I have been in the room when someone is able to capture an audience of hundreds of people by telling an amazing story. People creep to the edge of their seats in intense focus. An entire room feels inspired. That’s what happened the first time I watched the Lion King. I have also been in the complete opposite situation. Last week one of our friends told an awful story. Seriously. It was brutal. The room glazed over with disinterest. We all started pulling out our iPhones and giving the obligatory “un huh” response as he told us about some supposedly pivotal life event.
It made me realize that there is a big gap between good storytellers and the vast majority. It’s strange, because we have all been telling stories since we were young. It’s how we communicate. It’s how we connect with people. It’s how we teach. It’s how we learn. It seems as though we would have perfected this skill at a much younger age. But just like running, there are very few people who are taught the correct technique. Most people learn what works for them through trial and error. But just like someone’s running form, a few small adjustments can make a world of difference. One piece of advice that I’ve been trying to employ over the past couple of years to great success is something that I call The Golden Rule Of Storytelling.
THE GOLDEN RULE OF STORYTELLING
The golden rule is simple – know your audience. Too often people are so focused on what they want to communicate from their story that they don’t stop to think about the people listening to them. The key is to figure out if your audience even wants to hear the story that you want to tell. Why do they want to hear it? Are you being self-indulgent and enjoying the sound of your own voice? Or does it bring value into their life? If not, shut the hell up.
When we are talking about the value in story telling, the opportunities are simple. There are three basic ways that a story can bring value to someone:
- Entertainment (The story is funny, dramatic or enthralling.)
- Information (The story teaches you something. Maybe a fun fact about a place or an insight into someone’s character.)
- Inspiration (The story is about something so awesome that it inspires people to try.)
Obviously, the value that someone gets out of your story is based on their relationship to you. If you’re a complete stranger, chances are that they won’t be interested in hearing the tales of your emotional problems at work. It’s awkward as hell and uninteresting to hear that stuff from someone that you’ve just met. If you’re are close friends with someone, hearing about their emotional state and current situation may be incredibly valuable to you as a friend. You may find inspiration in their story and how they’re poised to overcome their obstacles. You care about the characters in the story and are rooting for them.
Audiences also tend to be different depending on their environment and personalities. A group of doctors at a medical conference would be much more inclined to hear a story about the latest breakthrough in oxygen therapy on cancer tumors. Additionally, some people are genuinely interested in learning about strangers. Those tend to be the people who are able to make the best connections and develop deep relationships with people in a short amount of time. However, the majority of people don’t really give a shit about learning about the innermost workings of a complete stranger. These are all of the factors that you have to consider when thinking about your audience.
Consider your audience when telling a story. Whether you’re making a multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbuster or trying to teach your kids about the importance of hard work, think outside yourself and your own personal interests. Try to understand where the people listening to you are coming from. Why are they listening? What value are they looking for? Do they want to be entertained, informed or inspired? Then figure out how you can tailor your story telling to cater to them. That’s what makes a great story teller and a great experience.
The key is focus on how the story makes your audience feel instead of how it makes you feel.