When it comes to storytelling, you want to captivate your audience at every stage; hook them in, tantalise them with the details and have blown them away by the end, making sure they always remember you.
1. Create Some Conflict
Conflict is a story’s beating heart. Don’t believe me? Have you ever listened to a story where everything is going well at every stage, that then finishes with a happy ending? How do you think you would react? You might feel pleased with the result – but will it have sustained your interest throughout?
There’s a reason that stories are never told this way.
Any great story needs conflict – it helps the audience feel that the happy ending has been earned.
A great example of this is the story of Aron Ralston. You may not have heard of him – but you will have heard his story, made famous around the world with the hit film ‘127 Hours’.
Aron had been climbing in Utah for around six days, by himself, when disaster struck – a boulder fell on his arm, trapping him with limited supplies, no phone, and worst of all – nobody knew where he was.
With every detail in this story, the tension builds. The audience is spellbound, on the edge of their seats, wondering – is he going to make it?
He managed to keep himself alive with sheer willpower, eventually being forced to cut off his trapped arm with the small knife he had in his backpack to escape his fate.
You may not have an example quite this extreme – but you can replicate the effect that this story has.
Ensure there is conflict when you are telling a story – your audience will become invested in the outcome, and you will have their attention from your first word to your very last.
2. Present a Crossroads
In the hit movie ‘The Matrix’, the title character Neo is presented with the opportunity to take either the red pill, or the blue pill. If he takes the red pill, he will learn an undeniable new truth about the reality he lives in – a truth that would change everything. Or he can take the blue pill – the safe option, where he continues with life as normal, in ignorance of how things really are.
Hearing this dilemma, the audience automatically thinks – What would I do?
Try to always help your audience put themselves in your shoes when telling a story.
Describe a difficult decision that needs to be made in the context of your story. Explore the benefits and drawbacks of each path that can be taken at the crossroads – and hint at the outcome for each choice.
The more your audience are thinking about how they would act, the more invested they become in what happens next. So, think about creating a crossroads in your next story – it will make your audience listen even more closely.
3. Bring your Characters to life
Believable – and therefore relatable – characters are critical to in compelling storytelling.
Include as much detail as you can to really bring each character in your story to life. What do they look like? What are their hopes and dreams – and what are their fears?
Once your character is believable, they can become incredibly powerful – as the audience will see themselves reflected in your character.
In my award-winning Toastmasters International competition speech, I include the world-famous writer, Maya Angelou, as one of my key characters. You see, Maya Angelou had an incredibly difficult childhood – which resulted in her not speaking for five years.
Now, there is no doubt that she faced a terrible situation. But within this trauma, Maya Angelou found her greatest gift – her ability to write. And when asked about this time of her life, she said something that all of us can relate to:
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
In this one sentence, Maya’s wisdom and authority as a relatable character becomes clear to the audience.
Now, you may not have experienced the same kind of trauma as Maya Angelou. But – the wisdom that she provides can be applied to the struggles and challenges that anyone can face in their life.
Create vivid characters who can have this kind of influence – it will bring your storytelling to life in a whole new way.
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