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
address something that applies on to this group...in 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.