The art of storytelling

Storytelling is a skill which has been present in the world for centuries. Our ancestors were passing information from one generation to the other by oral transmission in the form of storytelling. Even Jesus himself was using stories to explain his point of view. As a matter of fact, every single person is a storyteller whether he is aware of it or not. All of us are sharing our stories since the first second when we were born. It is called the story of our life. In this week’s article, we are going to have a closer look at the art of storytelling, one of the most crucial and effective, but at the same time, probably the most unappreciated tool for success in professional, as well as private relationships.

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First of all, we have to make clear what we mean by storytelling itself because people often incorrectly confuse it with public speaking or lecture and they put all of these elements into one category. A typical example of public speakers are politics, salesmen or people acting in various commercials and teleshopping. All these people are trying to use their “unbelievably true life stories” to make something clear and to lead the audience to an inescapable conclusion. Their aim is to convince the audience to buy some product or to do something to the advantage of the speaker. It is the most common  type of manipulation with people because it makes them do what they otherwise would not, if they were not convinced. On the other hand, a storyteller’s goal is to entertain the audience and to stimulate them to come to their own conclusion. Entertainment is the most important prerequisite for successful storytelling because the story without it becomes just a lecture.

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As you probably already realised, storytelling is about experience and enjoyment. For that reason, we should be aware that there are three kinds of chemicals in our body which can be experienced if somebody is telling us a story.

Dopamine – this chemical is created in our body and brain when we are waiting or expecting something. A great example of it are the ends of soap operas in which the so-called cliff-hangers are always used. The listener is tense and he is waiting and anticipating what is going to happen next in the story which is told to him.

Oxytocin – created in a body when a storyteller can make you feel more emphatetic for the character of the story, as well as to feel more human. Typical examples of this are sad stories about the death of some character or stories about falling in love with somebody.

Endorphine – this chemical is created in a body when a storyteller make you laugh

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Therefore, you as a storyteller can influence the way people feel at a particular moment. It is a really strong tool and it has to be used carefully. In order to provide the audience with an incredible experience from your storytelling, the most important thing is to choose the right story to tell.

There are many types of stories such as biblical tales, folk tales, traditional tales, religious tales and the tales of ordinary life.

After you choose one of them, you also have to know what theme you are interested in. For example, if you are a dog-lover, there are plenty of stories about dogs to choose from. You have to choose the version of the story based on what chemical you would like to launch in the listeners‘ bodies. If you want them to be more emphatic and human, you would probably chooose the story about the dog who is abandoned by his owner. On the other hand, if your aim is to make people laugh, you will probably tell the story of how your dog hid your shoes under the bed, consequently, you could not get into the work on time.

Another important rule is the one about knowing your audience. We mean by that the fact that you need to know what kind of story is suitable for the audience. In order to find it out, we asked following questions: Is it for a special occassion? Is the occassion funny or serious? What is the culture prevailing in the audience? What is the age range?

To ask these questions will help you to not embarrass yourself and the audience will not feel uncomfortable because you chose an unsuitable topic and vocabulary. For example, young children will not understand sarcasm and irony. Moreover, the jokes about sex are unacceptable in this case. On the other hand, some people can feel offended by jokes about Biblical stories. Therefore, do not mess with other people‘s religion or sexual orientation because it would undermine your performance.

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Tips for Better Storytelling

  • Facial expressions, gestures used to express feelings, make your gestures easy and calm
  • Repetition of the same phrases or words to express action that lasted longer
  • Clear and loud speech, speak up!, try to use a strong and confident voice
  • Effects; visual effects to take us deeper into the story
  • Use sounds for wind, rain or explosions, animal sounds, emotional sounds
  • Intonation, clear speech, speak slow enough so that the audience can understand everything
  • Make longer pauses after sentences to create the atmosphere
  • Use eye contact with the audience
  • Keep the story simple
  • Try to improve your listeners’ visual imagination by describing details
  • Do not be nervous, the main aim is to entertain, not to be perfect
  • Humor is crucial, and so be able to make fun of yourself and see the absurdity in difficult situations
  • Practice a lot, attending some toast-masters group would be useful
  • Interact with the audience and include physical activities such as standing up and clapping by the audience

I hope that you found the article useful and you will be more aware of the importance of storytelling in our lives. Remember that everybody has some story to tell!

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by Jaroslav

Sources:

Phillips, David JP. 2017. The magical science of storytelling | David JP Phillips | TEDxStockholm. youtube.com. [Online] 16 03 2017. [Cited: 01 11 2017.] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj-hdQMa3uA&t=540s.

Spaulding, Amy E. 2011. The Art of Storytelling: Telling Truths Through Telling Stories. s.l. : Scarecrow Press, 2011. p. 216. ASIN: B00F3Y5GFC.

 

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