Tell Memorable StoriesSep 18, 2023
ONCE UPON A TIME
“The human brain longs for story.” - Donald Miller, founder of Business Made Simple and StoryBrand.
Four of the absolute best words of all time are: "Once upon a time".
These timeless words have the power to transport us to different worlds, evoke emotions, and inspire change. Stories have been the backbone of human communication since the absolute beginning. They are responsible for shaping cultures, maintaining traditions, and connecting us to each other on a profound level.
If we were sitting down for coffee and I asked you, tell me about a time when you learned a valuable lesson. I am 99% sure you would tell me a story.
So much of life is connected to stories. That’s how generational values and history were passed down from generation to generation before we could write and then print.
We told stories.
We consumed stories.
We remembered stories.
We retold stories.
We loved stories.
I was 11 years old when I truly fell in love with the art of storytelling.
I built a stage in my basement and coerced my neighborhood friends to come over to be my audience. Of course, I bribed them with my mom’s famous chocolate chip cookies, but it worked. They gathered in my basement and then I hopped on stage.
My parents still have a cassette recording or two of my talks from back in 1986.
I fell in love with being on stage and telling stories.
I fell in love with sitting around a campfire and telling stories.
I fell in love with telling stories to my coworkers to inspire them or lift them up.
I fell in love with telling stories to inspire and to encourage.
The reality is, we still love stories. Actually, the world we live in can’t get enough of great stories. We binge watch shows on Netflix, we buy movie tickets a month ahead of time to secure our seat and we watch endless hours of tik tok videos all because we love stories.
It’s great that we all love stories, but are you a storyteller? Do you tell stories?
Consuming them is one thing but it’s incredibly special to embrace the art and function of storytelling. In the realm of business, personal development and connecting with others, storytelling is an invaluable tool.
As Brendon Burchard wisely puts it, "We all have a life story and a message that can inspire others to live a better life or run a better business. Why not use that story and message to serve others and grow a real business doing it?"
So, let me ask you again, are you a storyteller?
If you are, where do you tell your stories? Do you share stories with your kids? Your family? Do you leverage the power of storytelling in your business?
Unlock the components of a great story and tell it in a way that inspires, encourages and challenges people. Let’s walk through some key elements of telling a really good story and get you started on becoming a great storyteller.
ELEMENTS OF A GREAT STORY
- Start by capturing their attention with a really great hook.
Starting strong is non-negotiable in storytelling. Don’t ever start with the phrase: ‘I have a great story to tell you’ or ‘Get ready for a very funny story’. That squanders the beginning of a story. Instead, begin with something that grabs your audience's attention—a question, a bold statement, or even an intriguing image. Focus on their needs and curiosity.
In one of my keynote speeches I tell a story about how my friend's mom accidentally vacuumed up their bird. Yes, it’s hilarious. But, I don’t start by saying:
“I have a story about how my friend's mom vacuumed up their bird.”
That would be the world’s worst hook. I start by saying:
“We were playing video games and all of a sudden we heard the loudest scream we have ever heard before. We ran downstairs and my best friend’s mom was on her knees tearing apart the vacuum cleaner!”
That is a hook!
- Paint a vivid picture of what you want your audience to experience.
You don’t have to paint a giant mural, but think through the most important elements of the story and begin painting that picture. Transport your audience into your narrative by painting a detailed scene.
Often when I’m telling the bird story, I will talk about how we were in my best friend's upstairs room and how cooler it was than my room. I talk about the posters on the wall and playing super nintendo. I give some details to allow my audience's mind to transport themselves into that room. I offer sensory-rich descriptions that allow them to feel, hear, see, and even smell what's happening. Provide context and set the stage for your story.
- Stir their hearts by evoking emotion.
Great stories don't just inform; they make us feel. When you tell a story, think about your favorite song and how it takes you on a journey from beginning to end. This is exactly what great stories will do for your audience.
The best storytellers infuse their stories with powerful emotions. Make your audience laugh, cry, or feel deeply connected to the characters and situations. Use images, props, and real-life examples to bring your story to life.
- Be absolutely clear.
Clarity is key. Embrace clarity like it is your oxygen tank when scuba diving. While details are essential, cut out anything that doesn't serve the core of your story. Practice the art of brevity, focusing on the elements that truly matter. Do your homework on your audience so you know what parts to emphasize.
Focus is your friend. The longer the story, the greater the chance you will lose your audience. Remember this: if it’s long, they will be expecting a huge pay off for listening. So, be clear and focused.
- Connect with empathy by being real.
Be a guide as a storyteller and take your audience on a journey. Create empathy for your characters or the situations you describe. Empathy is a bridge that connects you to your audience, allowing them to relate to your story and see themselves in it.
Great stories are authentic. Resist the urge to be the hero of the story. Instead, share your vulnerability, challenges, and triumphs. When you're genuine, your audience can better relate to your experiences and connect with your message.
- Make it engaging and give them an Ah-Ha moment.
Drama isn't just for the theater; it's a storytelling tool. Exaggerate events, build anticipation, and convey your expectations in a dramatic way. Keep your audience engaged throughout the journey.
When I tell the story about my best friend's mom vacuuming up their bird, I don’t lead with that. Rather, I paint a picture of how she was trying to speed up the process of cleaning their bird's cage by carefully sticking the vacuum host in the cage.
Like a skilled magician, save one or two vital pieces of your story for the end—the "Ah-ha!" moments. These revelations should resonate deeply with your audience and deliver your key message with impact.
- Give them a great Call to Action
A great story isn't just entertainment; it's a catalyst for action. Use stories to drill home a point you're trying to make. Conclude your narrative by giving your audience clear and actionable steps. Challenge them to apply the lessons from your story to their own lives. Then, for extra credit, later in your speech or presentation, use a ‘call back’. That’s when you reference something from the story you told earlier and you create another sea of ‘ah-ha’ moments.
In the words of Robert McKee, "Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today." By mastering the art of storytelling and embracing these components, you can harness the incredible power of narrative to inspire, connect, and create positive change in your life and in the lives of others.
Your story is a gift—use it wisely.
By Jason Raitz - Founder, Speak with People
Jason is a natural storyteller. Whether he is speaking from a stage or chatting with a friend over lunch, Jason is known for telling captivating, hilarious stories.