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Six Storytelling Essentials

07-20-2009

Summertime! Time to sit around a campfire, telling tales or gather around a conference table, listening to vacation stories from colleagues. Summertime is story time.

In business, stories are appropriate year round and the well-told story can significantly influence your impact with others. When meeting with clients, colleagues or senior managers, stories help you:

  • Bring data to life – using a story to illustrate your data will help you increase your listeners’ interest, help them remember what you said and connect with you on a personal level.
  • Mitigate doubt - when you receive push back from listeners, telling a story or sharing a simple anecdote helps bring credibility to your ideas and helps your listeners accept your point of view more readily.

Whether you consider yourself a seasoned storyteller or just a beginner who feels uncomfortable telling stories, the following tips will help you sharpen your skills!

Your story’s substance:

1. Share timely and relevant stories only. For your story to succeed, it must connect with your listeners’ needs and interests. Timing is critical! For example, if you are meeting with a prospective client for the first time, consider the following timing and story types:

  • At the beginning – reveal something pertinent about yourself in a short anecdote.
  • In the middle – explain your data with a story comparable to the client’s situation.
  • At the end – illustrate how easily your company can implement the plan by sharing an example of how your team delivered on a promise while facing challenging conditions.

2. Vary your structure. Not every story has to start at the beginning – on occasion, begin at the end and tell the story of how you got there. You might start by saying, “After working with us, one of our clients increased their customer loyalty by 75%. Let me share with you how we helped them reach this new performance level."

3. Manage your listeners’ expectations. If you begin your story by saying: “I have a really great story to tell you,” your listeners will anticipate hearing something that is “really great.” If your story falls short of “great” you leave your listeners feeling let down. Eliminate similar qualifiers like “amazing” and “fascinating” as you set up your story.

Your story’s style:

4. Use your eyes to connect and to observe. Look your listeners in the eye as you tell your story and continually monitor their reactions. If you see listeners smile, nod or simply look engaged, you know you’re on the right track. If however, they begin to sit back or divert their eyes, take the cue and cut to the punch line!

5. Use hand gestures and facial expressions to reinforce your story’s details. Help your listeners envision your story by adding supporting hand gestures and facial expressions. If you are not naturally expressive, simply raise or lower your eyebrows to reinforce your story’s tone. Eyebrows up for positive details and down for serious moments. If, on the other hand, you are very expressive and tend to use many lively hand gestures, slow them down to project a more poised manner.

6. Vary your delivery pace to add interest. Tell minor points more quickly and when sharing your major points, s-l-o-w d-o-w-n your vocal delivery. Use your pacing to build anticipation, especially for your story’s punch line.

Given the opportunity, anyone can tell a story. Skillful communicators know when and how to tell a relevant story that resonates with listeners. Practice and have fun as you fine tune your skills!

For more information on storytelling see:

Persuasion Through Storytelling published in The New York Law Journal and http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~brooks/storybiz/storytelling-business.html

Best Regards,

Exec-Comm
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