The Storyteller’s Voice is Everyone’s Business
The Importance of a Story
As we have become more and more inundated with data and information, we have grown more and more hungry for stories. Stories help us find the human elements in the information. They remind us of why we care about the data in the first place. Presentations skills coach, Jerry Weissman, prevents scientists and doctors from getting mired in the data by asking them a simple question: “Do you have any patients?”
There are some basic delivery techniques that will make the story come alive
Although everyone has a story to tell, not everyone is good at telling them. Stories can certainly be told by anyone even if they don’t use these techniques because the very nature of the story is that it is engaging in its own right. However, as Seth Godin says, “Making pastries the way they do at a fancy restaurant is a lot more work than making brownies at home.”
So here are three elements that will add zip and vigor to your storytelling and set you apart from the everyday story cook. They are: emphasis, pause, and contrast.
Stimulate the senses. Find color words. Find emotion. Get others involved. Pull them in with an emotional phrase and sound like you mean it. In order to do this, write down your story and then highlight all of the emotional words. If you don’t have any, add some! Then practice telling your story with an emphasis on those highlighted words. In addition, it is important that you stimulate your own senses but using emotional memory, an actor’s trick for triggering an emotional response today based on a memory of a similar response.
If you think this is just for actors and traditional storytellers, think again. The brilliant Julian Treasure has created an entire business around “sensory marketing,” showing us that “better sounding brands achieve better results.” And what makes it sound better? For starters, a sound that appeals to the senses.
Give the listener time to take in what you’ve said. Give them time to catch up with you. Run-on sentences and ideas are prevalent in speakers today. Maybe it’s the same problem of too much information. And the challenge with this is that people need silence in order to process what they have heard. Enter, the pause.
In an essay about how to tell a story, Mark Twain said, “The pause is an exceedingly important feature in any kind of story, and a frequently recurring feature, too. It is a dainty thing, and delicate, and also uncertain and treacherous; for it must be exactly the right length–no more and no less–or it fails of its purpose and makes trouble.”
To practice the pause, tell your story aloud and consciously stop to breathe each time you present a new idea or a new part of the story. Take a good breath, and then move on. Then, when actually telling the story to an audience, let yourself take a breath and hear the silence before moving on. Sometimes, silence elicits an emotional response all its own that you can feel. That’s ok. Let it be there. And then move on.
Keep audience attention by contrasting loud with soft, long with short, fast with slow, and dark (sad or angry) with light (hopeful, joyful). Contrast catches a listener’s attention. It keeps us hooked. When there is contrast we pay attention. It’s a surprise for the ear. And audiences like surprises. However, Mark Twain also cautioned that if the audience knows a surprise is being set up, you can’t surprise them at all.
To practice contrast, try the following:
- Speak in a normal tone of voice, and suddenly speak softly on the next change in the story.
- Speak at your normal pace, and then slow down a description of someone, or an important element of the story. Then do the opposite.
- Draw out an important story element by elongating the vowels of your words, followed by a quickly-spoken descriptive word.