Telling Stories that immerse audiences

“When I was growing up, my sister and I would frequently fuss about eating our food. My parents and grandparents would take us to the porch, make us sit on the car bonnet, show us the moon and tell us stories — from the two boys who went out seeking adventures to the pig who got hit by the railwayman, we heard a different story each day. They would hand us toys or objects and we would move it around in the emotion of the story, creating our own play worlds, filled with babbles, movement and emotion. They transported us into another world and my parents achieved their toughest task for the day — getting us to eat!”

We all know the power of a good story. It’s compelling, sticky and moves people to action. We are all collectors of stories in one way or the other. From what we go through to what we observe, there is certainly a story to tell. Whether we are selling products or creating experiences, painting canvases or designing houses, our encounters have the power of become engaging stories. The question is if we are cognizant of these moments as potential stories and if we are finding ways to tell them often.

Being a theater maker and a performer, I’ve discovered a few interesting ways which I believe make stories more engaging and impactful.

  1. Make it personal: When we put ourselves into the story, it makes it more relevant to the listener. We need to believe that people are interested in what we have to say. Even if the story is not directly connected to us, there are ways in which we can bring ourselves in. For example, if you’re narrating a story you read online that has nothing to do with you, consider including elements like “If I were her, I would have” or “I’m hoping I get to do something like that” or “I can’t believe that this could ever happen to me.” Personal stories build great connections and create more reason for the listener to be tuned into what you are saying. Sometimes too much of “I” can also bore the listener and you may come across as a brag. So keep it personal, but remember to not keep it only personal.
  2. Include your thought process: A very compelling aspect of storytelling is to tell your audience what you are thinking about what is being narrated. This automatically creates two voices within the story and makes it more engaging for the audience. For example, if you are narrating the story of the hare and the Tortoise — you could probably include your thought process when the hare decides to take a nap half-way through the race. “Now I’m wondering why the hare is sleeping so long and why no one has woken it up. I mean where are the race officials?” This is also a way in which the audience can get to know you better as an individual.
  3. Keep it short. Keep it crisp: Take the audiences into the action as quickly as you can. Sometimes, people can tune off if they find the story too long. We usually do not get much voice space in conversations and we have to use our time well.
  4. Create suspense mechanics: Ask your audience a couple of questions during the story. Let’s say you’re narrating your experience of visiting a bar the previous night and let’s assume you weren’t allowed inside because the bouncer thought that you were under age. As you begin telling the story, you could start off with “Hey, guess who was not allowed to enter Monkey Bar last night?” Now they obviously know it’s you. So you have to move quick into action and tell them what you did about it. You decided to show them your driver’s license and realized that you left your wallet at home. “So, who do I call for help?” or “do you know how I managed my way through?” could be other hooks that keep that audience in the moment of the story and also creates interaction opportunities for you.
  5. Immersive possibilities: Is there a way you can engage the audience, not just through the voice and your bodily presence? Can you think of how you can bring elements of smell, taste and touch as part of your storytelling? For example, going back to the Monkey Bar story, can you show them something from the previous night? Like a photo on your phone or a tissue paper from the bar? Can you get them to smell your hand which still probably smells of cheese given how strong the flavor was in your pizza? If you are probably describing a crazy incident on the dinner table, is there a way the cutlery can become characters of your story?

These immersive possibilities of storytelling really depend on the story and our creative efforts to tell them differently, but we must try and push ourselves to find more immersive ways to tell our stories. The more immersive your story is, the more retention it has. The more retention it has, the more people will remember to share it at any opportunity.

So pick a story, an event, an experience or anything you came across as interesting and find someone to share it with — In an immersive way.

— Aruna Ganesh Ram (@arunaganeshram) is theater maker, storyteller, and a Corporate facilitator. Passionate about theater & performing arts, Aruna applies both as experiential learning programs with institutions and corporates. She runs a company called Visual Respiration that uses a form called immersive theater to engage the audience. You can check out her personal website — www.arunaganeshram.com