5 Exercises That Will Make You a Better Storyteller

5 Exercises That Will Make You a Better Storyteller image

– Part 3 of The Sales Storyteller Series

Not everyone is a born storyteller.  Putting together a compelling narrative or even a compelling sentence can be tough, especially if you’re channeling your creative energies into other activities.  Even the best storytellers run out of material or hit a wall and need to regroup.  But I have good news.  There are ways you can improve your storytelling skills and recharge your batteries even while you’re on the go.

We’ve gone over the elements of compelling storytelling, now let’s try these five simple exercises that you can incorporate into your everyday life that will help boost those creative juices and make you a better storyteller.

Describe Your Surroundings

Have you ever been reading a book or an article and a description so beautiful and accurate stopped you and made you go back to read it again?  Have you ever wondered how to describe a certain smell or color to someone who has never smelled it or seen it before?  Why not give it a try?

Great storytellers are conscious of their surroundings.  To become a better storyteller, make an effort to take in more detail, notice what’s going on around you just a little bit more.  Once you do, you’ll be able to practice describing your surroundings.  There are opportunities everywhere for exercising and expanding this skill set.

While you are waiting in line at the grocery store, walking your dog, putting on your makeup or brushing your hair, think about an object or feeling or smell and describe it to yourself.  Use words you’d never use, and try to see it from a new perspective.  You can be silly or serious.  It doesn’t matter what you come up with, good or bad, as long as you are thinking in new ways.

Do Something New

Doug Kurtz, a writing coach and very cool guy, recently put out a podcast on creative stagnation.  To free yourself from a creative rut, Doug advises you to go out into the world and try something new.

Storytellers are constantly mining their own experiences for material.  Sales rock stars will always have something fun and new to share as they build important customer relationships, the most popular people at a party are in demand because they entertain with exciting stories from their lives, and your friends might be sick of hearing the story about you busing the table for a movie star the hundredth time.

This exercise can be as simple as talking to a stranger while you are waiting in line at Starbucks or as complex as taking skydiving lessons.  It’s completely up to you.  But if you expand your horizons, you’ll be surprised at how energized you will get in other, seemingly unrelated, parts of your life.

Take a Breath…Try Meditation

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During meditation, focus on your breathing and keep your mind clear.

I don’t need to tell you that meditation can reduce stress and improve your health.  But did you know that clearing your mind can be beneficial to your creative side as well?  Studies have shown that meditative exercises can promote creative thinking, which is exactly what you need in order to be an effective storyteller.

Especially in times of high stress, try this easy, meditative exercise to restore your mental energies for the tasks ahead.  Find a comfortable place to sit (this can be at your desk) with your feet on the floor.  Allow your hands and arms to relax, put your head back or let it fall forward, and close your eyes.  Take deep breaths from your diaphragm, slowly, in and out, and let your mind wander.  Imagine all the tension in your body floating away.  Give yourself at least half a dozen repetitions before you come back to reality.

Use this technique whenever you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or even bored.  Sometimes all it takes is a few moments to let go to help you see the bigger picture.

Mind Mapping

Have you heard of mind mapping?  There are lots of tools online to help with strategic mind mapping and outlining, but for our purposes mind mapping is simply a way to brain storm new ideas.  I first learned about mind mapping from other writers.  Writers use mind mapping as a problem solving tool for when they are stuck with a character or a scene or any number of other issues they run into, and you can too.

Try this exercise when you are stuck on a problem, and it will help you break through to potential solutions you weren’t able to connect with in more traditional ways.

Write a word at the center of a piece of paper (or whatever is handy, like a napkin) that embodies the issue you are facing.  Then, without focusing on any one thing, allow your mind to travel a meandering path as you write the next word that comes to mind, then the next word, then the next, all over the page.  The trick is to let go and allow your brain to come up with anything it wants, whether it makes sense or not, without stopping to think on any one concept.  Once you’ve filled the page, go back and look it over.  Circle the words that make the most sense and see if you find new connections between them that lead to potential solutions.

Practice Being a Storyteller

Practice makes perfect, or so they say.  The best exercise you can do to become a fantastic storyteller and keep your creative energies flowing is to practice the skill itself.  Don’t worry, it’s easy.

