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Building Rapport Through Storytelling: The Power of Personal Narrative

Check out the full Building Rapport: Communication Skills to Surpass Small Talk course


Full transcript

This video is an excerpt from my upcoming course building rapport, going beyond small talk with advanced communication skills. If you like what you see in this video, check out the link above to get the course. And you’ll also get the parts that I’ve taken out of this video for the more advanced material.

In this video, we’re going to talk about building rapport through storytelling, the power of the personal narrative. People often shy away from sharing personal stories, especially people who struggle with building rapport. They have a fear of being seen as bragging, or oversharing, or stealing the spotlight. Many of us have been raised to believe that building rapport and connection is based on getting the other person to talk about themselves, which of course doesn’t even make sense, because if everyone’s trying to get the other person to talk about themselves, who’s going to do the talking?

You have to stop seeing the idea of sharing information about yourself is some sort of harmful act that’s unfair on the other person. It’s not selfish to allow someone to get to know you. I mean, how else are they going to get to know you, if you don’t share information about yourself? Just think of the logic of this. As long as you’re using the reciprocation principle to ensure that you’re never oversharing, that this is a balanced conversation or relationship over time, then you’re good to go. You don’t need to have any shame about storytelling.

They tell stories about themselves, you tell stories about yourself. That combined information creates the rapport.

So now that you’re this far along, I want you to start thinking about upgrading your responses to other people from questions or basic reflection or just sharing sort of factual information to storytelling: giving a narrative of events as they occurred, with an emotional background, letting people sort of take a ride along in your life for a brief period of time, get them to come with you on one of your experiences that’s relevant to the conversation.

It’s best not to think of storytelling as stories, these novels, as huge, long winded, epic tales of what happened. I find it’s really easy to think of them just as paragraphs, a few sentences that describe a situation that happened to you or that you’re a part of, an experience that you had, and nothing that needs to take more than a few seconds, maybe a minute tops. As you become better at storytelling, they can become longer and more embellished and more structured, maybe have a few funny bits and punch lines and so on. But you don’t need to worry about that at the start.

So now just think about it like somebody’s getting to travel in time back to an experience that you had and watch it through your explanation, like reading a book, a video walkthrough done with words, and the other person is watching alongside you as you explain what happens. And you also give commentary on the things that somebody wouldn’t be able to see in a video, like the emotional experiences and thoughts and feelings that were happening underneath the story.

What’s more important than just about anything else is keeping your narrative on a straight line. This is about trying to stick to the point of the story, only the details that actually matter for you to understand the end of the story. But what a lot of people do out of fear of being misinterpreted or being boring or whatever, is they add too much detail. They include characters that don’t feature in the story. They include items and objects that aren’t used by the characters in the story. They include all these things that aren’t really relevant. And quite often, they might give a lot of detail, but you don’t really get a sense of what the person went through.

I could spend half an hour telling you what happened on my trip to Thailand without you even knowing how I feel about it. It’s much better if I spent 30 seconds telling you about the emotional roller coaster I went through in Thailand without even telling you what I saw there.

You gotta remember, connections are built on emotions, not facts and figures. If you really want to get in deep with someone, they have to know how you felt as something happened. And the other details really aren’t as important. So keep your narrative on a straight line.

And rather than including lots of detail to try and make sure that they understand, you let them misunderstand you, and you can fix it later. You can think of a story like a first draft, you’ll just tell them the bare basics of what happened and how you felt about it, and if they need more information, or they don’t seem to interpret it accurately, you can give more information, more context, you can help explain it more as needed. And if they don’t need more then you don’t need to explain more.

When you get a really good connection with someone, you might say a single sentence and they’ll just be like, “Oh, I totally get you”, and you don’t need more information. More information will kill it.

It’s amazing how little information is required for a connection. Remember, we can connect with dogs without even using a single word. So don’t get too hyped up on adding heaps of details.

Let me give you an example. I’m going to tell you a story a few different ways, and we’re going to do the wrong ways kind of thing, and then the right way.

So I took my daughter down to the playground. It’s the one down the road away from my house, you go west rather than East. And like we’re walking there, she had to take a little buggy thing with the baby in it, you know, and there’s like, a weird lady on the side when we got there. I was like, What is she doing here? Like, this is a children’s park. Like, Why is she here? And we’re just there to like play on the playground, especially playing the little apparatus thing that Chloe really likes. But you know, like, how to know if I was supposed to take your shoes off or not. But you know, depends really does like sometimes.

