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Your ultimate guide on how to be a good storyteller

June 23, 2022 - 17 min read

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Why is storytelling important? 

9 tips on how to become a better storyteller 

5 qualities of a good storyteller 

Start building meaningful connections through storytelling

We crave connection. 

Human connection brings us so many physical, mental, and emotional well-being benefits. And while there are plenty of ways to connect with one another, one art form stands out: storytelling. 

Storytelling is one of the most ancient art forms, with history’s oldest known fictional story dating back to the third millennium B.C. Stories have stood the test of time. It’s both an art and science, a way of creating a deep connection with one person or a million people. 

So when it comes to being a good storyteller, it takes work. And while storytelling is a skill set to work at, it doesn’t always come second nature to everyone. Some people suffer from social anxiety, a disorder that 7.1% of adults live within the US. Others, like me, feel more comfortable with written storytelling versus oral storytelling or presentations. There are plenty of mediums today to tell stories, especially with social media

But when we boil down what it means to be a good storyteller, it means you’re a good connector. You can find something in the shared human experience that resonates with other people. You make people feel heard, feel validated, and feel listened to. As a good storyteller, you make people feel like they’re not alone. 

Let’s talk about how to be a good storyteller. In this post, you’ll like what qualities make a good storyteller. You’ll also learn how to put your storytelling skills to the test. And most importantly, you’ll learn why storytelling matters. 

Why is storytelling important? 

Storytelling has long been a tool to help affect change. It’s an art and a science to create connections between human beings. 

Storytelling can be used as a learning tool. Some of my best professors and teachers have one thing in common: they’re great storytellers. By building trust with their students, good storytellers can influence, inspire, and engage. Storytelling can actually help better equip students to be open to the act of learning. 

Storytelling can also be used to help drive behavior change. When you’re absorbed in a good story, you’re transported. I recently read a book that made me cry (multiple times) called Between the Mountain and the Sky by Maggie Doyne.

A story about an American woman who starts a community and school in rural Nepal, this book illustrated the good that the human race is capable of. While I haven’t had any of the experiences shared by the author in the book, I could feel them. In many ways, the book captured the power of storytelling to make a change. As a founder of a nonprofit and leader of a community school, Maggie Doyne used storytelling as a key fundraising tool for her organization. 

But at its core, storytelling is about connection. When we look at how connections impact your emotional well-being and mental fitness, it’s significant. In fact, 43% of us don’t feel connected to others in the workplace. Our Connection Crisis report shows that those with low social connections suffer. People who don’t have strong connections experience increased stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout

Connection makes us feel like we belong. Through stories, we feel that inherent connection to the storyteller, to the characters, and to the heart of the story. In a time when people are increasingly isolated and lonely, storytelling can help bridge the connection gap. 

So whether you’re hoping to sharpen your storytelling skills or start building your storytelling foundation, we can help. How do you become a good storyteller? Let’s dig in. 

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9 tips on how to become a better storyteller 

The art of storytelling is a powerful tool. You can master your storytelling technique to help create meaningful connections. Get ready to tell a good story, one word at a time. 

1. Know your audience 

There are plenty of types of stories that you can tell. And depending on the audience, some stories will be better received than others. 

I was at a comedy club a few months ago with my husband and my sister and my brother-in-law. It was a local show where three different comedians took to the stage with their sets. 

The first comedian was the least experienced of the three performers. He mentioned at the beginning of his show that he’d only been doing standup for the last year or so, so he’d be “trying out some stuff” on us. Some jokes landed better than others. In real-time, he acknowledged his success (or lack thereof). For example, when one joke got the audience roaring with laughter, he made a comment, “Oh, so I should take my jokes in that direction, huh?” 

He was getting real-time feedback from the audience. He was getting a pulse on what the audience liked, what the audience didn’t like, and how his stories would be received. While you might not be doing standup, you’ll want to employ this same sort of strategy in your own storytelling. What do you know about your audience? What context clues or information can you gather? How will you adjust and shape your story based on your audience? 

2. Think about the goal of your story 

Every story has some sort of goal, whether you recognize it or not. The best storytellers fashion their stories with the desired end result in mind. For some, it might be to make the audience laugh (like comedians). For others, it might be to help drive behavior change. For others, it might be to help educate or drive awareness about a specific issue. 

Consider your audience and then think about your goal. What message do you want to send to an audience member? Beyond capturing your audience’s attention, what takeaway do you want them to walk away with? 

how-to-be-a-good-storyteller-man-presenting-with-story-at-meeting

3. Choose the right time (and the right place) 

I can tell you from personal experience that every story has the right time and the right place. Stories aren’t always appropriate in the right setting — and stories need to have the right voice. 

