Improve Your Communication Skills by Using Storytelling and Humor

Using Storytelling and Humor in Effective Communication

Storytelling has a strong history across cultures and time. Historically, storytelling has served a function of allowing one generation to pass down important cultural or familial stories, which often included moral lessons. Storytelling also served to connect individuals in a culture to one another; forming a cohesive bond as a society. A foundation to storytelling involves the universal themes of human nature that emerge as a person shares a story. These universal themes of human nature also allow storytelling to connect individuals in a culture to one another; forming a cohesive bond as a society. Furthermore, storytelling can also bring together individuals of different cultures, as a story can highlight fundamental aspects of being human. In this sense, storytelling can act as a powerful tool in mastering communication in both a professional and a personal setting.

Components of Storytelling

Understanding the components of storytelling can help people develop the skills that can enhance their ability to increase their own likability factor and connect with other people in both the professional and personal world. Storytelling can play a role in connecting with others in both the workplace and in a social setting. Good storytellers often have an innate ability to attract people to listen to them. Even if you are not a natural born storyteller, you can still understand the components of storytelling and use one or a combinations of these to improve your ability to connect with others and develop your likability factor. The following is not an exhaustive list of the components of storytelling, but the most important components that contribute to someone becoming an appealing storyteller.

Knowing Your Audience

The first component to storytelling to consider is who is your audience. Depending on whether you are in the workplace, interviewing for a new job, on a first date, or with lifelong friends, the combination or intensity of storytelling components you use will vary. If you are amongst close friends or family, you most likely are more relaxed, so the types of stories you tell may involve more personal details. However, to hold even your close friends' and family's attentions, it is important to use some of the components of storytelling listed below. No matter your audience, the goal of storytelling is to convey meaning, whether through heartwarming stories or humorous ones. Additionally, the story should serve a purpose for the audience you are with. Typically, in personally setting, stories serve for you to connect with those you love, to enhance the joy and fun being felt in the shared experience. Similarly, in a professional setting, storytelling also acts as a way of connecting with others. However, the connecting serves a purpose of networking or advancing your career. Stories in the workplace should be more filtered than in your personal life, and should be relevant to the person you are connecting with. For example, telling a story in your workplace, often acts as a way for others to see your human side; to learn about your life in a way that enhances your likeability factor.


When a person pictures the best storyteller they have experienced, it most likely involves someone who involves a lot of gestures. Gestures involve body movements, but are typically defined as mostly hand and arm movements. It is important to do a self assessment of yourself as you communicate or tell stories to others. Do you notice your use your hands a lot as you talk? Or are you very still as you? Are there certain topics that evoke more hand gestures out of you as you share this information with others? If so, it often indicates that topic is something you are very passionate about. Typically, the best stories come from pieces of ourselves or our experiences that evoke some passion in us. That being said, even if we are not typically someone who uses many gestures, if it is a story that evokes emotion and passion, most likely you already use gestures and you don't even realize it! There is a possibility if you are working to develop storytelling skills you may use too much gesture, the key is to be natural and not to force movement. Rely on the passion you have for the story you are telling to let your body naturally compliment the words you are saying.

Voice Theatrics

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Using expression in your voice also adds to the ability for you to bring your story alive when telling it to others. Voice theatric involves a variety of changing to your voice. Using intonation to express excitement, disbelief, or wonderment is a great way to keep your audience's attention as you move through the story. Also using voices that are an attempt to mimic characters in your story can add an element of humor and evoke your audience to use their imagination as they go on the journey of your story alongside you.

Sustaining Attention through Questions

It is vital in storytelling that you sustain your audience's attention. The goal is to have the audience engaged in your words and imagining alongside your story. One strategy for increasing audience's engagement, whether one person or a group of people, is to make your story interactive. A great way to do this is to use questions. Often times these questions will be rhetorical, but they cue the person or group to keep their attention on you. For example, you are in the middle of a story and you may sense that your audience is losing interest, asking a rhetorical questions such as, "and you know what happened?" Asking this question with some intonation in your voice changes up the story enough to keep your audience intrigued.

In addition, be overly descriptive in your story. Engaging your audience will involve stimulating their imagination. Take them on a journey, describe the scene; the visuals, any smells, the motion within the scene. Each of these will add engaging elements and keep your audience intrigued.

Being Authentic

Another vital component to storytelling is exhibiting authenticity throughout the entire story. If you are not genuinely into what you are saying, how can you expect your audience to be? Your story should evoke some sort of emotion your audience, and by evoking emotion, it is helpful for you to show some emotion. If you are telling a story of a scary moment you encountered, genuinely conveying the fear you experienced should come across. Or if the story you are recounting is from an adventurous trip you took, demonstrating enthusiasm will make your audience feel like they were with you. Being authentic requires you do not force a story. If someone you are with is telling a story, your reason for then wanting to share your own story should not be to one up that person. The reason for your story should be to share a part of yourself with those around you, whether a personal or professional setting. The difference is the types of stories you tell in either setting. Emotions are universal to human beings, so that no matter your race, ethnicity, or culture expression emotion through storytelling is one of the oldest forms of connecting to other human beings.

