Telling Your Story
Anyone can tell stories.
You don’t need to be a globetrotter, someone with endless trivia at your disposal, or even be comfortable standing in front of large crowds to be a storyteller. No matter where you’re from or what you’ve done, you’re not boring. As Alana Massey writes, you can always “tell an interesting story about something that happened to you.”
Making it interesting is all about how you tell that story. Here are some tips to help you do just that.
Grab attention early
“Parachute in, don’t preamble,” JD Schramm perfectly illustrates for the Harvard Business Review. “The best storytellers draw us immediately into the action. They capture our attention and set the tone for a unique audience experience. Avoid opening with ‘I’d like to tell you a story about a time when I learned…’ Instead, drop us into the action and draw the lesson out later.”
Here it comes. It’s Simon Sinek’s oft-repeated, nearly cliché line because it packs so much truth in a few words: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
Share who you are, what spurs you to create, and why you’re in a position to make this work. People will buy it.
When it comes to the art of storytelling, as Jacqueline Lara writes for 99U, it’s about the human on the other end. “At its core, storytelling is about making an authentic, human connection,” she writes. “When people feel like they’re part of your artistic process, and you’re willing to share a glimpse into your journey, they’ll root for you and support your work.”
Those human connections come from places of honesty, those moments when you share what you hold deep down, whatever it is that makes you create.
Modesty is good - in moderation
No one likes a show-off, but excessive modesty shields your unique value. If you’re trying to sell your artwork, don’t say “I scribble in my spare time.” Call yourself an illustrator and be proud of your accomplishments, whether that might be a magazine feature, a spot in an up-and-coming gallery, or your time spent obsessing over getting that last detail just right.
Sharing your accomplishments also helps develop credibility. Especially when a respected brand, established local company, or known media outlet recognizes your talent, the people who see that will trust your quality of work.
Don’t make the story longer than it needs to be
Sometimes a few well-written words will do.
Know your niche
This is the part of your story that only you can tell, the perspective that’s specific to you. Let’s use this example: There are a lot of companies that want to sell me a watch. If you sell watches because it’s a family tradition, they’re handmade in the USA, and you can teach me all about caring for it so I can pass it on to my kids, then you’ll have my attention.
“Every story should have a moral, but what’s more, it should also have what we in media call ‘service tips.’ These are pearls of wisdom you’ve shared throughout your tale that your readers can apply to their own crafts and careers,” writes Matt McCue for 99U. “You’re mining your own experience for insights others don’t have, and trading that information for the attention of an audience who could benefit from it.”
Be about it
As tempting as it can be to resist labels, most successful artists have a niche, even if it’s based around hard-to-define adjectives like quirky or gritty.
If you don’t know your niche, the best way to find it is to create the work. Don’t talk about it - be about it. What themes do you find yourself exploring? What causes, big or small, matter to you? Over time, these guiding principles will become more clear.
Plus, promoting your values through your work leads to good word of mouth from like-minded people, which is a huge component of expanding your reach. Being transparent about what matters to you gives fans and followers a worthwhile story to share on your behalf.
Honesty really matters, but don’t be self-depricating. You are a human, not a faceless corporation. If you can only make limited quantities of your work because you have to hold down a full-time job to pay the bills, that shouldn’t be a point of embarrassment - good for you for pursuing a passion project in your spare time.
“People aren’t brands,” notes Sheryl Sandberg. “[Products] need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.”
Know where you share
There are obvious places where you might need to share your story: in a short biography section on a website, on an about page for your brand, or in a social media profile, but there are also subtle places to sneak in pieces of your personality. Get creative with product names, titles, descriptions, and packaging. Don’t miss an opportunity to reinforce the elements that make you special.
Don’t forget important details
When selling your work, a sale isn’t over after a customer clicks purchase - instructions, guidance for care, and how to get in touch with questions is just as important as convincing a shopper to click “Add to Cart.” Write about everything that matters, and nothing that doesn’t.
Read a lot
The quickest way to improve your writing is to read every day. You’ll learn weird words that add flavor to your writing, pick up new tricks to make the process more fun, and get a mental break from the constant stream of social media.