Language is an essential part of living for all animals. Whether we are talking about body language or actual words, the way every animal communicates with others is vital for survival. A cat will arch its back and hiss to communicate threats and purr to communicate satisfaction. Stories can be as simple as communicating an emotional response or a more nuanced approach to a particular study or idea. A story can be as short as three words or as long and complex as an epic like the Odyssey.
Storytelling is a big part of life and animals and humans alike rely on the process to get along. It’s even been suggested that trees could talk to each other! If you can’t give someone the information they need or understand the information you need, you simply won’t survive. This is true for all situations and scenarios but at work, it’s absolutely essential because what you are talking about will probably come with its own linguistic rules and contexts. If you can’t tell a story, you’re going to struggle.
What is Storytelling?
Storytelling is the best way to tell someone something in a memorable and interesting way. Instead of quoting facts at each other, storytelling provides a framework which helps the brain sort the information out to understand what is being said. This is why we tend to remember the gist of a story, even if we don’t quite have a handle on the exact stats that came with it.
Understanding the power of storytelling will impact the way you communicate with others. Organising facts, stats and other information into a seamless narrative may not be simple but the more you practice, the easier it will be to find your flow. And this is a key point for anyone who wants to have more meaningful conversations at work, or anywhere else. When you can tell a story about something as mundane as a report you’ve been writing and keep someone’s attention, you know you’re nailing it!
What Can a Story Do?
Telling a good story is vital if you want to engage listeners and share an idea. Building empathy is a key part of storytelling and giving an audience a chance to put themselves into the narrative is the best way to develop a relationship between you. For example, asking How Many WW2 Veterans are Still Alive? may come with a simple answer but the story, containing the emotional and human understanding is far more memorable.
In the business world, storytelling is everything because people won’t always be able to see or use the product you are selling straight away. This means that you need to tell them a story about how it works but you also need to tell a story that encourages empathy. Showing someone else using a business product or service to solve their problem is the most common method for achieving this.
What are the Features of a Great Story?
All great stories have a few things in common. Think about your favorite books and films – what do they have in common? Usually, they have a compelling narrative, a character you root for (whether you like them or not) and a way of telling the story that brings in your imagination and empathy.
But the main thing that all stories have in common is the idea of problem and solution. Most of the time, a character is faced with a problem and then they use their skills and personality traits to overcome that issue. This formula is seen over and again, whether it is a comedy, a drama or a 30 second advertisement. In business stories, the character usually uses the product or service on offer to solve their problem.
Problem and solution is a great way to increase the drama and tension within your story. As the problems pile up and the chances of success dwindle, the most popular characters will inspire ever more empathy with the audience. Introducing a spark of hope, even the tiniest glimmer, will then keep your audience’s attention right through to the very end and the solution – however unexpected it is!
How to Tell a Great Story
Telling a great story requires a few more skills. Just having a good narrative up your sleeve doesn’t mean that you will necessarily be able to perform the story well. Some people might hog conversations thinking that they are great storytellers but long waffling rambles taking in every detail do not make good stories and are likely to bore people!
Instead, you should focus on the main points of your story and make sure that you use a few techniques to engage your audience. When you are telling a story in conversation, it’s okay for your story to be interrupted with other people’s thoughts and ideas. Asking questions will encourage this as well as leaving small pauses. Varying your voice is another technique to keep your story interesting. Use your voice as you might use punctuation – to create intrigue, mystery and humor.
Similar principles apply to writing a story. Though you won’t be interrupted and your voice can’t be heard out loud, you should still allow your personality (or your brand’s personality) to shine through the text. If a reader can hear a story being told as they read, this is a sign that the language is flowing well and that the story will be engaging. This is a good reason to read your work aloud to yourself when you are proofreading your own work.
Storytelling is an essential skill within your social life and your work life. Honing your storytelling skills won’t just make socialising easier, it will also give you the tools you need to succeed in your career. Learning to tell the story of your experience will help you in interviews, and selling this experience on your CV will get you more interviews in the first place.
But the main thing you need to know is this: the more you practice, the easier it gets.
Do you consider yourself a good storyteller? Let us know why in the comments below.