EXPERT ARTICLE – The Art of Storytelling by award-winning author, Joan C. Curtis
Storytelling engages people. When you share an experience and personalize it, you create interest. Think about the times you’ve sat in big auditoriums, bored out of your mind, as speakers drone on with facts. Suddenly, a new speaker takes the podium and begins with, “When I left my house this morning to come here, something happened to me that made me think about everything you’ve been talking about. I…” You perk up. You sit up straighter in your seat. You lean forward. You actually listen, curious about what happened. As a fiction writer, I can embellish stories—change them a bit to fit what I’m writing.
Although I couldn’t change the facts in nonfiction, I still use storytelling. Here’s how. In both interviewing books, I created examples from real interviews. These examples helped the reader understand my points and also made the learning stickier. In the book about communication, I used dialogue and real cases to make the points. Again, those situations with people—confrontations I’d seen in my career—engaged the readers. Finally in the book on social media, my co-author and I found cases and examples to make our points.
Whether you’re in sales, an entrepreneur or a team leader, it’s important to capture the stories all around you. Who are the people who work with and for you? Who are the people to whom you are marketing your products? What are their stories? How can your stories ring true with them?
Most storytellers come by the skills naturally. They have certain attributes that enable them to convey their experiences with gusto and charm. Nonetheless, if you work hard, you too can become adept at telling stories.
Here are some tips: 1) Make the story personal. Even if it didn’t actually happen to you, tell it as if it did. Describe places and names your audience recognizes. 2) Use examples that fit your audience. You wouldn’t want to tell a story full of scientific information to a group of ninth graders. 3) Don’t get hung up on details. The audience need not know the color of the person’s hair or to whom the person is related. (Unless those details add color to your story). Only share details as needed. Too much detail gets boring. 4) Tell your story with passion and emotion. Use your nonverbal skills to emphasize points. Your voice plays a key role here. A monotone, no matter how good the story, will lull your listeners to sleep.
So, you might ask, “How can I tell a written story with passion?” Indeed, it’s harder when you use words with no visual or vocal cues to tell your story, but you can do it. First, you must find strong verbs and nouns. Instead of saying, “He went to the store,” say, “He raced to the store as if chased by a swarm of bees.” When one races, we get a verbal picture. Writing gives you a chance to imagine the story in your mind’s eye. Once the image forms, ask yourself, “How can I express that image on paper?”
Here are my tips:
• Strong verbs help. Verbs that show action versus passive verbs or the to-be verb (is, are, was, were).
• Use strong nouns. Nouns that imply action. Here’s an example. “She’s a dynamo vs. She’s a hard worker.”
• Learn the art of writing with similes and metaphors
Storytelling takes practice. When speaking to your staff or to larger groups, look for opportunities to tell a personal story. Keep it short and simple. When writing your next memo, add a story with powerful nouns and verbs and even toss in a few similes and metaphors.
You may find more people enjoy reading your memos! And even more look forward to hearing you speak.
The Clock Strikes Midnight won FIRST PLACE for mainstream/literary fiction Royal Palm Literary Award and the Silver 2015 Global e-Book award. e-Murderer won the GOLD 2016 Global e-Book award for mystery.
The mystery manuscript, e-Murderer, won first prize in the Malice Domestic Grants Competition for cozy mysteries.
JOAN has authored 7 books and self-published none.She also wrote the landmark text on strategic interviewing, Hire Smart and Keep ’em: How to Interview Strategically Using POINT. She’s produced countless articles on the web. Joan speaks to groups both in workshop and keynote format throughout the country and is known for her enthusiastic and practical approach.
Joan is a certified Associate Coach through the International Coaches Federation (ICF) and a licensed facilitator for Center for Creative Leadership 360 instruments. She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America.