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The art of storytelling

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Whether it’s during a presentation, in a meeting, while writing a brief or simply just for fun, we all have stories to tell.

And we’ve probably spent a lot of time hearing them too.

Listening to stories provides one of the greatest sources of creative inspiration. From finding out how someone set up a global business from their spare room, to learning about the blood sweat and tears that went into renovating a house.

But how do we spin a yarn that’s good enough to draw people in, keep them engaged and ultimately leave them wanting more?

When thinking about how to tell your story it’s vital to consider your audience. Are they young? Old? Educated? Do they know the subject you’re talking about? Are they listening to you by choice?

No matter what your story is about you need to make your audience care. Be clear in your mind about why they should be interested in the story and how it’s relevant to them. Know why your story matters.

While some stories are long and winding, others are quick and to the point. But whatever the length they all need to have an abundance of qualities that will draw the audience in.

If you ever watch any TED Talks you’ll hear people from all walks of life telling their personal stories. Some of them are so compelling they’ve been viewed tens of millions of times, such as this one by stroke victim Jill Bolte Taylor.

But what is it that makes her story so compelling?

Well for one she’s talking about something terrible that could happen to any one of us at any time. This creates a feeling of fear which makes people listen with a heightened sense of alertness.

She tells us what happened in great detail and what it felt like, but she does it with a sense of humour. Things which were obviously horrendous and life-changing for her, are made amusing, hilarious even.

So, terrifying and hilarious. Two complete opposites, and number four in the top 10 basic principles of storytelling according to Bobette Buster, a renowned story consultant, in her book ‘How to tell your story so the world listens’

If you take a look at this extract from the list Bobette compiled you’ll probably notice quite a lot of other points that come through in Jill’s TED Talk.

  1. Tell your story as if you’re telling it to a friend
  2. Set the GPS (give the place, time, setting and any relevant context)
  3. Use active verbs  
  4. Juxtapose (take two opposing ideas, images or thoughts and place them together)
  5. Gleaming detail (choose one ordinary moment or object that becomes a ‘gleaming detail’)
  6. ‘Hand over the Spark’ (reflect on what captivated you and hand it to your audience))
  7. Be vulnerable
  8. Tune in to your sense memory (use one of the senses in your story to make a deeper connection with your audience)
  9. Bring yourself (it’s about you as much as anything else)
  10. Let go (let your story build then get out and leave your audience wanting more)

No matter what your story is about, and how many of the rules above you actually follow, if you can tell it with passion you’ll create emotional connections that could last a lifetime.

If you’re still not convinced, take a look at Microsoft’s video about storytelling in the digital age.