Stories With a Splash: 3 Tips for Surprising Your Audiences

Standard

Stories With a Splash: 3 Tips for Surprising Your Audiences

As most of my friends know, I’ve been following the Golden State Warriors, a professional basketball team, as they’ve moved closer to securing an NBA Title.  By all accounts, the team is outstanding: creative ball-handling, precision shooting and solid defense earned them the best regular season record in NBA history.  But what makes the Warriors so popular among sports fans and the general public alike?

The answer is obvious to anyone who watches the team play: the element of surprise.

The Warriors win games with surprise offensive bursts (i.e. Steph Curry’s 17-point overtime performance) that leave their opponents flat footed and their fans in awe.  To help you tell stories that take shock and amaze, here are “3 Tips for Surprising Your Audience”.  Follow these guidelines and you’ll have your audience cheering you on in no time.

1. Unpack Expectations.  The first step in creating a huge surprise is to unpack any expectations surrounding the surprise in question.  What did you anticipate would happen in the situation?  What actually happened?  Surprises exist in the space between expectation and reality, so take time to unpack both elements.

2. Build Suspense.  Once you’ve laid out all of the events and expectations, begin to reconstruct the surprising moment with the goal of highlighting the discrepancy between what you were lead to believe and what actually happened.  At every turn, ask yourself: “If I were an audience member, what would I be thinking?”.  If you (the storyteller) can “figure out” the surprise, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to pull one over on your audience.  Allow the suspense to build organically by slowly ratcheting up the stakes.

3. Offer A Final Surprise.  After you’ve paid off your audience with the surprise you promised, the last step is to provide a surprise after your audience believes the moment is over.  The final surprise turns the initial expectations on their head and leaves the audience wanting more.

Pretty surprising, huh?

Advertisements

Listen Up! 5 Tips to Becoming a Better Listener

Standard

Listen Up!  5 Tips to Becoming a Better ListenerAs many of you know, I’ve written a lot about the importance of active listening in the storytelling process.  Active listening is useful in a myriad of ways: improved verbal comprehension, increased sensitivity to friends and coworkers, and enhanced creativity and problem solving abilities.  But how exactly do you become a better listener?  What steps or processes can you implement to glean more information from conversations and feel better connected to the people around you?

The answer is very straightforward: listen for stories.

To help you uncover stories and become a better conversationalist, networker and public speaker in the process, here are “5 Tips to Becoming a Better Listener”.  Follow these guidelines and people will be lining up to talk to you before you know it.

1.  Check In With Your Thoughts.  The first step to becoming a better listener is to do a quick check of your mental state.  Are you feeling happy or sad? Angry or excited? Are you dwelling on a past conversation or mulling over something you need to do in the future?  Ask yourself: What’s preventing you from being present in the moment? If you take a moment to do a quick self-diagnostic before entering into a conversation or telling a story, you’ll become more present and connected immediately.

2.  Check In With Your Body.  After you’ve cultivated an awareness of your thoughts, take a moment to connect with your body and the impact it’s having on your listening.  Are you feeling tension or pain in any area?  Is your breathing heavy and strained or easy and light?  How’s your posture?  If you’re struggling to connect with your thoughts (step 1), reverse the order and check in with your body first.  As you become aware of any areas of tightness or pain, take a series of slow, deep abdominal breaths (”in through your nose and out through your mouth”).  Your abdomen should expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale. Concentrate on your breathing as you go through the process; this will ease your mind by removing any distracting thoughts while simultaneously dissipating any physical discomfort you may be experiencing.  You’ll instantly feel more relaxed.

3.  Check In With Your Conversation Partner.  Once you’re fully present with your mind and body, cultivate an awareness of your conversation partner oraudience.  How is the person standing or sitting?  Is the person making consistent eye contact or the person avoiding your gaze? If the person is speaking, what sort of tone is the person using?  Is there any variation in the tone? By shifting your attention onto your conversation partner, you’ll be able to get out of your head while simultaneously discovering how the person is reacting to you in the moment.

4.  Listen for Judgments, Explanations, and Analysis.  As your conversation partner is speaking, listen for the judgments, explanations, and conclusions the person is drawing.  Judgments often take the form of “positive” adjectives (i.e. good, bad, smart, stupid, etc), but can also take the form of comparative(better, worse, smarter, etc…) or superlative (best, worst, smartest, etc) statements.  As the person talks, take note of when s/he uses these statements.  Often judgments come with explanations, justifications, or rationalizations attached to them (i.e. “She was the best boss because she always inspired confidence”; “The reason he’s a terrible employee is because he doesn’t follow directions”).  Explanations are often followed by conclusions (”The conclusion is…” or “The moral of the story is…”) that offer a logical basis for the judgments and explanations.   If you listen for these rhetorical tics, you’ll have a better sense of what’s happening cognitively, psychologically, andemotionally with your conversation partner.  It will ground you in the present, which in turn will reconnect you with your conversation partner.

