Storytelling in depth: The craft

Arc Light Stories

Photo: Arc Light Stories

Arc Light Stories features Birmingham storytellers presenting on a unifying theme.

Part of a series on the intricacies of storytelling, and how to harness it for your brand …

I learn by doing.

Saturday, I’m going to work on my storytelling skills before an audience.

Arc Light Stories has given amateur storytellers a stage to share their tales since 2011. The Birmingham event has attracted hundreds of fans eager to hear funny and dramatic stories from their peers.

But organizers don’t let their charges perform without some guidance. They offer nine storytelling tips to beginners like me [PDF version].

1. You can tell a story. Yes, you can! Whether it’s sitting around the table with friends after dinner, or chatting it up in the break room at work, you’ve been telling stories all your life. So relax. Be confident. You have this.

2. Listen to other stories. We’ve got a podcast. Download a podcast or two. lt’ll give you an idea of what we’re after … as well as get you fired up to tell your own story! Also, our event is modeled after the Moth in NYC, so check out some of their stories.

3. Develop your story. Once land on your story, you’ll want to work on it to maximize its potential. A story is essentially a sequence of events. “First this happened, then this, which lead to this …”

What are the key moments in your story? Write them down. Structuring your story as a sequence of events will give it rhythm. This is your greatest tool as a storyteller, because it addresses the audience’s greatest need: to find out what happens next.

Present them with a compelling sequence of events and they’ll be hooked! Make sure your story has a beginning, a middle and an end.

4. Know your first line. This will help eliminate the jitters when you step up to the microphone. You’ll know what you’re going to say. Once those first few words are out of your mouth, you’ll be rolling. Your first line (or two) should drop your audience smack in the middle of the action. It should capture their attention and make them eager to know what happens.

Example: “About 7 years ago, I started walking in my sleep. I would have these recurring dreams that there was a hovering insect-like jackal in my bedroom …” — Mike Birbiglia

5. Provide vivid details. A few key details will help bring your story to life. Consider this line from a story about a shipwreck: “The sharks began to slither underneath the raft, patrolling for their next meal. You could feel their sandpaper skin …”

That bit about the “sandpaper skin” makes you feel like you’re right there in the boat with the storyteller. Be sure to include some vivid details.

6. What’s the point? Your story isn’t just a succession of events (although that’s an important part). Your audience will want to know what it means. lra Glass calls this “a moment of reflection.” Why does this story stick with you? Why do you want to share it? What did you learn from your experience?

Remember to include “a moment of reflection” in your story. Usually, this will come somewhere near the end.

7. Practice makes perfect. Practice telling your story. Tell it to yourself in the car on the way to work. Try it out in the mirror. Tell it to your friends. Cut out the bits that aren’t working, even if you like them. Practice it again. Make sure you do it without notes. Watch your time.

The more you practice and refine your story, the more prepared you’ll feel, and you’ll be free to enjoy telling it at the event.

8. Know your last line. It’s important that you know where you’re going in your story. If you know what your last line is going to be, you’ll be less likely to meander at the end. Refuse the impulse to tell “one more thing.” Give ’em your last line, say “Thank you,” and sit down.

9. Have fun! After you’ve spent all this time preparing, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Be conversational. Think of it as dinner table conversation. Who cares if you skip a point in your outline? You’re telling a story to friends. They want you to succeed. Relax and have a blast. You’re ready!

When people tell stories about their work and their companies, they sometimes stumble. Knowing the story through practice and having good opening and closing lines will grab attention and keep it.

Don’t keep the story in your head. Tell it.

Arc Light Stories presents “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly … Stories About Influence” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5. The event takes place at Second Row Studio, 212 24th St. N., downtown Birmingham [map].

The value of stories worth sharing

See more posts in our “Storytelling in-depth” series.

 Learn more storytelling secrets
in the free weekly Y’all Connect newsletter … 


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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y'all Connect. See his full bio.

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