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  • Inside Out Communications Consulting

Business storytelling: how can I perform my story effectively?

Storytelling is a highly effective business communication tool. It allows you to convey emotions to your audience, and gives your messages long-lasting impact. Research also shows that storytelling is more intuitive and trustworthy than data alone.

So you’ve decided you want your next change initiative or digital transformation to be shared with your people through the art of storytelling. You’ve identified your key message and built your story from a personal experience. Now is the time to focus on your performance.

You may have heard that only 7% of communication is verbal. According to Mehrabian’s Communication Model, the remaining 93% of communication is ‘non-verbal’. More specifically, 38% of the interpretation of a message is vocal and 55% visual.

Unfortunately this means that having a well crafted story is not enough to engage your audience and drive your message home. Your story must be told not only through words, but also through your body language, your facial expressions, and your hand gestures.

Here’s how you can ace your storytelling performance whether it’s in person, on a webinar, or in a video message.

Maintain eye contact

Making eye contact is the most crucial way to keep your audience engaged. Not only does sustained eye contact make you feel more confident and act more assertively, your audience will also see you this way. Failing to make eye contact can even make you look less believable and trustworthy.

Another positive to maintaining eye contact is that it allows you to keep your attention on your audience. When your eyes begin to wonder, so does your brain. The same goes for your audience: making eye contact encourages your audience to look back at you, meaning you have their full attention.

Make sure to make eye contact with a number of individuals around the room. Don’t fix your gaze on one side of the audience, or only on the very front seats. When your listeners see you scanning their faces they will feel invited to engage with what you are saying. You may begin to see nodding, or eyebrow raises. These are all good signals to look out for.

If you are recording a video message or telling your story in a webinar, make sure to look directly into the camera and not at yourself in the monitor.

Be animated

Being animated encompasses a number of different body language techniques.

Firstly, use your hands in a purposeful way to emphasise your message. Make these hand gestures descriptive to provide the audience with engaging visuals. For example, if you’re talking about the passage of time you may draw a clock in the air with your pointer finger.

Other effective hand gestures include finger counting, putting your hand to your chest, or simply keeping your arms in front of you and moving with your elbows slightly bent and your hands open.

Another way to look animated and lively is through the use of head motions. Appropriate head nods or shakes enhance communication and can make your audience engage with you by doing the same in return.

Leaning forwards or backwards to emphasise a key point is also effective at maintaining an engaged audience. It can show a connection between yourself and your audience, and a desire to be close not just physically, but ideologically.

Lastly, use facial expressions in purposeful ways to express your emotions. Storytelling is so effective because of the emotional investment of your listeners, so use your face to support that.

Take up space

Whether you’re giving your story to a live audience of employees, or recording a video to be distributed on your company intranet, it is important that you take up space, and make yourself the focal point.

If you’re able to share your story with your people in person, whether you have a physical stage or you’re simply standing at the front of a room, make sure to move about. Take a few steps to the left, and move back to the centre. Then venture to the right, and so on.

A confident posture also changes how people perceive you. Make yourself look bigger by standing with your chest forward and shoulders back. This shows that you are self-assured and believe in what you are saying, and that your people should too.

A strong forward posture also shows that you are composed and poised. These are qualities that people want and need to see in their leaders, making you even more persuasive than storytelling alone.

Consider your tone of voice

The way you speak is just as important as what you’re saying. Make sure that you rehearse your emphasis and intonation to allow your listeners to pick up on your most important points easily, and to avoid a monotonous delivery.

Remember to consider your timing and to include planned pauses to allow your listeners to have brief moments to think about what you’re saying. Another way to engage your audience is using rhetorical, or non-rhetorical, questions.

It’s showtime!

It’s time to think about how you are going to bring your story to life through your performance. The good thing about being an engaging storyteller is that there is no one way to do it. It's important that everything you do feels natural to you. Your audience will be able to see through a facade, or if you feel uncomfortable.

Whatever you do, remember to keep your audience engaged by: maintaining eye contact; using visuals like hand gestures, head motions, and facial expressions; taking up space on stage and maintaining a confident posture; and using a varied tone of voice that keeps your story exciting.

Break a leg!

Need some advice on how to perform your story effectively? We can help by running a storytelling performance workshop for your organisation. Want to find out more? Send us an email or visit our website

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