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5 Tips To Help You Become A Great Storyteller

5 Tips To Help You Become A Great Storyteller

Think of the last presentation you went to that knocked you over. I mean really knocked you over, made you sit up, and left you entranced — even as the speaker went over their allotted time or perhaps had the odd stumble.

For me, this was a little shy of two months ago. It was supposed to be one hour and the session took almost two — and no one got up to leave. We were all mesmerized, not solely by the content but the speaker as well. Don’t get me wrong, the content was great, but midway through the presentation, I found myself wondering if the content would have stood on its own without this great speaker. To some extent, it probably would, but the delivery of that message, that story is what transformed it into something new and different that stayed with me.

So, how did they do it? How did this person deliver such a compelling presentation that they entranced over 200 people with ease?

They told a story. From beginning to end, they told a story that resonated with everyone. Maybe not from the beginning, but by the end we all knew it front and back. Over time, we will forget the slide deck and perhaps the speaker, but that message and emotion will never be forgotten.

Since then, I’ve been approaching many of my presentations as stories instead of sticking with the status quo. It’s not easy, and it takes a little longer to prepare for, but the results and engagement from the crowd are worth every extra piece of effort.

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Here are five tips to help you become that presenter that wows everyone in the room.

Who is your audience?

Whether you are writing or presenting, this question must always be first. Who is your audience — who are you doing this for? Take a moment and think about that.

If I am doing a presentation on podcasting, I will approach it very differently depending on if I’m presenting it to a group of software developers, a group of managers, or a group of kids. With developers, I might focus on how they need to transfer the code on their screen to the voice in their mic. With a group of managers, it might be more about the message they are trying to get across. With the kids, it would be about engagement — “Here, try this.” My content might be similar, but how I deliver this information will be quite different.

Not knowing who you are presenting to is a guaranteed fail. You will see it, you will know it when you look around the room mid-sentence and see the eyes glazing over. At that moment, you will know that what you are delivering is not aligned with your audience.

Find a Theme

Having a theme is often overlooked when doing a presentation, but when telling a story it is key. A theme is the feeling or emotion you want to get across to your audience and resonate with them. The theme is the combination of your ideas and messages, and it creates the structure for your story.

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To go back to our podcasting example, my theme for delivering to kids would be heavy on examples, engagement, fun, laughter, and enjoyment to engage them. For managers, I might focus on how they can find an audience right here and grow their culture by developing leaders of influence. The managers probably won’t rate hearing their voice as important to do, but the children will.

Pace

The best stories we have ever heard have that moment of connection where we are sold — we want more, we sit up in our chair, and we listen a little more intently. This is not by chance, this is by pace. This is because the storyteller took us down a path laid with breadcrumbs for us to pick up along the way in the hopes that we’d join them on this journey. If the storyteller simply started with that “aha” moment, we wouldn’t have had the reveal we needed — we would not have been invested. Worse yet, if this moment never came, what then? We’d be left wondering why we were even there to begin with, what we were truly investing by giving this person our precious time.

Still unsure about pace? Think back to all those keynotes that Steve Jobs did for Apple where he became famous for “One last thing” in his presentations.  That wasn’t by chance, it was on purpose. It was part of his story, and each time we came back to hear the next story, we waited with baited breath to hear this line.

Get the Right Tools

Remember those speakers that wave their hands around the whole time as they speak or have to constantly go to their laptop to fix something? Or maybe their demos require a lot of manual control and them staring down at the screen?

You probably don’t remember their names, but you remember what they did. These are distractions to your audience. These are distractions to your theme that reduce the effectiveness of your story.

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Again, think back to the best presentations you have heard. What was so great about them? Was it the deck? Their tablet? Did they demo something amazing? You might be thinking “Oh yeah, they had a powerpoint deck, but come to think of it, I never saw them look at it or reference it.” Exactly. Your tools complement the story and enhance it — they don’t become part of it. If you are having to read off your deck, then send out your deck to your audience because that’s your story. Small things, like a presentation pointer, can greatly enhance your presentation because now people are focussing on you, your words, your theme, your pace, and not you bending over to hit the spacebar.

Yes, you might have to spend some money on tools and hacks to be a better storyteller, but if you are able to get your message across in a single session, isn’t it worth it?

Call to Action

Don’t you love the presenter who ends with “Well, that’s it.”? No conclusion, no end to what should be there, no final sign off — the slides go blank as if they did not know the last slide was even coming up. As we said before, being a great storyteller involves pacing the audience so you don’t need to draw them a map of when you are going to finish. Rather, they can infer this information, they can see it evolving, they know when it is going to get there.

