I sat in the class with tears rolling down my face. My classmate’s story was shocking, moving, and inspiring. In that moment I knew I had to use storytelling more in both my professional and personal life.
Up until that storytelling class at Cambridge University I hadn’t a clue how to tell a good story. However, I’m now armed with some great tips and tricks that I can put to use straight away. Here are my top tips from that class:
Start with a bang
Open your story with 1-2 sentences that will immediately capture the attention of your audience. For example, a startling statistic, make a provocative statement, or ask a rhetorical question. Jane McGonigal’s TED talk is a good example of starting with a provocative statement.
Use rhetorical techniques
I had heard about these but had no idea what they actually were and how to use them. Rhetoric uses figures of speech and persuasive strategies to make stories, speeches, essays, etc. more engaging, memorable, and entertaining. Techniques include pauses, asking rhetorical questions, repetition, dramatic contrast, triples, and alliteration. Our blog post on lean manufacturing has got lots of examples of triples and rhetorical questions.
Analogies are a device to help the audience understand your message. The power of analogy comes from the audience arriving at the intended understanding on their own. Here is a great analogy from Arnold Schwarzenegger “There are two doors. Behind Door Number One is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind Door Number Two is an identical, completely sealed room, with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast. I want you to pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for one hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask. I’m guessing you chose Door Number Two, with the electric car, right? Door Number One is a fatal choice — who would ever want to breathe those fumes? This is the choice the world is making right now.” Effective, right?
Vignettes are a literary device that brings us deeper into a story. They are a small story within the main story with the purpose of creating atmosphere. We’ve got a lovely little vignette in our blog post on multi-tasking where Nadine describes a moment with her daughter. This vignette brings the whole piece to life and creates interest in the blog.
End with a bang
Finally, end your story with a bang. Link back to the beginning so that the whole story comes together and has a neat beginning, middle, and end. Our blog post ‘One easy win for diversity in the workplace’ brings the whole piece together and ends on an up note.
So my closing bang for this blog post is that when I came to the end of writing this piece I realised that I’m actually an okay writer :-) Going through our blog posts looking for examples of the above has been reaffirming. I may not have consciously known how to tell a good story but it seems that I’ve been doing a reasonable job at it all along! Phew!
So go out there, Wonder Woman. Tell your story. Start writing. And, like me, you’ll get better along the way :-)
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