You tell stories all the time. Here’s how to do it better.

Jul 27, 2021 | Better Writing

We love to tell and listen to stories. Human beings have been doing that since we first crawled out of caves. We use stories to explain to others what happened to us. We use stories to pack a lot of information in a small, easily digestible package. When someone says, “That reminds me of…” or “Let me tell you a story,” we perk up.

Last week, I had a conversation with a friend who’s interested in learning to tell stories better. After our call ended, I realized that he’d told me three or four stories during our hour conversation. Like most of us, he tells stories all the time.

We tell our spouse stories about our day. We tell people how we managed to get that large bandage on our knee. We tell our kids stories about how it was when we were their age. We tell stories about our past life so that people understand us better. We tell stories to show off.

You probably tell stories all day, just like the rest of us. Here’s how to use what you already know to tell those stories better.

Tell Stories that Fit

Make sure your stories fit the audience. Most of the audiences you speak to will be people you know well. Answer the question, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” in your head before you start to tell a story.

Make your story fit the situation. You might have some great stories from your vacation. They would be a perfect fit at an after-hours get-together. But if you’re in the middle of a problem-solving meeting, those same stories will muck up the works.

A friend of mine had a sign across from his desk that read, “Caution. Be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear.” If you follow that advice, you’re more likely to pick stories that fit the audience and the situation. Those are better stories.

Act It Out

Most of the stories you tell friends and family are ones where you have all the details in your head. You can use that detail without sharing it at boring length.

If you’re telling a story in person, act it out as you go. You may naturally do that already. When you talk about someone taking a fall, you’re likely to mime the fall. When you relive the story in your head, you’re more likely to use body language and voice effects that make the story better for your listeners.

If you’re writing, you can’t do that. So, the advice here is “Show, don’t tell.” Don’t say “I got really angry.” Instead, say, “My face got red, and I gritted my teeth until I almost broke them.”

The great thing about stories is that they move reality form inside of your head to inside of someone else’s. That’s more likely to happen the richer the make your descriptions.

Keep Things Moving

Piling on the details can turn a great story into a boring one, so keep things moving. Avoid the phrase “and then,” which doesn’t really contribute to the story. Instead, use “so” or “because” and a description. Don’t just tell me what happened. Tell me why.


You already know how to tell stories.

Use what you already know about telling stories to tell them better.

Be sure your brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear.

Your story should fit the audience and the situation.

Don’t just narrate your story, act it out.

If you’re writing a story, show, don’t tell.

Avoid “and then.” Use “so” or “because” instead.

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