A good story can take you to places you’ve never been to.
But how can one be a good storyteller?
We asked 20 experts “How to get better at storytelling?”
Take a look at their insights below.
Award-winning Writer and Editor |Writing coach |Trainer | Consultant |Owner, Wylie Communications Inc.
Because you don’t have a story until you have a problem.
So start there: The day the tax bill came. The day the bank called your loan. The day you learned the company had shipped its $60,000 circuit board with a fatal flaw.
Sandwich the introduction.
So we can sandwich the introduction, for this structure:
- Problem (“Suddenly”)
- Introduction (“Once upon a time”)
- Solution (“Luckily”)
- Results (“Happily ever after”)
Blow up the introduction.
Or we can blow up the introduction, weaving the information parenthetically throughout the piece, for this structure:
- Problem (“Suddenly”)
- Solution (“Luckily”)
- Results (“Happily ever after”)
Keep it short.
Stories don’t have to be long to be good.
Chast’s simple structure is a good reminder that a great narrative can be as short as three sentences. Give one sentence each to the problem, the solution, and the result, and you have a mini-parable that can help you make your point in an ad, lead or item of marginalia.
Anecdotes can be as long as your market, message and medium demand.
Bestselling Celebrity Ghostwriter of 17+ years
Improve your storytelling ability, by learning what it takes to tell a compelling story!
Whether telling or writing a story, fiction or real life, there are certain foundational rules of the craft that apply, and the great news is, they’re easily accessible for professional and amateur storytellers alike.
My two personal favorite resources on crafting a well-told story are – Story (Robert McKee) and On Story (Stephen King).
But beyond writing I recommend drawing from all types of resources to improve your storytelling talents – literally anything that tells a story of any kind – books, film, dance, theater, painting, music, sitting in a coffee shop watching real-life stories unfold.
If it tells a story, observe it, study it, deconstruct it, reverse engineer it, and then adapt it into a structure that works for your personal style and goals.
International Bestselling Author
My trick is to move from your left brain into your right brain before you begin to tell (or write) your story.
How can you do that?
Music and humming activate your right brain responsible for imagination.
Hum a happy tune in your mind. Dancing and big movements also activate your right brain. Stretch your arms as wide as you can, imagine hugging the entire world.
Looking at a distance (search for strangely-shaped clouds), focusing on your senses (feel the fabric of your clothes with your hands) and being present (take a few deep breaths).
Open your heart.
Then as you tell (or write) your story, feel all of the emotions, use your face and entire body to express them, and add the depth of your tone of voice.
Before you know it you will talk slower and quieter but more people will hear what you have to say.
Writer | Public Relations Media Specialist
I’ve been a writer since I was a kid and often used my imagination to take me far away from a life of poverty and abuse.
Orphaned at 11, I learned to craft stories with better beginnings and better endings than what I had learned was the norm.
- It is imperative that you are there with your subject at the moment.
- It is also helpful if you spend more than one meeting in person or by phone with the person.
- If you are working on features, profiles, experiences, begin by just meeting the person and listening, really good, without interruption, to what they have to say. TAKE NOTES.
- Think of all they have seen, envision their experiences. Put yourself in their shoes. Research the era they tell you about.
- Find the core of the emotions that make them who they are.
- Find the good and the bad in what they are telling you.
- Lift the edges of their words to see what is beneath their reason for choosing to say what they are saying.
- Let them know they can trust you to relay their story.
- Urge the reader to dive into your story. Ask questions. Reveal answers.
- Educate the reader with interesting facts and folklore intertwined into the story.
- Send subtle signals of mystery in portraying a person, don’t give them all up at once.
- Pause for breath.
- Allow yourself to be lost in your own story.
- If verbal, use intonations and vocal tones to refrain from sounding monotone.
- People don’t want to be sold, they want to be entertained, educated, allowed to make their own deductions and decisions.
- Utilize more than one source.
- Visit the place or person you are telling about and soak up the atmosphere of who and where they are.
- Be the eyes and ears, conscious, heart and mind of your audience by observing who they are and catering your story to their level.
- Tell your story to someone close to you, it helps you ‘rehearse’ your words and set the scene in your head better, then helps you write it better.
- Don’t be afraid to edit, edit, re-edit and rewrite.
Books are beautiful, and computers can do clever things, but a live breathing human being stimulates people in a way no inanimate object can ever match.
So to tell stories better, show stories better.
