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Everyday Storytelling

Add interest and excitement to your messages with compelling stories.

By
Lisa B. Marshall
March 20, 2009

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Back in October, British listener Phil Grainger wrote:

I struggle with speakers who don’t tell a story; they just use facts <boring>. Can you share your thoughts on effective storytelling?

Then just today, 17 year-old New York City listener, Kaci, sent me an email that read:

Do you have any advice on effectively telling a story?

If you’re a regular listener, you know that last week I started talking about what makes a compelling story, and today I have much more to add. Last week, I discussed the importance of getting attention from the start and including a memorable close. As examples, I talked about the movie Slumdog Millionaire and I also incorporated a very quick personal story. I used two different stories on purpose so that this week we could talk about additional fundamental features of effective stories. So, if you didn’t listen or read last week’s show you might want to do that now.

Why Is Storytelling Important

But, before we talk about the basic building blocks of a story, let me take a step back and briefly talk about why storytelling is so powerful. Humans have an instinctive predilection for stories. Think about it. Togo the caveman hunts the big wooly mammoth and he returns to tell his story by painting pictures on the cave walls. Today, Jon, comes back from a big night out at the bars and shares his story by posting gossip and photos on his Facebook wall.

We all tell stories. We tell stories of romantic love. We tell stories about our conflicts. We tell stories that explain how we got that distinctive scar on our knee.

If you’re trying to inform, persuade, motivate, or entertain, you need to incorporate stories. That means every time you speak, you should think about how to enhance your message with stories.

Stories Connect Communities

Stories connect people. Stories promote social cohesion, convey complex meaning, and communicate common values and rules. It’s how we learn from other people’s experiences. More importantly, stories provide a rich context for learning, which means we’re better able to remember a story’s ideas and act on them or share them with others. In fact, recent research suggests (Green, 2004; Escalas, 2007) that people accept ideas more readily when presented in a story than when presented as facts for analysis. I included references in the show notes if you are interested in learning more about that.

So basically what I’m saying is this: if you’re trying to inform, persuade, motivate, or entertain, you need to incorporate stories. Yes, that means, every time you speak, you should think about how to enhance your message with stories.

What Is A Story?

In my experience, many people struggle with creating and telling stories. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because they think storytelling is something bigger than it really is.

Stories are just a sequence of actions or events. Ira Glass, who is a master storyteller and the host of NPR’s This American Life, says a story is a person saying, “This happened, and that led to this next thing, and this next thing and so on; one thing following another. And some things in the sequence can be: then that made me think of this, and that made me say this.”

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