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Storytelling for freelancers

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Mankind has engaged in storytelling since days long before the advent of writing. Children learn about the world around them through this particular form of communication, while the elderly can build order in their own personal histories of their lives via this practice. Storytelling is a powerful tool due in large part to its continual use over the vast majority of human history. Its ability to persuade and move individuals and groups, from this stance, grows out of the innate. Through all stages of life, storytelling takes on varying roles in the lives of people in all parts of the world. It is a medium which is endlessly flexible, adaptable, and relevant. How can freelancers and startups within the context of coworking use the principles of storytelling to their advantage?

Once upon a time there was a cool cat who was making a living as a freelance web designer. He lived in one of those big cities where it seemed like every third person was trying to do the same exact thing. Okay, okay, that doesn’t sound like a very good start to a story - but read more to learn about storytelling, improving your skills, and why it’s important.

In the corporate world, storytelling techniques are nothing new. From advertising campaigns to conflict mediation, corporations have successfully employed elements of the story in order to make sure that business runs smoothly and profitably. That being said, it can also be that people who work out of coworking spaces can also adopt some of the elements of stories in order to benefit their work.

Storytelling strengthens bonds

Storytelling in its purest form links children to parents, people to cultures, and ideals to histories. Repetition is often used to forge these bonds. But also important, are elements of suspense and pacing, use of details, and the invocation of sympathetic identification. With such great potentials, it is no wonder that storytelling techniques have already been adapted to many other applications.

Oral storytelling techniques can be especially useful to freelancers and startups. Elements of the story can, for instance, be used in the context of a presentation. Dry facts may hold the truth, but a persuasive story surrounding those facts makes the whole message accessible to wider audience. How often have you sat in on a presentation and experienced boredom? Once an audience or individual feels boredom creeping in, it is all too easy for them to check-out or get distracted.

Boring is forgettable, and with all the hard work that can go into a presentation, that’s the last thing a presenter wants. Elements of the story give a presentation substance. Rather than being flat, a three-dimensionality is achieved. Perhaps the senses are evoked. Imagery is almost painted before the mind’s eye. These give facts a setting to dwell in and can be easily recalled because of an automatic association.

So, What if You Don’t Make Very Many Presentations?

Even if many freelancers don’t find themselves making frequent presentations, oral communication and storytelling are valuable skills in more informal contexts. Sharing your ideas and work with others, networking, and gaining clients all require at least a basic amount of human interaction. Storytelling can help freelancers build a strong image of themselves and their work in the eyes of those around them.

Storytelling in this context does not mean inventing or lying about oneself, rather it means saying what would be said anyway in a more interesting way. Including storytelling elements should, rather than distort truths, show the audience the importance of said truths. Show the person with whom you are speaking why youshouldstand out or why your work is needed. Throw in a personal story, or even re-frame an old fable as your lead up. There’s no need to reinvent yourself; reinvent the way that you talk about yourself instead.

Why Freelancers Can Take to Storytelling Like Fish to Water

The great news is that freelancers are naturally adept in the realm of inventiveness. They are creative problem solvers who are constantly discovering and rediscovering how to make their own ways in the world. They have to form their own work structures, and even when they’re not directly involved in a creative profession, they still exhibit strong traits in ingenuity and bravery. These two qualities are exactly what are needed in order to adopt storytelling successfully into one’s oral communication skills, and luckily so for freelancers. Simply think of the task at hand in these terms: why not try to insert some of that natural creativity into your daily interactions with the people around you? And have fun with it.

Here are a few tips on oral presentation that will help to flesh out the message that you are communicating:

Pacing: Do not rush a story. Think about how quickly the words are leaving your mouth. Sometimes speaking quickly can be useful, but certainly not all the time. Slow and dramatic sentences can also carry a lot of punch. Pacing also refers to the story structure and in which order the components of the story are revealed. This is where elements of suspense can be integrated.

Identification: Using a protagonist allows a person in your audience to identify with the events that are being related. Giving your protagonist flaws makes him or her more human, more real. Giving your protagonist moral accountability also makes them a slightly more tangible figure to look up to.

Details: The small things count. This is where imagery is born. In addition to the visual, think about the other senses and how they may be incorporated into the story in a powerful and meaningful way. Details add flavor and bulk out the structure of a story which would otherwise be little more than a list.

Economy of Means: In contrast to the presence of detail, don’t forget that too much can be too much and not enough can be just the right amount. Think efficiency and the power of simplicity. Most of all, think about striking a balance between having enough details to give flavor, but a solid core to keep your story moving along.

Composition: Much like a painting, a story should have all of the right elements in the right places. Plot, character, conflict, theme, and setting are some of the basic components that make up the basis of a story. Use these in an interesting way to create an emotional connection between your audience and your story.

Applying these principles in action can seem quite challenging. It may feel like there are a lot of ideas that are difficult to synthesize at first, but, as usual, practice makes perfect. Read an article here by Martha Retallick which persuasively presents, in story form, improv as a must-do for freelancers.

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