Updated: Sep 13, 2019
Every semester I teach a basic course in digital storytelling and it's my favorite one! Students are always invested because everyone wants to be a better storyteller. Being a better storyteller means you're a better communicator and in my humble opinion A LOT of us could benefit from becoming more effective communicators. There's a solid body of research in psychology and neuroscience that supports the fact that storytelling helps us connect to one another as human beings and can elicit strong emotions like empathy. Stories can also move people to action, help them gain new perspectives or learn something new, and do lots of great things (but that's for another post).
Today, I want to share my seven tips for becoming a better storyteller. One of the things I like best about these tips is that they can be applied in a multitude of settings from having a conversation with your friend to marketing your business on social media! So, drum roll please - in no particular order, here they are:
1.) Practice makes perfect - This first tip is the most important! Look, to be better at anything in life, you have to practice. The same goes for storytelling in any capacity. THINK about the story arc (beginning, middle, end) in advance and plan ahead if you want to have more success in reaching your audience. This tip applies to the format you plan to tell your story in too, so if you're giving a speech - you can do things like practice in a mirror or in front of a webcam. Want to make videos? Start playing around on your smart phone and create something! You have to do the work to get better and you have to be consistent in doing it - it's that hard and that simple ;)
2.) Tell stories YOU would want to read/hear/view - Think about the media and/or stories that captivate you. What content inspires you? The best stories change the way we think and motivate us to action. When's the last time a story did that for you? What was the medium (or mode of delivery)? Start there. The goal is to compose something with your own spin and to put your own perspective on a story, because that's what makes it unique! But a good place to start is trying to make something like the stuff you like.
3.) Be inspired by others - People are everywhere and guess what? If you take the time to listen to them, their lives turn out to be pretty dang interesting. I believe everyone has a story to tell and that sharing stories is a powerful and humbling practice. And as much as I like to listen to and share stories, I'm also looking for ways to connect individual stories to large audiences or issues. As I tell my students, sometimes the story finds you and sometimes you find the story. But first, you have to pay attention. Listen to the podcasts & your next door neighbor. Pay attention to the news on TV and down the street. Don't underestimate the power of story. Inspiration is everywhere! You just have to be listening.
4.) Be motivated. Identify your strengths & weaknesses - We all want to grow as storytellers. If you didn't, you wouldn't have clicked on this post and you definitely wouldn't have read this far. One thing it takes to be a better storyteller is to be self-aware. Where does your story fall flat? If you have a live audience, great! Did they react to your story or did you see them dosing off? Read body language and adjust as necessary. You want to create videos and share them online? Awesome, use your smart phone - just don't quit because you're not Steven Spielberg on day three. Assess and reassess. Shoot something crappy and try again. The people who get really good are the ones who keep going.
5.) Take the initiative to create something everyday - When I was one man band (now referred to as multimedia journalist), I was responsible for producing, shooting, writing, and editing all my own stories. So in a given day I would create 3-4 video stories. At the time, I hated it. I was considered a grunt worker and my job was not high on the list of roles at the news station. Now, I look back at that time as one of immense growth and I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to get pushed out of my comfort zone every day. The cool thing is that after a couple of years, I got bored and was up for a new challenge that built on the skill-set I had gained. I'm STILL growing that skill-set. However, without the opportunity to hone it on a daily basis, I am sure I would not be where I am today.
6.) Keep a blog or journal of your experiences and the things you learn - In my position as a journalist, I got this neat keepsake called a resume tape (you can watch it here if you're so inclined, but be nice - production quality has come a long way). That was before the days of social media. Now you can grow in community! How cool is that! You can join groups or find challenges to keep your skill-set up or learn new ones and you can share work with people around the world. It's amazing! But if you prefer to learn more privately, you can do that, too. Just make sure you are reflecting on what you are learning, that's what's important. Research shows that when we slow down to think about strengths and weaknesses and actually write down our growth journeys, we grow smarter and faster.
7.) Don't forget YOU have a story to tell - It's less intimidating for most of us to share the stories of others, but it's important to remember that storytelling is a personal process. I think it's important to share pieces of yourself to understand the responsibility of telling someone else's story. Also, look for the extraordinary in the everyday. Do something worth telling a story about, your life will be better for it.