To stand any chance of grabbing attention in our content-busy world, you need to capture your audience from the get-go. Rebecca Pepper on the power of storytelling.
When I was six years old my grandad told me an exciting, drama-filled story culminating in him wrestling a crocodile in the jungle. Nanna produced the evidence in the form of crocodile shoes! The story Grandad and Nanna told to their grandchildren has lived in our hearts and minds for decades and lives on through its retelling to our own families.
What was special about story and why has it lasted so long? And how does this relate to the business world?
In business, being remembered can make a big difference. But being remembered so that others also tell your story for you is the wish of every business owner. How can you tell a story that will be remembered and repeated?
My grandad would say that there are two parts to a successful story: the story itself and its telling.
1. It’s all about them
I heard my grandad retell the same story many times. Each time the story would change a little. He would pause in a different place, add the odd extra detail, or miss out a detail. Intrigued, I asked my granddad why he changed it so often.
Whether your audience is your six-year old grandchild or a room full of CEOs, your story has to be for them
He paused before replying, held my gaze steady and said, “The changes I make are always for those listening. Each time I tell it, the audience is different. Even with the same people, they may be a little – or a lot – older since they last heard it, and so I adapt. I adapt to keep them interested. It’s all about them.”
World champion of public speaking Darren LaCroix says, “Take ‘you’ out of it. In telling a story, it’s about the audience, not you. Whether your audience is your six-year old grandchild or a room full of CEOs, your information, your message, your story has to be for them. What will your listeners get from you?”
TIP: Whatever story you are telling, tailor it to the audience.
2. Picture this
A great story transports the listener to the scene. Through the detail of what was seen, heard and felt, the listener experiences the story as if they were there. It’s important to get the balance right. Give too much detail and you take away their involvement in creating the scene, in being part of the story. Offer vague or generic detail and they’re bored.
I once heard Grandad tell the story without describing the jungle foliage or the sweat in the jungle’s heat. The story simply didn’t sparkle. Add enough detail through evocative language and listeners can paint the full scene in their minds eye.
TIP: Add enough evocative imagery to pull in the audience
3. The telling
The story written, it’s now all in the delivery. This is where my grandad, supported by my lovely nanna, really came into his own.
A great storyteller acts. They use the full space available and their full body to depict the scene. As Grandad hacked through the foliage, his arm held an invisible machete and chop, chop, chop. He was purposeful with his movements. No movement was superfluous. Every movement had the story move forward.
TIP: Use your stage, use your body – make them part of the story
4. The pause
The pause is power for a storyteller
These are the true moments of power. The pause. Silence. Stillness. You wait, and the anticipation of what might happen next excites your listeners.
The pause is power for a storyteller. It is an invitation to your listeners to fully engage in your story and message. To be involved. Reflect. Answer the question you have posed. As a result, these are therefore the points when your message is truly delivered.
TIP: Give your audience the time and the space to engage with your story
5. Vocal variance
Fast. Slow. Loud. Quiet. A whisper. Deep. High. All have their place in a memorable story. Use purposefully.
TIP: Add colour to your voice – avoid a monotone at all costs!
6. The prop
Not essential, but a prop can enhance the mood and the message. Grandad’s story will forever be remembered as ‘crocodile shoes.’ Did my grandad ever mention shoes in his story? Never. But Nanna did.
As an important part of his storytelling, Nanna’s props added a detail which added truth (?!!) and humour. And a lasting visual takeaway.
TIP: Appropriate props can illustrate your story and help the audience remember you.
7. It’s all about them
No, it’s not a mistake, I’m saying this twice. This is the key message my grandad shared. It’s all about them, your your audience. His stories changed because he watched his audience responses. He continually met their needs. He sensed the mood, energy and need, and therefore adapted accordingly.
Your message is important. But without your audience’s buy-in, it’s going nowhere. Focus therefore on how to create a story that will live in the hearts and minds of your audience, and your story – your message – will last a lifetime.
TIP: it’s not about you or your business or your product – it’s all about the audience.
THE TAKE OUT…
Build your messaging into a story; don’t deliver it like a lecture. You can bring even a seemingly dry business anecdote to life by using these tips. You’ll find your audience remembers you and recounts your story to others. How does this benefit you? You’re the name they remember, and share. And once they’re listening, you consequently have the opportunity to deliver far more information, build trust, build a relationship.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Pepper is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org