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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 September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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