How to Tell a Good Story

5 essential Storytelling techniques

Business Storytelling

How do you tell a good story? Whether you want to write a good story, tell a good story to your friends, or use storytelling techniques to promote your business or do a TED Talk-- here’s the thing: you don’t need to have lived a dramatic life to come up with interesting stories. What matters is HOW WELL YOU TELL THEM. Matter of fact, your incredible story that can impact an audience might have happened YESTERDAY. When looked at with the right perspective, the best stories can come from the SMALL incidents of the day. I find that EVERY DAY HAS A STORY. Sadly, we all have relatives who buy into that and believe that every story is worth telling, even if the way they tell them is, how do I say this…boring. (Feel free to forward this to them.)

But, most of us are not paying attention to the great stories that are happening every day.

Have you ever seen a comic, a Toastmaster winner, a one-person show and thought: “I have great stories! Better stories! I should write them down and DO SOMETHING with them.” But that intention usually gets lost…between the demands of your job (okay, of trying to find a job), your family, and getting loaded.

We all have stories, but we don’t all know how to tell a story well. Telling a good story can inspire audiences and make them laugh, applaud and think, “I’m so glad I heard this.”

So you don’t become that boring relative, I’m sharing my formula on how to tell a great story.

Approach your journal entry (BTW – I LOVE The “Day One” Journal App) by answering these questions about YESTERDAY:

What did you DESIRE yesterday?
What were the OBSTACLES that got in the way of you achieving your goal?
What is the BACK STORY?
What was the RESOLUTION and MESSAGE – where you got what you wanted or failed to, but you learned something.

How to tell a good story tip #1: DESIRE
If you have ever taken a screenwriting course, you learned that telling a good story requires a character having a DESIRE – something he or she wants.

So, let’s look at my yesterday, another mundane day except my DESIRE was to get my furnace ducts cleaned.

This happened because last week when I asked my friend, Laura, what chores she most hated, she said, “Changing the filters on the central air furnace.”

“Filters?!! They have filters?” My mother never told me that. She didn’t tell me about sex either. Luckily, my friends did. But NOBODY said anything about filters.

The look on my friend’s face said it all. She now saw me as someone seriously flawed, unaware of why we had been put on earth. OMG!!! You HAVEN’T CHANGED YOUR FURNACE FILTERS… EVER?”

She couldn’t have been more horrified if she’d found out I’d never changed my underwear. According to her, with all the DIRTY AIR my furnace has been spitting out, I’m lucky to be alive. And this explains why I have allergies, asthma, depression, and overeat. And maybe why the Queen of England never swings by my place.

How to tell a good story tip #2: OBSTACLES
If you want to write a good story, consider this: what are the OBSTACLES that prevented you from getting what you wanted?

I needed a furnace expert. My first regret was not having signed up for Angie’s list, where I could trust the recommendations were real. I had only the reviews on Yelp and was hoping all the people who raved about Brandon weren’t his relatives or paid reviewers. My ignorance was certainly my biggest obstacle.

Not only was I unsure about the reliability of Yelp, but, the questions duct cleaners ask were mind-boggling: How many vents? How many ducts? How many furnaces? “Look, I know where the stove is, but this was way over my head.”

How to tell a good story tip #3: What is the back-story?
Telling a good story in conversation involves telling good stories about yourself. So, ask yourself “What in my life was relevant?” Could there be any connection between my failing to clean out my heating ducts and the fact that I’d had an emergency hysterectomy when I was 32? Did I think once I got rid of my Fallopian tubes, nothing else would ever need to be serviced or removed? Were ducts anything like Fallopian tubes…or just in my mind? I have no idea how furnaces work and was trying to use what little I know about how my body works to get a handle on how ducts get clogged. I don’t want my furnace to end up in a hospital, the way I did. Especially now, when the health care system is so messed up. I’m a worrier and was wondering if a clogged furnace is a pre-existing condition.

How to tell a good story tip # 4: Escalating Obstacles
Brandon, the duct cleaning guy, came over and he left his tools on the sidewalk. I’d neglected to tell him about my whack job neighbor, who thinks my driveway is a recycling center. She assumes anything sitting there for more than thirty seconds is in the public domain. I had to go to her house and persuade her to give back the tools.

Next, the duct guy left the garage door open, letting Boo, my cat out. My cat is very important to me. She has a GPS tracking device on her, but I don’t stay on top of things and I didn’t pay attention when the battery died. That’s why we had to mount a neighborhood search. And I had trouble getting support because the whack job neighbor bad mouthed me, saying I’d accused her of stealing tools, didn’t take proper care of my cat and organized a sizable resistance group.

That’s not everything. Brandon had to go to Home Depot to buy filters, there was traffic, my dogs tried to kill him when he returned, and of course, my whack job neighbor watched it all with binoculars from her roof. (You think I’m kidding… no!)

How to tell a good story tip #5: Resolution and Message
Telling a good story ends with sharing how you got what you wanted… or you didn’t, but you learned something.

In the end, my ducts got cleaned out and Brandon showed me how to change the filters. I should have been relieved, but, as I said, I’m a worrier. There’s always something else. My something else was: what else don’t I know I should be doing that might kill me and those I love?

Telling a story well also includes sharing the lessons you learned. What I learned is we can’t know what we don’t know. I’m refraining from making any jokes about our past president, forcing myself to stick to the message – that we are always learning to care better for the things we love. “Entropy” is it’s the nature of things to fall apart, and in order to make things last, we need to care for them. This is not just true of furnaces. When I was 17, I learned that cars use not only gas, but oil, that calories count even if you’re eating directly out of the ice cream container, and sex needs interesting outfits.

What is the story of your day? One other thing, can I get in on your Angie’s List subscription?
Remember: telling a good story is about HOW you tell the story, and not always what the story is about.