October 20, 2009

Lessons from the Retelling of Stories

Think about the most recent story you repeated, having heard someone else tell. It may have been an anecdote you heard on the radio, or watched a celebrity share with a talk show host, or perhaps it was a compelling or humorous tale offered to you by a friend or family member.

What was it about this story that made you repeat it? I imagine there are several important attributes:
  • The story you repeated is fairly short, probably taking no more than 3 minutes to tell, and most likely taking no more than 90 seconds.
  • There is a clear beginning, middle, and end, which assist you in remembering and retelling the story.
  • It offers some surprise: an unexpected statement or outcome, perhaps, or an unlikely hero.
  • It was personally relevant to you and there’s a reason why the person with whom you shared it would find it interesting.
These elements: brevity, clarity, narrative arc, relevancy, and surprise are some of the most common – and most important – attributes to memorable, repeatable stories that move people to action.

I know you want to get better at sharing stories. Start by paying attention to the attributes of the stories you choose to retell.

I find this to be a more helpful and purposeful piece of advice than to simply think of the stories you have heard or read and liked. By focusing instead on the stories that you hear or read and then remember and share, you hone in on a crucial element of effective communication: your efforts to connect with your listener.

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