But there is more to it. Your audience, the people you spent so much time crafting this message for, what is their call to action? What do you want them to do next?

In our example of a podcast, I want my audience to go start a podcast. Why else would I be telling them how to do it? Otherwise, I’ve just wasted their time and mine. And this is key — the call to action isn’t solely for the audience, it is for the speaker as well. Only once a member of the audience has taken that call and turned it into action has the story now been completed. Actions are what drive stories, not debates, not further discussion — action. So if you are not challenging your audience on what to do next, what are you trying to get across to them?

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Speakers, Presenters, Orators, whatever term you like to use, the ones who stand out, the ones we remember, are the ones that crafted a story, a story that resonated with us, a story that spoke to us, and a story that made us want to go do something.

Next time you need to deliver a presentation, whether it’s last quarter’s budget numbers or next year’s fall fashions, don’t deliver it as a presentation. Deliver it as a story and see the difference — you’ll be amazed.

Featured photo credit: pixabay.com via pixabay.com

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Greg Thomas

Software Architect

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Last Updated on October 16, 2018

How to Overcome Your Irrational Fears (That Stop You from Succeeding)

How to Overcome Your Irrational Fears (That Stop You from Succeeding)

She could hear her beautiful baby crying but was frozen in the doorway unable to move. The crying got worse and she knew that unless she comforted the infant soon the baby would be inconsolable, and yet her feet wouldn’t move. She didn’t look at the cot but the floor in front, where the venomous hairy monster sat before her…. .okay it was a UK spider so not likely to kill her at all, and yet still her body was frozen as the tears fell down her face. “What a useless mother you are” she berated herself.

That awful mother was me 14 years ago. My fear of spiders had not been controlled for years and I was at the stage where I wouldn’t open a newspaper until my husband had read it and removed the images of spiders. I hated houses that had wooden floors or skirting boards because every knot in the wood could be a spider about to crawl across me.

At the height of my fear, I tried to get out of a moving car. Clearly this harmless 8-legged creature had massive levels of power over me but now that fear is gone, I’m never going to love spiders but I’m not going to leave the room because of one and I can read the word without freaking out and sobbing.

If you think that fear is irrational, what about the fear of going to airports? Or the fear of not asking for help?

Today I want to look at how our irrational fears impact on us, how they can destroy (and I don’t use that word lightly) our success. They can damage our health and even stop us from living our lives. And then I’ll share the benefits of fighting that fear and most importantly how you can fight your fears too.

How irrational fears impact your life

The thing about irrational fears is that we are not keen to look at them. It makes us feel inadequate, weak and daft because we can’t do things that it seems everyone else can. That gives the fear power.

Fear loves negative emotions and saps up yours making your fear bigger and uglier and even more powerful. Not ideal to say the least. Fears can cause us to:

  • Avoid situations where that fear may have to be faced. Dodging parties, new jobs, new experiences where we aren’t sure we will be able to protect ourselves.
  • Stop us from sleeping for fear the thing we fear will “get us in the night.” For me this was massive, and I stopped sleeping which had massive implications when my job was to look after a toddler and a baby. I felt half dead most of the time!
  • Feel ill with the stress. Stress can be the cause of wrong decisions. Drinking alcohol when we shouldn’t, eating chocolate because it makes us feel better, the list of excuses is long that we hold on to so that we can avoid the cause of our stress.
  • Cause more distress as our minds overload us with negative thoughts of inadequacy. This can damage our confidence. Having coached thousands, I know that a lack of confidence is usually the underlining impactor on most people’s success across all areas of their lives.
  • Risk looking aloof or arrogant because we won’t participate like other people. Our fears can even isolate us in our personal and professional lives too.
  • Feel debilitated. Needless to say, these fears may look irrational and shouldn’t exist to the outside world but to the sufferer they are debilitating. Even impacting on their earning potential, love life, hobbies, travels and personal and professional success.

Why bother to fight the fear

Couldn’t you just ensure you live your life in way that you don’t have to deal with your fear?

I had a client that was so scared of flying that they couldn’t even take their partner to the airport, another who had avoided public speaking for over 20 years and yet now at the height of their profession they had no choice, what were they going to do? Quit? There was another who could never ask for help and another who feared people finding out who they really were.

All these fears and many more can be fixed but only if we can appreciate the benefits of fighting the fear.

