Don't Be McBoring. Essential Tricks for Remarkable Storytelling.
Updated: Oct 5, 2019
You know how a boring story goes.
“I did this... That... Then this happened... And that was that..”
“Check out our cool new technology... It does this… It does that…”
Don’t be that person.
The one who tells stories that are just a series of events or facts.
Tell a great story.
Crafting and telling a good story is essential. Never more, actually, than right now. Today.
Given the amount of information we process everyday, telling your story, sharing your vision of the future, is more important than ever. It is how you stand out.
My friend, the author Anthony Iannarino, calls storytelling one of three foundational sales skills. (The other two are prospecting - creating opportunities - and closing - or gaining commitments.)
We tell stories all the time. We process information as stories. It’s the way we define who we are.
Neurologically, we’re wired for story. Forkhead box protein P2 (FOXP2) is a human protein required for the proper development of speech. When discovered, over-eager journalists called it the “storytelling gene.” Turns out it’s one of many proteins involved in language development.
So our brains are wired for organizing information into stories. That doesn’t mean, though, that you don’t need to work at it. Practice.
You probably can sing, too, but that doesn’t make you a rockstar.
If you want to tell a good story, realize the way you tell your story matters.
Your story is more than a series of facts or scientific discoveries.
Your story is words and images (and sometimes numbers) that take your listener from one place to another. A vision that turns your audience into the hero and moves them from her present reality to a better future.
The human mind thinks in images as well as words. When we read or listen to stories, our minds interpret them in pictures. If your story doesn’t create pictures, it isn’t a story.
There are as many ways to tell a story as there are stories. You can start at the beginning. You can start at the end. You can write long, detail-laden sentences filled with scientific facts. Or you can write short, punchy, ones. That. Make. You. Pause.
The way you tell your story matters. The shape matters.
The ingredients for a great story are simple. They include:
An impossible challenge
A wonderful outcome
Star Wars follows the classic hero story structure. Luke Skywalker is the hero. Yoda is the helper. Defeating the Empire is the impossible challenge.
My favorite movies, Blade Runner and Arrival, also follow that story structure. Deckerd has to air out the four replicant skin jobs. Louise must discover how to communicate with the aliens before an all-out war erupts.
If you’re selling anything, your client is the hero of your story. You’re the helper. If we were talking Star Wars, you’d be Yoda. And being Yoda’s pretty great.
To improve your story:
Constrain it. There’s a reason why people love Twitter’s limited character count. Why 6-word memoirs are popular. Why entrepreneurs are (often) asked to present 10 slides. It’s because creativity -- and storytelling -- thrives when constrained. Force yourself to tell your story in fewer words, using fewer slides.
Paint a picture of the future. Use image-based words. Convey sensory information. Help your listeners see their future as you see it. Explain what their world will be like when… Transport your listeners to the future with images. Your story becomes much more compelling. Especially if you’re trying to capture events that haven’t yet happened. Life involves sights, sounds, and smells, and image-based words provide the best way to approximate this reality through language
Describe the challenges you’ll face. There is no straight line to success. Pretending to ignore challenges is unrealistic. When you tell your story, include the obstacles and how you plan to anticipate and overcome them. If there are no challenges to overcome, there is no story, just events and facts.
Touch on emotions. People don’t make decisions based on facts. They make decisions based on how they feel. Give people a data dump and they’ll likely to forget most of it. Build suspense. Help your listener move to a better place. Drive empathy. Harness the emotions that will drive your listeners to action. Make them identify with you.
To become a better storyteller, start collecting stories. Both good and bad. Pay attention to the conflict, the challenge, and the payoff. Pay attention to how the storyteller hooks you in. Pay attention to how the storyteller made you feel.
And pay attention to bad stories. The ones that are a sequence of events or a series of facts devoid of conflict, devoid of emotion, devoid of change. Those are not stories at all.
Getting your story right is critical. As much for motivating yourself as for moving others.
Let me know how it goes.