Two ways to do that: show what you know and show how you feel.
Show what you know by using precise and pretty language.
That is, feed your listeners’ imaginations using language that evokes the senses. Don’t say “It was a hot day.” Say “The summer sun on her skin made her feel like a chicken roasting on a rotisserie rack.”
Bring us into the room where the story takes place with descriptive detail.
Point out the sticky note hanging off the corner of the desk, the afternoon hum of rush hour traffic filtering in through the closed window, the leftover aroma of the morning’s coffee in an empty, unwashed mug.
Show how you feel by conveying and displaying your own enjoyment in entertaining an audience.
When someone is eating something delicious – more than just the tongue is engaged. They may close eyes in rapture, inhale the aroma deeply, eye the plate of food the way a lover beholds the beloved. Watching someone enjoy him or herself makes you feel good, too.
Good energy is infectious.
So become a carrier of good story contagion. Let the privilege of occupying center stage inform and infuse your delivery.
That spark, the tingle – maybe even that tinge of fright that comes from standing before an audience is the energy source that animates your story.
Don’t resist it. Let it course through you and into the audience to touch them with its power.
Teacher | Director | Writer | Performer
#1 Storytelling is a performance.
It is an act of theatre where you are the author, director, and performer. And you have to play all the parts.
#2 It isn’t enough to narrate the story, you should try to perform it.
Create a voice for the narrator of the story that is different from the characters. It can be comparatively neutral or more distinctive. Give the characters distinct voices.
a) distinguish between male and female
b) distinguish between old and young
c) experiment with dialects and accents
#3 Find the arc of the story or scene.
Build suspense by slowing things down. Create action by speeding up the tempo. Give your piece a beginning, middle, and end.
Take pauses. Silence is part of the story and often allows the audience to fill the quiet with their thoughts.
#5 If you have no clue how to do any of this, listen to Jim Dale read the Harry Potter books or Tim Curry read A Series of Unfortunate Events, or Garrison Keeler performing his stories or old recordings from A Prairie Home Companion.
#6 Practice reading aloud short stories or chapters from good writers. This will give you a sense of how to craft language and give your practice performing distinctive works.
#7 Remember, everyone has a story to tell. Even if it is readily apparent, you too have stories to tell.
Associate, Moshes Law
Getting better at storytelling is a matter of study and lots of practice.
Being passionate about what you’re writing about is also a big factor in getting your story to be emotionally involving to the reader.
There’s a reason why kids ask for “bedtime stories” and not “bedtime science research papers” unless your Stephen Hawking (RIP Steve).
So my advice to getting better at storytelling or advice to get better at anything is to study the best, copy what they do, and practice.
That’s really all there is to it, there’s no magic trick to getting better at storytelling or anything else in life. It’s just good old fashion practice.
The more you do it the better you get at it.
Also, take notes on everything you read that keeps your attention and look for common similarities in what you read.
There are certain things all great writers make sure to do even though you will also find that they all have their own writing style that has been influenced by someone at first in some way. Just keep writing.
For twenty years, I was married to an artist. On occasion, we’d banter with other artists about oil pastels and nupastels, gouache and watercolor, pointillism and impressionism, and – you get the idea.
When I was in a good mood, I found those discussions amusing because I discovered that the best artists (when asked) often haven’t the slightest clue how they became successful.
Ask Bill Gates or Warren Buffet how they became successful and they can whip out a powerpoint presentation within five minutes to cover the crucial bullet points.
Ask an artist or author and they’ll likely look at you with a certain degree of trepidation and uncertainty.
Sure, they can dig up an answer (often quite passionately) but give me ten minutes on google and I’ll find someone else preaching an opposing viewpoint with every bit as much passion.
Intriguing, isn’t it?
After many dozens, if not hundreds, of similar discussions with jugglers, musicians, artists, designers, and other right-brained folks, I could reasonably deduce that the conglomerate conclusion of how to be a great artist (or storyteller) is nothing more than a smorgasbord of sludge.
Michael Jackson once expressed what I’m expressing in an interview. Asked to explain how he became such a great dancer, he smiled as he concluded, “You just have to feel it.”
Other dancers can be found nodding their heads approvingly and saying, “Yup, it’s hard to explain but he’s right.”
The answer resonates with people dripping with talent.
For the rest of us, the advice sounds something akin to telling a cave troll to throw darts in a windstorm: if it throws enough darts, one may eventually hit the target – especially if they’re thrown extra hard – but uncertainty abounds.