Let’s look at the benefits of fighting your fears:

If you’re going to change the way you do something, something that has impacted on your life, thoughts and actions for years, it can be hard to believe change is possible.

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The first thing you must do is give yourself a big enough reason why. Go back through your life and remember all the occasions that this fear was there.

I can still see the spider trapped in my hair because it had obviously been on my hairdryer. I also remember that I probably looked ludicrous in the South of France in my underwear running down the lane screaming and flinging my hair everywhere. The poor spider had not only been flung a long way from my head but was probably destroyed in the flight.

Remember the feelings, the actions, the negative feelings you felt afterwards, for me it meant that every time I picked up a hairdryer I could see a spider crawling towards my ear in my hair. Guess how helpful that was for reinforcing my reactions and irrational fear?

Really experience the fear. Make it so painful that you probably notice your heart racing, your shoulders drawing up and your breath changing. That fear is causing physical change in your body, doesn’t feel good does it?

When the irrational fear is challenged and destroyed, it can’t have power over you. So new opportunities can come your way and instead of fearing them and what people will think of you for your choices, you can be open to;

  • New hobbies
  • New travels
  • New opportunities
  • More success
  • Financially more secure
  • Happier
  • Healthier
  • Confident

The list is long so what can you do to get rid of your fears?

How to fight your irrational fears

In my book Fight the Fear: How to Beat Your Negative Mindset and Win in Life, I cover 12 of the biggest fears that I see impact on success and happiness. Not all of these are obvious but they all have far reaching impacts on our lives.

Here are some of those ideas to help you fight your fear and get more of what you want out of life:

Why did this happen?

For some people they really need to know why the fear started, for others all they want is to get rid of it. If you need to understand yours then don’t skip this tip. Learn how your fears are made and appreciate where yours came from. If you don’t care how it arrived, you can jump to top tip 2.

I’ve seen some clients who are not prepared to look at how to get rid of the fear until they’ve understood how it got here in the first place. It’s not my place to tell them that is right or wrong, just to help them find the right steps to lead them to a happy path.

When a fear first starts, we don’t acknowledge a fear has entered our lives. It is only after a few occasions that we begin to notice that there’s a strong negative emotion connected to this “thing”. That’s how fear is allowed to grow because as humans we have in-built responses that have kept us safe for our entire existence. This means we are meant to perceive fear and either run or fight, either way our bodies jump into action creating physical responses to the perceived threat.

Look for when you first noticed the fast heart beat, the shallow breathing, the shaking hands, the redness. You have created an automatic way of dealing with this fear. It could be that it felt sensible to fear this because you had an unhappy outcome, although it is usually the case that your head has the facts and your heart is not prepared to hear them as it creates a version of the event that is far scarier than it actually was.

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Learning how to remove the emotions and feelings will help you to change your body’s response. The first time I fixed someone’s fear of public speaking, they told me that it physically closed their throat, I worried that was it possible with words to change our physicality? The answer was yes! With the tools and techniques I share below.

The tool kit

From the many people that have contacted me after reading Fight the Fear to my clients, I know for even myself creating a tool kit is a must. This is not a bag that you physically must haul everywhere. This is about learning tools that really resonate with you so that when you can feel the fear start to impact on you, you’ve got your kit ready to take it on.

I don’t have the space in one article to share all of those tools so let’s visit a few:

1. Why I’m awesome

Creating a 2-page handwritten document of why you are awesome can help. This document will be packed with achievements, successes, overcoming adversity and all of those will be full of positive emotions, actions and feelings. It is not easy to write, and I get many messages telling me so however it is a powerful reminder that you can stand up and accomplish.

2. Draw out your emotions

Earlier we looked at how irrational fears can damage every aspect of our lives. If you were to follow the negative spiral down you can follow the positive spiral up again.

I draw these individually for clients and with each action, thought or feeling we put an arrow between them. Each arrow is an opportunity to do something different. If we know that irrational fear is an automatic thought process, then we can start to see that we need to think, do or feel something different. Top tip 3 will help with that.

3. Acknowledge that you need to change

It’s not easy to change, and that is a belief that many hold. Top tip 4 could assist further, however for this tip, remember that when you want to do, think or feel differently, you’ve already achieved the first step and that is recognizing something must change (you don’t need to know what). But if you aren’t sure yet if there’s really something different you want to do, this story about Nancy may help you to figure it out.

