6 Tips for Becoming a Great Storyteller
While there’s no single template for how to tell a story, most good storytelling involves certain elements—no matter the topic or the personal background of the storyteller. The following storytelling tips cover the various components of the storytelling process, from storytelling structure to public speaking techniques to body language.
- Make it personal. Storytellers who make themselves a bit vulnerable by revealing a slice of their own life are far more likely to connect with audiences than storytellers who reveal almost nothing. It’s human nature to invest in the personal story of another human being. Which speech would move you more: A climate scientist talking about how her team developed a computer algorithm to measure particulate matter, or a scientist talking about how her personal experience with asthma inspired her to dedicate her life to clean air?
- Write out the story you plan to tell. If you’re sharing a story orally, it’s a great storytelling strategy to write out what you plan to say. In many cases, this might mean giving yourself a written outline or notecards full of bullet points you want to hit. If it’s your first time doing this, you may want to actually draft the entire story in complete sentences—but take care not to spend your speech with your head buried in a piece of paper. As your storytelling skills develop, you may become increasingly comfortable ad libbing. But if you’re new to the art of storytelling, it’s wise to be over-prepared. As a bonus, a written version of your story can be the springboard for a novel, novella, or short story.
- Know your target audience. Good writers and storytellers know why an audience is giving them attention in the first place. When Steve Jobs stood in front of an audience to tell the story of the new iPod or iPhone, he understood he had to perform for an audience of tech enthusiasts and Apple fans—and he knew that what makes a compelling story for that audience is quite different from what would work on a conference call with investors. You’ll become a better storyteller if you remain mindful of your target audience at all stages of your own storytelling, from gleaning story ideas to drafting to actually sharing your great story.
- Pace your main points throughout your story. If you’re presenting a nonfiction story designed to make a point, make sure there’s at least one important point in each section of your speech. This keeps your audience invested. A good storyteller will typically identify their two most salient points and bookend their story with them—they will open with an exciting anecdote to grab the audience’s attention, and then they will make sure the last thing they say is something that can resonate with the audience long after the story is over. In between these two tentpole story points, they fill out the space with more pithy content, which ensures a holistically successful story.
- Work in some surprises. Just like the best fiction writers, the best public speakers never want their audience to go into cruise control. Typically, an audience member makes assumptions about how a story will unfold, and if it actually does proceed as expected, that audience member is likely to zone out and disengage. As the storyteller, it’s your job to prevent such a stupor—so throw a plot twist or into your storylines. When you get to the surprising part of the story, you’ll regain the audience’s attention.
- Get outside of your comfort zone. Even the most experienced storytellers may find themselves returning to the same fertile ground when trying to come up with new stories. If you want to push your creative writing and storytelling to a higher level, you’re going to need to take a few risks. Try crafting stories in different genres. Do you always tell stories from real life? Try making one up. Or maybe start telling a story in the familiar third-person voice (as an omniscient narrator), and then tell the rest of the story using first-person voice from the point of view of your main character. Versatility is one of the most important skills of a great storyteller, so embrace opportunities to flex this muscle.
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