A Whale of a Tale: How to Master Storytelling

Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to connect with people, influence audiences and advance your career. People love stories because the brain is wired for stories! One of our passions is helping people become effective storytellers so they can be their best… and have some fun! A few years ago, we helped an executive with a worldwide consulting firm master storytelling. He immediately called us after he delivered a keynote at an industry conference in Florida, “You didn’t prepare me for how to handle so much applause and laughter!” He made our day, because he had previously held such limiting beliefs about his ability to be a compelling storyteller.

stories for business

Success With Storytelling Skills

Storytelling is one of the most essential business tools today because you are in a battle to capture and keep people’s attention. Attention spans are shrinking thanks to the bombardment of technology that keeps our brains moving and scanning information. Studies show there is a 70% increased retention rate when data is delivered with stories! Also, messages packaged with stories are 22% more memorable. So, whether you are the CEO of a company, a middle manager or a new employee, an investment in storytelling skills will set you up for more career success and fulfillment.

retention with stories

As leadership communication and storytelling coaches, our goal is to help people reach their full potential. The following are some tips to help you move towards mastering storytelling.

1. Collect Stories

To be a compelling storyteller, you need some good stories! Therefore, we recommend that you start collecting stories. I have been doing this for many years. Any time I see an interesting story I copy it and save it in a folder on my computer. For example, I came across a news story about Hollywood Director James Cameron living out of his car before he was famous. He was trying to get that big break and he sold the rights to “The Terminator” for one dollar in exchange for a shot at directing the film. It is a wonderful story about overcoming adversity and sacrificing to make your dreams a reality. Also, you should group the stories that you save by categories such as: overcoming adversity, hope, encouragement, team spirit, the power of positive thinking, problem solving, etc. Of course, you should also identify and polish personal stories, too. We guide clients on how to choose personal stories with the most impact.

2. Tie Stories to Key Points

The best storytellers know how to “set up” their story and tie it into one of their key points. This can be as simple as saying, “As I was thinking about the great challenge our team is facing this year, it reminded me of a story I read about Thomas Edison when his laboratory burned to the ground.” If you want to make a really powerful impact, then reference the story again later on towards the end of your presentation. Those who know how to “package” presentations are more effective in holding an audience’s attention. 

3. Use Compelling Nonverbal Cues

What separates a mediocre storyteller from an effective storyteller? Nonverbal cues! Whenever we work with people to improve their skills, we focus on three primary areas of nonverbal cues. 

First, you should use gestures to illustrate key points within your story. Unfortunately, most people use gestures haphazardly. But you should actually plan key gestures to make a story come alive. Storytelling isn’t just about telling; it is telling and showing! 

Second, think about all the ways you can use your voice to make the story more compelling. There are numerous ways to achieve this goal: vary pitch, pausing, projecting, rate, cadence, silence, etc. Also, when you have more than one character in a story it is important to use your voice to clearly distinguish them. For instance, if you are telling the story about the night Thomas Edison’s laboratory burned to the ground with all of his life’s work, you might tell how his son Charles consoled his father. You would want to use voice patterns to distinguish Thomas from Charles. Many people we work with are not comfortable with this skill at first. However, those who break out of their comfort zone often go on to become masterful storytellers!

Third, effective storytellers know how to use floor space! We show people how to create a storytelling map to plan the use of space: starting space, ending space, story space, character space, etc. In our years of coaching and training we find that most people haphazardly use space. They do not plan for it and quite frankly, they don’t even know about blocking space. Once you have an awareness of how to use space to create a compelling story – you will clearly see the difference it makes, and your audience will be much more engaged.

A Whale of a Story!

Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to connect with people, influence audiences and advance your career. You will be hooked once you start learning proven ways to master storytelling! And, even more important, so will your audience!

Benchmark's Coaching

About Benchmark Communications

Benchmark will help you and your team improve your ability to connect, influence and lead. We offer a range of storytelling, leadership, communication and reputation management services. We also produce custom presentations and speeches for leaders. So, the next time you have a consulting, training or coaching need contact us and let’s talk!