How I Tapped Into My Inner Storyteller (And You Can Too!)

by Denise Renee  - April 28, 2024

“Tell me a story.” 

“Huh?” I replied.

“Tell me a story.” He asked in a gentler, quieter tone.

I froze. My eyes widened like a proverbial deer and headlights. My mind scrambled, panicked from dozens of questions that attacked all at once.

What kind of story? For kids? For adults? One that I wrote? But I can’t remember them like that… that’s why they’re on paper! What if he doesn’t like it? Is he still going to like me? 

Then, as if my Macintosh PowerBook 145b accidentally rebooted before I could save my work, my mind went as blank as a fresh document with a blinking cursor.

His voice snapped me back into the moment.

“You are a writer, right?” 

“Yeah.” My voice was sheepish.

“So you should be able to tell me a story. So. Tell me a story.” 

Mischief danced in his voice. We were just having a great moment. Why was he playing with me? Didn’t he know writing stories on paper and telling them out loud were two different disciplines? 

I learned that the hard way in Charles Nero’s rhetoric class the previous year. Weren’t we both two Black kids smart enough to get into this elite New England college?

He spooned his bare chest deeper into my naked back and snuggled his chin onto my shoulder. 

“Tell me a story.” His barely audible whisper tickled my ear. Warmth shot through my body. Melted, I was powerless against the command. I instantly complied.

I can’t remember what tumbled out of my mouth, but it was enough. When I finished a few minutes later, he leaned back, crooked his elbow to rest his chin into his knuckles, and looked at me with a satisfied grin. 

“Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

I yanked the pillow from under him so fast, he didn’t see the whack coming! He laughed and pulled me closer and held me long enough till I couldn’t help but start giggling too.

But telling that story really was hard for me. Because I identified as a writer, not a storyteller.

STORYTELLING: ORAL TRADITION VS WRITTEN DISCIPLINE

It was the early part of 1995, just months before I was set to graduate college. I was 21 years old and had spent the prior 12 years of my life cultivating my passion for reading and creative writing.

I was knee-deep in the struggle to finish up my Honors English thesis project so I could prepare for my defense. My English thesis was a literary analysis of Paule Marshall’s work as a Caribbean-American writer. To reflect my degree’s concentration in creative writing, I was also set to write a suite of stories as my entry point into the canon.

Simultaneously, my other major was Music with a concentration in composition. 

(Are you sensing a theme?) 

For that thesis project, I was composing a suite of original Jazz music and making all the preparations for the required performance concert. 

Let me tell you something: Bates College did not believe in letting you out the door without a requisite doctoral-level styled obstacle course in the last mile to make sure you KNEW that you had earned your degree!

Aah, the self-imposed pressure of it all!

To say I was stressed would be a mild understatement. 

Upon returning to campus that fall, I lost my appetite. I had dropped so much weight by Christmas break, that rumors swirled about me being anorexic. 

It is also the only time in my life I ever suffered an extreme case of writer’s block. I had read countless books over the summer and literally had 80 pages of notes for my thesis. I had started three separate documents on my PowerBook for the final draft, but nothing was coming together in a meaningful way. 

To top it all off, I had barely written word one of my short stories for this project. By early February, the clock was ticking faster and faster as my March jury date loomed.

So I was quite the emotional wreck around the time this (ahem) intimate moment took place with my guy friend. Our undefined “more-than-friends-but-not-officially-dating” relationship was an oasis where I felt like myself. Because the pressure I was under had turned me into a different, very short-tempered person! 

But now here he comes, wrecking my mood by terrorizing me with those four words!

Tell. Me. A. Story.

Only in retrospect did I realize it was his way of trying to help me out of my writing rut, the same way he influenced me to eat.

The only time I went to the cafeteria each day was for dinner because that’s when I caught up with my friends. After two bites of anything, I felt overwhelmingly full. 

(Boy, I really wish I lost my appetite nowadays when I get stressed out! Unfortunately, eating has been my coping mechanism for years!) 

