Never Start a Story With the Weather, and Other Rules for Better Storytelling
Being a good storyteller can improve your presentations at work, boost your social skills, and make you more likable in general. But it’s not an ability that comes naturally to everyone. If you’re not sure how to go about telling stories that captivate an audience, these simple dos and don’ts will give you a good place to start.
Recently, New York City comic Jeff Simmermon shared some general rules of thumb for telling better stories that he picked up along the way to becoming a professional stand-up comic and storyteller. He even teaches these tips in classes and they seem help people a lot. Here are some highlights:
- Never start a story with weather: Nobody cares about the weather, the time of day, the way it smelled, etc.—unless that stuff directly influences what actually happens in the story.
- Start at the beginning of the story and end at the end: Ease up, Tarantino. Don’t confuse your audience by trying to start mid-action. Give the audience a clear beginning, middle, and end.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue: Don’t say “exclaimed,” “shrieks,” or “mumbled,” act it out yourself! Bring people into your story by making them feel like they were there too.
- Never, ever use internet language in a verbal context: Don’t every say “hashtag.” Don’t do this in your stories and don’t do this in your normal conversation either. Use body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions to convey meaning.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”: These are just cliché. Interrupt yourself and express what happened suddenly instead. Escalate the description of the chaos instead of saying something like “all hell broke loose.” Bring them into the story!
As you can see, none of these rules are that difficult to follow, but they can make a huge difference to someone listening to your tales. Your stories will go from droning snooze fest to at least interesting anecdote. Hey, that’s a win! It’s all about telling a clear story, limiting details to only what’s necessary, describing events instead of relying on clichés, and doing a teensy bit of acting to make the characters come alive. You can learn more about Simmermon’s storytelling rules, and see the rest of the lot, at the link below.