What's Your Story? 6 Tips for Telling Great Stories

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Once upon a time... 

When you hear those words  you're transported back to childhood when you loved hearing a story. That love of stories never left us as adults. What left us was the practice of telling stories. As we developed our logical brain and entered the workplace, we valued facts and information. We learned to speak in soundbites, write bullet points, and get to the point. 

The downside of that kind of public speaking is we don't feel the message and we don't engage with the speaker. It's too easy to tune out. The best public speakers are storytellers. Just look at the popularity of TED Talks.

So why are stories so powerful? Because they talk directly to the heart. Here are tips to tell your story and move from speaking to the mind to capturing the heart.

1. Grab attention with a hook. In childhood, the hook was Once Upon a Time. For adult audiences, open with a problem or a desired dream. You'll know you have it when you see the audience nodding.

2. Engage all the senses. Build a scenario that is visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. That means they can picture you in a scene, they can hear what you would hear and they can feel what it was like for you. When I tell the story of first meeting Charlie, I describe his limp, jellyfish handshake. It was like shaking hands with a squid. As I describe that handshake, I can see the audience grimace. Sometimes I hear groans. That's because the audience is experiencing that weak handshake viscerally with me.

3. Create conflict. Most movies and stories follow a pattern. In its simplest form, it would be Boy Gets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl Back. Without the tension of conflict, the story falls flat. Take your listeners on a journey from high to low to high.

4. Break the pattern. The audience will expect a logical, linear flow which means they will tune out because the pattern is predictable. So use a "pattern interrupt" to shock them out of complacency. Think of a movie that has an unexpected twist at the end. When I finish telling the story of meeting Charlie and his limp handshake, I add that when I told this story to an audience of 100, a man in the audience raised his hand and said... At that moment I hear gasps because the audience expects that it's Charlie in the audience. I then finish by saying, "He pointed to the person next to him and said, "This woman wants to know if you still have Charlie's phone number." It gets a laugh. They weren't expecting that twist. 

5. Use analogies and metaphors. Rock star, Bruce Springsteen, wrote a line in his song  I'm on Fire that goes..

"At night I wake up in the middle of the night with the sheets soaking wet with a freight train running through the middle of my head."

That metaphor of a freight train is a vivid description of a hangover or headache. He could have said:

"I woke up at night sweaty with a bad headache." Which is more powerful? Which do you feel?

6. Get Personal. Nothing is more compelling than telling YOUR story. A good actor can tell someone else's story as if it were her own, but most of us don't have that skill level. There is an element of vulnerability when telling a story. The audience will connect with a public speaker faster and more intently when that presenter reveals herself. Take your audience on your journey. By sharing your flaws and mistakes you become more relatable and authentic. Then bring them with you on your path to success.

Talk facts and the audience may nod. Tell a story and they'll stand and cheer. And that's the power of story to connect heart and mind to make impact!