Knowing When to Bring Your Story to A Close

Similar to when you read a story, stories shared verbally should also have a beginning, middle, and end. The best storytellers have perfect timing, they sense when their audience is needing the story to wrap up. Many people have met that person who tells a story that never seems to reach its climax, and goes on and on, leaving the audience finding ways to leave the situation. The beginning of a story should be relevant to the people around you; you should have good reason to know your audience will care about what you are about to say. It is also important to assess whether it is an appropriate time for a story. You do not want to get caught up in telling a story right after someone else, this could make it seem like a competition. Instead ask yourself, "Will this story help me connect with these people?" As you begin your story, use gestures and voice intonation to pull in your audience, if they are bored from the start, it will be difficult to keep the story alive. As you move through the middle of your story, highlight the exciting points to the story, remember, emotions are key! You do not need to leave your audience crying, but evoking some level of emotion will leave an impression and that person or group will surely remember you. As you go through the story, multitask by observing your audience's engagement. Do they seem to be looking away more often? Are they no longer nodding along in following your story? Perhaps they are nodding too much, which some people tend to do when they are not listening because they are trying to portray to you that they are listening. The middle of the story should provide the richness of the message or punch line, once that message has been delivered, it's time to close out your story. Closing your story should not be too abrupt, but also should not drag on. Once you have delivered your punch line, and have people at the peak of their emotions or humor, you will want to deliver one or two more statements that close out your story.

Components of humor

Humor is a key ingredient to good story telling, you will be taking your audience on an emotional journey that should have them empathizing with your own emotions, along with evoking laughter. Humor, when used appropriately, is another factor that can greatly increase your like likeability factor. The trick to humor is to learn when and how to use it to your advantageous. This will be different with each conversation you have, depending on the setting and the other person.

Humor is often used as a way to ease tension or anxiety, as it can help to acknowledge a difficult topic in a more lighthearted way. It also simply feels good to laugh. If someone makes your laugh, you most likely are left hoping that you get to see or talk with that person again. However, there is also a balance to using humor. One important skill to develop when using humor is to be able to read or sense the other person's own sense of humor. Some helpful questions to ask yourself in assessing a use of humor; how do I feel right now around this person? Do you notice yourself feeling tightened up or a sense of constricted breathing. Amazingly, your body will know things before your own mind can understand. Pay attention to your own body when you are around a person or engaging in conversation. Are you feeling uptight or do you feel really relaxed? Any bodily information can be a cue about the other person. Unfortunately, our conscious mind sometimes takes some time to catch up to what your biological brain and body are telling us. Trust your body. This is a great cue for using humor. If the other person seems uptight, a bit of humor might relax them and ease the tension you both feel.

A second and very important component to reading the other person when using humor, is to also try to develop a sense of the person's sensitivities. If you have prior knowledge of this person, you may already know they are very sensitive to a certain topic. If it is a new person, you may need try to gather this information in vivo or in the live conversation. Do you notice the person express a lot of emotions of frustration, anger, or sadness over a certain topic? If this is so, it could point to a trigger topic for that person. Identifying the other person's trigger topics are vital in the use of humor because it helps you assess what humor is appropriate. A good rule of thumb is if you catch yourself wondering whether to tell a joke or make light of a situation, then do not say it. It is most likely your biological brain hinting to your conscious self that this is a sensitive topic. Trust that instinct. Especially if you are in a conversation in the workplace as the use of inappropriate humor could offend others and impact your job.

Another good rule of thumb for the use of humor is to use what you have in common with the person as the focus of the humor. If you have it in common with the other person, you have had similar experiences, and you are able to avoid assumptions or stereotyping with your humor. Using what you have in common in a humorous way can bring you closer to the other person and leave a more positive impression.

Combining Humor in Storytelling

As you tell a story, humor can be a huge component to draw in your audience and keep them engaged. Using the above tips for humor, it is a good idea to incorporate some humor in your storytelling. One helpful way to frame the use of humor in storytelling is to focus on what are universal to humans. Human universals are behaviors and emotions that no matter our ethnicity, culture, or background research has shown such behaviors and emotions transcend all humanity. These include emotions of love, care of children, joy, sadness, grief, anger, annoyance, and a long list of other emotions. So in your story use these universal emotions as a way to connect you and the other person or group of people. In using humor, understanding common traditions and ways of life can structure your story. Is there a funny story you have from a holiday that you know others in the conversation will relate to? These sorts of guidelines can help you to practice your use of humor in stories and overall ability to connect to others in conversation.