How to tell impactful stories? I’ve always been a storyteller. I began writing at a very young age, and as I grew older I went into the live news business, where I got to tell vital and captivating stories on a daily basis.
Today, I continue to tell stories, in team meetings, on group coaching calls, on Facebook Lives, mentorship calls and in writing these posts and my books.
I’ve come to learn that there’s an art to telling stories. Not just in crafting them, but in sharing them with others. In being vulnerable and authentic, without meandering or compromising your authority.
None of these things came naturally to me at first, despite being a storyteller at heart. I had to practice and learn, and there were a few exercises and prompts that helped me along the way. Here’s how to tell impactful stories for your target audience.
How to tell impactful stories: Learning What Makes a Great Story
Maria asked me recently, “How do you know what stories to tell? And connect them with the tools or the work?”
I had to think about that. These days, it comes naturally to me. When someone asks a question on a group coaching call, I can pull a related story out of my mind, share it, and connect it to the lesson we’re discussing.
But I didn’t start there. It took years of practice, of watching others, of telling stories over and over again to learn where to start, where to end, and how to connect it to life.
Maria wanted to know more, so I gave her this exercise.
Stand in front of the mirror every day for 90 days and tell a story. For the first 30 days, just tell a story about your day. Whatever story you want to tell. It doesn’t matter the length or topic, just let your feelings guide you and talk to your audience of one.
While you’re speaking, watch yourself. At first, it will be distracting and awkward, but if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice where you lose your train of thought, where you stumble, or fumble for words.
You end up realizing where your stories start and where they end. You’ll learn how to structure your stories better, and know where to end them appropriately instead of petering out. And, you’ll learn to pick yourself up again when your story inevitably falls apart. Once you develop that skill, you stop worrying about it and can be fully present and confident.
After you get used to telling stories, add a layer of complexity.
Days 31 to 60: Distill the takeaway
Perhaps 30 days into this exercise, add this one simple piece: At the end of your story of the day, talk about the key takeaway of the story. This has you flexing the muscle in your mind that gleans meaning, that distills sense, and that knows how to present it succinctly. It may evolve naturally, but over this next stretch start doing it deliberately.
I want to remind you to be kind to yourself. It will be tempting to compare yourself to me or someone else you know who has been practising this skill for decades and is very good at it. You’re just learning.
Your ability to reach mastery depends on just one thing: the meaning you assign to failing at this task. If failure means that you’re growing and not there yet, even day over day; if you’re willing and able to recognize progress, you will gain mastery. I guarantee it. I’ve seen miraculous transformations from folks who were truly terrible storytellers at first but who gave themselves grace and who celebrated the wins.
Days 61 to 90: Create a tool
Then, in the final 30 days, you’re going to tell the story, glean the meaning, and now present some kind of tool. In a coaching context, you’re conditioning your neural pathways to reach into your directory of coaching tools, exercises, etc. and hook them up to story-based problem-solving. It’s still raw and authentic, but you’re learning to pull from your tools and make connections.
Now that you’ve practiced, you’ll be able to see the progression of your storytelling. You’ll hone your intuition and get a feel for how your stories should start, end, and lead into a tool or lesson.
The storytellers we admire have practiced and perfected their stories over years. There’s so much structure to it, but it’s an art, not a science. You have to know the rules and then break them creatively. If you just followed the rules of storytelling you’d be boring. You need to follow the structure but not rigidly to subvert expectations.
But learn to walk before you try to pole vault.
Don’t try and write beat poetry before practising the alphabet so frequently that you run it on muscle memory.
Overacheivers are great at sabotaging success by skipping steps, overoptimizing by adding too much complexity too soon, comparing their first steps to some pole vaulter’s jump and then using all the data collected to confirm their subconscious belief that they’re not good enough.
Storytelling has to come from a place of exploration and curiosity. It’s not about perfection or being robotic and rehearsed. For me, it’s just play. It’s about feeling.
I’m able to be spontaneous because I had enough basic structure memorized. You’re cementing the storytelling structure, not the stories themselves, in a way that appeals to you, that feels right when you deliver it a certain way. Then you can start to share those stories with others.
Did you find this post helpful? Help me help others share the depth of their experience through powerful storytelling by sharing this post with a friend (or friends) who you know can create great healing with their own stories.