All of us have stories to tell but most of us don’t even recognize that they are there. The wallpaper of our every day lives may seem commonplace to us, but to others, it may be extraordinary. Our skills, knowledge, and experiences become building blocks for the stories that enrich our lives, and that we can then use to connect with and influence others.
Unless we have the discipline to notice, we don’t see the stories right in front us: the hotel housekeeper who makes a bird out of washcloth; the cab driver who overhears all manner of conversations; the doctor who eases the pain of an injured child; and temporary workers who know their city from a unique perspective because of the people they meet through short-term assignments. Everyone has experiences that can be captured and told to educate, inspire, and connect with others.
The trick is to tell these stories well, so you build stronger relationships with family, friends, bosses, and clients. Some people are natural-born storytellers, but most of us are not. To get your storytelling game on, here are a few tips.
Create a Story Bank
Just like a bank account where you put money in and take it out when you need it, a story bank is a collection of tales unique to you that you draw on. These come out of experiences at work, trips you’ve taken, advice you were given, and so on. You make deposits when you have experiences, conversations, and situations that you would like to save. You make withdrawals when job interviews, marketing pitches, or tense encounters occur where a story can really make a difference.
Making consistent deposits into a bank account can be habit-forming. In this case, you’re building the habit of story banking. The good news is that you can make withdrawals, but your account never runs out. New stories can always be deposited.
Hunt for Stories
Think about times when you were proud of something, when you took a risk, when you stood up for yourself, when you went after something and got it, or when you lost something you wanted badly. Think about situations or people who changed your life or your perspective.
Get in the habit of asking yourself, “What if…?” or “How did they…?” Use your favorite note-taking system to jot down those questions and observations – even the seemingly insignificant ones.
Identify the Lessons and Truths that Your Stories Reveal
As you review your stories, ask yourself how might this story add meaning, clarification, or understanding to someone else? In what ways does the story eliminate the confusion that might be in the way of someone understanding or believing you?
Categorize Your Stories
Once you’ve identified some stories, consider how they support your messaging and how that message is relevant to others. Then, categorize how you might use the story to answer questions that are in your listener’s mind.
- Origin Story – Who are you and why should I pay attention to you?
- Vision Story – Where are we going?
- Teaching Story – What can I learn from you?
- Values in Action – Why should I believe you?
Categorizing will help you draw on your stories whenever the situation arises.
Learn to Tell the Story Well
Nothing is worse than a story that drones on for hours with too many facts. You want to provide enough detail and color so that your listener can jump into the story with you, but not so much that they lose interest. Be succinct. Look at the faces of your listeners. If you see they are losing interest, pick up the pace.
If you are trying to convince a team to use some new tools to facilitate collaboration, don’t describe the tools. Use a story to show how effective they are. Describe the team, their hopes and fears and what their “before” looked like. Then tell the story of how the tool changed everything and what that change looked like.
Raise or lower your voice, adjust the tempo, or use your hands.
Once you’ve identified the key ingredients, practice, practice, and practice. You don’t want to sound overly rehearsed, but you also don’t want to appear like you are pulling the story out of the air. Start by practicing in front of a mirror, or better still, use a video camera or smartphone. Then, practice in front of a friend or colleague. See if they react in the ways that you expect.
How have you used stories to connect with others at work and at home?