5 tools to enhance your storytelling abilities

People tell stories to illustrate a point, to give credence, to help people understand, to engage an audience or to make them laugh. Storytelling has a place in communication and presentation as it does in life.

Stories engage an audience of one or many in a way that statistics alone can’t hope to. Whilst cold hard facts cause people to mentally do their shopping list or think about what they will wear to an event on the weekend, stories can open up communication pathways.

There is that “moment” that an audience and a storyteller share. This creates a link between the communicator and their listener. There can be an element of exaggeration in some stories – maybe to get a laugh – often a moment when they all know the story may be exaggerated or biased and that creates a bond between audience and presenter. Oral storytelling involves much interaction between teller and hearer. The teller “reaches” for the audience. That too is a presenter’s responsibility.

Stories enrich presentations, but there are a few things to consider.

They need to be tailored to the presentation and the presentation needs to be tailored to the audience. Stories should support the objective of the presentation. Understand exactly why you are making your presentation or communication, what it is that you want your audience to feel. Then understand why you are telling the story. Are you demonstrating a point? Are you making information accessible? Do you want to shock the listener?

Once you know the answers to these questions, there are a range of tools you can draw on to use storytelling to illuminate your presentation.

Paint vivid word pictures (here is the use of language). Think about the wide range of words that are available to you. Don’t settle for the usual or the mundane. Look for words that truly describe what you want to say.

Use imagery. Images can spark off dynamic responses, and add colour and quality. All the intellectualising, analysis and technical descriptions in the world can fail to release the response you want, and yet a simple image of ‘an eagle soaring’ or ‘a snake slithering’ or ‘a silly chook pecking’ can trigger off impulses and understanding. Facts are great food for the brain. It is the images that feed the imagination. A building can be as tall as ‘X’ in figures but an image – for example ‘the building soars above the landscape like a ladder reaching to the sky’ – will place it in the imagination.

Understand the importance of the story your body is telling. The audience reads your body language, sometimes without even realising they are doing it.
The physical plays a large part in engaging your audience and enhances their understanding. If you watch someone recounting a story to a group of listeners you are certain to recognise that gestures serve different purposes. The storyteller might begin with a set of gestures, probably wide, open bodies and emphatic enough to catch everyone’s attention.

Vocal variety captures the attention of your audience. Use pace, pitch, tone, silence to emphasise your meaning and to engage your audience. Telling a story almost automatically introduces vocal variety.

Stories need to be appropriate to the listeners. All of these numbers, figures and/or profits have an impact. Who is the impact on? What will the result be? Will people lose their jobs if the profits don’t pick up? Ask yourself, what are the implications for my listeners? Reach people’s emotions, tell the story and personalise the information.

Most importantly, if you think your presentation will be boring what do you think your audience is going to think? Sometimes presenters say ‘my subject is boring because it is just numbers and figures’. Apply the numbers and figures to something that is familiar. I was speaking to an accountant friend of mine and she commented ‘if an audience lives in Melbourne and you want to tell them about figures, work out the implications in an AFL match. Everybody in Melbourne is obsessed with the AFL’.

These are just some of the tools of the storyteller: the voice, the body, the understanding, the imagery and making it personal. Other things in the storyteller’s repertoire are the props, the visual, the visualisation, the variety, the repetition, the objectives, the who, what, where, the emotion and the laughter. Stories bring life and colour to your presentations and make your communications personal.

All views expressed are authors own.

Lyn Lee
About this author:
 Lyn Lee, Course Manager & Training Consultant, NIDA Corporate
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Want to know more? Give her a call today on 1300 650 357