That’s a story with too many details. You have no idea what the story is about yet, right? It’s just so confusing. And this is how most people tell stories.

I went to the playground with my daughter, she played on the swings and stuff for a little bit. It was good time.

That’s not enough details. There’s certainly not enough of an emotional narrative. It’s just facts and figures. There’s really nothing in this story.

Chloe and I are going to the park and it’s one of our favorite ones. Lucie and I found it the other day, and we just thought “Man, she should play there more often”. Because you know, sometimes you just got to find a place that the kids really like and it can be really hard, especially in the summer, you know, it gets so hot. And then you know, they’re like you gotta put the sunscreen on. And that makes things way more complicated. And I’ll tell you what, Lucie’s friends actually know a lot of really good places for kids.

So that’s a wandering narrative. I’m not going in a straight line. I’m allowing the story to set up other stories about other stories.

I took Chloe to our favorite playground the other day. Now, there’s a structure there. It’s kind of like almost a circus-like structure of ropes all interlinked. It’s really difficult for climbing. I thought “Man, that is too advanced for Chloe.” I was quite nervous about her getting on it. But I thought, you know, I’ll take a risk. She started climbing around the outside and I was surprised, she’s really good at like balancing on the ropes and everything. And then just out of nowhere, she just shot like a monkey right up to the top. Like I’ve only ever seen five year olds do this. She just zoomed up there and she was like a rooster, just crowing, so proud of herself. And I realized, “Oh my god, she is growing up so fast.” It actually scared me a bit.

That, if I say so myself, is a good story. See how that compares to the previous versions?

Don’t try too hard to have a good climax, to make an epic, interesting story, but have a definite ending. Why are you telling them the story? End on that point. This is what I learned. This is the epic experience. This is how I’m similar to you. This is what’s important to me. There’s some point to the story, and try to get to that as clearly as possible, which is something you learn to do with practice.

The basic structure of a story goes what, why, how.

What happened? Why did that happen? How did it affect me? And practice this with writing, okay, you can practice setting up the little headlines what, why and how, you’re filling out a story, a few sentences for each one, to describe events that you’ve been through, situations you’ve experienced, important scenes that you’ve gone through. And this will help you practice putting that structure in your head. So you can be honest, but also structured and direct.

Now in this video, I’m going to play a little game with you, I’m going to give you some key words that I’ve thought off the top of my head. And every time I give you a key word, I want you to pause the video and try and tell a very short story about that keyword, a true story about yourself. And then unpause and I’ll give you my version just to play this game alongside you. As I record this video, I have not prepared any scripts or anything. I am literally just going to freestyle this, it’s going to be improv.

But it’s just a sense of playing this game where you take a key word and you turn it into a story, and that skill is amazing for conversations. I want you to record yourself if possible, at least the audio of you playing this game and doing the stories, and later on you can write it out in transcribe your recording and improve the story based on the principles we’ve talked about, and sort of hone it. So you start building a little library of good stories about yourself like you’ve cleaned up your memory banks, made them easy to access, made them easy to recall, and therefore making yourself good at storytelling without being scripted just being prepared.

Okay, your first word is sunburn. Pause the video, tell yourself a little story about that record it and then unpause and I’ll give you my version.

This one time I was away camping and I got sunburn on my head. Now what happened is I walked past my friend and he almost spewed up. I asked What’s your problem? He said Dude is that your head, why does your head look like that? And I reached back and my head was all crunchy. And what had happened I’d been wearing this trucker cap and it had like a mesh at the back. What happened was I was wearing this trucker hat and it had like a mesh in the back and the sun had gone through the holes, I didn’t think that could happen. I’ve always got a shaved head. And so my head got cooked like 12 hours long in the day. And it was the worst sunburn I ever had in my life, like I was actually sick from it. And since then, I have been super meticulous about wearing sunscreen.

Okay, here’s your next prompt, almost died. Go ahead, record yourself and then unpause the video.

