‘Storytelling tips for introverts’ might sound like a weird thing to discuss. However, as someone who bangs on consistently about the power of storytelling for leaders in business, I’m often asked by my more introverted friends and clients about how they can become more comfortable telling stories to increase the reach of their message and their influence. They often say “it’s easy for you Jo, you’re an extrovert.” But the truth is, I don’t see it that way. I don’t think that it naturally goes hand in glove that if you are a particular personality type you are a better or worse storyteller.
You see, I’m actually one of those ‘personality types’ who fall squarely in the middle of the introverted-extroverted spectrum. Most people probably do consider me an extrovert – I’m a party girl, I love being on stage, I talk a lot and I’m not generally awkward with strangers. But there’s also a huge part of me who is introspective, who derives great energy from being alone, and who just doesn’t really like hanging out with people all the time! And for that reason, I have never been truly comfortable with the ‘extrovert’ tag, but also don’t really identify with true introverts.
For the longest time, the ‘ambivert’ was an unknown quantity. The extremes was where it was at. You were either quiet, talked less and liked isolation or small groups of close friends rather than lots of people, therefore was an introvert. Or, you were loud, confident, energetic around large groups of people and loved the limelight so were deemed an extrovert. Thankfully Carl Jung identified a third type – the ambivert – who sits between the two, and who generally has a good balance of both ends of the scale.
In an article I recently read on Inc. com, apparently us ambiverts tend to be more successful and influential than the extroverts, particularly in the sales arena. Ha! Who would have thought! It seems that we’re more intuitive, emotionally stable and influential due to our ability to be flexible and engage in a pattern of both talking and listening. We’re not too excited or over confident, but assertive and persuasive when necessary. Hmm. Food for thought. What do you think?
This information lead me to wonder about what personality type most influential and successful leaders are. And as almost all the great leaders are great storytellers, I wondered then too, how your personality type impacted your storytelling ability.
Storytelling is one of the most important skills you can learn if you are in the business of sharing a message and adding value to the conversations in your industry. For me, I don’t find it too challenging. I love telling stories – mine or other peoples’ – and at almost any opportunity my extrovert energy pops her sequins on and I’m away. However, over the years I have had numerous conversations with those I would consider introverts for whom I know this is one of the hardest things they’ll face in their business. So how do you get over the fear and inhibition and kickstart your storytelling growth if you’re an introvert?
Unfortunately it’s not just as easy as saying “put your big girl pants on and do it.” I know that doesn’t fly with introverts; you’ll probably run for the hills and never speak to me again!! So try these instead.
5 Storytelling tips for introverts
“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” — Leo Tolstoy
1. Experience more things
Think about the last time you heard a fantastic story. Were you at a conference? At a pub? At the dinner table?
What was it about? More often than not it will have been about a particular event the storyteller experienced. And the event was most likely unexpected or bad or super extraordinary. Unusual or negative events tend to make better stories simply because it’s the reaction to these events by the characters which are so interesting. It’s human nature to be intrigued by the bizarre, the thrilling, and when bad stuff happens to others!!! By contrast, have you ever noticed how dull it is when someone responds to your question of ‘how are things?’ with, ‘same shit different day’….?
You don’t have to be doing extraordinary things however, to be able to have something interesting enough happen to you to make a great story. In fact, the best stories are often about seemingly mundane things. The key is that they are not made up, they are genuinely experienced. The more things you experience, the more you are open to the unexpected, the more likely you are going to encounter abnormal and story-worthy events.
2. Observe others
A lot of times, a great story is about something you witness rather than actively partake in. Introverts are great observers; they tend to learn by watching, so use this to your advantage. People are such interesting creatures and they do some of the most bizarre things, particularly when they think they are not being watched. Now, I’m not suggesting you stalk people, or lurk in dark corners, but by being more observant of those around you I guarantee you’ll bear witness to some strange stuff worth spinning a yarn about. By seeing events unfold before your eyes, rather than being actively engaged in the drama, you get a clear picture of what happened and can recall it with greater detail and accuracy.
3. Be open to big emotions
Think about the most memorable story you know. Why was it so great? Chances are it made you feel something. It elicited a big emotion. It made you laugh, cry, get angry, feel uncomfortable. Introverts are keenly self aware. Use your deep self-understanding to know what triggered the emotions and try to replicate this formula in your own storytelling. Engendering an emotion should be the aim of any storyteller.
4. Organise your thoughts in writing
Now that you’ve been involved in or witnessed an interesting event, you have to sort out how to tell the story.
Most introverts are pretty good at sorting out their thoughts in writing, but often struggle with recounting events verbally. So start by jotting everything down – the main events first, the characters, the setting, then add the details. Make the story as visually appealing as possible.
By writing it all down, recalling the fine details and sequences, you’ll cement a strong visual in your mind. It is these visual cues that will help you better tell an impactful story.
5. Tell and refine
Rarely does somebody just wake up and become a great storyteller. Even the extroverts (and ambiverts!) have to practise telling their stories if they want them to have a profound and lasting effect on their audience. By practising, you’ll know what to leave out as much as what to include, and you’ll know how to build momentum to get the most out of your words and your pauses.
I know for a fact that the more I tell particular stories from my past, the more refined my crafting of the language and the pace is. I observe my audience’s reactions – the laughter, the awkwardness, the interest – and I add and subtract from the story accordingly. The reason the stories get better is because it’s not the first time I’m telling them.
Storytelling is a skill. And as it’s a skill it can be learned. Yes, some people seem to have a knack for it, but it shouldn’t be seen as only the domain of the Irish or the extroverts! Introverts can learn – and perfectly execute – this skill too. I hope these storytelling tips for introverts have helped you to see how that’s possible.
Storytelling is a very important part of leadership and ideas dissemination. It’s not simply something people do to pass the time around the campfire. It’s an important mode of delivering value and teaching lessons and should be embraced as a vital part of your communications strategy. And the simple truth is, the more you do it, the better you get at it. A lot of my good stories come from a distant past because I’ve had time to digest their meaning and shape their delivery. But I also tell a lot of stories about things that happened just hours earlier. When you get comfortable with the art of storytelling, it’s the crazy in the everyday moments that actually become the most fun to share.