Content of the material
How to Tell a Story Effectively
Storytelling is a powerful tool that great leaders use to motivate the masses and masterful writers harness to create classic literature. If you’re just getting started writing and telling stories, here are some storytelling tips that can help you strengthen your narratives and engage your audience:
- Choose a clear central message. A great story usually progresses towards a central moral or message. When crafting a story, you should have a definite idea of what you’re building toward. If your story has a strong moral component, you’ll want to guide listeners or readers to that message. If you’re telling a funny story, you might build toward a twist that will leave your audience in stitches. If you’re telling an engaging story, try to increase the dramatic tension and suspense right up until the climax of your narrative. Regardless of what type of story you are telling, it’s important to be very clear on the central theme or plot point that you are building your story around.
- Embrace conflict. As a storyteller, you can’t shy away from conflict. Great storytellers craft narratives that have all sorts of obstacles and hardships strewn in the path of their protagonists. In order to be satisfied with a happy ending, audiences have to watch the main characters struggle to achieve their goals. It’s okay to be cruel to your main characters—in fact, it’s necessary. Compelling plots are built on conflict, and it’s imperative that you embrace conflict and drama in order to become a better storyteller.
- Have a clear structure. There are many different ways to structure a story, but the three ingredients a story must have are a beginning, middle, and end. On a more granular level, a successful story will start with an inciting incident, lead into rising action, build to a climax and ultimately settle into a satisfying resolution. There are many books and online resources that can help you better understand these terms and acquaint you with other storytelling techniques. Additional insights into story structure can be gleaned by exposing yourself to great storytellers in literature and film and practicing laying out your own stories on paper so you can observe their shape and structure.
- Mine your personal experiences. Whether or not you are telling a real story directly based on personal experience, you can always look to your life for inspiration when coming up with new stories. Think about important experiences in your real life and how you might be able to craft them into narratives.
- Engage your audience. Great storytelling requires you to connect with your audience, but much of how you captivate your audience depends upon the mode of storytelling you’re using. If you’re reading a short story in front of an audience, you might want to play around with bringing your gaze off the page every so often to make eye contact with your audience. If you’re recording a narrative podcast, so much depends upon the expressiveness of your voice and your ability to convey emotion with your tone. However you choose to tell your story, make sure to consider your audience.
- Observe good storytellers. Your personal stories will always be unique and specific to you, but there’s no better way to learn how to craft and deliver a narrative than by watching storytellers you admire relate their own stories. Most of us know people who we regard as eloquent and engaging storytellers. Whether it be a family member who regales you with childhood tales around the dinner table or a local politician who excels at public speaking, chances are you’ve come across more than a handful of talented storytellers in your life. Look for good storytellers and learn through observation. How do they craft a successful story?
- Narrow the scope of your story. If you’re telling a true story from your own life, it can be hard to choose the important main points that you should include. Many people have a tendency to include every detail and end up inundating their audience with facts that dilute the central story arc. Choose a clear beginning and end to your story, then write the key plot events as bullet points between them. Trust that your audience will be able to follow your story, and don’t overwhelm them with unnecessary backstory or tangential plot points.
13. Say Nothing
Sometimes people don’t need to hear your opinion. The next time you want to chime in and give empirical data supporting your side of an argument, stop and ask yourself the question, “Do I want to be happy, or do I want to be right?” More times than not, being happy means conceding the argument and enjoying the company of others.
4. Share the outcome and results
My opinion is that this part is the least important because honestly, the interviewer isn’t going to care about the results of whatever problem you had at your company. Unless it’s a problem they’re currently trying to solve but those typically relate to technical questions. But it’s still important to tie your actions to the goal of the situation and/or the business and talk about how your actions led to a net-positive result.
This could look like:
“Even though I had dreamed of a more polished presentation, in the end, we were able to achieve our goal of training our team with a new set of customer success protocols which led to a 10% increase in sales conversion rate. So, despite all the sheer panic and all-nighters that occurred because of me messing up the date, I was happy we had a positive outcome.”
By framing the explanation about impact like above, you are highlighting that your efforts are benefiting the company and team, rather making yourself look like a superstar.
