The First Rule of Storytelling

5535419_sPeople often look for for simple, quick tips that will help them tell stories well. We all know the value of a story well told. But we are also busy, overcommitted people who don’t always have time to master a new skill or art form. So we look for the quick and easy silver bullet that will give us just the slightest little edge. The time will come – soon, perhaps sometime over the next couple of days – when each of us will see an opportunity to share a story. So we ask, “What’s the one thing to keep in mind that will make my story really work? What’s the one basic rule of storytelling?”

Here’s my first rule: Don’t.

Just. Don’t.

Seriously, think of all the times someone started telling a story and your eyes just glazed over. Actually, you probably don’t remember how often this has happened, because most of the time you just tuned out and started thinking about something else.

Most people suck at telling stories, and most stories are long, rambling and pointless. So don’t tell another one of those.

The next time you find yourself on the verge of telling a story, stop.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s important about this story?
  • Why am I driven to tell it?
  • What do I want this person (audience) to feel and think?

And now the confronting questions:

  • Will this story convey the objectives I want it to?
  • Am I prepared to do this story justice?

If you like your answers to these questions then go ahead. Just know that the first time you tell a story might not be the best.

The obvious corollary to the first rule is, “The shorter the better.” Stick to the main points of interest. And avoid tangents: These are the points of departure at which your listener is most likely to mentally wander off.

Finally, be clear that your stories define you. People will come away from your story feeling like they just got some insight into the kind of person you are. So be aware that your story always conveys something about your nature – even if it is about someone else.


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One Response to The First Rule of Storytelling

  1. Marie Metzger July 1, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    Dear Chuck,

    Whoa! Don’t tell a story! This challenges conventional thinking.

    I didn’t expect this as a first rule.

    I am intrigued – how do I share a story?

    Curious and Speechless in Shanghai

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