5. Clarify Confusing Points and Ask Questions to Elicit Stories. The final step to improving your listening is to request clarification and ask follow-up questions to illuminate stories.  Whenever you hear judgments, explanations and analysis, you have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions to unpack your conversation partner’s experience.  The goal here is to get additional information about a situation (i.e. what happened), NOT to illicit further judgments, explanations and analysis.  I strongly recommend avoiding “Why?” questions, since answers to “why” questions often start off with “Because…”  Instead, rephrase “why” questions as: “In what way is…” or “Is there a reasonfor…?”  Instead of getting a simple justification or explanation, your conversation partner is more likely to respond with a story.  And then you’re in a more interesting, engaging and fun conversation.

Not a bad conversation starter, right?

Design in Mind: 5 Steps for Telling A Design Story

Standard

How to tell a great a design story

Over the last three years, I’ve worked with a number of designers who have great ideas, but struggle to get colleagues or potential backers to see the power of their vision.  So if you’re a designer, how do you talk about your work effectively without falling back on blueprints or drawings?

The answer, not surprisingly, is pretty straightforward: tell a story.

To help you share compelling design stories, here are “5 Steps for Telling a Design Story.”  Check out our handy infographic, follow these guidelines and you’ll have yet another tool for amazing potential clients or fellow designers.

 

1. Start with Your Values

As designers know, good design starts with values, or core principles.  The first step to articulating your values is to answer the question: What is the experience you want your end user to have of the product?  Are you trying to achieve efficiency of space or economy of motion?  Is the goal to save time or increase the number of clicks on a particular page?  Start with a big idea (i.e. efficiency) and then break it down into its component parts (look, feel, etc).  The clearer you are in answering these questions, the clearer you’ll be in articulating the overall journey, or experience, you’d like a potential reader, listener or user to have of your design.

2. Identify a Moment of Vulnerability

Since there are no shortage of vulnerabilities in the design world, this part is pretty easy.  The challenge here is to try to find a moment where the failure hit a nerve on a personal level.  To do this, identify a moment or experience in which the value you want your design to demonstrate (i.e. efficiency) was absent, and the impact that absence had on you.  For example, if the experience you want people to have is about spatial layout, think about a time when you were jammed against a wall and couldn’t escape, or a time you created a space that had that same effect on someone.

Once you pinpoint the moment, take time to highlight each of the design failings (be specific!), how you reacted (be honest!), and any feelings you experienced, either in the moment or afterwards (make it personal!).

3.  Demonstrate a Shift

After you’ve clearly identified a moment of vulnerability, outline how you responded.  What did you do? Did you have any conversations about this design failing? Again, be specific about these conversations and actions.  For example, after seeing a cabinet that was placed improperly, did you research and discover any trends in cabinet design?  Did you share your experiences with your team?  These moments and conversations will provide context for your listeners about both your solution and the design process.  Many designers gloss over important details out of fear of bogging the audience down, but a detailed description of your response will actually draw people in by making design comprehensible.  Again, be specific!

4. Present Your Solution

After you’ve created context for both the design vulnerability and outlined your response, walk the audience through your solution.  This doesn’t need to be a complex breakdown of the idea (unless you’re speaking to fellow designers who want to hear it), but it does need to address the vulnerability identified in part 2 and the shift in part 3.  Describe how the solution speaks to the initial problem and realizes the design value laid out in part 1.

5. End with a Call to Action

The final part of a good design story is to end with a compelling call to action. Your call to action should articulate what’s possible in this new, well-designed world.  If you’ve already implemented your design solution, tell people what happened afterwards.  Did the industry embrace your ideas?  Did anyone offer praise or feedback?  What became possible for users and designers in this new world?  Did your solution provide secondary benefits that you didn’t initially anticipante?

If you haven’t implemented the solution yet, get people excited about the future and you’ll be amazed at the response.

How’s that for a design hack?