I’m a full-time author. I used to professionally juggle and I was a professional musician as well.
Apparently, I haven’t been dripping in talent in each of these endeavors because I discovered how to articulate what an ocean of genius-savants cannot.
In storytelling, as in any art, there are several tools that you can use to become successful.
Some authors need all of the tools. Most need several tools. A rare few only need a small handful of tools.
Your style determines which tools are the most important for your success but at the end of the day, you have to become so proficient at using your tools of choice that they become intuitive.
You’ll do your best storytelling (or writing) when you’re not thinking about any of the tools. You just have to “feel it.”
Michael Jackson was well known for rehearsing himself to exhaustion. He used tools so much that he no longer thought about them. They became part of him.
This is what he means by just “feeling it.”
In short, you have to practice using each tool a bazillion times so that it becomes intuitive – and when you get to the point where something is intuitive, it can be difficult to explain because you stopped thinking about whatever it is that you’re doing.
So what tools do storytellers need?
Tradition might require starting with a solid understanding of grammatical conventions so purple prose can spontaneously materialize on demand, but when I read Jim Butcher (love his work), Mark Lawrence, or Stephen King, I have to wonder how much that matters in our modern culture.
Please don’t repeat that to your prospective editor! Certainly, it doesn’t hurt to have great prose but plot, character development, and world building chops seem more important to today’s budding authors and storytellers.
Break those three categories of tools into individual tools and you may have dozens of wrenches and screwdrivers to play with.
Happily, there are several online courses to help you experiment with those tools until they become part of your intuition.
I’ve taken online writing courses from James Patterson, Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, Malcolm Gladwell, Aaron Sorkin, and several others.
I recommend taking several courses instead of just one or two because, honestly, they each have something useful to share but few of them truly understand all of the tools well.
Save the Cat is a great book I recommend to everyone. Million Dollar Outlines and Characters & Viewpoint are other must-reads and Creating Character Arcs is definitely high on the list.
If you prefer podcasts, you can’t beat Writing Excuses.
I performed at a storytelling festival for many years. Like writing conferences and cons, these festivals offer you the opportunity to learn at the feet of your heroes in person if that suits you.
Whatever resource you choose, make sure to practice everything you learn in whatever way ensures it will be deeply ingrained into your psyche so you can just “feel” the stories coming out of you.
Essayist | Educator
The way to get better at storytelling is to tell a lot of stories.
Tell a story to everyone you meet. Tell the same story fifty times.
Watch what parts of the story that people respond to.
When do they laugh?
When do they flinch?
Good storytellers use audience reactions to edit their stories.
Recently, as I was working on an essay, I told the story to almost everyone I came in contact with: colleagues, friends, people waiting in line beside me at the coffee shop, utility workers who came to my house.
I tried out parts of the story on social media – as Instagram captions – and made a mental note of how people replied.
There are formulas. There are resources on how to structure a story and how to show, don’t tell.
Use active voice and action verbs. But, the one piece of advice that I keep coming back to is this: tell your story to an audience. Tell it to strangers. You don’t have to ask for feedback. They’ll give it. You’ll see your feedback on their faces.
Telling stories to strangers can be terrifying, and you should be prepared to fall flat sometimes. Not every story lands. But, that is how you get better. You tell a bad story or two hundred.
I’ve found that audiences are a lot kinder than you’d think.
Go to an open mic. Go to a storytelling event. Even the people beside you in line at the coffee shop will most likely listen. You can ask them first. You can say, “Wanna hear a quick story?” The worst they can say is no.
You get better at telling stories by living good stories, too.
Make sure you’re out there experiencing life. Good stories begin with a human living an experience.
You’re not going to become a great storyteller by reporting what happened on the last episode of whatever show you’re binge-watching.
Get out there and get some stories. Then tell them to everybody.
Founder, SEO for the Poor and Determined
Stories move the world; They can inspire you to start.
They can encourage you not to quit, and they can give meaning to your work and in extension- your life.
Storytelling is an extremely valuable skill to have and here are 3 tips to help you become a better story maker today.
#1 Write more.
This is the age of connectedness and the internet.
And “telling a story” actually means writing a story, and posting it online so that entire world can access and read it.
To write a goodie, you need to write first, a lot. And I don’t mean practicing story writing, oh no (I mean, you can, but it’s not enough).
I mean writing everything; anything; anytime; every time.
