The Secrets to Effective Storytelling

Cory Mazure | 1 Apr, 2023

In the Fall of 2022, I had one of the most memorable experiences of my life. As my time in college came to a close, I was fortunate enough to spend my last semester in Ulm Germany with 3 of my closest friends. Together, we traveled Europe, racking up an ignorant amount of credit card debt and collecting memories along the way. Upon my return to the United States, all of my friends and family were eager to hear about what had occurred while abroad. As I reflected on my time, I started developing a highlight reel of some of the best moments. Every time I attempted to tell these stories, I realized they sounded better in my head than in reality. Sometimes I even lost the interest of the audience completely with my rambling and illogical sequencing of events. I knew that I had interesting stories to tell, but I was struggling with articulating them properly. It was in moments like these where I realized that one of the most important skills I could invest time into was becoming a better storyteller. 


Well it all comes down to the simple truth that our species only survives through communication. We can not do it on our own. For all of human history, we were able to accomplish far greater feats as a group than on our own, which all comes through our abilities to communicate with one another. It is inarguable that communication is required for growth and if you believe otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure. 

Through our life experiences we have learned things which now serve us in living a better life. Holding onto this information for yourself benefits no one. If you know how to package your life experience into an entertaining story, you can benefit others from what you have learned in your short time on this earth. If we want our species to continue to be successful, you must learn from others and for them to learn from you. One of the best ways we learn is through the inclusion of analogies, or stories. Telling great stories really helps you grow and sustain relationships with people as it gives them a window into your perspective and life experience. It helps strengthen bonds by sharing a piece of your personality and making someone feel emotionally connected to you. The more I reflected, the more I realized how universally important it is. 

I knew all of this was true, but what really pushed me over the edge and into taking this concept seriously was when I reflected on the type of impact I want to have. At the end of the day, I intend to be a person who makes a positive influence on others lives through my presence. I would hope that most others would say the same. Surely you would not want to be the type of person who perpetuates suffering through negatively influencing others. If we have this common goal, how do you have it happen? To start, stories are a vehicle to share insights and wisdom with others, and help them see a particular situation from an alternative perspective. In my pursuit of telling better stories, I will cover 5 crucial components of a good story. If you stick around all the way until the end of the article, I will even include a 3 step process I followed to dramatically improve the quality of the stories I tell.

5 Aspects of a Good Story 

There are only 5 pillars of a good story that you need to worry about. Depending on how critically you have thought about this topic, you may have already figured them out. Just because you are aware of their existence, does not mean you are effectively putting them into practice. Here I will give a brief overview of the 5 so you can begin including them in the stories you are inevitably going to tell. 

Experience Matters

The first pillar to consider relates to the type of story you are telling. It must come from your own experience. No one wants to hear you tell someone else's story. The audience is present with you and desires to connect with you. They do not care about someone they may not even know and you will most likely overcomplicate the story by giving too much context to an event you were not even present for. If you want to tell better stories, they have to be based on your authentic experience. You must reflect on what you have done in your life, and what is worth sharing with others. Take a moment to reflect on the best stories you have heard in your life. What would make you trust the person telling the story? If you are the type of person to only tell stories about others, you are going to become perceived as someone boring with no worthy life experience and you will lose trust with others as you never become vulnerable and share what is happening in your personal life. 

What Did You Learn

The second builds off the first. It is best for the lessons you learn to be based upon your own experience. Sure, you can learn a lesson from someone else's story, but do not go around telling that story as your own. Out of all of these 5, this is the most important to me. Reflect on what your purpose of telling the story is. What was the intention I mentioned earlier? That is right, we want others to be positively influenced by our presence. There is no better way to do this than to distill a lesson to them. Surely you have learned from your life and have observed common principles to be true. By organizing the lessons you have learned and relaying them through a story of how you learned them, you will better retain that lesson in your own mind, and now you have the potential of teaching it to others without them having to go through the hardships you have had to experience. You have to be careful not to sound preachy, but there should be an underlying message or morale to your story. You do not have to spell it out in plain english, but the audience will absorb your message if you bring detail to the cause and effect relationships which took place. 

How Did You Feel

If you want to tell better stories, you need your audience to be present with you. You want to pull them into your story through describing the emotions you were feeling. You are taking your audience on a journey through time and for them to effectively learn the lesson you are trying to teach, you must provide them with emotions to hold onto. Describe how you feel and how certain events in the story altered that emotion. By doing so, you are going to hold higher engagement and build a sense of connection with those listening. 

