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Once Upon A Time...

"Keep reading", said a frustrated eight year old me.

My Mum would always read me a bedtime story when I was little, and invariably she would fall asleep halfway through.

After some considerable prodding from me, eventually, she would finish the story. Clearly, I enjoyed a storytime.

Upon reflection, perhaps storytelling wasn't her forte. 

But perhaps it should have been. You see, people tend to engage and listen a lot more when someone tells them a story.

What is a story?

The art of storytelling has been with us for centuries, from prehistoric times to Icelandic sagas and modern-day Harry Potter. We grow up with stories, often passed down by different generations.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a story as "A description, either true or imagined, of a connected series of events."

Other definitions include an account of imaginary, or real people and events told for entertainment.

Why is storytelling important?

The importance of storytelling is unquestionable.

Stories can influence us and how we think; they inspire us and teach us new things. We can use storytelling to help forge connections between people and ideas. Stories can also evoke emotion and stimulate our brains.

Research shows that stories are easier to remember, and we retain the information for longer than we are bombarded with facts and figures.

Kendall Haven, author of Story Proof and Story Smart, comments:

"Your goal in every communication is to influence your target audience (change their current attitudes, belief, knowledge, and behaviour). Information alone rarely changes any of these. Research confirms that well-designed stories are the most effective vehicle for exerting influence."

Types of Stories

There are 7 types of stories, all with their unique flavours.

1. David versus Goliath

Everyone has heard of David versus Goliath. It's the plucky underdog's story, where a monster is overcome despite the odds stacked in its favour. Many sports movies have this kind of storyline.

2. Rags to Riches

This kind of story is often told by personnel development coaches and motivational speakers. It describes how someone can travel on a journey, from humble beginnings to absolute success.

3. The Quest

Think Lord of the Rings for this type of story. Its premise is the heroes journey is more important than the destination.

4. Voyage and Return

Like the Quest, Voyage and Return involves a journey back to the starting point and how things were before the story started. On a simplistic scale, recycling something is an example of this storyline.

5. Comedy

Humour is often used in stories to engage and entertain simultaneously. We tend to feel much better about ourselves when we laugh. An excellent example is this advert by Metro Trains Melbourne.

We couldn't resist; the tune is so damn catchy!

6. Tragedy

Tragic stories aren't that common; however, they are still worth considering. They can tap into your emotions, making the listener or reader feel sorry for someone. Charities use this type of story to persuade people to donate.

7. Rebirth

This story is essentially a rebrand, combining vulnerability and success in one. Rebirth stories can be very inspiring, showing the listener what is genuinely possible.

Storytelling Tips and Tricks

There are some great storytelling techniques, and we thought we would share our top three.

1. Every story should have a beginning, middle and end. Sounds obvious, but just like a speech, it provides a basic structure. We call this the story arc, and the story needs to transition smoothly between each section.

2. Use the four Ps of storytelling: People, Place, Plot and Purpose. Develop a set of characters and a world around them, create a basic plotline and end with a message or learning.

3. Show instead of tell. Go out of your way to describe the world and characters that make up the story, including their emotions. Instead of saying "He was happy", say "He was filled with joyful exuberance, and could hardly contain himself."

Above all else, practice, and practice some more. Each year, Riverside Communicators holds a storytelling contest in honour of Jean Cooper, a past member no longer with us. Jean loved storytelling, and with enough practice, I hope you will too.

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