How to Use Storytelling to Make Your Audience Fall in Love
Build long-lasting relationships with story.
We were halfway to the show and I'd been listening to him talk at me for 40 minutes. He said things like:
"So that's when I told the guy…"
"I was the best guy they had on the team that year…"
His one-sided dialogue left me relegated to the role of listening and affirming.
This first-date-pattern seemed to be on repeat in my life. Two somewhat strangers meet. These somewhat strangers have high expectations for each other. They're nervous and scared. Uncomfortable and uninteresting conversation ensues.
As a story coach, I now think back to those dating days with a new lens.
In many ways dating is a performance activity. You apply to go on a date. When your application is accepted, you plan it carefully. You get dressed up for the occasion. You balance what you say and don't say. You try to make a good impression. Most importantly, you tell stories. Stories to woo your would-be paramour.
On sales calls, speaking gigs, job interviews, advocacy meetings, you name it, we woo our would-be partners and clients with stories. And none of us wants a bad first date.
While I had a lot of bad first dates in my dating days, I did have one amazing first date. Let me tell you about Stephen, my partner of 10 years. The day I fell for Stephen we were stuck outside in the freezing cold during a fire alarm. Stephen launched into story after story about his crazy job working for a landscape company. His stories gripped me, and made me laugh so hard I forgot I was freezing cold and a week later I asked him on an official first date.
Stephen broke the first-date-pattern that day in the cold. His stories made me feel excited and motivated while the others made me feel bored and tired. Let's pull these two storytelling styles apart.
The first date pattern:
The would-be-paramour was nervous. They were scared of rejection. Their stories were designed to elicit validation. This soaked up all my energy and wasn't interesting.
The confident partner pattern:
Stephen enjoyed telling his stories as much as I enjoyed hearing them. While he was working hard to tell great stories, he approached his storytelling with a foundational confidence that allowed him to be fully present with me. He didn't expect anything from me beyond my presence and engagement. Also, I could tell he had told the stories before and he knew they were good. He'd invested himself in preparation both emotionally and technically.
How to have a great first date
Here are three ways to help you prepare for your first date, whether it's for a storytelling gig, a job interview, or a would-be-paramour.
1. Examine your motivation
Before you begin any story, it's important that you know why you are telling it. This applies to any setting, from business to personal. Ask yourself, what do I want the audience to think, feel, or do at the end of this story?
Most stories are told for one of four reasons: to entertain, to motivate, to teach, or to persuade. When you're clear on your motive, you can be successful in achieving it. You can be sure that you are telling your story to the right audience and in the right place.
2. Clue into your audience and their needs
Matching your needs with your audience's needs ensures that everyone goes home happy. When Stephen and I were out in the cold, Stephen clued into the fact that I needed a distraction. His story met my needs in that moment. Prior to telling your story, try and put yourself in the shoes of your audience member and ask yourself, what does my audience want from me? What will meet their needs?
Get to know their needs by doing things like analyzing their demographics, interviewing members of the audience beforehand, asking event organizers detailed questions, and most importantly, being prepared to change your material when you learn new information, even if that new information comes to you halfway through your story.
3. Be willing to fully commit
"Am I too loud?"
"Does my face look silly?"
"Will they think that's too out there?"
Questions like this are a sign that your ego is keeping you from committing to your story.
The day Stephen told his story during the fire drill, he talked about some of the craziest moments in his life. He acted out parts, used dialogue and added vocal work for emphasis. It was hilarious and it worked, because when you are fully committed to your story you ooze confidence. The confidence of a committed storyteller inspires the audience and gives them confidence as well.
There's no doubt that stories are the way to get your audience to fall in love with you. The right story + the right audience + the right storyteller = a match made in heaven.
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