I went to a wedding last summer in Boston. The bride and the groom had asked close friends and family members to share stories about the couple at the rehearsal dinner and the reception. They’d hand-picked people who knew their personal stories, stories that would be fitting for the wedding ceremony. 

However, one extended family member got a hold of the microphone. She told a long-winded story about the bride’s family but made no mention of the groom. Her story was one about the bride’s family history, traditions, and even tales from her own wedding. Let’s be real: it was awkward. It was a lovely story, but it wasn’t the right time or place. 

Every storytelling experience has the right time and place. Lean on your emotional intelligence skills to figure out if the story will land well for when (and where) you want to tell it. 

4. Use a hook to get your audience’s attention 

Have you ever heard a story that you might not have realized was a story? Maybe halfway through the story, you’re wracking your brain around what the story is about. In writing, we call this the “hook” or the “lede” of the story. What is it that will capture your audience’s attention? What will keep them engaged and interested in the story? Is there a good hook to the story? 

Think of ways you can creatively present your information that will keep your audience absorbed. By employing this storytelling technique, you’ll be sure to captivate your audience. 

5. Be clear and concise 

I know that I’m guilty of this when I tell oral stories. Sometimes, I can get long-winded and drone on and on. I add details that aren’t pertinent to the story that I’m telling. Or I go off on a tangent that doesn’t really have anything to do with the story I’m trying to tell. 

Well, take it from me: it doesn’t work. 

Be as clear and concise as you can with your story. Try asking yourself what details are important for the reader or the listener to understand. If they’re not critical to the story, why are you including them? What about those details make it a more compelling story? 

As best you can, try to filter out what information is “must-have” versus “nice-to-have.” 

6. Get personal 

Personal experiences are just that: they’re personal. It can feel vulnerable and sometimes scary to share personal details about your own life. 

But here’s the thing: real-life stories are impactful. It’s a big driver of connection. And by getting personal, you’re better positioned to reach the goal that you’ve identified for yourself. 

Think about ways you can incorporate personal details into your story. For example, I was fundraising for NAMI while I was training for the New York City Marathon. I really felt passionate about the cause but I wasn’t sharing much detail about why I cared about this organization. 

Once I shared my personal story about my family and my own experience with NAMI, people started to donate to my page. It helped to share those personal bits to achieve my goal. And it opened up new connections for me. People reached out and wanted to share their own stories about mental health. All in all, it was a win-win situation. 

how-to-be-a-good-storyteller-people-gathered-around-campfire

7. Be aware of your body language

Body language is big. It can send messages to your audience about your demeanor, your attitude, and your approachability. 

If you’re telling a funny story with a scowl on your face and your arms crossed, your audience might not know it’s supposed to be a funny story. If you’re working on your public speaking skills but never make eye contact, your audience might not connect with you. 

Try to tap into your awareness. What body language are you using? How can you use body language to your advantage as a storyteller? 

8. Practice often

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Well, we may not believe in total perfection at BetterUp. But we do believe in practice. 

At its core, practice is about learning. It’s about getting up close and personal with your mistakes and adjusting. It’s about trial and error, figuring out what works (and what doesn’t). 

So, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You can always learn from your failures. But do practice — and practice often.  

9. Ask for feedback 

This last tip is a vulnerable one. You might want to get advice or feedback from a trusted confidante. 

I’ve practiced my public speaking skills with my coach. I know that I can lean on her to help me refine my communication skills, which include how I present a story. You can lean on a mentor, a colleague, a teammate, or a friend. 

Whoever it is, make sure that you ask for feedback from someone you trust. Feedback is an opportunity for us to grow. And feedback means that the person cares about you because they want to see you succeed. They want you to have your own success story. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. 

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5 qualities of a good storyteller 

We’ve compiled a short list of qualities that make up a good storyteller

  • They are enthusiastic, energetic, and confident 
  • They listen, engage, and interact with the audience 
  • They empower others 
  • They are vulnerable, personable, and authentic 
  • They create strong connections with others 

how-to-be-a-good-storyteller-friends-laughing-telling-stories

Start building meaningful connections through storytelling

No matter where you are on your storytelling journey, there’s always an opportunity to create stronger connections. 

With strong storytelling skills, you can engage and hook your audience. You can help facilitate behavior change. You can be human. You can connect with other humans, too. 

With BetterUp, you can take your storytelling skills to the next level. Virtual coaching can help you refine and perfect your communication skills. And by doing so, you’re one step closer to reaching your full potential. Get started today.

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Published June 23, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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