The Art and Science of Storytelling

October 2017

women storytelling

Source: Thinkstock

Over the years I’ve had quite a few occasions to tell someone about a strange, silly or special moment of mine, to which they frequently comment that I certainly have an interesting life. I always respond, “So do you. I’m just maybe a bit better at telling my story.”

It’s true. Every one of us is full of great stories that either we witness or experience directly. That’s why one of the favorite parts of my job is to listen carefully to discover that story that will resonate with everyone. Based on my decades of experience as a writer telling compelling narratives, I thought I’d share what works for me. Because chances are it will work for you too.

Telling stories that stick

There are numerous ways to tell a tale, and we actually weave quite a few stories in daily conversations. In fact, by one scientist’s estimate, 65% of our interpersonal communications involve stories, whether they are personal or gossip.

“When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too,” according to social media expert Leo Widrich.

We actually think in narratives all day long and have conversations with ourselves to process information in a way we can remember it. So how come when it’s time to openly discuss those thoughts, we shift from entertaining anecdotes to banal bullet points?

We tell stories because we know innately (and through research) that they stick in our memory better than mere recitations of facts. That’s why we likely can’t recall the date silversmith Paul Revere rode by horseback to warn Boston colonists the British were coming, but we remember the folk hero’s contribution to the American Revolution (in part because of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the storytellers that followed).

Tips for better storytelling

So how can you incorporate storytelling to engage an audience and help everyone remember your key message? Here are some tips we’ve used at Twirling Tiger Media as successful leaders in content marketing:

Talk from the heart. The best stories are personal and visceral—something you witnessed or experienced. When you speak from the heart, it is much easier to keep facts straight and to describe characters accurately. You naturally exude confidence and passion, which are two characteristics of great storytellers. Remember also that details matter, but too much detail muddles.

Keep your story simple (and short). Whether in print, video or imagery, strive to tell a straightforward narrative that has a point. Set up the scene quickly and move to the crux of the story before people’s minds start to meander. Add a detail that will grab attention or lend credibility to observations. You can make it funny or suspenseful, depending on the flavor of choice. A clear sign you are losing your listeners: They start looking at their phones or any materials nearby.

Begin with the end in mind. Every good novelist or long-form journalist will tell you they know how their piece ends, even if they are unclear how it will begin. As you craft anecdotes to underscore a key point, know what that point will be and lead listeners or readers to it in a logical, entertaining and succinct way.

Back it up. We work primarily with technology companies, where chosen concepts tend to be of interest to a limited audience. Even so, the information can be bland. That’s why one of the best ways to convey dense or dry data is to open with a quick narrative and then move into the numbers. Those figures will suddenly carry more weight and leave a lasting impression, even if all the reader remembers is the story behind them.

—Anne