Everything you put to paper today helps you craft better stories tomorrow. And the more you write, the better you become; and faster.
So, next time when you have a choice of remembering something, or putting it to paper- write.
So, next time when you can dictate to a program so it types for you – don’t.
Instead, write it. Write and watch your thoughts develop wings.
Note: I find that writing frees my thoughts in a way speaking can’t. I know because I often compare my best-spoken words with my decent writing.
Trust me, there’s no comparison.
Write, write, and then some more.
The storyteller in you will thank you.
#2 Read more.
I was tempted to put this as number one tip, but I decided not to. Because anyone can write before even reading a single book.
They can, but they shouldn’t.
No one is born a writer.
Instead, you become one by writing, and by reading.
It’s the most valuable skill you can develop. In fact, I call it a master skill because all knowledge is concealed in books and ready to be discovered and used by you.
Imagine how it’d help you and your writing business?
What to read? Suit your taste.
Anything you read makes you a better writer.
For example, I like the classics and am currently reading Jane Eyre from Charlotte Bronte.
It’s such an amazing book. I have trouble reading just one chapter and dropping it until tomorrow. I could devour it in a day. I wouldn’t even have to eat until I finish.
It’s that good. Does it help me be a better writer? You betcha.
On my site, I write about SEO and internet marketing. and whenever I read quality material today, I get new and fresh ideas tomorrow.
And sometimes I can directly trace those ideas to something I read in the book previous night.
The brain’s ability to take unrelated concepts and find a common ground between them- amazing.
#3 Realize they don’t have to be your stories.
Stories are constant followers of us humans.
We can trace them to the time our ancestors were first learning how to build fire.
Yes, stories are all around us, and forever.
Meaning- they contain within themselves something that resonates with all humans whether they be from Asia, Europe or Antarctica.
That something is archetypes.
I won’t get all sciency here, especially since it’s been a long time I read the works of Freud and Jung, So I can’t go into details about archetypes.
- Craft your stories with the eternal human in mind, and don’t worry if you’re not the protagonist of your story. It doesn’t matter.
- Write to instruct; to educate; to make someone laugh.
Achieve any of the above and you’ve written a great story.
Story Teller | Life Coach | Talent Manager
When it comes to making a meaningful connection with other people, nothing compares to your personal stories.
You come to trust others, learn from others and are sometimes inspired by others based on their ability to authentically share their stories.
For me, the best storytelling is based on “show me” don’t tell me.
Paint the picture for the audience by expressing how something made you feel. When you express how the event made you “feel” the audience is with you, feeling it with you.
Be vulnerable, allow yourself to “go there” in your story if that is what is true for you.
When there is honest yet graphic content to the story, be sure to build in appropriate humor to break the tension so the audience remembers you’re okay.
There is so much more to storytelling, and my biggest takeaways are to simply be yourself, tell the truth, reveal your feelings, find the humor, and connect.
Storyteller | Marketer
To really get storytelling right, it helps to go back to English class and think about story arcs.
Every story can be reduced to three parts where a character:
- Comes to need something;
- Overcomes obstacles to try to get what they want; and
- Arrives at a climax where they either get it or don’t (and the reader sees what it the story meant to their life).
Whether it’s high literature, a movie, or an advertisement, the approach is exactly the same:
Romeo and Juliet fall in love, but their tangled families get in the way, and tragically things don’t end so well.
Batman is the only one who can save Gotham from the Joker, he pursues the joker doggedly, and finally foils the devious plot and wins the key to the city.
A housewife’s hectic day gets ugly when she spills coffee in the kitchen, but she cleans it triumphantly with one swipe of a Swiffer and gets to enjoy the rest of her coffee (and a moment of peace) in a clean kitchen.
The way to tell a story in your writing is to recognize the underlying conflict or need that your audience faces.
Once you can identify it, you’ll start to see how your product can be the hero, and ultimately the benefits your audience will enjoy if they become your customer.
I think the best way to become a great storyteller is to practice.
You can read all the books you want and attend seminars but if you aren’t putting those things to use it doesn’t do much to improve your storytelling.
The Moth offers great local events where you can practice your skills. If you can’t find a storytelling event start one. Places like breweries make great partners for storytelling or story slams.
Toastmasters is a great organization that allows you to practice your skills. There are even advanced clubs that are dedicated to storytelling.
And they offer yearly contests where you can advance from your club level all the way up to the international level.
