6 Do’s and Don’t of Storytelling: How to Tell a Story Without Losing Your Audience
Whether it be in a presentation or in front of a group of friends, storytelling is an invaluable tool for anyone to have. It let’s us share our experiences with others in the most vivid and imaginative way possible. It let’s us entertain the listener while we get to say our piece. It can make even the most boring of presentations into something to be enjoyed and remembered.
As we know from people we listen to shows that we have seen, there are so many different ways that you can tell a story. It can be a build up to a surprise. It can be a funny perspective on something ordinary. You name it. Whatever your style of storytelling may be, there are a couple of things to keep in mind while telling your story. There are a couple of Do’s and Don’ts to be aware of if you don’t want to lose your audience's attention in the middle.
Don’t Start Until All Eyes Are On You
A big mistake that many people make when it comes to telling their story is that they don’t even make sure that everyone is listening first. This is especially prevalent when you are with friends because it is in an informal setting without any real obligation for them to pay attention to you.
When you don’t have “the stage“, the only thing that keeps everybody’s attention is your ability to do so. Before you start saying your story, make sure that everybody is listening to you. You don’t want a random conversation going on the side while you try to tell people something important.
While banter might start up in the middle of your story, it is your job to get things back on track. Do not be offended when things get off track. It is very common and even more common when the story is actually interesting. Just answer any questions that they might have as quickly as you can, and get them ready for the next part of your story.
Bait the Hook. If you really want to ensure people listen to what you have to say in your story, you have to hook them from the beginning. You might say something that seems ridiculous or something that raises questions. The point is they keep them wondering where your story is going so that they want to listen and hear you out.
Do Commit to Your Story
If you are going to tell a story, commit to telling it to the best of your abilities. I see people tell stories all the time who are so unenthusiastic, mono-toned, and self-criticizing while telling their story that it’s impossible to listen to. They don’t try to be entertaining. They don’t use their imagination. While they are telling the story, they are constantly having an inner monologue about how they believe no one is really listening to them.
When people are listening to you tell a story, they want to be entertained. They want to feel what you were feeling. They don’t want an essay recap of what happened. Don’t be afraid to show emotion and enthusiasm. I understand that it is more difficult and amending to do so, but you aren’t doing anybody any justice by not going all in to your story.
Don’t Rush Through
Take your time. Don’t rush through your story because you don’t think anyone is listening.
The biggest obstacle in getting over most of these problems is the negative inner dialogue that you have with yourself while telling the story. You might think, “they aren’t really listening,” or, “I’m boring them to death,” or, “I’m no good at this, I’ll just wrap it up”.
The best thing we can do for ourselves is eliminate that negative inner voice that doesn’t let us express ourselves. Give yourself the time to express your story the way that you feel entertains not only the crowd but yourself as well. It is supposed to be a fun experience for you, too.
Do Talk in Present Tense
The biggest obstacle for a listener to be involved in a story is the fact that they weren’t there when it happened. Have you ever noticed that, when you’re telling a story with someone in it present, the person who was there is listening and reacting the most? Why wouldn’t they? It is their story, too. They feel a part of it because they are a part of it. So what can you do?
For the people who were not involved in the story you were telling, you can still make them feel like it is their story. If you tell a story as if in the present tense, it involves everybody around you into the imagination of the scene.
Instead of saying, “I reeled in this fish that was so big! Seriously, it was massive. I wish you saw it!”.
Say, “So I’m reeling in this fish, and when I pull it on board I see that this thing is massive! I start to think about how this is the biggest fish I’ve ever seen!”.
This eliminates the distance between your listener and your story. Time and presence are the walls that block them from enjoying a story. If you talk in the present tense, it makes them feel like it’s happening right now. They imagine it coming to life as you speak.
Don’t Over Exaggerate of Make Up Details
Sometimes, when people don’t think that their story is interesting enough, they result to over exaggerating and making up details in an effort to entertain the listener. The problem with this is that it totally eliminates the authenticity of the story. It does not allow you to fully be present while telling the story and really bring them into the moment because the moment doesn’t exist.
One has to understand that just because the story may not seem interesting to you, you can still tell it in an interesting way. You can share your emotions or perspective on the story that makes it interesting. Adding exaggerations and the lies I really just to try and impress the listener, which isn’t needed if you know how to tell a story well.
Do Make Sure to Include Everyone
This one is a little bit more simple. As you tell your story, make sure that you make eye contact with and include everybody that you are telling it to. You don’t want to focus on one person too long and exclude everybody else from feeling included. Obviously, this is a bit difficult when you are in front of a very large audience, like on a stage. However, if you are able to share the eye-contact with everybody in the room, make sure you give it your best effort to do so.
The Story is Yours
One last thing before going. You make meaning out of your stories. While you can’t change the facts of what happened, you do get to control what those events mean to you. Events are just events. We are the ones who give them meaning. While something might not be super interesting to one, the significance of that event might be great for another. People enjoy listening to that, the meaning you have behind the story. It makes it personal. It makes it meaningful.