How to tell a great a design story

This Time It’s Personal: 3 Tips for Connecting with Your Audience

Standard

Gasland

A few weeks ago, I was stuck in bed with the flu and was combing Netflix for something to watch.  After a bit of browsing, I came across Gasland, a documentary about the fracking industry released in 2010.  I turned on the movie and within a few minutes I couldn’t stop watching.

The visuals are powerful (including a jaw dropping scene in which a man lights his tap water on fire), the information is well researched and relevant, and the characters are funny and engaging.  But there’s something else that makes the film truly unique and wonderful that’s unfortunately missing from too many documentaries out there.

The story is deeply personal.

To help you make your stories, pitches and maybe even documentary films more personal, here are “3 Tips for Connecting with Your Audience”.  Follow these tips and you’ll have the Academy calling you before you know it.

1. Put Yourself in the Story. The first thing that drew me in about Gasland was an image of the filmmaker, Josh Fox, playing around with his family on a beautiful piece of land in Pennsylvania.   The audience then sees a copy of the note that Josh receives from a gas company offering him $4,000 in exchange for extraction rights.  But rather than recoiling, the stakes of the film become clear and we’re now rooting for Josh.  When you make it personal, you engage your audience immediately.

2. Show Vulnerability.  Once you’ve hooked your audience with something personal, the simplest way to maintain their attention is to expose a personal challenge or shortcoming.  When you put yourself on the line, you take a big risk: the audience may initially react with surprise or even discomfort.  But once the audience fully grasps the struggles of the storyteller, they’ll see the central problem of the story through the storyteller’s eyes.  In Gasland, for example, Josh periodically draws the audience back into his personal worries and concerns with voiceovers, which puts the economic and political forces surrounding the issue of fracking in context.  A little vulnerability makes complex information digestible.

3. End With An Image.   The strongest way to end a story is to offer apowerful visual.  In many cases, this means returning to the personal elements introduced in the beginning of the story.  Much like the first scene in the film, the last scenes of Gasland are of Josh Fox on his land.  In a voiceover, Josh mentions that he’s not sure what’s going to happen to his land but that he’s learned a lot about America in the process of traveling the country. The final image transforms the story from a simple recounting of a problem into something larger: a quest for identity in America.  When you end with a strong visual, the story becomes more memorable.

Pretty powerful, right?

What A Character! 3 More Tips on Creating Great Characters

Standard

Better Call Saul

As followers of this blog know, I’ve written extensively about Breaking Bad, the Emmy award-winning show on AMC that wrapped its final season a few weeks ago.  But I’m not here to praise the expert storytelling (ten Emmy awards), the suspenseful scenes (too many to name) or even the superb direction (Vince Gilligan is among the best in the business).

I’m here to talk about Saul Goodman.

Saul, played by the multi-talented Bob Odenkirk, is one of the funniest and fully developed secondary characters on television.  After watching him for five seasons, I’ve fallen in love with Saul’s flagrant scheming and naked opportunism.  But what exactly makes Saul so memorable?

It all comes down to character choices.

To help you tell stories with characters as colorful and rich as Saul, here are “3 More Tips on Creating Great Characters.”  Follow these tips and you may have a spinoff show in your future.

1. Simplify Your Descriptions.  In real life, people are complex.  Unfortunately, when you tell a story, you only have a limited time to showcase secondary characters, so make your descriptions count.  To do this, simply answer the question:  Does the description paint a picture of the character for the audience? If the answer is no, make sure to add the necessary visuals to make the description pop out to a listener or reader.

2. Use Metaphors and Analogies.  In some instances, it can difficult to reduce whole characters to simple descriptions.  This is where the right metaphor or analogy can help.  For example, maybe your brother-in-law is a police officer with a buzz cut who sings songs from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in public places (go with it).  One possible analogy is that your brother-in-law is like the child of Joe Friday and Lady Gaga.  Another possible metaphor is that he’s a mix of the Hardy Boys and Fallout Boy.  The key to finding the right metaphor or analogy for a character is to identify the unusual or prominent thing about the character and then offer a truthful comparison.   Even if the analogy doesn’t get a huge laugh, it will at least resonate with the audience.  Just remember: analogies should be used to augment descriptions, not to replace them.

3.  Serve The Plot.  Once you’ve boiled down your characterizations and/or added an analogy, the final step in the process is to make sure that your character descriptions serve the story’s plot.  For example, if you mention that your father used to shoot rabbits at the beginning of the story, the audience is expecting a reference to either guns or rabbits somewhere later in the story.  If you don’t deliver on this promise, they’ll begin to wonder why you chose the original description.  Once again, deliver what you promise!  The upside of doing this is that it’s also an easy way to inject humor into your stories.