He was the only one who managed to get me to eat a little more. I’ve gotta admit, he was real sneaky about it. He’d come to my room and say he was hungry, then ask me what I had. It was usually ramen noodles or some bread and peanut butter. He’d make whatever it was, take a few bites, and offer me some. Then I would be the one who finished it up. One day he finally admitted his master plan.

“I wasn’t really hungry. I just wanted you to eat something.”

Like I said, our time together had a calming effect on me. Miraculously, my appetite came back on its own in April, once my English thesis was done and my concert was over. By graduation, I had put back on 10 pounds and didn’t look gaunt anymore.

But I didn’t have June 5, 1995 in my sights that moment in February when he asked me to tell him a story. I was worried that my inability to write great stories for my thesis was probably going to keep me from walking!  

And then, his monkey wrench. Tell me a story. To me, telling a story was a whole different ball game than writing one.

I didn’t consider myself an orator. I wasn’t a preacher. I wasn’t a comedian. And I wasn’t an actor. My work lived on the page, where I had time to labor over each word before showing it to anyone. Storytelling is an oral tradition. In my mind, storytellers are naturally gifted masters of spoken art forms.

The disconnect for me was the medium. 

BUT ACTUALLY, I AM A STORYTELLER… AND SO ARE YOU!

Time and experience have shown me that we all tell stories; we just use different mediums and we have varied skill levels. Storytellers are not super special people. 

You and I tell stories to our family and friends every single day. We hook their attention, draw them into the circumstances, and we get an emotional response out of them as a result. That is the essence of storytelling. 

We are baptized in stories as babies. We are encouraged to use our imaginations as toddlers. We get in trouble if we start telling tall tails once we’re school-aged. 

That is just about the time when we are socialized to begin segmenting our lives into different talent, ability, and skill groups. Those who gravitate towards writing, music, art, dance, cinema, and entertainment and who choose to pursue it to the degree of an extreme hobbyist or full-time professional, are labeled “creative.” 

The rest are “outsiders” and believe the lie that interests and disciplines like mathematics, the sciences, medicine, finance, and more are not “creative.” When, in fact, they are. Every discipline tells its’ version of the human story through its’ own lens. 

No matter what you do for a living or as a hobby, you, my friend, are a storyteller too!

BRINGING MY INNER STORYTELLER TO THE SURFACE

I realized in 2023 I was still struggling with my identity as a storyteller.  Last year, my good friend and business buddy, PR strategist, Nina Oglesby began to challenge me to share more of my story and start getting media attention for my business.

The same flight responses kicked in as when my guy friend challenged me 28 years earlier. (There’s a part of me that feels I should be ashamed to say that. But hey… I was always a late bloomer, so taking a long time to come around to an idea, that’s on brand for me!😎) 

I kept saying to her, “I am not a storyteller. I don’t have a story to tell. My story is boring and not interesting.” (At least to me.)

After I said this one time too many for her liking, she went off on me (as only a very good friend can lovingly do when they are calling you out on your mess!). Her words hit home and I had to sit with myself and start looking at myself, my story, and my storytelling abilities differently. 

I had been relegating myself to one storytelling medium: writing. I was also limiting it to one way of expressing it: fiction.  Even worse, I had been beating myself up because I wasn’t even storytelling in my chosen medium as much as I could have been. 

To top it off, I didn’t have anything published in my name (my ghostwriting clients don’t count). Could I honestly call myself a writer or storyteller when I don’t have anything published to prove it? 

(More on that erroneous thinking in a future blog post.)

I had to snap out of it and tell myself it doesn’t matter. Even if I didn’t have a published book, I had clients whose lives and businesses were being changed because I was able to help them with their book projects.

At the end of March 2024, I was contemplating my next batch of short-form video content. I was challenging myself and thinking about how I could make a mundane subject like writing more visually interesting. 

I feel like the internet doesn’t stop scrolling for talking head videos anymore unless it is a celebrity or a particular piece of content that went viral because so many people shared it. We may not stop the scroll for much, but if our friend curated a 60-second experience for us in our DMs, we’ll watch it!

My question to myself was, “How can I make my videos something people would want to share? How do I stand out from the other talking head book-writing coaches out there?

Nina’s words to me last year came flooding back to mind… tell my story! I didn’t put up much resistance at that point because I knew it would be my differentiator. 

