The Art of Story Telling

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The Art of Story Telling

Once upon a time in a beautiful country far, far away, there was a mystical land with valleys and hills and magical forests where a wise old man lived who told unforgettable tales… Many of us would have heard some of these words at some time in our lives, growing up. Cultures, education, and upbringing – even the future – everything revolves around stories and distinctively how those stories are told. You have probably heard the saying ‘lost in the book’ or ‘a captivating motivational speaker’. It’s all because of the power stories indeed impact the audience’s beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and even behaviours.

As a professional speaker, I have seen the influence of good stories and unfortunately also the staging of bad ones.

“We discovered that, in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention – a scarce resource in the brain – by developing tension during the narrative.” – Harvard Business Review

I’ll like to share with you a few points that I use to structure my stories for my keynote presentations as an inspirational speaker and how you can sculpture your stories to benefit the delegates.

1.      Once upon a time

To become a great storyteller, you must have a good comprehension of human emotions, motivations, and psychology to move people to action. This is why we as professional speakers do detailed briefs and pitch up to gigs hours before so that we can get a feeling of the atmosphere. It is for the same reason businesses do market research, to gauge people’s reactions. The story of a TV advert can make or break the product.  So we must first understand ourselves on a primal level, our emotions then we have self-awareness and knowledge to deconstruct our story and tell it more effectively.

2.      Clear structure and purpose great stories must have

If you understood the line above, then you were reminded of an influential character in a movie trilogy. Okay, maybe only we nerds but it shows you the power of even how words are spoken. Stories can’t just be stories they need to have a set structure and be tied into the general purpose of the greater experience. This is a simple structure everybody can use to get their message across effectively. Ask yourself:

  • Why must you voice THIS story?
  • What’s the creed burning within you that your story feeds off?
  • What greater purpose does this serve?
  • What does it teach?

Stories should be used to create a mental scenario into the user’s mind, it should be a picture of the greater purpose. Humans are visual creatures, we think in pictures – the greater the passion, the more vivid the stories.

3.      Root for the underdog

We all love a good rags-to-riches-type story, an underdog that lost it all and with pure tenacity achieved great success. These are the types of stories that will allow your audience to be more attentive about your takeaway value so that they can replicate the same results. In one of my keynote presentations, I use a story within a story. By revealing fragments of the story at certain intervals during my presentation, I shape the main character then finalise it in my closing with a completely unpredictable ending and the final takeaway value. We admire a character more for trying than for their success.

4.      Appeal to people’s deepest emotions and senses

Psychology has identified about six basic emotions that are present in all of us. They are fear, disgust, anger, sadness, happiness, and surprise. If you can recognise what triggers these emotions in your own life, you will know how to integrate them into your story to get the same effect on your audience. A great way to do this is to appeal to people’s senses like smell, taste, hearing, feeling and seeing. The more vivid the storytelling, the more senses are used to trigger the desired emotions of your audience. Here is a little something I wrote using a lot of visual senses;

Lying on the cool cement Heli-pad at Flora clinic trauma unit, puffing away while observing the beautiful sparkling constellations of stars blanketing the evening sky – a beautiful picture now and then interrupted by the occasional loud bang and colourful sparkles of firecrackers exploding. I’m not the greatest lover of uncontrolled fireworks as it always ends in some form of disaster, just ask that chubby kid I treated a few hours ago whose thumb now looks like a flowering petunia.

Paint pictures with words. It helps people experience your opinion instead of just hearing it.

5.      KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid

How many times have we sat through the movie, read a book or listened to a speech only to be puzzled as to what the actual plot was because it was so integrated and interwoven that it became absorbed instead of highlighted? Use stories to unravel complexity as this will allow the audience to relate to the point you are trying to make.

Writing a good story starts in reverse if you know what you want your story to do, write the ending first.

Now the start, I like to invoke an emotion of surprise or shock. This makes people think and is a great set-up to the rest of your story.

Fill in the blanks with splashes of colour by using senses to invoke emotions that will emphasise the point you need to make.

It’s a personal memoir. Leave out the moments that don’t help the listener “get” you right away. Focus on “what’s in it for me” for the listener right away. Include personal details, but make them relevant to your main point and most importantly, to your audience. Despite what your mother might have told you, we do judge a book by its cover — and definitely by its first sentence, so make your story count! – Julie Cottineau