Everyday Storytelling

Add interest and excitement to your messages with compelling stories.

Lisa B. Marshall
6-minute read

The Plot

Putting actions into a sequence is a story. It’s that simple. And stories make listening to anything more interesting. Last week I could have said, “I saw Slumdog Millionaire.” Instead, I explained a sequence of actions: my husband making a suggestion, me needing to do work, but ultimately deciding to go to the movie anyway.

So did you notice how I worked in that minor internal conflict? Many times stories are created by an internal or external struggle between opposing forces. In Slumdog Millionaire, the main character is torn between his sense of loyalty to his brother and his love for a girl.

The Setting

Usually a story begins by establishing the setting. Slumdog Millionaire starts with images of present day slums in Mumbai, India. This tells us where and when the actions take place. The purpose is to engage us or transport us directly into the story. Research (Green, 2004) suggests that the closer our prior experiences and knowledge are to the story, the more we’ll be engaged.

So what does this mean for everyday storytellers, like us? You know, people who tell stories at the dinner table, at parties, during interviews, or maybe even during work presentations. It just means we need to establish a setting--one that the listeners can easily relate to.

For example, you might say "At school last week" or "As I was driving home from work" or "Two years ago when I was living in New York city" In last week’s show I established the context by saying, “This past Saturday afternoon when I was supposed to be finalizing my presentation…”

The Characters

OK, so once the setting has been established you need characters to make the story happen. It’s the characters that interact in the setting, perform the actions, and make decisions. You can develop characters by using dialogue and actions. By incorporating dialogue into the story, the listener learns about the character, not only by what they say, but how they say it. The character’s actions, even more than the words, define the character, the true character.

For purposes of everyday storytelling, always include dialogue and incorporate actions. For example in my personal story last week, I included the dialogue between my husband and myself. I also included my decision to procrastinate. Again, I could have just said, “I saw Slumdog Millionaire last weekend;” instead, the dialogue and the action of my decision make the story more interesting. Oh and don’t worry if you only have one character, you can still have dialogue by sharing inner thoughts. For example, last week I thought to myself, “Wow, what a great attention getter.”


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.