5. Show Positive Body Language
You can project confidence, kindness, and leadership just by the way you carry yourself. Keep your head up, shoulders back, and chest out. We learn from Dr. Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are“, that how you carry yourself can impact how you think and feel about yourself–so get big!Advertising
4. Prune Your Details
Because we fall in love with our own stories, we consequently end up including too many details. This will backfire as people start to tune you out, not understanding where you're going with your narrative. Guard against this by crafting your story, then walking away from it for a few days. Revisit it with fresh eyes, and start editing. Ask yourself if all your story elements really help to bolster your point. If not, prune out all superfluous details. Give people enough detail to set the context and to help them experience the story and see what you see. Giving too few details doesn't work either, as it prevents people from envisioning your story, so aim for the right balance.
8. Master Transmedia Storytelling
Today, it's important to tell a consistent story across multiple media platforms. This is currently referred to as transmedia storytelling. It means your story needs to be shared on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google + and other social media platforms, as well as YouTube. By doing so, you amplify your voice and presence wherever your consumers and your constituents are. This reflects the reality of your audience and the way they process information.
As the people behind FBC Global, a marketing communications agency, put it in their video, Cinderella 2.0: Transmedia Storytelling, "To stay relevant to our hyper-connected generation, being present in their minds and lives, we need liquid content adaptable in order to distribute it across all available mediums." Each medium will add a different level of depth to your story, each piece enhancing the story while constantly feeding the conversation. "Transmedia strategies create a strong emotional link with an audience," the FBC Global video says. "It generates buzz across all media … and builds a sustainable audience around your brand." Don't ignore this important trend.
Here's a free social media marketing toolkit to get you started. It includes a guide for measuring the ROI of social media campaigns, a how-to-video and best practices.
2. Provide context behind your story
After you’ve provided a short answer, it’s now time that you expand and give the interviewer background information. The only details you need to provide is about the situation leading up to your action. It’s important to talk about the problem, stakeholders involved, the importance of your role, and any business impact that may be at risk due to the situation.
Don’t get caught up in the minor details and don’t drone on for minutes on end. Keep your story short and concise.
This could look like:
“I was leading a meeting to put together a training session for the whole company so we could all learn a new process that we were putting into place. The new process was to change how we were making touch points in our customer success funnel for every customer. We had originally scheduled the meeting for the end of April, but due to the importance of the meeting, we decided to change it to a week earlier than scheduled. I neglected to change the date on my calendar. Now that the meeting was earlier than planned, it forced me to put things together to meet the new date quickly.”
A story of your team
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told that Intercom story. The support team at Intercom is getting close to 100 people. This means that I’ve had to hire a lot of people over the last 6 years. At this stage, it’s one thing I like to think I’m pretty good at. But when I started I was terrible. I failed miserably. Of the first few people I hired, not a single one lasted more than 2 months and one didn’t even last 2 weeks.
Around that time, quite by accident, I started telling every candidate that I interviewed a version of the story I just told you. And I noticed something super interesting. Everyone was either immediately excited or immediately repelled, sometimes even frightened, by it. They couldn’t help it. It was their subconscious hearing the story and immediately reacting. And that reaction gave me a very important insight into their character.
It’s as much about repelling the wrong people as it is about attracting the right ones
By presenting our story, warts and all, I was weeding out people who were overly risk averse or people who weren’t up for the challenge of a big problem. It was self-selection bias working in my favor! I’d unknowingly used the story of Intercom and our mission as a weapon. And what I learned is that a great story, and an inspiring mission, is as much about repelling the wrong people as it is about attracting the right ones.
Up until now, I’ve been avoiding using the word “vision.” And many of you have probably realized that I’m describing “story” in much the same way as one might describe “vision.”
But to me there is a fundamental difference. A story implies that there is a journey. It implies the existence of an unknown path ahead that must be charted in order to fulfill the mission. In early stage companies, you need a mindset that will be attracted to an uncertain journey.
