Luke Bong
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How to Tell a Story That Engages Your Audience

Storytelling is the in thing nowadays. Advocates of storytelling will tell you that our brain is hardwired to it and we are all suckers for a good story. Recent evidence in the field of neuroscience seems to concur.

In an article published by the University of California, Berkley in 2013, Dr. Paul J. Zak, an American neuroeconomist and scientist, reported that ‘stories shape our brains, tie strangers together, and move us to be more empathic and generous.’

But not all stories are created equal. If you think that you could just tell any story and expect your audience to be mesmerized by you, well, time to shelf that thought. In Dr. Zak’s research into how stories connect with their listeners, he discovered that there are 2 critical elements that make up a good story.

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First, your story must capture and hold your audience’s attention. And secondly, your story must transport your audience into your characters’ world.

Granted, they are not exactly the easiest things for us trainers to do but lucky for us, there are some actions we can take to ensure the stories we tell in our training sessions will resonate with our participants.

1) How to capture and hold your audience’s attention

Context

Compare the scenario where 2 people are listening to the same story. One of them is a parent while the other one is not. The story that day has got to do with the struggle of parenting and how things will work out right in the end. Simply put, a classic tear-jerker.

Which one of the 2 people would more likely be affected by the story? My guess is, it’s the parent. Why? The story is related to him or her almost directly.

I call this the context of the story. When your story is something which your audience could relate to directly, they will be transported into your story and absorbing whatever you say.

Key Takeaway #1

Relate your story to your listeners and they feel emotionally connected to you.

Suspense

Ever heard of the story ‘The tortoise and the hare’? Yes, that one.

Now, imagine that you are a participant in a seminar and the speaker starts by saying, “I want to share with you the story of ‘The tortoise and the hare’.”

How excited do you think you would feel about listening to this story? (You can answer me after you finish yawning)

This story has been told and retold millions of times that we don’t feel excited about it anymore. Why? Because there is no suspense.

Now, what if the storyteller says, “I want to share with you the sequel of The tortoise and the hare that you have never been told before.” Would you be interested to find out what that story is?

Key Takeaway #2

Suspense makes your story irresistible

2) Transport your audience into your characters’ world

There is a reason why movies are so popular. I mean, we know that they are all make-beliefs and yet, we would willingly allow ourselves to get sucked right into it. The term used to describe this experience is ‘Suspension of disbelief .

So, the better you are at inducing your audience to suspend their disbelief, the more powerful your story becomes. Here is how you do it.

Speak to the senses

People perceive the world they live in via their 5 major senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. These senses often mix together and produce a myriad of feelings.

For example, some people reported that when they had a lousy day at work, all it takes to get their spirits lifted again is listening to the laughter of babies.

So, how do you speak to the senses? In NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), we use the VAK model. V – visual (sight), A – auditory (sound) and K – kinesthetic (feelings).

What this means is that you should tell a story as if you are making a movie. Your listener must be able to visualize, hear and feel your story.

Here is an example of how you can do it. Consider the 2 examples below.

Without using VAK

Alice wants to eat a hamburger. She walks to the restaurant but it is closed. She turns around and walks home.

Using VAK

Alice is so hungry that she could probably eat an entire horse. What she would give for a juicy hamburger right now. She rushes off to her favourite restaurant but to her dismay, the sign that says ‘Closed. Please come back tomorrow’ is dangling on the door. Her heart sinks. What is she going to do? And that very moment, she hears a voice in her head whispering, “Now, where is that horse?”

Which of the above example makes you feel as if you have entered the story? I rest my case.

Key Takeaway #3

Speak to the 5 senses using VAK

All in all, stories are powerful tools that enable trainers to engage with their participants. Used correctly, it could inspire your participants to do great things.

By all means, use stories whenever you can. Just remember to tell it in the right context, use suspense and speak to your participants’ senses.

Do you use stories in your training sessions? Please share your experience in the comments section below.


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