The Fastest Way to Improve Your Story Skills


Take a moment to think about the most recent story you repeated, having heard someone else tell it. It may have been an anecdote you heard on the radio on your way to work, or watched a celebrity share with a talk show host last night, or perhaps it was a compelling or humorous tale offered to you by a friend or family member this past weekend. Perhaps it was a story a customer shared about their delightful experience with your product or service, or a story about one of your staff thoroughly engaging a customer.

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. If you were to write it out, it would fit on one typewritten, single-spaced page.
  • There is a clear beginning, middle, and end, and an uncomplicated plot, which assisted you in remembering and retelling the story. You can retell it in your own words.
  • It contained emotion. It didn’t just tell you about a person or an event, it helped you feel it as well.

These elements: brevity, clarity, narrative arc, and emotion are some of the most common — and most important — attributes to memorable, repeatable stories that engage people.

If we think of a story as simply the recounting of something happening to someone or something, you recognize you are probably hearing many stories every day. All the stories you hear are potentially repeatable, but which ones are you actually repeating?

You can vastly improve your story skills simply by sharing stories. The more stories you share, and the more attention you pay to why and how you are sharing them, the faster you will improve your story skills.

Ask yourself, what makes a particular story worthy of being repeated and what makes it easily repeatable? To whom are you repeating the story? How does it make you, and your listeners, feel?

Are you passionate about the story you are sharing? Does it touch on something you care deeply about, or are intrigued by, or find interesting or awe-inspiring? (The New York Times offers fascinating research that the most-shared articles from their web site are awe-inspiring, and that readers are seeking “emotional communion” with those with whom they share.)

Most likely, the stories you are repeating are far from perfect, Hollywood-style gems of storytelling. The stories you are repeating do not require an exact recounting of facts and details; they allow ample room for your agility and passion to shine through. When people share stories face-to-face, the perfect is indeed the enemy of true delight and engagement.

The fastest way to improve your story skills is to be reflective about the stories you are sharing. Notice the simplicity, clarity, plot, and emotion in the stories you are sharing.

Thaler Pekar & Partners is internationally-recognized for its deep expertise in narrative, story, and communication. Both the BBC and the Smithsonian Institution have hailed the founder, Thaler Pekar, as one of the world’s leading experts on institutional storytelling.

For 14 years, the team at Thaler Pekar & Partners has advised visionaries on being understood and influential. Our trademarked communication processes — Heart, Head, & Hand®, Engagement Equation® and Invitational Incline® — provide leaders with the confidence to speak, listen, and be heard, and sustain them in offering effective motivation. As a result, teams are more productive, audiences are more receptive, and visibility increases.

Our award-winning work ranges from gathering 178 oral histories across four continents and six countries for Chuck Feeney’s The Atlantic Philanthropies; to finding and refining stories about integrity for Novartis senior leadership; to coaching a mainstage TED Talker; and to developing a communication and story skills academy for L’Oreál International Educators and Customer Representatives.