A to Z of Soft Skills: T for Tell stories Suman April 24, 2017

A to Z of Soft Skills: T for Tell stories

It’s dark. Only a camp fire is burning in the center. The faces of people are lit up by it. Any form of technology is unknown. Every one goes around sharing their experiences of the day. Each one becomes a story in itself. It not just serves to entertain after dark but also becomes a repository of knowledge on how to fight for survival in the forest.

Stories have been a part of human life since times immemorial. There were stories before we even developed language. Ancient caves are full of hieroglyphs depicting the life and times of people who lived there. And then we moved on to oral story telling as a way to remember our ancient history and war stories. Literature, movies, corporate communication, branding – even Instagram and even Facebook have stories now.

Research shows why our brains respond to stories better than to any other form of communication. And there is so much to talk about on story telling that it’s impossible to do justice to it in one post. There will be the usual tips but also resources from the web as additional reading, if you wish to look up.

Why should we tell stories?

Stories create connect. When we meet people for the first time, it’s the story they tell about themselves that appeals to us. We form an emotional response in our mind to their stories.

Stories create empathy. I’m sure all of us have have come across stories where a little child suffering from a terminal disease needs money to save his life. Or charities talking about suffering they help alleviate. And true enough, it pulls at our heart strings. We feel for the dying child and want to help.

Stories also create trust. If I were to talk about a time I failed and fell apart but chose to bounce back, the listeners are more likely to identify with it. And trust me with their experiences. The story needs to be specific rather than a lecture on how failures are a part of life and bouncing back is a great option.

Stories make messages memorable. If you were to tell your team that patience is a virtue they should develop, they may dismiss it as just another useless piece of advice. But if you were to tell them a story about how patience brought in results, it’ll remain with them forever. This is because you manage to appeal to them at an emotional level and activate the part of the brain that loves stories.

I’m currently reading the book, Whoever Tells The Best Story Wins by Annette Simmons and it has practical tips on how to incorporate stories in your communication. The author says one should look for stories, practice them and learn to tailor make stories for specific audiences. Looking for stories involves some “story thinking” – learn to convert facts and objective reasoning into stories that’ll appeal at emotional levels. I recommend reading the book in order to understand the 6 kinds of stories she suggests we work on telling and how each can have 4 variants.

I will start tips in story telling with the first tip that Simmons offers:

Tell personal stories: Unless something moves you at a personal level, you will never be able to convey emotions to others. And personal stories also come easily to us since they are about something that we’ve personally experienced.

Show. Don’t tell: The more you can describe a story to help draw a mental picture the better. Here are 7 story telling techniques that TED speakers use. But I’d like you to read the story that this piece begins with – instead of just saying that an introvert classmate made a great presentation, it recreates the whole experience for us.

Narrate it right: This is where practice plays an important role. Include only those details that matter in the story.  Too many and it might rob the story of its punch. Create suspense. Practice the tone that’ll create the desired effect. The seemingly effortless delivery of stand up comedians is a result of hours and hours of practice.

Find the right length: 3 minutes is an ideal time for a story. Easy on the attention spans and it lets you include only the content that’s most relevant to your purpose of telling the story. It can be longer but be sure it’s pertinent.

Here is a useful piece on 8 classic story telling techniques for engaging presentations.

And if you’d rather watch videos, here’s a playlist of TED talks on story telling.

Story telling is also one of the important tools that you can use to make your speech or presentation memorable.