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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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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

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Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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