Scott H Young

Better Conversations: Collecting Life Stories


Storytelling is a big part of having interesting conversations. It’s always nice to have a healthy background of personal anecdotes and interesting quips to keep any interaction flowing. Collecting life stories also makes you a more interesting person. Interesting people often aren’t unusual in their lives, but they have unusual stories to tell.

Some people have a knack for storytelling. I have had friends and relatives that can easily weave a personal story into a conversation. Although some of this is simple communication skills, I believe great storytellers know how to frame their experiences as stories. Formatting experiences in their head as stories they can easily recall them when the situation suits it.

Stories Communicate Personal Experiences

The reason I believe some people are great storytellers is because they intend to communicate their life later. Stories are one of the best methods of transferring an experience from one person to another. By starting with the intention to share experiences, these people can easily recall them later as stories.

After seeing many people who are great at weaving a tale into the conversation, I started working on this myself about a year ago. I’ve found that the first half to becoming a great story teller is simply to approach all experiences in your life as if they were meant to be shared later.

But I Don’t Have Interesting Stories!

I think there is a myth that in order for a story to be worth telling it needs to be an epic tale or fascinating discover. Even mundane stories can be made interesting providing they have a small twist and you tell them properly.

Confident people tend to be better storytellers simply because they view their life as worth sharing. Everyone has interesting stories, the key is just to know how to bring them out.

Refining Stories

Comedians often need to practice a routine dozens of times before they work out the timing. I’ve found there is a similar process turning events into stories. Each telling of the story helps you cut out the parts people find boring and helps you to remember it more strongly later.

I don’t think you should see conversations as a performance. Telling great stories has to be a personal desire to communicate your life, not an effort to appeal to others. Otherwise your efforts will only be seen as an attempt to boast or please.

However, if you do have an interesting experience, turning it into a story doesn’t take a lot of work. With a little practice almost anyone can be a decent storyteller. Collecting life stories doesn’t need to be difficult.

Tips for Turning Events into Conversational Fodder

Here are some ideas I’ve found helpful when trying to transform a personal event into an interesting story:

1) Find Your Introduction

Conversations flow. Telling a story about a concert you went to when everyone else is talking about sports would be out of sync. Paying attention to the current flow of the conversation can help you link in different experiences you’ve had as stories.

With good stories you need to tag specific stories in your head with certain conversational markers. This means that when someone brings up a topic, you are reminded of stories you’ve had that fit into those themes. The next time you are in a conversation, try to relate what the other person is saying to personal experiences. You will probably be reminded of events in your life that may or may not be converted into stories already.

2) Hook Into It

Once you’ve located some events in your life that match up with the conversation, the next step is to hook them onto the conversation. “That reminds me of when…” is a good hook to tell a story.

If the story is interesting enough it doesn’t require as much flow in the conversation. You can interrupt a topic with something else if it catches attention or is recent. “I just heard the funniest story…” or, “you’ll never guess what happened to me today.” don’t require as much flow.

3) Get Right to the Point

The hook should also draw attention to your story. When I’m writing an article I spend a lot of time fiddling with the headline so it will both attract attention and convey the content of the post. The same is true of your stories. You should begin with an introduction that informs everyone of why they should pay attention to your story.

However, it is easy to go overboard and then not deliver. When I was in charge of membership for my Toastmasters club I gave the same story about my first visit to Toastmasters a couple of times. Starting with, “I can remember my first visit to Toastmasters,” might not sound dramatic, but it served the point.

A mild introduction with a story that over-delivers works far better than a flashy headline with a boring story. I’ve noticed this is true in writing as well, if the headline is worded strongly, I need to over-deliver or people will leave feeling cheated.

4) Cut Out the Fat

At this point you need to start telling the story. Unless you’ve had a lot of practice telling stories, it can take a couple times before you refine an experience into an anecdote. Remove anything that isn’t necessary to understand the interesting parts. A fascinating thirty second anecdote becomes a boring tale when drawn on to six minutes.

5) Finish With a Bang

Your story should end with the most interesting piece of information. The punch-line of a joke makes the set-up worth listening too. Ending with a critical part of the story ensures you make an impact.


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5 Responses to “Better Conversations: Collecting Life Stories”

  1. conrad says:

    very nice article.
    Can you suggest some exercises to become a better storyteller?
    again thanks!

  2. Hey those are some really good tips!
    That should actually help me a lot with my new blog.

  3. Michelle says:

    My partner is a great storyteller and I would like to become better at it… I think you’ve uncovered important information including “the first half to becoming a great story teller is simply to approach all experiences in your life as if they were meant to be shared later.”

    Thanks!

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