Storytelling creates stimulation in the human brain.
It’s kind of weird to think that a simple story can cause your brain to react differently than normal, but think back to someone you know that commands your attention.
It might be an uncle in the family that can grab attention from the family during the holiday get together. Or it could be a grandmother that sits down with you, tells a story and before you realize what’s happening it’s an hour later and you feel exhausted because your brain has been so stimulated.
The ability to tell a story is a critical life skill. Being able to connect with others, understand them and make meaningful connections can lead to success in life. It can lead to opportunity and the more opportunity you have the more likely you are to be successful.
Storytelling alone won’t make you successful, but it’s a great skill to have especially if you want to be able to connect with people, communicate with them and understand them while also having them understand you.
Let’s go through a few ways you can become a better storyteller.
There’s really no way to get around practice and quantity. When you’re starting out from scratch on something, in this case storytelling, you’re not going to know what you’re doing. The only real way to figure something out is to try different things until you discover what works.
It helps to have a little direction, but at some point you need to put in the quantity.
When songwriters start out writing songs they may think that they’ll start with writing the best song ever, but the likely outcome is that they’ll write a thousand songs before they write a good one or maybe they’ll have to write 5,000 or 10,000 songs.
Then over time they don’t need to write as many, but it takes quantity to be able to build your skills.
Commit to creating stories and telling stories. It might be something simple like writing a one-page story everyday in the morning. Take 20-30 minutes each day to write a new story. After a year you’ll have over 300 stories under your belt and you can bet that you’ll be a better storyteller simply by putting in the quantity and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
2. Different Channels
Stories can be told in different channels. I listen to stories on podcasts. We watch people tell stories on TV. We listen in person and we read stories.
Different channels put different emphasis on different emotions and senses. It can be good to build skills for different channels, but you can stick with just one and that should be the one that will be most beneficial to you.
For me, that’s writing. I’m in the blogging industry so being able to write is a requirement. But I have found that writing can carryover a little bit into real life conversation, but I would imagine that if I had better skills at telling stories on video would make me a better in-person storyteller.
A key to storytelling is vulnerability.
Think about your favorite songs or your favorite movies and novels. Usually the ones that touch you the most are when the lead characters are vulnerable. They open up their lives and show real emotions and it connects with people.
The reason for the connection is because we’re all vulnerable in ways and it makes us feel good knowing that others are going through the same things or going through things that are challenging. It helps us think that we’re not alone in the world and in the challenges we’re going through.
So a key to telling a good story is being vulnerable. It’s okay to let people know that you felt vulnerable or that you were going through a challenge.
You don’t need to be a hero. It’s easy to be a hero in your own story, but people don’t want to hear about heroes. They want to hear about real life and real struggle.
I struggle with this one a bit. I know I can be monotone at times. Maybe that’s why I ended up in the writing industry. But some of the best in-person storytellers I know can really use their voice in great ways. They can bring passion and other emotions to the story that really elevate what they’re trying to communicate.
Now, emotion in storytelling is definitely a skill. You can not have enough, but you can also have too much. You probably know someone that can take emotion too far when they’re having a conversation or telling a story. Too much takes people off what you’re telling them.
This comes from practice and trying to sense when you’re losing people’s interest.
Simple is good in most aspects in life.
It’s true in storytelling. The more elements you add to a story or the more hooks and points and messages you try to fit in the more complex it will get and you’ll lose people.
Keep it simple. See how far you can strip things back. Look to remove things that aren’t necessary.
For example, if you’re telling a story about a night out with friends it might not be necessary to tell them the color of your shoes or things like that.
Make sure that every element adds context to the story and helps with understanding.
I just watched a documentary on Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and they used the mantra, Don’t Bore Us Get To The Chorus. That means that there is nothing to gain by adding elements for the sake of adding elements.
It takes practice to figure out what elements are necessary and what elements aren’t. So pay attention while you’re building your quantity in practice and you’ll learn how to find that balance to create simplicity.
6. Examples & Comparisons
A few years ago a client at Ghost Blog Writers told me that we needed to include more examples in our posts. It was some of the best feedback we’ve gotten at GBW.
Examples are types of stories and even in your story it’s good to add examples. They help people understand on a new level.
Comparisons are great. You can tell someone that it was really hot the day your story occurred. It was in Wisconsin, but it felt like you were in Florida. Very humid and it felt like the air was made out of water.
You probably have someone in your life that commands your attention. When they’re telling a story you shut down the entire world and focus all your attention to what they’re saying. That’s an incredible skill that some people have. There are a few things you can work on specifically, but it really comes from putting in the quantity so you can figure out how to connect with people. Do that and it can bleed into your work life and business and it can lead to more connections with people, better communication and more success for you and those around you.