all crying out to be entertained and moved. I see infinite missed opportunities for people to convey information using storytelling tactics.
Don’t be like the man with no stories. Entertain us.
Thanks for reading.
I’m on a mission to unpick the myth of creative genius and have put together a short, digestible guide on creativity and how small businesses can develop this mindset. Find out more here.