Hopefully in my last two posts about storytelling, I convinced you of the value of stories and when and where to deploy them in your business life.  In this final installment, I wanted to provide you with some best practices for delivering stories that are amazingly effective and memorable.

Over the years, I have seen stories masterfully told with incredible results.  But, if I am being honest, I have also seen absolute train wrecks where my only thought was about how to mercifully extricate the errant storyteller from their own horror story.  The difference, I believe, comes down to these 7 key best practices.

  1. Make them feel like it’s the first time:  No one wants to hear a story that sounds like it has been told 100 times.  The best stories are the ones where the audience feels special, and the story teller conveys a natural, nuanced delivery that the listeners believe was specifically constructed for their benefit.  If the story feels tired and hackneyed, the key benefits of focus and empathy are quickly lost.  Part of the magic of a good story is the energy the storyteller brings to the situation.
  2. Make it personal:  The best stories are personal stories.  People like to connect with real people with whom they can easily relate.  Now, to be clear, there are great personal stories that probably should stay personal.  The key is for you to recognize the connection between a personal story and your messaging/goals for the interaction. 
  3. Bring them into the scene:  The best storytellers literally are able to bring their audience into the story.  These masters use devices such as addressing the attendees by name, using phrases such as “you have probably felt this before,” and choosing subjects that people can easily imagine as part of their own lives.  When you are in the presence of master storyteller, you can feel yourself being brought into the story immediately and being mesmerized by their delivery.
  4. It doesn’t always have to be all about you:  Every story you tell doesn’t have to focus on you and your actions.  Some of the most effective stories are about others.  You are likely part of a larger team.  It can be just as effective telling stories about others that demonstrate the breadth and consistency of your organization.
  5. Let us entertain you, but…:  Everyone loves an entertaining story.  Watching a group connect, laugh, and empathize is an incredible thing.  But, there are limits to what is both socially acceptable and beneficial to you.  The chances of you offending someone with off-color stories on inappropriate topics is pretty high.  Just don’t do it!
  6. Can you relate?  If an audience can’t relate to the story you are telling, then you probably shouldn’t be telling that story.  Here is where preparation becomes critical.  It pays to know your audience, who is attending a meeting, and what they care about so you can choose the most appropriate story subject matter.  Miss the mark here and you will find yourself in a very lonely place.
  7. Practice make perfect:  No one, and I mean no one, tells a story well without a little practice.  Planning out a story, inflection points, humor, and the overall flow is critical.  But, then you must try it out on others, such as, co–workers, spouses, children, or even pets.  It really doesn’t matter, just make sure you practice, so that when you finally deliver your story, it hits all the right marks.

So, there you have it:  a guide to leveraging storytelling to your strategic advantage.  Now, go forth and start telling stories.  I would leave you with this final thought.  If you can’t always win, at least be memorable.  Storytelling done right, if anything, will make you memorable.