Five Storytelling Tips

by Speaking Tips | April 12, 2004

Many professions such as historians, lawyers, physicians, economists and psychologists take advantage of the power of stories to illustrate and frame reality in order to help people better understand their subject matter. Professional speakers of course have been using stories to illuminate their messages long before and after slides became the vogue. On the other hand, occasional presenters are often reluctant to incorporate stories into their formal presentations or their reports, proposals, briefings, training and meetings.

In some ways, this reluctance is hard to understand because as a group, humans are born storytellers and relate to stories at a basic, fundamental and very personal level. In our formative years, our environments are rich with storytelling at home, in school and through audio and visual media.  Children absorb a sweep of stories from nursery rhymes to fairy tales to religious stories to family anecdotes. As adults, we pass these on to our own children in turn.

Analagies, anecdotes, parables, fables, metaphors and idioms are all storytelling methods for imparting wisdom or making a point. Frequently, such methods represent a far more effective way to achieve this than through a plain presentation of facts. Here are five tips to help you find your story voice.

1. Leap and the net will appear

Start turning personal experiences into stories for your presentations. It's important that you remember that experiences don't automatically equate to stories, it's how you relate them that does.  Sharing such experiences innevitably requires you to be willing to talk publicly about what are essentially private events. This requires a leap of both faith and imagination, however once you have taken the initial plunge you wil find that you quickly become comfortable doing so. After you become comfortable sharing personal stories, you can begin to include your observations of other people's behavior and then move on to paraphrasing and adapting fables, parables, fairy tales, literature and urban legends. You will quickly build a repertoire of narratives that you will be able to adapt to complement and enhance presentations on a surprisingly wide range of topics.

2. Collect stories from a variety of sources

In the real world, literature and the media stories abound. Start a notebook or database to improve your access to those you like.  When you know a good story, sooner or later you will find a way to weave it into a presentation. Many popular childrens books are an excellent source of material.

3. Learn the characteristics of a good story

Take time to learn what makes a good story, one that people can relate to and will learn from. Look for the following points:

  • It is told well
  • The plot involves a transformation
  • The storyteller is sincere
  • The story fits the occasion
  • The characters come alive
  • The audience can relate to the story
  • The story addresses the issues at hand

4. Observe how professional presenters use stories

Professional presenters regularly use stories, especially personal ones, in their presentations and publications. When you hear a professional presenter speak, observe their use of stories. Good presenters will use stories for a variety of purposes among which include to:

  • Provide humor
  • Clarify and illustrate meaning
  • Make points memorable
  • Bridge cultural gaps
  • Identify with the particular audience
  • Persuade the audience to their point of view
  • Encourage thinking
  • Inspire people to act
  • Build a shared vision
  • Relieve tension
  • Raise the energy level of the group
  • Introduce controversial issues

5. Broaden your storytelling horizons

Try attending a storytelling event or making the acquaintance of a professional storyteller. Observe how school teachers tell stories to the children in their class. Each time you listen to someone other than yourself tell a story, try to see how their performance can be used to enhance your own. Lastly, there are many websites and books that focus on storytelling skills, take the time to do some research by visting these sites and the local library.

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