The more I open up and share emotional and teachable moments that stand out to me from my seemingly “boring” working-class upbringing story, I know it will be what makes people choose me over the book-writing coach next door.

Then I challenged myself further. What if I made my videos into a visual story so I could break up the monotony of people staring at my face (cute as it may be)?

What if, when I’m writing my blog articles, it’s not just a list of tips and tricks? Teaching content is cool, but people don’t connect with information. They connect with other people. 

I was beginning to see my blog as an opportunity to level up and create a deeper emotional connection with my audience. I know my stories will stick with you because we remember how we feel 100 times more than we remember facts,

Better still, I’ll be displaying my writing style every single week. Who needs a book when you’re publishing every week??

(Ummm, I still do! 🤣But I’ll take the baby steps for now!)

I was beginning to see everything that I do in my life as a function of storytelling. And then, I couldn’t unsee it.

But I did have one more fear hurdle to overcome. 

I started to wonder: is there a limit to how many stories about my life I can tell? It may get boring and repetitive after a while. Can I keep this up?

It was a ridiculous question because the answers immediately presented themselves.

1 – I’m not limited to telling only stories about my life. I can tell my client’s stories and I can borrow other stories (as long as I don’t try to pass it off as my own). The point is, as long as I tell stories as much as I can, I’ll be making emotional connections! A win is a win!

2 – I’m a writer. I know how to show, not tell. I can take any situation and turn it into a vignette, whether that’s for a video, a caption, an audio podcast, or a blog post.

3 – Even if I told my story over and over:

a – There will always be someone new who never heard it before.

b – My die-hard fans won’t mind hearing it again.

Case in point: I love me some Tabatha Brown! I’ve lost count of how many interviews I’ve seen her in. I probably know her story as well as she does! But I’d still watch 5 dozen more interviews with her because she’s going to say something different every time. I’m going to learn another little facet of her. 

And even if I don’t, it’s comforting to see and hear her be consistent. Like rewatching my favorite movie or TV show, I already know what’s going to happen…I just want to relive my wonderful experience with it again and again.

Problem solved! I’ll keep telling as many facets of my story as I can until I can’t anymore.

Over the last two months or so, I’ve been embracing and displaying my inner storyteller in all my content mediums. The types of responses I’ve been getting to my content since implementing these changes are night and day! 

Maybe you’ve noticed this change.

Maybe one of my visually interesting or emotionally vulnerable pieces of content put me on your radar and now you’re here at my blog (where I publish my writing weekly 😎).

Welcome! 

Prepare to be story-fied!

And yes, I just made up that word!!

HOW YOU CAN BRING OUT YOUR INNER STORYTELLER TOO

Now you might be saying the following to yourself:

“But Denise Renee! I can’t do what you do! I don’t have your personality on camera. I don’t even know how to edit videos. And I certainly haven’t been practicing my writing skills for over 40 years like you have!”

You’re right. You can’t do what I do. You’re not me!

But better than being me (because I’m already taken!) is being you!

And that is what tapping into your inner storyteller is all about. 

There’s no need to overcomplicate things. Storytelling is as simple as sharing what happened from beginning to end. Life has its’ own dramas. Your story will naturally have its ups and downs. Drama doesn’t need to be manufactured. 

People just want to know that they can relate to you and that you “get them.”

Your journey starts with asking yourself a simple question: “How can I share more stories in EVERYTHING I do for my business or brand?”

Here are a few answers.

You don’t have to turn a simple email into War and Peace! But if you can throw in a quick personal reference, that can be enough to grab attention and evoke a positive emotion.

Can you “show, don’t tell” more in your social media captions? 

Can you pick b-roll video clips that can convey your message, even if you’re not in the frame?

Because I didn’t consider myself a storyteller for a long time, I can identify with anyone feeling overwhelmed by the tremendous pressure to be this fantastical storytelling marketing machine! Your mission, should you accept it, is to be imbued with magical powers that captivates audiences and can convert that attention into millions in revenue… in a single quarter! 😯

It’s ridiculous, I know! But that pressure is real! I feel like everyone else is doing a way better job at storytelling in their business than I am. And maybe you do too.

