We all have our favorite “back in the day” anecdotes. As you mix and mingle with family, at office parties or festive gatherings with friends this holiday season, countless stories will be recounted. But as a tale is being told, will you be leaning in to hear more, or looking for an escape hatch to exit the conversation as quickly as possible?
Being an engaging storyteller comes naturally to some. Consider the raconteurs you have enjoyed, and you will notice a pattern to their banter that makes their stories work. A good story always has a beginning, middle, and end, but it’s the flesh on these bones that takes a story from good to great.
If you want to up your game this holiday season, here are some tips to telling a compelling story that everyone will want to hear:
Before you start, have a point and know your ending. A joke with a bungled punchline is like receiving a beautifully wrapped box with no gift inside. After managing to keep your audience’s interest through the twists and turns of the narrative, reward them with a satisfying climax at the end.
Have a hook. Pull people in and grab attention from the start. Use vivid words and strong verbs to engage, add some pizzazz, and help your listener visualize the scene.
Simplify and focus. Streamline the sequence of events. Hop over detours and extraneous information that don’t really add anything to the narrative. Pay attention to your listeners and heed clues that convey boredom or confusion.
Keep the story engaging. Vary your voice to inject emotion, passion, and drama. Add some personality to your tale. A dramatic pause here and there, a mix of whispers and louder speech, varying tone and emphasis add spice and will get peoples’ hearts racing with yours.
Build your story to a satisfying conclusion. If you must tell the listener that your story is over, you have not concluded the story satisfactorily.
Wherever there are DOs, there are also DON’Ts. I offer these cautions as you begin to develop your storytelling prowess:
Consider your listener. If there is a possibility that your story may offend or be perceived as too risqué, don’t tell it. Period.
Poke fun, but only at yourself. Your stories should never be told to embarrass another person.
If you are repeating a story, own up to it. Telling the same story over and over again will make you come across as less genuine or inauthentic—unless you acknowledge the repetition. If you’ve told the story often enough that someone starts to tell the story for you, that’s a clear signal—it is time to retire the anecdote.
I’m here if you need me. Until then, y’all behave.