• Thu. Aug 18th, 2022

How to Tell a Captivating Story

ByRandall B. Phelps

Jul 11, 2022

Everyone loves a story. Personal anecdotes bring people together and strengthen the bond with your listeners. Whether you’re attending a staff meeting, presenting to a client, or interviewing for a job, telling a story about yourself can create that magical connection with your audience.

But stories can go off the rails very easily, and you can end up annoying (or even insulting) a new connection. For maximum impact, keep these six secrets of good storytelling in mind.

1. Be brief

How many times have we heard a colleague share a story that continues, over and over again, with the speaker oblivious to the fact that he is rambling? Science tells us that talking about yourself releases dopamine, the pleasure hormone. But it can be a dangerous drug.

Suppose you are in a job interview and the recruiter says, “Tell me about a problem you solved. You get excited and talk about all the facets of the problem you solved. Five minutes later, you’re still talking, but now you’ve lost your audience (and your job).

So keep your story short. Don’t turn a short story into a long, winding verbal road.

2. Engage the emotions of the listener

Master storyteller David Sedaris points out that the main character in a good story is someone the audience can relate to. The best stories emotionally engage listeners in the tale.

Suppose you’re running a meeting and you’re a few minutes late. You arrive out of breath. You could jump into the first agenda item, but instead you apologize and talk about how you were walking your French bulldog and someone tried to catch this little pup in a park off leash. You quickly retrieved your dog and, after a brief struggle, walked away with him in your arms. Wow, you are still reeling from the incident.

You have a captive audience, they are with you all the way. And now you’re moving on to your business at your fingertips with an audience that loves you.

3. Make your point

Each story must score a point. Otherwise it goes nowhere and the listener wonders why you are sharing the episode. And the best point to make is one that is inspiring and uplifting.

Suppose your colleague walks into your office and is heartbroken because she lost a job. A good answer (accompanied by an expression of sympathy) might be to tell him about a time when you lost a new job, only to find out that the next one you applied for was an even better fit.

Telling stories that inspire with a clear and uplifting point is a great skill. If your team lost a big sale, tell them when you lost your first big sale and what you learned from it. Or, if you’re honoring a departing employee, talk about how inspired you were when you first met her and build your remarks from there.

4. Let it flow

A good story has a narrative flow. The easiest way to think about flow is to build your story chronologically: with a past, a present, and a future.

If you’re interviewing for an HR job and you’re asked why you want the job, you could expand on this flow:

  • Past: “I’ve always loved people, which is why I’m passionate about this job in HR. I was sociable and outgoing even when I was young.
  • Present: “In my last two HR roles, I developed programs that make employees feel safe and engaged. One program I’m particularly proud of is our mental health offering.
  • Coming: “This job is my dream job and as an HR professional I know I would be a perfect fit for this role.”

This sequential or chronological template is a great choice, but you can also build your story around steps in a process, problem/solution, or situation/response.

5. Say it right

Storytelling is a skill and success comes from both What you say and How? ‘Or’ What You said it. So how do you tell your story?

Speak enthusiastically, but don’t exaggerate your emotions. You want your audience to move, laugh or get excited. If you do all of these things, they won’t.

Do not rush your delivery. Instead, pause frequently to give your audience time to process and react to what you’re saying. Speaking slowly, too, creates an aura of suspense.

Finally, be authentic and show that you are delivering something that is meaningful to you. The public will respond in kind.

6. End with action

Every story you tell about yourself must end with an action or a resolution. If you’re mentoring someone and sharing a story about what you learned from your first boss, end with an upbeat and meaningful action.

Suppose you learned from your first boss how to be confident when talking to those in power. You might conclude, “And so, what I’ve learned, and what I’d like to see you do, is lead, regardless of your position in the company.”

The ending is an action that embodies the moral of the story – the lesson learned.