Five Techniques to become a Master Storyteller
In the last Podcast episode, I started a mini-series on Communication, which is, in my opinion, the most versatile skill you can ever develop as a Leader.
What do getting a raise at work, resolving conflict with your partner, become a leader of the football team have in common? Your ability to communicate effectively!
The series includes Storytelling, Negotiation techniques, and much more!
In the first episode I presented 5 techniques you can use to become an effective Storyteller. I decided to start with Storytelling because it is a rather difficult skill to hone.
Of course, we should always give credit where credit is due: these insights come from a variety of speakers, mainly a webinar from Simone Heng, a world-known speaker on Human Connection!
I never realized how powerful of a storyteller I was until my friends made me notice that whenever I tell a story the latter lands the right way.
What did I do that helped me tell powerful stories? And what is it you can do today to have people hanging from your lips?
The first technique you can use is called:
Theatre of the mind
This technique is frequently used by radio broadcasters.
Theatre of the mind means creating a picture, a play, in the mind of your audience. For instance, Simone talks about a movie on Netflix where two American people have to go to Mexico but their flights are cancelled; they therefore book a hotel room and invite Spanish-speaking people over as background noise. The story that we perceive as audience is that they are, as a matter of fact, in Mexico!
If you want to use the theatre of the mind technique, you need a very visual language and evocative sounds. In the Podcast, I gave the example of me knocking on a door. From the listener's perspective, there is a huge difference between me saying “I arrived in front of the door, I knocked on the door, I entered the room” VS saying “I arrived in front of the door. [me banging on the table to make a 'Knock-knock' sound]. When I entered...”.
A Master Storyteller uses sounds and lets people figure out by themselves what is happening in the story.
If two people are speaking, you can modify your voice to make it younger, older, lower or higher tonality.
Unfortunately many speakers tell a story rather than describing it to the audience.
If I simply state sentences such as: “My parents and I fight sometimes. One day I found out they were sick. Then I forgave them”, the audience does not feel a thing!
So, how can you effectively use the theatre of the mind?
The number one way to create the theatre of the mind, coming from Lisa Nichols, is that you should show people the story instead of telling them the story. This, my friends, is an art!
How can you show people the story? You do that telling people what you were thinking, what you were feeling and what you were sensing. Describe to your audience what you saw, what you touched, what you smelled, what you tasted and what you heard, and let the audience create the story in their own heads.
The reason why you want to use all the 5 senses is that people are different. Some of us are very visual and emotional, therefore describing that you saw an old lady in tears and you gave her a hug gives you an emotion. But others rely on touch, so you can describe a crack in the furniture or the cold snow on the pines. Others rely on smell, so you can describe how the old house smelled like mold and dust!
Use the senses to broadcast ideas to people and let them imagine every detail which is not strictly necessary to the story.
This technique is used in thriller movies. David JP Phillips has a TED talk on storytelling where he talks about the chemicals that get elicited in our body when we tell stories.
What’s the cliff-hanger effect about? Well, imagine I have to tell you a key piece of information, and I make you wait 10 minutes before I finally reveal it to you! I leave you hanging before revealing the key piece of information. Edutainers use this technique when they say “Today I will give you three tips to make $1M, the last one is the most important” and you are like “I want to know now!”.
The cliff-hanger effect builds the focus hormone, dopamine. Eliciting dopamine is like building suspense while watching a thriller movie! Oboe into the woods, tense piano sounds, a river whose level rises and rises, they all build suspense.
How can you build suspense?
Instead of telling people you had a panic attack and then describing the symptoms, tell the symptoms first and then reveal it was a panic attack! In doing this you make the audience wonder about the what and the why. People love drawing conclusions in their minds (even if sometimes they are wrong) and if you state “I started shaking” people will be like “Why? Was he cold, was he frightened?” etc.
A great example comes from Oprah Winfrey. In 2018, Oprah Winfrey won the Cecil B. deMille Award of the 75th Golden Globes. The speech she gave was so amazing that she got called to run as President of the United States. What did she say? Well, she knew how to storytell. She started honouring a previous African American award recipient Sidney Poitier. The crowd started wondering “Why is she honouring another person in her speech? Where is she going? Uhm let's wait, she must have a point...” Here comes the dopamine. She left them hanging. Therefore, begin with a story that has suspense.
There is no other story technique that builds images as quickly as a metaphor. When you tell a story, you can juxtapose something in your story and something the audience knows really well!
For instance, Ed Sheeran uses this technique in his songs. One of his songs is about a drug addict and in the lyrics he says “wasted skin crumbling like pastries”. We can immediately imagine the wrinkled skin of a heroin or methamphetamine addict. I remember also Simone used a beautiful metaphor in her webinar when she said: “My mother was a tiger and later on she was a bird with a broken wing”. You can immediately understand how strong she once was, and how weak she was at the end of her life.
If you are a edutainer and you shoot 30-second videos, you will be familiar with this technique which is also vastly used in the broadcasting world. When you have got only 30 seconds to talk over the intro of a song, every single word you use needs to be chosen with care! When you are live, you do not have a second chance; you must get it right at the first attempt!
How can you convey a lot of information with a few words? Try to use words that have the most evocative, visual meaning.
Once again, Oprah's speech is brilliant. She said "As I sat on the Linoleum floor, …". First of all, that's word economy because we immediately get the visual sense of a sticky wooden floor. Furthermore, we get a good grasp on the context: by the 1950s, linoleum was not largely used in America, so having it in the 60s, when Oprah was young, would have been out of date, out of style, that hints to a lower economic area. A simple word brought a huge amount of meaning for the recipients! We could understand the economic and social condition of Oprah Winfrey, and we can imagine her sitting on the wooden floor. Oprah did not say “I was very poor when I was a child”, she let us figure it out using the word “linoleum”! And that’s the work of a Master Storyteller.
Finally, Humour! You can use humour even in the darkest times. Everyone loves laughing and if you can make your audience laugh, I can ensure you will succeed as a speaker.
For instance, let’s say my parents told me “Do whatever you want in life but please don’t become an international speaker, that’s a dangerous job!”. This is funny because it is ridiculous! There is nothing scary in being a speaker but of course from their perspective, which is the point of view of people who thought working at a bank was the highest possible accomplishment in life, being in front of an audience who judges you can be considered scary.
Humour is human connection gold because it is contagious. Try to smile at someone, their mirror neurons, designed for quicker adaptation, will make them smile at you. Humour is important for two chemicals David JP Phillips talks about: oxytocin and endorphins.
Humour releases the social bonding hormone of oxytocin because we see ourselves mirror and reflected back in the emotions of other people; we feel connected to a shared experience that is happening. It also gives people that are receiving your funny face a lot of emotional information about you! If the whole room was laughing and one person was standing still, you would be given some information about the emotional state of that person.
Humour also releases endorphins that make us feel good. So if you are a naturally funny person and you have wit, clever humour, you have that kind of real comic timing, use that to incite good stories, vibes and connection from your audience. People will remember how you made them feel.
That’s what I have got for today’s article; if you enjoyed the reading, please share it with someone you know and love and if you could re-share it in your LinkedIn it would be amazing, the only way we grow and impact more people is if you guys share it so I greatly greatly appreciate all of you who will do it.
Make your life a masterpiece, see you next week, I appreciate you and I hope you have an amazing day.