3 Days to better storytelling — Day 2: Prepare

Inspired by our fellows’ successes in using stories to promote change, we recently started collecting resources to help researchers tell their stories in compelling ways. This is the second in a 3-part blog series, “3 Days to better storytelling,” with tips and ideas for strengthening your storytelling skills, starting today.

Believe: Can you sing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider"?

Believe: Can you sing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”?

Day 2: Prepare

On Day 1, we heard from professional storytellers about how storytelling can make the hard job of communicating complex ideas easier. But what if you don’t see yourself as a storyteller? Does the thought of having to tell a story about your work make you shudder? Here are three things you can do to break through and get started.

1. Believe. Have you ever retold a movie plot to a friend? A piece of family lore? A joke? A news item? Can you recite your child’s favorite bedtime story by heart? Can you sing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”? We tell stories all the time without thinking about it. You are a storyteller, even if you’ve never thought of yourself as one.

2. Listen. Stories are everywhere. As you hear them, notice your reactions. What grabs your attention? What holds it? What makes you tune out? What do you remember a week later? Why?

If you have the chance to see someone tell a story, think about their performance. How do they use body language? What’s their tone of voice? Where do they speed up, slow down, or pause? What feelings do you have as you listen? What makes the story believable (or not)?

3. Know your audience — and yourself. Whether you’re looking to stories to engage your students more deeply, catch the attention of a busy executive, or persuade a local agency to change a practice, there’s a point you want to make, and you need to figure out how it connects with your audience’s interests.

Before you start crafting your story, get to know your audience. Who are they? What do they care about? What challenges are most important to them right now? Whom do they trust? Where do they get their information? How might your message fit with their values and concerns? Learn as much as you can. See what you can find about them (and by them) on Google and YouTube. Read their blogs. Follow them on Twitter.

As you learn more, think about how your topic might fit with what matters to them. What do you have in common with them? How are you different? What are your assumptions about and attitudes toward them? Why does your message matter to you, and why do you want to share it with them?

Try a few experiments using these techniques this week. What’s the most surprising thing you learn? In my last post, I’ll share some user-friendly tools for turning your insights into stories.

Pam Sturner is the executive director of the Leopold Leadership Program.

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