We must first know what a good story really is in order to know how to tell a good story. Very literally, a good story is one that makes the world clearer and makes us believe that we better understand it as author, Annette Simmons describes in the book, The Story Factor.
It always seems confusing and overwhelming to the world today, but a story has the ability to make sense of it. It gives listeners a plot to pursue, through which their thoughts can be structured.
This not only makes understanding the point simpler for the listener, it can also help them make sense of their personal issues and grievances. For instance, a story about someone in a similar situation will help them to recover if someone has lost their job or been through a difficult break up.
In this sense stories – though indirect – are more effective than direct guidance. This is because direct guidance only applies to one situation and then loses relevance, whereas the lessons of a story can be adapted to fit multiple situations.
Let ‘s say you have a colleague who sends disgusting-sounding emails around the office regularly because he can’t be bothered to properly compose them, and you want him to change his conduct. Of course, you might advise him to stop doing this outright, but it would be even more useful to advise him a story about someone in a badly worded email who lost their job due to a misunderstanding.
Your colleague would probably remember that story every time he was sending an email. He might even start applying the lesson about being polite and professional in his other communications. So even though stories are an indirect way of relaying a point, they can be much more effective than the direct, raw truth.
Let’s presume you know what story you want to hear right now. So how can you correctly say that? You have to know that there are many contact networks open to you. Imagine that you’re not only telling a story, but making a play for your listener: the actors, stage costumes, music and props that can bring a whole new dimension to your story are your voice, face, hands and body.
To add sense to your sentences, you can use your hand movements to really paint a picture for your listeners. To help individuals react to your narrative, use facial expressions. If your story is about something that makes you angry, display the rage on your face, or smile if you’re talking about how happy you were at a different point in the plot. It makes individuals more likely to believe you.
Of course, to fully immerse the listener in your story, what you say is also important. Here you should prioritize things that the listener can imagine vividly. For example, you could ask your audience to imagine the smell of sizzling bacon. Or if your story involves the wind howling, you could make a similar sound to really make them feel present in the story. This kind of visceral experience creates emotional memories that are particularly powerful.
Another way to create emotional memories is to use irrelevant but concrete details. So if you want to tell a story of a large household, don’t focus on how many children are in the family or what their names are. Instead, use concrete details and tell your listeners about the way the house would fill with the scent of freshly baked blueberry pie on Sunday mornings.
You have to tell them not one, but six different stories if you really want to be able to impact your audience. First, say who you are to them, and second, tell them why you’re there. This is because people will not believe you until they know the answer to these questions, and it will be much more persuasive if you tell them using stories, making you seem more trustworthy.
Third, a story that relates to the vision you have, i.e. the long-term target you want to drive them toward, you have to tell them. For instance, if you’re a company’s CEO, you can’t just blur out, “We need to achieve five percent annual revenue growth.” Instead, you could tell them a moving story that encourages your workers to want that growth, or tell them about another company that later became popular.
Fourth, you also need to tell a story that teaches them. For example, if you have just hired a new receptionist, rather than tell him what buttons to push on the phone, regale him with the story of Mrs. Jones, the greatest receptionist you ever met, and how she did the job so immaculately.
Fifth, to tell a tale of values-in-action. This means telling a story where a true, individual activity is transformed into the value you want to express. For instance, if you say “Integrity is crucial” to your workers, it will not mean much. Telling a story about an employee who once made a big error, but was praised when she came clean instead of trying to cover it up, would be much more successful.
Sixth, tell a “I know what you are thinking” story that will make your audience wonder if you’ve just read their minds. For example, think about the potential objections your audience members will make, and then raise and deal with those points as part of a story. This will make the audience feel more at ease.
You probably want to know why that’s the case, now that you know you can affect people with stories. First, they help you resolve suspicions: when someone attempts to manipulate them, people are always distrustful, but stories allow you to circumvent their skepticism so you can frame the audience on your side: overlapping your interests and theirs. This will make them more likely to have faith in you.
Second, stories are effective instruments for making your audience feel as though you know them. These days people crave real human attention, so if you tell a story that touches them and makes them feel acknowledged, they will be more connected to you and more cooperative.
Third, you can take advantage of the fact that people automatically feel more comfortable and relaxed when they hear a story. The instant you say you’re going to tell a little story, your audience will relax and become less analytical. It’s almost like hypnosis.
And if you’re telling a good enough story when they’re in this state, it could stick in their minds for so long that they’re not going to know if they’ve heard it or whether it’s happening to them. Think of any stories from your early childhood if this sounds far-fetched. Are you absolutely sure that they’ve happened to you or have you just heard of them?
Your story will influence the audience’s actions as if it had happened to them. Of course, not all audiences are eager to listen to what you have to say. Often you’ll find you have to speak to people that you might find unwilling, disinterested or unmotivated. So how can you influence them?
The key is to understand that your listeners have good reasons for their opinions, even if they are not in line with yours. It’s too easy to think you’re in the right and they’re in the wrong.
A second primary factor is that you must stay optimistic. If you allow yourself to believe that your audience is hesitant or indifferent, your speech will seep into that negative emotion. You want to awaken hope in them, and only if you yourself are optimistic can you do this.
Finally, try to tell them an additional story that is intended to fit around the root of their negativity if you notice that the audience is really negative. Alternatively, strive to tell a story that highlights the big picture and the ambitions you share with them, if you believe your audience resents you for getting the spotlight.
Check out my related post: How to give constructive feedback?