Feeling better about your characters?

Put a Stake In It: 5 Tips for Building Tension in Your Stories

Standard

CarrieIn preparation for Halloween last week, I started watching clips of Carrie, the Academy Award-winning horror film by Brian De Palma.  In the movie, Carrie does all sorts of paranormal and frightening things.  But after a few minutes, I started to wonder: What makes the scenes, and the story as a whole, so engaging?

The answer turns out to be really simple: lots of tension.

To help you keep your audience on the edge of their seats, here are “5 Tips for Building Tension in Your Stories.”  You may not win an Academy Award, but you’ll at least never have to watch someone nod off again.

1. Foreshadow Future Events.  Building tension starts shortly after your opening.  Once the audience understands the basics of the story (characters, setting and problem), begin building tension by foreshadowing elements of the story that you intend to address later on.  The easiest way to do this is to introduce a powerful image – in Carrie, it’s a broken mirror – that offers a clue about the events to come.  If your audience suspects that something is awry (i.e. a girl breaks a mirror with her mind), they’ll keep watching.

2. Subvert Expectations.  In order to keep your audience engaged throughout the story, you have to undermine the audience’s expectations and keep them guessing about what’s going to happen next.  Here’s a hypothetical scene: a man and a woman are flirting in the elevator of an apartment building.  The man eventually asks for the woman’s phone number, but the woman refuses.  The man presses her for her number and then all of a sudden a snake comes slithering out of the woman’s shirt.  The man screams and runs from the elevator as soon as the doors open.  Unexpected, right?  All great scenes raise questions about the characters and the situation.

3. Add Comic Relief.  As a storyteller, you can only build so much tension into the narrative before your audience needs a release.  The easiest way to do this in stories is to introduce a secondary character who offers insight into the struggle.  Consider the earlier example of the snake.  Maybe in the next scene of the story we see the woman walking out of the apartment building when a snake slithers out of one of her pant legs.  The doorman sees this happen, but instead of screaming and calling the police, he pulls out a live mouse and proceeds to feed the snake.   Entertaining, right?  Good comic relief can momentarily distract the audience while also reassuring them that the storyteller understands the absurdity or tragedy of the narrative.

4. Introduce Non-Visual Elements.  Powerful images aren’t the only way to keep your audience engaged.  Sound, smell and touch can be just as evocative (think about theme song from “Jaws”).  In Carrie, the sound of locking doors seals the fate of all the students inside while also making the audience curious about what’s going to happen next.  The challenge for storytellers is that most stories operate inside a visual medium (even oral stories “paint a picture” for the listener).  One way to get around this is to use analogies or metaphors.  A good analogy will do wonders.

5. End with the Unexpected.  In all stories, the job of the storyteller is to leave a lasting impression with the audience at the end of the story.  The way to do this is often to introduce a new image or offer a final piece of comic relief.  At the end of Carrie, the audience sees a hand reaching out from beyond the grave to grab Sue, the sole teenage survivor.  The image is chilling and reminds the audience that even though the central problem (Carrie’s revenge) may be resolved, there are other problems that will outlive the story.

Pretty tense, right?

Second That Emotion: 3 Tips for Telling Emotional Stories

Standard

Second That Emotion

A few weeks ago, This American Life (TAL) broadcast an episode entitled “How I Got Into College”, which included a story told by a man in his 30’s about his early life.  In the story, a 13 year-old boy escapes from war-torn Bosnia, only to face violence and isolation at an inner city high school.  One day, the boy’s high school English teacher brings him to an exclusive private school and introduces him to an administrator.  The boy impresses the administrator, is accepted into the private high school, graduates from Harvard and later becomes a professor at the University of Chicago.

Moving story, right? The only problem: the story isn’t entirely true.

To be fair, everyone is guilty of a little exaggeration for dramatic effect.  That bully who beat you up in middle school probably wasn’t 6’7″ tall (unless the bully was Lebron James).  But This American Life’s “too good to be true” story got me thinking: How do you tell a story that’s both honest and heartfelt at the same time?

The answer is actually pretty simple: ground your story in emotion.

To help you tell true tales that will move an audience, here are “3 Tips for Telling Emotional Stories.”  You’ll be amazed what happens.

1. Map Your Emotions.  The first step in telling a good, true tale is to identify how your emotions changed as the events in the story played out.  Did you start out feeling combative and end up feeling collaborative? Were you initially confused before you wound up feeling confident? One trick is to make an emotional flow chart to show your progression.  Your emotional journey will eventually be the journey you’re going to take your audience on, so be as specific as possible.