Then it’s about acknowledging it. That means not only accepting it but feeling that it is yours to take on and change.

Then for 2 weeks, decide that you won’t allow the thought to be in your head. There are usually some negative thoughts allowed to fester in your head. At this stage, just say “No I’d like you to stop.” After 2 weeks choose a new thought that you would prefer to hear in your head, maybe “I can cope with situations that scare me” or “I am stronger than I know”.

There will be times when you fail. Don’t berate yourself because that is another negative thought you are allowing your head to process. Just start again and at times like that have a read of your “Why I’m awesome list”.

4. Choose your words carefully.

I’ve heard many clients tell me that “It’s going to be hard to change” “I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t petrified” or “This is a lot to ask”. Any thought that gives power to your fear takes away power from you to fight it. Therefore, choose how you word your goal to overcome your fear carefully.

Think thoughts like “I remember when I achieved xxxx and that reminds me I’m far tougher and more capable than I give myself credit for”. (Take the xxx from your why I’m awesome document.)

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5. Believe that you have the control power

The only person that can control what we think and feel is us. I know it can feel like other people are impacting on us, however they can only do that if we give them permission to do so.

If you really think about that for a moment, can you see that you have the right to think and feel anything you want right now? I’m certain you wouldn’t choose pain, fear or anxiety. So, what would you choose to think about your fear?

6. Put up physical reminders

Working one to one, I can find the fear, work through it and create a tool kit of thoughts, feelings and actions that will help them fight that fear and get rid of it. For some, they don’t need physical things to help them; others do.

For example, the CEO who was petrified of public speaking but could handle a conference call with 300 without a second thought, imagined the microphone was a phone when they spoke in front of 400 people to help reinforce the positive thoughts and ideas we’d created.

Or the client that always worried that they were an imposter and “someone else can do this better” pinned on their office wall a tag cloud of all the words that made up their “Why I’m awesome document”.

So they had a daily reminder. They were the right one for the job and they could do it. These daily reminders all come down to one key point — help you to Hack the Habit Loop.

What would be your visual clues to remind you that you can overcome this?

7. Physical supports

Music, environment and even smells can impact on us. Know the music that makes you feel alive and ready for anything. Try aromatherapy oils to feel positive and energised. Even choose your work environment or clothing to empower you.

Changing these things is physical and giving yourself physical ideas to action can help power up your emotional state too.

8. Don’t go it alone

The fear to ask for help is very real (and has a whole chapter in my book) so I know people really struggle with this. The fact is we all need people. We are not insular by design and as such it can be tough to admit that you have a fear impacting on you.

However, by sharing your fear with a trusted friend, colleague or loved one can mean that when you are feeling the fear. you can talk to someone. It could be that you share with them the contents of your tool kit and ask their permission to be added to it. That way they know what works for you and how to best support you.

It’s not a sign of weakness to tell people about your fear. It takes massive levels of strength to say, “I have this fear, and I want to get rid of it.”

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9. Get physical

One of the reasons that a fear can escalate is because we have come to accept that response. Our body reacted in a certain way, once repeated the behaviour and it became a formed habit that was accepted.

Challenging a fear can be done using our body too when we appreciate that fear is actually a reaction inside our bodies. We don’t need to understand where in our brains or what chemicals are racing through us to use our physicality to help us challenge our fears.

When I was writing my book, the Cuddy Superhero pose was proved and disproved by various researchers around the world 3 times. Whether it’s real or not, the fact is the way we stand, the way we breathe and even the speed at which we speak can impact on us as well as those around us.

If you have a fear of public speaking or a fear of people thinking you are stupid or a fear of what people are thinking you can look at how you speak, stand and move. If you compare these with people you deem confident and happy in these situations, how do you look? What can you learn?

The research around placebo’s reinforces us that if it feels like it is working, then keep doing it! What could you use to help reinforce your power and fearlessness?

A little fear can be good

As someone famous once says:

“It is not fear, it is performance energy.”

Despite having an absolute hatred of public speaking 10 years ago, I now love an audience and yet I have a healthy level of fear. That level of fear says “Are you well prepared?” “Do you know your audience?” “Have you rested your voice?” “You really want to deliver to this audience what they need” And those thoughts are sensible.

And just remember, it’s never ever too late to face your fear and do what you desire most! It’s even possible to start over your life no matter what stage of life you’re at. Here’s the proof:

How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

So as you reduce your fear, be aware of a good level of fear.

Featured photo credit: Isaiah Rustad via unsplash.com

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