How to Become a Good Storyteller
Not many of us aspire to be Moth-winning level storytellers, but being known for spinning a good yarn has its social uses.
Luckily for the rest of us, the famous storytelling contest does offer a number of suggestions on their website, probably in an attempt to help people getting up on that stage for the first time. Not all of them apply to the amateur, but a few are worth remembering.
Below, some foolproof strategies for brushing up those anecdotes into a compelling tale that gets you invited everywhere the music isn’t playing too loud.
Know Things By “Heart”
This is actually kind of poetic—yes, you should know your story, but the Moth writes that you should “know your story ‘by heart’ but not by rote memorization.” You should know the bullet points of your story very well, important details, names and locations. However, it’s our connection to the story that makes it compelling, even if it’s just something that makes you really laugh, cry, or remember a special moment in your life. Other people are drawn into stories by the emotional component, not your ability to impersonate a fact robot.
Have A Strong Opener
But if you are going to memorize something line for line, make it your opener. A compelling start grabs people’s attention. The secret to a compelling start is usually setting up the stakes of your story:
What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you? If you can’t answer this, then think of a different story. A story without stakes is an essay and is best experienced on the page, not the stage. Start in the action.
That’s true, even if your stage is just the group of people drinking beer around the pinball machine.
Tighten It Up
Like I said above, know the bullet points and make sure you’re getting to them in a timely manner. Anett Grant is the CEO of Executive Speaking, Inc, and wrote a list of the dos and don’ts of storytelling for Fast Company. Three of her six don’ts are about drawing your story out in ways you don’t need to: taking too much time, giving too much background, and taking your audience through unnecessary detours. Grant mostly focuses on teaching executives how to tell stories as part of presentations, so clarity is especially important. But the same applies even when you’re not trying to sell something.
“Don’t go off on tangents when you’re building up the action of your story,” Grant writes. “You don’t want to lose momentum and confuse your audience by discussing something that doesn’t contribute to your main point.”
Do Some Break Outs
Grant also recommends adding dialogue to a story. If there’s a moment where someone talks to you, don’t just say, “Charlie told us to go inside.” Make it something more like, “And then Charlie said, ‘You’ll find what you’re looking for inside, if you’re brave enough to enter!’” Characters come to life when we hear them speak.
Stick The Landing
Wow, your story is great! It’s emotional, it has stakes, action, it’s concise, there’s a freaky character in it and we can’t wait to see what they’re gonna do—but then it kind of fizzles out. No matter what came before, if you don’t have a strong ending, people will not remember your story well. That’s a bummer, but it makes sense. We like stories for the pay off! So consider what the point of your story is before you tell it. If there is no point, that’s fine, but it’s not a good story.
Go Live Your Life
Get out there and live! That’s how we have stories to tell in the first place.