2.  Show Emotion Through Action.  Stories often fail because the emotional content doesn’t match the physical actions, so once you know the emotions at play, ground your story in what happened.  For example, instead of saying, “I was really sad,” tell us, “I got a text message in midtown and cried until snot was dripping onto the floor of the D train as it pulled into the Broadway-Lafayette station.”  More interesting, right?  The more specific you are about what happened, the more emotional the experience becomes for the audience.

3.  Offer a Moment of Transformation.  Stories aren’t just a series of events – they’re journeys of personal transformation.  To leave your audience moved, all you need is to provide a final moment that shows how far you’ve come.  As I discussed in an earlier post on resolutions, the easiest way to do this is to return to the opening scene.  Maybe you were evicted from your apartment of thirty years after a long fight, only to find an apartment directly across the street?  Bring us full circle and we’ll see the impact directly.

Pretty moving, right?

Get Real: 3 Tips for Telling More Authentic Stories

Standard

image

As anyone who’s taken my classes will tell you, I’m a huge fan of Nick Kroll.  Kroll is a funny guy: he’s regular on Parks and Recreation, he’s toured as a stand-up with Aziz Ansari, and he has a recurring role on Children’s Hospital on Adult Swim.  But aside from his character and stand-up work, Kroll is an amazing storyteller.  How does he make his stories both funny and poignant?

It all comes down to authenticity.  

To help you tell more genuine and compelling tales on stage or on the page, here are “3 Tips for Telling More Authentic Stories”.  Follow these tips and you’ll be wowing crowds before you know it.  You may even get your own TV show in the process.

1.  Make it personal.  All great stories are personal, meaning that you (the storyteller) have a stake in telling the story.  The stakes don’t need to be big (i.e. life and death) in order for the story to be significant.  However, the higher the stakes, the more invested the audience will be in the outcomeOne quick way to uncover stakes in a story is to answer the question: What does the central character stand to gain or lose as a result of dealing with the problem?  If the answer is “nothing,” or “not much,” you probably need to investigate further.   High stakes don’t automatically make for a story good, but they’ll help you capture your audience right away.  

2.  Use lots of details. Specificity is the essential to making your story resonate, so be generous with detail.  The first time you tell or write a story, be overly specific.  Use visual language to paint a picture of the setting, characters, and problem for the audience.  Once you’ve done this, it’ll be easy to edit the piece down to a more manageable length.  The more generous you are with yourself, the more generous the audience will be with both you and your story.

3. Be honest.  Part of Nick Kroll’s appeal as a performer is his willingness to be honest with both himself and his audience.  Honesty goes a long way in storytelling: if people sense that you’re revealing something true about yourself, they’ll support you as a performer.  On the other hand, if you try to manipulate or lie to your audience, you’ll quickly find yourself at the mercy of an angry mob.  It may seem convenient to lie in the moment, but it’s always better to be truthful in the long run.  You’ll feel better about yourself in the moment and you’ll avoid nasty encounters with fans down the line.

Pretty real, right?

Fail Safe: 3 Tricks for Telling Stories About Failure

Standard

image

For many people (myself included), the only thing scarier than failing is talking about failure.  Maybe you’ve hit a parked cop car, peed your pants in front of the high school rowing team or cried in front of a group of Chinese school children*.  Or maybe you’re like David Brent from The Office (see above) and you’re a tone deaf dancer.  Whatever the case, you’ve probably failed a few times in your life. 

This past week, I read a wonderful article in the New Yorker by Walter Kirn about how he was duped by one of the most famous impostors of the 20th century.  The article is alternatively funny and heart breaking, but got me thinking: How does Kirn keep his readers rapt without launching into a tirade?

You’ll be happy to know: it all comes down to a few simple storytelling tricks.

To help you tell stories about screw-ups, shortcomings and unfortunate incidents without coming across as a bitter shrew or a total moron, here are “3 Tricks for Telling Stories About Failure.”  Follow these rules and you’ll be able to talk about failure without looking like one.

1.  Don’t pass judgment.  The point of storytelling is to recreate an experience for your audience, so avoid passing judgment about any of the characters (yourself included!) in the story.  The easiest way to do this is to eliminate comparatives (i.e. “better”, “worse”, “faster”, etc) and superlatives (i.e. “worst”, “best”, “fastest”) whenever possible.  Instead, turn these comparisons into declarative statements (from “the best shot putter in Brooklyn” to “the #3 shot putter in the 18 – 22 age cohort in Brooklyn”). Specificity will help your story while making the narrator (you) more relatable.  