As you are walking down the street (or at your office, in a parking lot, anywhere really), pick a stranger out of the crowd and tell yourself their story.  Be as wild as you want.  Tap into the storyline of the television show you watched last night and make them a character in it.  Is that woman wearing cowboy boots because she is on her way to save her ranch from an unscrupulous CEO?  Maybe the man jogging around the corner is a spy doing surveillance on the building, or that couple holding hands met in an elevator when it got stuck for a few hours during a blackout.

Mine your own memories for ideas or just go crazy.  It’s always fun to make up stories, even in small ways.  The best part is you can do this exercise anytime, anywhere.  Get in the habit, and you’ll be a world class storyteller in no time.

Photo Credit: MorgueFile and Unsplash

Why Sales Storytelling Matters to You

 – Part 1 of The Sales Storyteller Series

Sales Storytelling image

Whether you are talking to a friend or a customer, we use sales storytelling to interact and engage every day.

I am a storyteller from way back.  As a kid, I would make up invisible friends and far-off magical kingdoms (which I ruled, of course) and then tell all these crazy stories about them to anyone who would listen.  I would put on shows for my parents, direct my unfortunate siblings in holiday plays, and write nonsense narratives down on pages stapled together to look like books.  In short, storytelling is part of who I am.

But do you want to know a secret?

Storytelling is part of who you are too.  Every day we tell stories to engage with others, using this vital skill to reach out and ask the people around us to like and accept us.  It is how we communicate, build relationships, and yes, sell, in our everyday lives.

In this new digitized age, stories are more important than ever before.  Connecting, as we all know, is a click away, but storytelling is what makes connecting worthwhile.  The value we derive from those connections and what making those connections says about who we are as individuals is how we define ourselves.  This is how we tell our story to the world.

In her book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing, marketing expert Shama Kabani argues that the main reason we throngs of people flock to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook is to show the world who we are as individuals.  Like a bumper sticker on our car or the t-shirt showcasing our favorite cause, we fundamentally crave the ability to share our identity, who we are and what we believe in, with the world.  If you look at anyone’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, or Pintrest board, you can quickly see how right she is.

The challenge we now face is in telling our stories consciously and purposefully so that our voices are heard.  I don’t mean standing out in a crowd of millions, though that is certainly a goal you can have; I mean adequately conveying your message even to the person standing right in front of you or on the other end of an email or tweet.  After all, we are selling with every story we tell.  In essence, I am talking about engaging with an audience, any audience, through sales storytelling.

In sales, the best professionals don’t simply tell customers about a product or service, touting its wonderful features, explaining why it is so great.  The truly knowledgeable sales person will tell the customer a story about themselves that resonates with a real problem they are experiencing and demonstrates how the problem could be solved with their product or service.  Telling the customer their own story, making that connection with them on a deeper, personal level, and using that connection to make the customer’s life easier, is the very heart of sales storytelling.  And, whether you are in sales or not, we do it every day.

Let’s say you’re a teenager who gets caught trying to sneak the car out past curfew.  What do you tell your angry parent?  Maybe you confess.  You really wanted to go to that party tonight, even though it’s a school night, because your crush will be there.  Maybe you lie.  Maybe you tell a story about needing to put gas in the car so that you aren’t late for school the next morning.  Either way, you’re using storytelling to make your case.

Now, I’m not advocating for teenaged joy riding, but I think many of us have found ourselves in a situation like that from time to time.  It is an extreme example of how storytelling elevates our exchanges.  Without it, every conversation would be flat, two-dimensional, and boring.

How important would this same interaction be if it were not with your parents but a key client?  In this scenario you weren’t being sneaky, of course, but there has been a miscommunication and the customer feels cheated in some way.  Or, you are in the middle of navigating a tricky close and you are challenged by the customer on some detail they don’t understand.

We will do a deep dive into using sales storytelling for objection handling later on in this series, but you can see the benefit of being able to use this skill to communicate more effectively and strengthen the bond you have with your customers more and more with every interaction, whether it starts out good or bad.

So, now that we’ve defined sales storytelling and why it matters, are you ready to dig in and discover what it takes to be a great storyteller?  Join me on February 18th for part two of the sales storyteller series on the basic elements of a good story.

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