Tell your listeners why it’s important and how it affects them.
Have you ever told a story about a personal encounter and found that people got lost or started checking their phones? It feels crummy, right?
You might be left wondering what you did wrong. Don’t worry, you’re not the only person to experience this. I’ve had the same thing happen to me when I tell a story, and it sucks.
I’m an introvert. I’ve never been great at conveying my thoughts and feelings to others. Most of my thoughts live and die in my own head, and usually, I’m okay with that. Like many introverts, I don’t feel the need to constantly verbalize my ideas and experiences to others.
However, my preference for quiet does not mean I have nothing to say at all. There are times when I want to be heard as well, and I bet you do, too.
There have been many times when I’ve tried telling a story about something funny that happened to me only to have it not quite land right for the listener. Other times, I’ve wanted to share something amazing I experienced, read, or watched, but after babbling a bit, I see that my friends don’t share my enthusiasm.
And it’s especially soul-crushing when they don’t even pay attention or change the topic entirely. Feeling dismissed is the worst.
You Can Become a Better Storyteller
Recently, while browsing Reddit, I came across a post by an introvert who said he felt incapable of telling engaging stories. I came to the conclusion that I needed to get better at telling stories, too, because I was failing to engage my listeners.
It’s easy to tell a story badly. You’ve probably been on the other end of bad storytelling and have gotten bored.
Honestly, it takes a lot of practice to master the art of storytelling. A lifetime for some, but shorter for others. What it takes is a willingness to improve and to learn from your mistakes. So, here are four things I’ve learned that might help you, too.
How to Tell Better Stories: Tips for Introverts
1. Grab their attention.
Wanting to tell the whole story is great. But if you tell a story chronologically and take the time to explain it in detail with lots of backstory, your audience will zone out by the time you get to the good part.
Before you start telling a story, tell your listeners why it’s important. You must attract their interest. But don’t use a word like “interesting” when describing your story — it’s an overused word that’s lost all of its allure.
Instead, use bold adjectives to introduce your story. “Let me tell you about the weird way I met my girlfriend” sounds more intriguing than “Let me tell you about how I met my girlfriend.” Or, if you had a compelling encounter with someone, don’t say, “I had an interesting encounter today.” Instead, try, “You won’t believe who I met today.”
Once you have their interest, you’ll have to keep up the momentum — which brings me to my next point.
2. Set the mood.
You are the story’s narrator. Your job is to set the mood for which the story takes place. The tone of your storytelling can greatly affect the listening experience. Don’t ramble on in a monotonous voice.
Occasionally make eye contact with your listeners. Yes, as an introvert, I feel awkward doing so, but we can’t deny that some of our more engaging conversations have involved some form of eye contact.
Use hand gestures. It can help with the flow of the story and give life to the characters and their actions. Hand gestures give a physical sense of momentum to your storytelling.
Project your voice, even if it feels a bit unnatural to you. I tend to speak quietly, so when I started learning to tell better stories, I told myself to talk a little louder than my comfort zone. At first, it seemed to loud to me, but it was the right volume for everyone else.
You might even try changing voices to match the personalities of the various characters in your story. The depth you provide to your characters will engage your listener.
Doing all of this helps the audience feel what you felt.
And speaking of emotions, make sure to include your own. Captivating stories don’t just share what happened and when — they also reveal how you felt, what motivated you, what drove you on, etc. The more emotion you can include in your story, the better, although it doesn’t have to be complicated. Try something as simple as:
- “I was panicking.”
- “I couldn’t believe it!”
- “The news was devastating.”
If you create an emotional connection with your listeners, they’ll be hanging on your every word.
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3. Let them imagine.
Telling a story through speech requires your audience to imagine it. So let them participate and visualize. You might try asking what they think happened before actually telling them.
Don’t ask simple yes or no questions. Ask them questions that make them guess what happened — but make sure they’re not too open-ended, or your story will lose momentum.
Don’t describe every little detail. Instead, give them the scenario and let them imagine the rest.
For example, you might say, “I met Arnold Schwarzenegger at the gym the other day. Guess what he said to me?” Your audience will imagine scenarios and engage with your storytelling to find out what happened.
4. Use casual, everyday words.
Have you ever been confused by wordy jargon? I bet you had a hard time understanding some parts of the conversation because of it.
When you tell a story, use layman’s terms. The average person’s reading level is about 7th or 8th grade. If your audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying, you immediately lose their interest.
If you’re an astrophysicist, don’t use scientific mumbo-jumbo to explain the latest astronomical discovery to a crowd of people at a cocktail party. Simply tell them why it’s important and how it affects them. Make it relatable and relevant to them. Remember, everyone wants to hear about how something affects their favorite person: themselves.
Your storytelling skills can’t level up without practice. But when you engage and stay relevant to your audience, storytelling can become the kind of meaningful experience you crave as an introvert.