Whether you are sitting with your boisterous buddies over a table at a bar or a date seated right in front of you at a candlelit dinner, telling a captivating story is the most powerful way to entertain your audience while also displaying your personality and value to others. And, even though each one of us has a bag full of stories worth telling, not all stories are created similarly. So, how do you ensure your personal narratives are interesting to your listeners? Well, here are 5 simple key things you must keep in mind the next time you’re about to tell a story.
1. Start with the “hook”
Whether you are using a pua opener or making your sales pitch, anyone who has managed to successfully ‘close the deal’ with a potential lover/buyer has most likely used a “throat-grabbing hook”. Therefore, while you may only want to get your listener’s attention, starting your story with a great hook sparks curiosity and brings the spotlight on you and what you are telling. How to find a great hook? Figure out the moment of suspense just before the climax of your story. Your hook can be something simple as an extended version of your story title, like, “Let me tell you a story about the time I and my friend Freddie mooned a pre-prom party and we almost got attacked by a large group of high school kids.”…” This hook is effective as it creates intrigue and interest. You can also construct a little bit of suspense by adding your hook with more details, like “Let me tell you about this late afternoon in May, when I found myself sprinting alongside my friend Eddie as we forged our getaway from a pre-prom party that Eddie had just given a Full Monty showing off his pale ass after he dropped his jeans and mooned them.” All these juicy details not only make your hook come alive, but it also adds captivating sensations to your whole story as you follow the next step…
2. Paint a picture with your words
Captivate your listeners on an emotional journey by making your descriptions come alive with colourful, evocative details throughout your narrative. Many storytellers, especially men, lack creativity in this area and memorize stories as if they’re telling a joke or something, which also means they leave out all the juicy details and simply go on to tell boring facts to deliver a punch line. Remember this: a story comes alive by the skill of a storyteller, thus, you must dress up each sentence with a specific smell, sound, sensation, or sight. The cops chasing me and my friend Freddie simply weren’t mad; they were also maniacally red-faced and foaming at the mouth.
3. Create a compelling character…
While it’s true that hooks and juicy details are storytelling lubricators that make sure the stories are interesting and easy to follow, characters are what the audiences remember. Just think about your favourite novel or movie for a while. The first thing that pops in your mind is an interesting character. And all great characters have one common thing: they all want something, badly… Would Rambo and Moby Dick be the same if John Rambo or Captain Ahab only half-heartedly wanted to slay enemies of America and white whales? Apply the same way of thinking to your stories. Purposely state what motivates the hero of your story — even if the hero of the story is you. So, for my narrative, after painting a word picture of my friend Eddie as “a madman with a smile tattooed across his face and the jovial disposition of the Lucky Charms leprechaun”, I define his motivations as “wanting to wreck the magic of a picturesque pre-prom party ever since he’d been stood up by his prom date back when we were seniors in high school.”
4. Build a struggle
A struggle is a motor that propels your anecdote forward. If your fascinating character immediately gets what he or she desperately wants, the story is almost over right before it begins. Therefore, you want to make your character work hard for their goal. Once you know your character’s motifs, the struggle is extremely easy to identify and build. Because your hook formed the climactic moment of your hero’s goal, the listener then is looking forward for the outcome, giving you an opportunity to keep your audience on the edge of their seat. Fascinate your listeners with the obstacles that precede the climatic conclusion. Going back to my story, before Freddie found the pre-prom party he was so desperately hunting, I vibrantly relate our suburban-street journey as “each block we turned down, Freddie frantically surveyed for anything resembling a tux or flowing evening gown.”
5. Add a twist
Your twist doesn’t have to rival M. Night Shyamalan, but it should offer enough stimulation to give your story a second wind. Your twist always follows the climactic moment, right after your listener’s shock or laughter has subsided. By inserting a twist, you make it crystal clear you’re telling a story and not a joke. So, to wrap up my example with Mike, an example of a twist could be as simple as his disappointment in learning that, after mooning those acne-faced high schoolers, he’s still haunted by all those bad memories of getting stood up. Don’t go overboard with this, just provide a good twist to your story to keep it unpredictable and intriguing by including an unanticipated element.
To wrap everything up, modifying the details of your personal anecdote isn’t lying — it is storytelling. Rather than simply spitting words, spend some time to invigorate and reorganize the details and pace of your story using these 5 simple pointers above and prepare for an “encore” from your audience!
P.S. Here’s another related article on the topic: BEST Conversation Topics for “Small Talk”