The Keys to Masterful Storytelling

“People will forget what you said, they
will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel”

— Dr. Maya Angelou 1928-2014

First we'll take a look at four key things all great stories do, and then we'll dig deeper to six key steps you can personally take to become a masterful storyteller.

4 Keys to Great Stories

1. Great Stories Have a Purpose

They have a mission to entertain and to teach, not just teach or show how smart the storyteller is.

2. Great Stories Follow a Classic Narrative Arc

They have a beginning, middle and an end. In our work one of the best classic narrative arcs is often "the hero’s" journey.

3. Great Stories are Relate-able

They offer the reader, watcher or listener a chance to see themselves in your story. Children all over the world (and many adults as well) know what I mean if I say I wish I’d been able to go to school at Hogwarts school of wizardry with Harry Potter.

4. Great Stories Create “Aha” Moments

Great stories give the reader, watcher or listener the opportunity to see both themselves and their world in new ways and inspire us to make a positive change. Remember, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech began with a story, not data, not a plan.

Now let's dig deeper and see how you can incorporate each of these to personally become a masterful storyteller.

People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it.
— Simon Sinek

7 Key Steps to Becoming a Masterful Storyteller

1) Find the Heart of Your Story. Find Your Why.

Emotion not only drives giving, it trumps logic. If you want people to remember what you’re sharing, and especially if you want to change hearts and minds, you need to find the heart of your story, the purpose of why you and your team are doing this work.

Simon Sinek's "How Great Leaders Inspire Action" from TEDxPugetSound is one of the most popular TED talks of all time with over 26 million views. He's now an demand author, lecturer and thought leader on how crucial starting with why is.

Learn more on these specifics in our section "Finding the Heart of Your Story."

2) Map Your Story to the Narrative Arc

Map your stories to make sure they follow the narrative arc, or dramatic structure, also known as Freytag’s Pyramid. Freytag was a Nineteenth Century German novelist who saw common patterns in the plots of two types of stories that had really withstood the test of time – ancient Greek plays and Shakespeare. What he found is that these stories followed a pattern. Throughout time the stories that really capture our imaginations follow this classic arc:

1. The exposition sets the stage for the beginning of the story – when the first conflict arises.

2. The rising action is when things heat up, the challenge becomes more dangerous and real

3. The climax is the turning point where things get very tough and then turn for the better

4. Falling action is where there’s a reversal of fortune – one more challenge to overcome before coming to the conclusion

5. The resolution or dénouement or conclusion is when you wrap it all up neatly with a bow

3) Frame Your Stories for Dramatic Impact

Sometimes it’s best not to start at the very beginning with a story. Rather than setting the stage too far in advance and risk losing your audience, zero in close to when the action heats up to make your story more compelling.

4) Offer Your Audience "Aha" Moments

Great stories and masterful story tellers offer us chances to see our world anew. What can you share that will allow your reader, watcher or listener a chance to do this?

According to best selling author Carmine Gallo, whose latest book is "The Storytellers Secret," the power of your story isn't in your end success, but in your struggle and your overcoming.

5) Use Evocative Descriptive Language

Think of your writing and speaking opportunities as a love letter to your audience. Repeat key words and phrases you want them to remember. Use descriptive, interesting language to engage their senses.

To illustrate both 3, 4 & 5 I'm going to share a very short story. Watch how I both narrow in to frame the drama quickly, share very honestly what I've been through personally to help others see the opportunity of the bike, and use colorful language to engage my readers:

"It’s early December 2009 and I’m smiling with glee, slowing circling a vintage cruiser decked out with holly and lights to get the feel of it. In moments I'll head out into the night to be part of the historic Belmont Shore Christmas Parade with the Cyclone Coaster vintage riding club.

It has taken my friend Charlie Gandy six months to get me on a bike again, and finally with this invitation for a very short sweet easy ride, I've accepted. I haven’t been on a bike in 30 years. I deal daily with chronic pain and fatigue – symptoms of Fibromyaglia – and I’d forgotten that a bike is a strength maximizer.

The smile doesn’t leave my face as I ride the route, jauntily ringing my bell and waving to the crowd. From that day forward I will ride a bike regularly for errands and meetings. Yes, the irony is that I became a bike advocate almost a year before I rode a bike again."

6) Have a Clear Call to Action

What next steps do you want people to take because of listening, reading or watching you? Make it clear and easy for them to do.

7) Approach is as Important Content

We're all busy people. I know. But if you want to become a masterful storyteller both as a person, and as a brand, you need to give your skills time to flourish.

There's no way around it. How you approach storytelling is as important as what's in the story. You can have the most incredible, life changing material for a blog or a talk but if you don't present it in an interesting way no one's going to want to reach or listen.

Amy Cuddy's TED Talk on "Your body language shapes who you are" is the second most watched TED talk of all time with over 36 million views. It's from her best selling book "Presence" that I picked up the term "approach is as important as content."

This was a concept I understood prior to reading her book, but I didn't have the terminology to boil it down for others so they could understand why it's so crucial to approach storytelling and presentations from many different angles to be really compelling.

Further Reading

Copyright 2018 Melissa Balmer