Forbes Communications Council members explore the best ways for communications professionals to improve their storytelling skills.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS.
Communications professionals are storytellers at heart, taking ideas and turning them into compelling stories that people love to read and experience. Great storytelling transports readers and viewers to new and unexpected places where they can more easily digest unfamiliar concepts and consider different perspectives.
Ultimately, as with any skill, the way to master this one is to practice. The best storytellers in the industry have honed their technique for years. How did they get the hands-on experience they needed to develop and ramp up this invaluable skill?
We asked 16 experts from Forbes Communications Council to discuss the most effective methods of boosting your storytelling ability to better connect with audiences. Check out their tips below to become a more capable, confident, and versatile storyteller.
1. Observe Established Communications Pros
Simply watching experts share their message is an easy way to improve. Take in everything you can by watching TED Talks, listening to podcasts or simply watching your boss or a senior colleague present. Pay attention to what they emphasize, how they transition and what the main takeaways are. Through observation, you’ll find that incorporating their skills into your own will happen seamlessly. – Michelle Gabe, TRUFF
2. Put Yourself In Someone Else’s Shoes
If you’re working on your storytelling ability, think of the concept of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s important to think of something you are passionate about and understand where the passion comes from and what the emotional investment feels like. Then, apply it. Whether it be for a brand, a person or a product, apply that same sentiment to the story you are creating. – Noressa Kennedy Hinkler, Travel Nurse Across America
3. Start Using Stories In Everyday Life
Repetition is the secret. Drill yourself. Outwork everyone. Copywriting (storytelling) is one of the greatest marketing skills; it’s just priceless. There is no shortcut. Do the work. One way to train your mind is to start using stories in your everyday life with your employees or friends. Explain things using stories; you’ll be amazed by their power. – Andrea d’Agostini, American Power & Gas
4. Lower Your Chin And Speak From The Heart
Ramp up your storytelling by speaking from your heart while using your brain for the facts and figures. The more authentic your message comes across, the greater the chance you’ll impact the audience and leave a lasting impression. Here’s a tip that my mentor taught me: Lower your chin to your chest. Pay attention to what your heart reveals and speak from that place. Try it out and see what happens. – Stacy Sherman, Customer Experience Expert
5. Don’t Shy Away From Conflict
As storytellers, many shy away from touching conflict. This is a mistake, as conflict or hardship can be a powerful thing if embraced. You can use it to draw an audience in, and it also makes a happy ending even more uplifting. We shouldn’t gloss over the hard truths as we communicate, as that is what connects us to others. Human connection is the goal when telling any story. – Melissa Duenas, Leidos
6. Write For A Diverse Audience
One way to improve storytelling skills is by writing for a diverse audience. Writing for various age groups with differing backgrounds and interests allows me to stretch my skills, taking me outside of my comfort zone and familiarity to look at and dissect things from various angles. – Kelly Vaught, BeCore Experiential Marketing
7. Find The Story Behind The Story
I spent 15 years as a TV anchor and reporter before moving over to corporate PR. We were always required to find the story behind the story. The story wasn’t the hurricane; it was the person who rescued the dog in the middle of the flood. The story wasn’t the Super Bowl; it was the guy who spent all day lining the field or sewing the football. Look for the story behind the story. – Lee Gordon, Brunswick Corporation
8. Create An Empathetic Content Strategy
To effectively reach the modern consumer, especially with the challenges we are facing today, a successful storytelling strategy should involve empathy. Taking the time to create content that shows a true understanding of the customer over sales-driven messaging leads to stronger connections and greater success. – Paige O’Neill, Sitecore
9. Provoke An Emotional Reaction
Whatever you’d like to get across to your audience needs to provoke some kind of emotional reaction. Otherwise, it won’t get too far. Analyze what emotional hook your story has, find the heroes in the story and create a piece worth reading or watching, even if it’s an ad for a “boring” service or product. – Renata Milicevic, Post For Rent
10. Focus On Solutions To Unique Problems
Listen and focus on solutions to customers’ unique problems. Too often, storytelling becomes only about marketing the brand with stories that are layered in too much “features and benefits” rhetoric. Taking a marketing hat off and putting a customer service or sales hat on can help you tell stories that better articulate the actual concerns of current customers as well as future ones. – Kenneth Kinney, Ai Media Group, Inc.
11. Set A List Of Words Per Target Group
For instance, if your target group is opinionated, the typical currency is charm. If your target group are thinkers, the currency is logic and numbers to make a point. For target groups that are meant to be inspired, try testing different images—images with one person versus images with a family, for instance—to accompany your story. – Christina Utz, CRK
12. Consume Content From Various Creative Outlets
Switch it up. Reading a good book will make you a stronger writer, but variegating creative outlets will also help you better understand the subtleties of storytelling. Check out acclaimed movies, masterful plays or imaginative comic books. Listen to stellar podcasts or musical masterminds. The more you take in, the more you’ll augment your ability to translate the world in new and fresh ways. – Melissa Kandel, little word studio
13. Make Your Story Multisensory
Don’t write a catchy headline and copy and leave it at that. Spice it up with infographics, video clips, sound bites, colors, patterns and anything else to accentuate the experience for the audience. Adding new elements to the story makes your brand stand out and reinforces your brand identity, and science has shown that people remember multisensory experiences better. – Amine Rahal, Regal Assets
14. Craft A Suspenseful Narrative
One of the best ways to keep your audience captivated is through suspense. Use a great hook and an interesting resolution that shows your audience why they should listen, watch or read all the way to the end. No matter what form of communication you use, telling your story with a suspenseful narrative will leave people engaged and wanting more. – Cynthia Sener, Chatmeter
15. Watch The Film Reservoir Dogs
My advice is watch the movie Reservoir Dogs and copy the technique used by actor Tim Roth who played the character Mr. Orange. Roth portrayed an undercover police officer who had to create a new identity down to the smallest details. He did this by telling a story over and over until he could tell the story flawlessly. I use this same technique, and it allows me to speak confidently. – Brittain Ladd, PULSE Integration
16. Read Outside Of Your Industry
One of the best ways to ramp up your skills is by reading widely and outside of your industry, including fiction. Internalizing the narrative structure of novels and short stories can help communicators tell their business stories more effectively. Look to the classics for inspiration. They’re classics for a reason, and we should all strive for our brand stories to achieve such lasting influence. – Stephen Tarleton, LogicMonitor
By the Forbes Expert Panel®