“Storytelling” is a marketing buzzword that has been increasing in fervor over the last 10 or so years in business communities.

There is enough to worry about already. Adding one more thing to the proverbial plate that feels foreign and awkward is enough to make you want to pause the ride and get off.

I GET IT!

I hope that by sharing my journey to embracing my inner storyteller, you feel better about yourself. Because if a writer doesn’t feel like a storyteller, who does?

But that was the old me! I’m definitely in my storyteller era now! All it took was a kick in the rear end from a friend and a mindset shift.

If you’re this far down in this post, you and I are now friends! Hopefully, I have given you a few helpful prompts to kickstart your storyteller era too with a few simple ways you can sprinkle more stories into your content and communications. 

It doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t always have to be your story. Just remember: the purpose of stories is to connect with the human on the other side of the device screen.

If you’re writing a book, making an emotional connection with your reader is critical. Whatever the subject matter or book style you’re writing, there is no reason for it to be a bland regurgitation of facts and figures. 

So in this week’s video, I share my tips and suggestions for how to incorporate more storytelling into the book you are writing with the intent of growing your business. 

Watch on YouTube – https://youtu.be/JFnt8ibNx9I

WHY STORYTELLING IS CRITICAL TO GROWING YOUR BUSINESS OR BRAND TODAY

I remember when TiVo first came out and then the cable companies quickly caught up with their version of DVRs in the early 2000s. I’d record my shows and play them back at my leisure, skipping the commercials. But for the shows I loved, I had a different trick for them!

I was addicted to watching 24 starring Kiefer Sutherland live every week. It was Jack Bauer and Chloe for me! But I wouldn’t start watching at 8 pm. I’d go get my snacks and chill through the first two sets of commercials. Then I’d start watching at 8:24 pm because that was enough time for me to fast-forward through the commercials and be caught up to the last segment in real-time.

We’ve certainly come a long way in our ability to ignore advertising messages in the last 24 years! 

(Like what I did there?) 

As consumers, we’re no longer easily moved by persuasive copy and celebrity endorsements. Anything that doesn’t seem authentic or is too sale-y, we’re already swiping away after 1 second. 

But well-told stories stop the scroll. Relatability makes us relax our guard. Storytelling in business is all about being relatable and making a human connection. If a consumer or a buyer does not feel a connection to the brand, and an authentic one at that, that brand is not going to survive for long. 

Here are four quick reasons why storytelling is critical in business today. 

1 – Stories contextualize messaging.

2 – Stories humanize your business.

3 – Stories give people a way to advocate for you by contextualizing who you are and what you do so others can understand and relate to your business.

4 – Stories simplify your message. It can say what a tagline or brand message can’t. Often, business owners struggle with what to say about their business. A story can say it all… and say it more effectively!

Do you like those four points? I can’t take credit for it. This display of brilliance is a contribution from my good friend and PR Strategist Nina Oglesby. Connect with her on Instagram and LinkedIn.

RESOURCES

All in all, I hope this blog post and video encourage you to begin to see your business and book from the standpoint of what story you are telling. 

If you want to dive deeper into how to incorporate storytelling into your branding and marketing, check out some of the resources I have listed for you below. These books are focused on helping you tell the right stories in your business. Find them on your favorite book retailer’s website or audiobook platform. Where available, I’ve provided a link to a video summary of each title.

And let me know in the comments or a social media DM: what you think of how I’ve been using more storytelling to make my blog and video content more engaging?

Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller – (Book Summary – https://youtu.be/FkCMhhJaSSk)

The Stories That Stick by Kindra Hall – (Book Summary – https://youtu.be/bM_AvMheems)

Story or Die by Lisa Cron – (Interview – https://youtu.be/cayaTFHhI1o)

Wired For Story by Lisa Cron – (Book Summary – https://youtu.be/WS1XZfvtZH8)

The Hero by Lee Child

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Denise Renee

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Denise Renee

If it has to do with words plus marketing or branding, Denise Renee probably has experience writing it! Dive deeper into her story from the "About" page. Explore how she can assist you with your book, content, career or personal branding project from the "Home" page.

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