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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Storytellers

by Susan Yurkewicz, Founder and CEO, Harborlily Creative and Debra Thompson,

President, Strategy Solutions

There is a lot of talk these days about storytelling – and many mediums where stories are being

shared: podcasts, blog posts, books, and YouTube videos among others. While it is undoubtedly

important to “tell your story,” it is equally essential to do so effectively. Here are seven “critical

success factors” for impactful storytelling.

1. Know your audience! Who are you telling your story to? This is important knowledge

because information resonates with different age-groups, genders, cultural backgrounds,

belief systems, and a host of other ways that could potentially affect an audience’s

perspective. We often tell our clients that they themselves are not the target market for

their outgoing communications. For example, if an agency is attempting to appeal to a

younger audience, they must use language and visuals that appeal to the audience they

want to attract. The first step is understanding the nature and characteristics of your

audience. Research your group; find out what they are doing and what is important to

them. And once you have your story telling plan, get feedback from people you know

(family, friends, business associates) who are in the target audience to see if the story

actually resonates with them.

2. Always looking for connection. In order for your audience to care, there needs to be a

connection- your WHY. Why are you sharing your story with them? Is your purpose to

educate, entertain, inform? Were you invited to speak to them because of an experience

or expertise? Are you driven by a passion to share this story because of how it can help


3. Identify the content and the potential response. WHAT do you want to convey to your

audience and what do you want to see happen as a result? A story could cause a

paradigm shift, enlightenment, or even grant self-awareness of how someone could

change by reading/listening/reacting to it. Create an outline of important points you’d like

or need to share that leads the audience to the outcome you want. This step is

important to help the story flow make sense and avoid confusion. Is there a call to action

to do something specific as an outcome of learning of your story- i.e. get out and spread

the word to educate others, vote, sign up for your newsletter, hire you? It is important to

be clear about what you want your audience to do after they’ve heard you. Your story

may prompt empathy and compassion; however sharing it was a waste of time if your

goal was to motivate them to action, i.e. sign up for your newsletter or register to vote if

you don’t explicitly say that. Be transparent and clear in what you want your audience to


4. Tell the story in chronological order. Whether you are writing or telling your story,

create a timeline instead of jumping back and forth between the years, days..etc to avoid


5. Be polite and grab attention from the beginning. Inform your audience of who you

are and what you are going to be talking about (within the first ten seconds of speaking

or within the forward if writing). Give them a very brief outline of your talking points so

they know what to expect. Once this is done - drive your WHY home with a personal

story to help engage your audience.

6. If publicly speaking, read the room and stay in the moment. Don’t be afraid to use

humor by reacting to someone or something. This will draw the audience in and let them

know you are truly engaging them, personally and not just reciting a speech. Being in

the moment doesn’t always need to be humorous; if it is an ultra-conservative group not

inclined to laughing (which you learn from your audience research in step 1), you can

address something that applies on to this my wanting to know you better

before I shared my information with you, I noticed XXXXXXX and I was so happy

because I realized we have this in common.

7. Be authentic. Allow the audience to see you are human. This makes you relatable. It is

more important to be yourself than to appear completely polished...remember the WHY

of your story and remind yourself why you are sharing this information. As harsh as it

may sound, it’s not about you! Your purpose in sharing your story should somehow

benefit the lister/reader. This helps take pressure off the storyteller to be perfect. Being

authentic builds connection and can help achieve your desired goal of ENGAGING

YOUR AUDIENCE. If you are telling your story and no one is listening...does that

accomplish your goal?

While these habits in constructing and delivering your message are not the only things to

consider, incorporating them into your planning and preparation can help you be more effective

in your storytelling.


Debra Thompson is a consultant, trainer and peer reviewer for the PA and National Standards for Excellence:® An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector. She served two consecutive terms on the National Standards for Excellence Council, the policy making body that oversees the National Standards for Excellence® Accreditation.

Susan Yurkewicz is the founder and principal of Harbor Lily Creative located in Erie, PA. She is passionate about helping individuals and businesses connect with their audience and communicate with relevance. Susan is an author and speaker on: Family Life, Utilizing Creativity/Talents, and Medical Professional’s Impact on Patient Experience.

#Challenge #BestBusinessPractices #Strategy #Success #Advocate #Marketing #Storytelling

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