2.  Avoid complex explanations.  If you’re talking about failure, it’s natural to want to explain away a decision through your own interpretive lens.  Don’t do this.  People love stories about a good flop (see my previous post), so don’t cheat them of the experience.  One quick way to cut down interpretation is to eliminate explanatory words (“because”, “why”, “knew”, “understood”, “decided”, “realized”) from your story.  Don’t tell an audience why something is important, show them how it is important. 

3. Show (don’t tell!) us your emotions.  Stories are filled with emotions and feelings, but manipulating your audience into feeling a particular way won’t help them relate to your experience.  Skip emotive words (i.e. “happy”, “sad”, “excited”, “worried”) in favor of active phrases (“I smiled and screamed: “Awesome!”) that show the audience how you’re feeling.  When you spend the time to recreate an experience, the emotions will shine through.  

It takes time to tell stories about failure, but if you use these tips, you’ll be able to get over life’s hurdles faster and tell richer stories in the process.  In the words of Samuel Beckett: “Try again.  Fail again.  Fail Better.

*All of these things happened to me

Good to Great : 7 Steps to Improving Your Storytelling

Standard

7 steps to improving your storytelling

As a storytelling coach, I often hear the same question from students: How do I become a better storyteller?

As is the case with any pursuit, it all comes down to practiceSee our INFOGRAPHIC below.

Storytelling is one of the most innate human activities – people tell stories in one form or another every day – but it takes work to hone your craft.  So to help you shape your stories, here are “7 Steps to Improving Your Storytelling”.  The exercises won’t turn you into David Sedaris or Spalding Gray overnight, but try these every day for a month and you’ll notice the benefits.  And it’ll be way easier than learning to catch flies with chopsticks*.

1.  Keep a daily log.  The first step to becoming a better storyteller is to record events as they happen.  Set aside at least half an hour each day, preferably in the morning or late at night, to write in a journal.  When you write, it’s important to stick to the facts as much as possible.  Avoid passing judgements and drawing conclusions.  Be specific (paint a picture), honest (don’t lie!), and personal (explore your stakes), and you’ll quickly find that the journal will become a source of material for stories.

2. Sharpen your listening skills.  Listen to the stories that your friends and family tell.   Try to identify the component parts (character, setting, problem, stakes, conflict tension, crisis, climax, consequences) of every story.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the fastest way to become a better storyteller is to become a better listener.

3.  Record and transcribe the story.  One of the best ways to practice storytelling is to record yourself telling a story.  Once you’ve finished, do something unrelated for an hour or so and then come back and transcribe the tape verbatim.  The transcription process will help you identify verbal tics (‘um’, ‘uh’, ‘like’, etc) in your speech pattern and will offer insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the narrative.

After you’ve read over the transcription, ask yourself: Does the story interest me?  If I were a complete stranger, would I listen to the whole story?  If the answer to either question is ‘No’, don’t despair.  That’s where Step 3 can help.  

3.  Outline the story.  Once you’ve recorded and transcribed your story, outline the story.  Break the story into scenes, draw pictures, or use a story map (see here and here).  Experiment with different outline techniques and you’ll find one that works best for you.

4.  Turn the story into a pitch.  You should be able to summarize your story in a one sentence pitch, so practice doing this with every story you tell.  Pitches should be simple and should suggest big moments or events (i.e., “the time I almost failed out of college” or ‘the time I peed in my pants in front of my high school rowing team”).   The simpler the pitch (ten words or fewer) the better.

5. Try a story out in a social setting.  Pitch your story to friends in a social setting and see if anyone wants to hear the story.  You’ll quickly figure out what your audience finds interesting.  Once you’re feeling comfortable with the story, try performing it at an open mic.

6.  Identify a theme.  As I’ve mentioned before, a theme (i.e. redemption, love, betrayal, etc) will often appear in a story after you’ve told it a few times.  Once you become aware of the theme, edit the story so the scenes work in service of the theme or themes.  You’ll be amazed at what happens when you take the time to edit properly.

7. Add a new twist.  After you’ve performed a story several times, add a new twist.  Start in a different place or add in a new detail and see how your audience reacts.  The change may or may not work for the story, but you’ll learn something in the process.  And that’s the point, after all.

*I’ve never caught a fly with chopsticks

7 steps to improving your storytelling