Paint A Better Picture

You might be wondering how to communicate these emotions? There is no better way than through the inclusion of sensory details. You must paint a better picture of the story by talking about what you saw, felt, heard, smelled, or tasted. The sensory details give the audience something to hold onto. They have no idea what your situation was like until you give them triggers that they can relate to. They may have never surfed in the Bahamas but if you describe what the water felt like on your skin they could start to imagine themselves being there. The better you are at articulating what you felt through your senses, the more engaged the audience is going to be with your story. 

Try To Lighten The Mood 

All good story tellers include a hint of humor. Even on serious topics, it is good to lighten the mood with a little joke here and there. Humor is best placed in transitional periods between suspensive events. Pretty much anytime you want to switch up the emotion the audience is feeling you can use humor as a reset. Everyone has the ability to be funny, but if you are struggling try to just make fun of yourself. People will feel more connected to you when you are vulnerable and share your authentic self, not afraid of judgment. When you display you are comfortable making light of your situation or something foolish you have done, it shows others you are mature enough to put your ego aside. Even for stories where you did not make a large mistake, there are ways to lighten the mood and make fun of your reaction to an uncomfortable situation. 

3 Step Process 

Now that we know 5 key principles to include in all of your stories, how do you go about finding out which of yours are the good ones? 


It all starts by documenting a list of stories you want to tell. This is pretty engaging as you get to sort through your memories and try to recall some of the most meaningful aspects of your life. Your future self will thank you immensely if you take the time to critically think and organize a log of your best life experience. Even if you have reservations about storytelling, you can not argue that this practice will benefit you internally by retaining important memories. I myself have put some of my favorite stories into my google drive, but something as simple as a notebook will do. It all depends on your preferred method of organization. All that matters is that you get it out of your head and onto paper. Document as many stories as you can, and begin organizing them into categories based on the lessons that you learned from them. Tying back in key principle number 2, all stories should arise from a lesson. By documenting these stories, it should remind you of what you have learned over your past life. You will find your life to contain far more meaning and purpose if you reflect often on what you have learned, as it will allow for you to appreciate those who have taught you a lesson and prevent you from falling victim to the same mistakes in the future. 


Here comes the difficult part that no one wants to do. If you have succeeded with documenting what stories are worth telling, you are now in the position to apply the 5 key principles to make your story a hit to whomever you decide to tell it to. Although this is one step, there are a few stages within it. As you consider practicing a story for the first time, you must recite it to yourself. Practice out loud, preferably in front of a mirror so you can see your body language. You will have to repeat this process until you feel comfortable the story is roughly structured in your mind. The last thing you want to do is to ruin a good story by telling it in an unorganized manner. Remember, you only get to tell someone the same story once. If you blow it the first time, they are not going to want to hear the 3rd revision of your story which you have now improved. If you understand this, you will accept that work by yourself is a crucial step in this process. Once you have this structure, raise the stakes, but only slightly. Try to do so with an audience you are familiar with. Perhaps a close friend or family member. Essentially someone who you are not trying to make a first impression on. The first time you try anything, you are going to be bad at it. When you commit to practicing in a low stakes environment, you allow yourself to relax and get in the zone when telling your story. As you become more comfortable and have a few practices under your belt for the same story, now it is time to graduate to telling it to someone new. Whether it be on a first date or a coworker, you should now have stories in your arsenal which you can use when the moment is right. You have to feel out the way the conversation is going, but there are always ways of incorporating a good story in these environments. 


As you continue to practice, you are going to be exposed to a lot of valuable data which you must not ignore. This is easily the most important step of the process. Nothing you do up to this point will matter if you never raise your awareness over how others are reacting to your presence. When you are telling a story, you need to make careful observations as to when the audience is intrigued, or bored. As you get better, you can adjust your story in real time by speeding up the boring parts, and drawing out the intriguing ones. If you become a robot where you memorize your entire story and repeat it exactly the same for everyone you meet, you might find it to succeed with some of your audiences, but for the most you are going to lose their attention. Remember, someone is not going to let you tell them the same story twice. Adjust in real time to make that good impression. Reflection can be difficult because you have to admit where you failed. This hurts, but it is necessary for change. If you truly want to get better, you have to put your ego aside and recognize that in the learning stages you are going to have to fall on your face a few times before you are successful. This is true for anything you do, not just telling stories. 

At the very least, this article should have raised your awareness over the importance of possessing the skill of storytelling. If you struggle with storytelling, you are now responsible for going on a personal journey of experimentation. It is very challenging and rewarding to try to document all your stories, but it is a step that will set you up to be prepared when the time comes to impress someone. These are simply the strategies which have worked for myself. If you are serious about improving this skill, try at least the 3 step process. Regardless of what you define as a good story, you must have a log of stories, test them, and reflect on how others react to them before practicing them again. 

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