Watching live storytelling events is a great way to get inspired.
You get to see people at a variety of levels. As a comedian who is great at setup and punchline formula, I’m looking to expand beyond that and take the audience on a journey so I’m always looking for ways to strengthen my storytelling.
Sr. Growth Marketing Manager, HubSpot Academy
Think through the structure of your story arch before you even get started writing.
What’s the initial setup that’s going to hook the audience’s attention, and make them curious?
How are you going to build up that conflict and make the audience feel like they’re right there with your subject going through it?
And then think through how you want to unveil that climactic event and then let the audience down to a resolution that leaves them feeling satisfied.
Mapping out that story arch either before, or right after your first draft, can make a big difference.
I like to think about the brain chemicals I’m trying to induce: a feeling of comfort and routine (oxytocin) an incident or conflict (cortisol) and then a resolution, or a sigh of relief (dopamine).
If you can control how your audience is feeling, you can make their heart pound in fear, you can make them laugh out loud, and you can make them feel the emotions that your characters are feeling.
All it takes is careful control over timing and how you let your story unfold.
Content Strategy and Marketing Consultant
The best way to get better at storytelling is to read (or watch, or listen to) more stories.
It really comes down to that. You can find all the formulas and templates you want, but in the end, you just need to watch great storytellers perform their craft.
Read great writers (both fiction and non-fiction). Listen to great speakers.
Importantly, however, you need to read, listen, and watch with a purpose.
Pay close attention to how they introduce topics and create tension. How they introduce elements like characters, conflicts, and resolutions. Even in social media posts, you’ll find these things.
Keep an open eye to storytelling, practice whenever you can, and you’ll get better.
Principal Consultant, Tower & Company
The best way to get better at storytelling is to share your story with others and ask for their feedback.
However, don’t ask your audience what they liked or didn’t like about your story; instead, ask about their main takeaways.
Do their takeaways match your goal for the story?
(For example, if you’re sharing a story to inspire others, were they inspired? If you’re sharing a story as a cautionary tale, were they convinced?)
If your audience’s takeaways are not what you intended, keep making changes to your story until it elicits the response that you’re looking for.
SEO Manager, DentalPlans.com
Great story-telling draws you and it doesn’t let go. It creates an insatiable hunger for resolution.
As an online marketer, it’s my job to tell a brand’s story online – without actually telling a story.
This is achieved by creating a consistent tone and delivery that doesn’t feel forced or desperate but still keeps users engaged.
In the offline world, things aren’t very different.
In order to be a better story-teller, one needs to first consider the audience, and how the story may appeal to them – how they can relate.
From there, it’s a good idea to incorporate some of your own personal experiences as anecdotes to support your story.
This helps let the audience in and enables them to become more invested in the story itself.
Lastly, the best stories are those that we can relate to. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to keep your story on the topic, but also universally applicable to your audience.
Performing artist | Speaker
When you are crafting a good story, you need to think about both your message and the audience.
It helps to genuinely care about the people you are talking to.
We live at a time when raw emotional connections are particularly treasured because the language of emotional appeal has been drastically overused in popular culture.
As a result, there is a real hunger for connecting to others.
I have noticed that sincere expression always shines through even if the presentation is imperfect (of course, it depends on the context; if you are in a room with a bunch of marketers, you better know how to schmooze).
But when it comes to the kind of storytelling that puts smiles on your face and on the faces of your audience members–the kind that you are going to be proud of for the rest of your life–delivering your unique message with love, human to human, is key.
I believe the best way to become a better storyteller is to read more and better books.
And you don’t have to restrict your reading to fiction — though these genres are helpful as well. Instead, try to read a broad range of fundamentals, which can include history, science, religion and similar topics.
When you learn more, you better understand the context in which humanity fits into the universe; and that context helps you become a master storyteller.
An added benefit is that increased knowledge can give you material to include in your stories.
For example, if you were sharing a story about a fast-growing business you could compare it to developments in the Roman Empire, or if you are chatting with friends you could share a story on the origin of ghosts.
Master storytelling and you can move mountains, influence people, make more sales and allow you to become more personable.
People love stories and learning to be a better storyteller can be done by simply starting to do so more.
Relate things that happen in your life with stories, either fictional or non-fictional.
Start conversing in a way that allows you to tell stories. As the only way we can get better at something is through reinforcing it through practice.
Also, study people that are great storytellers. Read about them, watch them and mimic their style but with your own flair.
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