Vision, on the other hand, is just a snapshot. A postcard of a place a long way away, or perhaps a long time away. Vision gives you no indication that you must play an active role in getting there. Even classic vision statements like Microsoft’s – “A computer on every desk and in every home” – still don’t give you a sense of what’s in the middle. A good story has to connect the present moment to your vision of the future. The best stories will continue to inform behavior as your company grows and evolves.
We’re really lucky on the support team because we have a super tight feedback loop that helps us understand how well we’re applying Intercom’s story to our day to day work. I mean, it’s fairly easy to know when you’ve damaged a relationship or offended someone, right?
So we get around 7,000 chances a week, in each conversation we have, to ask ourselves if we’re making business more or less personal. We’ve been fortunate, so far, that we’ve managed to scale the team without having to rely too heavily on standardizing how we deliver that personal service.
The best stories will continue to inform behavior as your company grows and evolves
We’ve allowed our story to help guide how and when we give people processes they have to adhere to. Early on, I sat down with Des, one of our co-founders, and we wrote out a simple list of 10 characteristics that described how we wanted to talk to our customers. We arrived at these 10, not by benchmarking other companies’ support practices but simply by thinking through what it means to be personal with another human. Basically by thinking about what Colin, the owner of that coffee shop in the Intercom story, did on a regular basis.
Too many teams try to achieve scale simply by looking at what the rest of the industry is doing and trying to copy that. But just like your Mom told you back in middle school, “You just have to be you.” Instead of scripting how we wanted teammates to talk to our customers we simply gave the team our list, our style guide, told them to use their judgment and allowed their own personalities to shine through.
Now, of course we do have processes. But we almost universally use process as a way to reduce decision fatigue, rather than as a way to control behavior. Making business personal extends beyond just how we talk and act towards our customers. It’s also about how we interact with each other.
One of my favorite Support team culture tenets is, “Be radically candid.” Say what you want about the branding of Radical Candor, I’m certain that it’s this concept, above nearly all others, that has enabled us to scale as well as we have. It’s easy to be blunt and simply point out where you think someone is screwing up. It’s much harder to assume positive intent, put on your detective hat, and ask good questions before you drop that feedback on them.
How we give and receive feedback is tremendously important to us. In a somewhat paradoxical way, this is why Netflix gets away with saying, “We give adequate performers a generous severance package.” Creating a “dream team” is a deeply ingrained part of their story. That story makes it clear that simply good performance isn’t good enough.
So, great team? Check. Congrats: Your story did a wonderful job. But without something to sell, you’re going to have a hard time making payroll and keeping them around, aren’t you?
How to Deal With the Fallout
Even if you’ve worked for the company for a long time, you can’t predict what will happen when you resign. Your manager may ask you to leave immediately, stay longer, or reconsider your decision entirely. The best way to deal with this uncertainty is to prepare for every possibility.
Have a plan for the following outcomes, and you won’t be caught off guard:
Be Prepared to Leave—Now. Before resigning, be sure to back up any documents and projects belonging to you. Be sure you don't have any personal files or information on your work computer or phone. Understand that your employer might ask you to pack up your things immediately and cut off electronic access to documents.
If you have a company car, phone, laptop, or tablet, you may be required to turn those items in immediately. Review this list of what to do before you quit your job, so you’ve covered all the bases.
Think About Whether You Would Stay Longer If Asked. If your employer presses you to stay on longer to ease their transition and it is feasible for you to do so, you might consider asking for a positive written recommendation letter or a letter of introduction in return.
When Your Manager Doesn’t Want You to Quit. What should you do if your manager wants you to stay? If you’re sure you want to leave, say so. If you’re undecided, ask for some time to think it over. Make a list of reasons why you would change your mind and compare them to your reasons for leaving.
If it does make sense to rescind your resignation, be prepared to commit to staying for a certain length of time. Also, keep in mind that your employer may have reservations about someone who quits (even if you ended up staying on board), and this might affect your future with the company.
Key Takeaways Keep it Positive: Regardless of your reason for leaving, always try to leave on a positive note. Show Gratitude: If you had a great experience working with your boss and the company, be sure to mention it. Be Ready to Move On: Be prepared to leave even if you give notice. Your employer may not be obligated to keep you on board.