5 Tips that Will Make You a Better Storyteller

Story and webinar originally produced and published by IDEO U:



After an epic two-year journey that included sailing through the Panama Canal, around the Caribbean, and crossing the Atlantic during hurricane season with her husband and 10-year-old son, Jen Massaro had a story to share. But she struggled to tell it in a way that was meaningful for her friends and colleagues. Through the process of refining her story, Jen gained a deeper understanding of what matters most in storytelling.

As a student in Storytelling for InfluenceJen used the feedback from her peers and coaches to shape her story and develop her central idea. She pushed herself to be vulnerable (even when it felt uncomfortable) and to empathize with her audience and created a story that led her to the TEDx stage.

Jen’s 5 Tips for Storytellers

1. Determine the Big Idea

What’s the singular focus of your story—the big idea? What do you want your audience to remember? If you deliver your story to different audiences, your big idea may have numerous offshoots and variations within one central story. Lesson one in our Storytelling for Influence course is all about developing the blueprint of your story and guiding you through how to determine your big idea.

2. Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

What’s the difference between dangerous and uncomfortable? Jen began to challenge her audience. If I could face this tremendous fear I had of sailing across the Atlantic, what are you afraid of and how can you confront that fear? Whether it’s public speaking, asking for a raise, asking someone on a date—is your fear dangerous or just uncomfortable? If it’s just uncomfortable, start pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. And get comfortable talking about your challenges. Challenges are an essential part of every great story.

3. Become a Sculptor

Honing your story is a process of editing; you’re constantly taking away pieces. When preparing for their TED Talk, Jen and her husband had to continually cut to ensure they were laser focused on their central theme. As IDEO storyteller Neil Stevenson says, “Storytelling is like sculpting, where you carve away to reveal something beautiful.”

4. Empathize with Your Audience

When Jen first started sharing her story, it felt a little shallow. She realized the story was too much about her and needed to be something people could relate to. She started honing in on her fear and realized everyone has something they’re afraid of. For Jen, allowing herself to be vulnerable and share how terrifying this experience was for her opened up her story in a way that resonated with people. All stories must have some tension or drama.

Often when we tell our own story, we think of ourselves as the center of the story or universe. How do we make the story about the experience and the characters and set our role as the narrator orbiting around that experience? How can people learn from the troubles we endured?

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

Jen equates storytelling to a muscle that needs continuous exercise. “I need to always learn. We’re never done. One discovery I’ve made along the way telling my story is that I have more to learn even as a storyteller.”