My friend had begun fishing and we used to take my boat out all the time. Back when we didn’t know much about boats or safety, we went out on this kind of stormy weather and it got really scary and rough. So we tried to take it back in, but we couldn’t get it onto the boat ramp. So I got down into the water to try and sort of help push the boat on, and as I was down there, this big wave just picked the boat up and dropped it right on top of me. And you know it’s not a huge boat but it was big enough to crush me. It pinned me under the water, into the sand. And I might have only been down there for three or four seconds before another wave lifted the boat and I could kind of swim through land to escape. But it was the closest I think I’ve ever come to dying. And what’s amazing is when it happened I was so sure that this was it. I felt the weight on my back. I felt how I couldn’t move at all. And I realized like this is it, I’m gonna drown, and the weirdest thing was it was a completely peaceful moment. There was no panic, no frustration, no fear, no sadness. It was just this acceptance that just went straight through my body, even though I’ve never really thought about dying before that. And I really hope that that’s what happens to me when I really do die.

Okay, here’s the next one, lost. Go ahead and record yourself telling a story and then come back and unpause.

I do this weird thing when I get lost, I move faster. I remember this one time I happened to be in Thailand. I was really drunk. I was by myself, separated from the group and I was trying my trying to find my way back to the hotel. It must have taken a wrong turn. I’m always bad with directions. And I started to realize that I didn’t recognize anything. I’m walking, and everything seems like a long distance when you’re walking and when you’re lost, I get really panicky about having missed out on a shortcut or wasting time. And what happens when I’m like this, is I start running to try and cut down the amount of time it takes me to look down the road and everything. And I think what this does is actually make me even more lost because instead of stopping and thinking and collecting my thoughts, I just kind of panic and double down on my mistakes. And that’s actually a pattern I see in my life, not just when I’m lost physically. When I’m lost mentally, I start rushing, making decisions quickly and usually end up in an even bigger mess. Even though I know I do this, I still keep doing it.

Last one, regret. Tell a quick story about regret. Record yourself then unpause. I’ll give you mine.

You know, it blows my mind the ripple effects a small decision can have. When I first came to the Czech Republic, I knew sort of vaguely that I had about three months on a free visa. And then I had to go to immigration to formally register or something to say, Here I am, sign me up for being a Czech person kind of thing. And I just procrastinated on it, didn’t quite get around to it, kept putting it off. It seemed like this really small decision about this really bureaucratic, small thing. And when I finally got there, which I thought was on the final day of eligibility, I found out I had calculated incorrectly and I was actually a couple of days late. And they said I had to go register with the police station, which I later found out was a trick they were playing on me. They were trying to get me arrested. So they sent me with a big smile down to the police station, they must have made a phone call while I was walking there. And the police were ready with handcuffs, to extradite me, to kick me out of the country. And at the time, my wife had depression. And this is like the last thing she needed. This just broke her. And I had lots of discussion with the police, I at least managed to convince them to allow me to leave on my own. And I ended up having to spend three months living in the UK to kind of pass this time period thing for the visa. And I was basically homeless for three months sleeping on people’s couches and floors and begging. And finally coming back home 3 months later. It took us so long to repair the damage to my business, difficulties to my relationship, just the heartache and the stress we went through, all because I couldn’t be bothered going down to this office this one time. I’ll tell you what, I don’t know if I really learned my lesson. But I really really regret being lazy on that decision. It was so painful, and it could have been so easily avoided.

So that is storytelling.

Now maybe my stories weren’t that great, but they were just off the top of my head. And you get a sense of who I am. If you think through all the stories I’ve told you, look how well you’ve gotten to know me so quickly. I bet you probably wouldn’t have guessed that any of those things have happened to me without me telling you. Who knows what picture forms in your mind of who I am, now that I’m sure you know me a lot better than you did before I told those stories.

I’m not just the guy on Udemy doing a course now, right? I’m the guy who’s had these experiences. And that’s the whole point when it comes to building rapport with storytelling, is you give them little snapshots of your life and they go Oh, wow. And that adds all this rich information that they never would have guessed or thought of.

You’re going to be very one dimensional to them at the beginning. They’re going to just have their assumptions about you and they’re not going to have these spicy little details that you get with stories. Once you start telling stories with people, you become nuanced and complex and they’ll stop judging you and start listening to you because they can never guess what you’re going to say. And that’s the power of storytelling.

Thank you so much for watching this video. If you found it helpful, please get in touch dan@brojo.org We’ll talk about how to advance your communication skills. Cheers.

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