The virtues of storytelling have been rediscovered recently in business, leadership, personal growth context etc. Fact is that storytelling is an ancient tool, used for thousands of years by countless generations to preserve and pass on wisdom and culture. No wonder storytelling is such an excellent tool to empower, encourage and educate people across different cultures.

Families too use this method to share their wisdom and learning, and transfer it from generation to generation, creating relational continuity. It is when parents tell stories as they place their children to sleep at night, or when your grandparents share their war stories at the dinner table or in front of the fireplace, that character, courage, strength etc. become tangible ideas. Subsequent generations imagine and see possibilities. Storytelling has been and will remain a powerful tool for the education, inspiration and mobilization of people!

And while you might not have realized it, everyone is a storyteller! Many have become unaware of the art of storytelling, maybe because we are constantly surrounded by it. People communicate daily through stories and with it, they share their deepest experiences with those who they come into contact with.

Components of Storytelling

The components of storytelling include:

(1) the storyteller

(2) the recipient of the story

(3) the story itself

(4) the ambiance

(5) the key message of the story

The storyteller is the person who has experienced the event or was the recipient of the story from someone else. When a storyteller has experienced their story, it will often be shared vividly, accompanied by emotions that were felt at that moment. When a storyteller recounts someone else’ story, they are triggering others’ imagination while sharing their personal interpretation of what happened.

Any story recipient uses their personal experiences to understand what the story they are hearing is about, what can be learned from it and what can be further shared with others.

The story itself is the events as they unfolded, the emotions this triggered, the context and sequence of events led to main event unfolding.

The ambiance of a story will determine its effect. Listening to a story before bedtime, at the dinner table or while camping lends strength to stories. The same story told in different environments has varying impacts on both the storyteller and the listener.

Finally, the message of the story is the actual content that is being passed on. A message can range from something trivial to something so very profound which could change the world-view of the person hearing the story.

Variations in these different elements that make up a good story will determine the effect a story has on individuals hearing it.

Aspects of Good Storytelling

(1) The story is told in a language that matches the intended recipient or audience. When telling a story that serves as a business pitch, chances are, you will need to use business jargon to get your message across. If you on the other hand are telling a story to a young person, and intend for them to understand the deep message you are trying to share, you will need to use language they tend to understand. You may for example need to include “slang” common to this age group.

(2) The story has to be relevant to both the storyteller and the audience. In other words the reason for sharing the story has an intended purpose and has an intended effect on the persons hearing it. Sometimes people share stories just because they remembered them. A more intentionally shared story however potentially creates an equally intentional learning experience between the storyteller and the listener. It is key therefore to always take into account the listener and adjust the story telling to accommodate for age difference, cultural inclination, personal experiences, educational levels, differences in communicational styles etc.

(3) The storyteller shares a story that is emotionally moving. The closer a person is / was to experiencing the story firsthand, the deeper the impact and the more vivid the sharing of the story will be. The further removed from the actual story, chances are the story will be subject to multiple interpretations and its authenticity, and with that, its impact on the hearer is likely to diminish. A story protagonist believes it the most – and this belief will often transfer to the audience, impacting  more deeply.

How to improve your practice of Storytelling

The passage of time affects memories and how stories are remembered. Details fade,  emotions diminish. What was once a very important story, shared at every opportunity may not be so important anymore. But, there will always be stories that last, that speak to the human imagination so deeply that they get repeated, they morph with time, adapt to culture, transcend generations because they represent the core hope, aspirations and fears of the human soul. These are the kinds of stories that you’d want to remember and share. Below are some SILKMentoring suggestions to help you with your practice of Storytelling:

1. Play-by-play. An intentionally shared story should have an intentional preparation that goes with it. This means that you have to begin by not just remembering the story or its relevance, but in writing, break it down into its component parts – identify the beginning,  middle and an ending of a story. Take the story apart to identify and understand its key protagonists and what was learned. The act of physically breaking down a story will help you remember its relevant parts such as the people who were a part of it, what they felt, what you felt, and most importantly the message you learned that you are meaning to convey.

2. Pre-sleep replay. This practice involves retelling the story to yourself right before sleep, including remembering the associated feeling and mood.

3. Red Dot. This identifies the main message or feeling of your story, which you have to personally try to feel again and know so that you can convey it to your audience. Imagine a page from a book… your red dot is the one thing your listeners leave with. Mentally placing a red dot in your story ensures that you do not lose track of the message of the story and the intended reason for the sharing of the story in the first place.

The objective of a good story is to move a mind and heart… to see possibilities…. to arise…. to build faith… to connect……to empathize, to empower… connect.