Persuasive Storytelling: Make It Compelling

So, you now know the building blocks for storytelling. It’s time to put that into action. You don’t want to come out on stage with a lackluster story; it needs to be compelling. Here’s how we move your story from decent to great.

First, it starts with the hook. Do not, if you can help it, walk out on stage and begin with: “I’m about to tell you a story.” Of course you are. That’s why you’re on the stage! Think about the purpose of this book: You want to communicate effectively in a world increasingly driven by technology and a younger generation in the workforce that has never known a world unplugged from the modem. 

The benefit of that is that younger generations are creative and have an innate ability to communicate in the new media that arrive daily. The challenge is to communicate with them effectively, in their own terms. That’s why storytelling is so important. As we’ve discussed, it transcends hundreds and thousands of years. Every generation appreciates a good story; it’s just a matter of you figuring out how to deliver it.

Back to the hook — start off strong. Say something that absolutely captures their attention. One suggestion is to look at stand-up comedy. A standup comedian’s entire career is about effective storytelling. Watch how comedians begin their sets, and how they enter stories with such ease. Another compelling feature of storytelling in comedians’ work is how they transition from one story to the next, often completely unrelated, subject. You must with a strong hook, one that alerts the audience that we’ve moved on to a different topic and that immediately piques their interest. 

Another feature of a good story is a consistent flow. You don’t want to overpace the tale and leave people trying to catch their breath. Neither do you want to put them to sleep. You must find a happy medium, one keeps them engaged but doesn’t make their head spin trying to keep up. 

It’s also important to weave in various elements that keep them in suspense. Now, this doesn’t mean you’re trying to raise the hairs on their neck But the end of the story should not be easily guessed. 

Some of the best comedy bits have an unforeseen twist to them, somewhere midway through where you think you know what’s going to happen and then the story takes a complete left turn. 

Remember: Context is everything, so some of these tips might not necessarily apply as much in your story. The important point here is that you think it through and consider various options, rather than just writing everything you want to say in chronological order and calling it a day. Spice up your story to keep your audience engaged.

Finally, at the end of your story, be certain that you’ve established its salience. You don’t want to tell a story just for the sake of telling it. In certain circumstances, it may be strictly for entertainment. But our focus here is on persuasive storytelling; we want the story to move the audience from the position they hold toward your preferred position.

To borrow a theme consistent from my last book, you need to have a strong call to action. Why does this matter to your audience? It’s true in emails, advertising and, yes, storytelling. If you hope to persuade, there has to be an act at the end to bring them on board. 

Point out to your audience why the story is important to them, and how it’s relevant to their lives. It likely was implied in the story, but don’t shy away from being direct at the end. You want to leave no doubts about what your point was, and what you expect the audience should do in reaction to this new information. Ending with a strong call to action will keep your story top of mind and ensure you maximize the effect of your time on stage.

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