10 Tips for Telling Kick-Ass Stories

Be authentic and don’t memorize. We all have built-in bullshit detectors and know when a speech is canned. Don’t worry about “ums” or “ahs” or if you forget something in your story. Your audience will be engaged in the narrative, and won’t care.

Make sure your story is a story and not an anecdote. It must have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Start your story in “the action” and show, don’t tell. So instead of, “It was a gray morning and I had eggs and a muffin before heading out for the hike that would change my life,” say, “I’ve got beef jerky, a canteen full of water and a nagging feeling I am in over my head as I stare at the curved, dusty path that marks the start of my journey along the Appalachian Trail.

Know the message you want to get across and weave it into the narrative, but focus on the story as its vehicle.

Tell us how the story changed you. The person telling the story must undergo some kind of transformation, have some kind of “aha” moment that changes the way they think about themselves, others or the world.

Make sure your story has conflict and stakes – something the person telling it stands to gain or lose by the outcome – and make them known at the beginning of your story. Good stories always create tension and hinge on a problem to be solved, a mountain to climb, a race against time.

Failure is your friend. It may seem paradoxical, but casting yourself as the hero of your story will turn off more people than it will inspire. If you are honest about the times you’ve failed and what you learned from those failures, you will elicit empathy, compassion and identification.

Be vulnerable. Again, it may seem counterintuitive to show your weaknesses, but they are what makes us human and a willingness to share them will do more than anything else to win over your audience.

Set the stage for the listener and include details. As much as possible, tell your stories in scenes and using your five senses. What were you seeing, smelling, hearing? What dialogue do you remember? If the girl who knocked your blocks down in kindergarten was named Nancy Lipschitz, use her name in the story. It make the story come alive.

The best stories can be told in 5-8 minutes. Practice and edit until your story is tight. Memorize your first line and your last line – but not the full story. Know the arc and draft an outline so you know where you’re heading, but if you grab people with the first line, and bring them home with the last, your story will have more impact.


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