7 Tips for Telling Stories on Zoom

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telling stories on zoom
Image on CNN from a Belgium Zoo – https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/30/europe/orangutans-otters-belgium-zoo-scli-intl/

Everyone is Telling Stories Right Now…on Zoom

My team is on daily Zoom calls. My kids are on Zoom calls for school. My wife gathers with a group of women so they can drink wine on Zoom. So why shouldn’t I be telling stories on zoom? Well I am. And you are too. Whether you’re in a meeting or you’re delivering a talk at a virtual conference, there’s power in telling stories for your business.

So here are my seven tips for telling stories on Zoom.

1. You can’t rely on timing / reactions

The first thing you should note is that this isn’t like stand-up. Of course I’ve never done stand-up. But I’ve been on stage a lot, and one of the things you get from that dynamic is feedback. Folks in the front row that you can see. And the expected laughs at the right moments.

Well when you’re telling stories on Zoom everyone is connected via their own internet and that’s not always fast. So if you’re used to quick jokes and comedic timing, you’re going to be disappointed. This isn’t stand up.

What it means is that you have to bring more than fancy timing to connect with your audience and that’s what the next six tips are fore.

2. Bring the energy

You’ve listened to other people tell stories before and when they don’t get the reaction they wanted, they say something like, “I guess you had to be there,” right? Wrong! It’s your job as the one telling the story to bring your audience into it like they’re there. And the best way to do that is to bring the energy.

In other words, you can’t be boring. As you tell your stories, find the main point or the main twist, and build up to it. In music there’s a term called a crescendo – where the volume has been leveling up, bit by bit, until you get to the loudest part. That’s what you need to do with your story. Build up to the main point, the punch line, the twist or the “aha.”

3. Don’t use a script

If you’re like most folks, talking to a camera can feel awkward and intimidating. So you might think, what I really need is a teleprompter. A way to see all my notes so I can read off my talk. But this post isn’t about telling stories on zoom with a teleprompter. And that’s because I don’t recommend it. Then you’re living in a world where there’s an exact word, exact phrase and you have to get it exactly right.

Instead, keep your flow smooth and simple. Like you’re having a conversation with a single person, behind the camera. In fact, you might be tempted to look at your screen where the other participants are. But don’t. Look into the camera. But look past it. Right past it and imagine a friend there. Then talk casually to them. Tell them the story. Maybe even tell them your story.

4. Invite your audience into the story

In the last tip, I started with, “if you’re like most folks,” and that’s a trick I use all the time. It brings an audience into the story, in two different dynamics.

The first thing it’s doing is allowing me to make a prediction. If I’m right, I have them in closer and nodding their heads. The engagement just went up. But you can’t use a prediction if you won’t be right. So you have to be careful – choosing to use this approach only when you know that your audience can connect with your prediction.

The second way this works is if I invite someone to specifically connect with one of the “characters” in my story. So I might be telling a story about an executive making a corporate acquisition decision. “You’ve been there a million times. What do you do? Let me tell you what he did.” That little, “what do you do?” is a way to shift them from audience member watching a movie to participant actively thinking and listening.

When you’re telling stories on Zoom you have to use every trick to drive engagement, so learning how to pull people in is critical.

5. Speaking on Zoom? All you have is your face…

Ok, you also have Zoom backgrounds. But other than these super cool Pixar backgrounds, all you have is your face.

When you’re telling stories on Zoom, your camera is likely focused on you and your face. So make sure that the entire story you’re telling is showing up on your face. Fear. Stress. Joy. Surprise. These are emotions that can be passed on to others without saying the words. They can be displayed on your face. But that means learning to use your face to tell your story.

While we’re talking about what’s being captured on your camera, can we talk about your location and the background (assuming you’re not using a Zoom background). Make sure that you and your face are your focal point. I’m not saying you have to build a custom office for a specialized background. But if you fill your background with tons of Star Trek action figures, you may be inviting your audience to focus elsewhere. So do a quick background check.

6. Connect emotionally

There’s a narrative arc to the story you’re telling. It’s not flat. At least it doesn’t have to be.

Think about it this way – movies don’t always start at the beginning. Consider starting your story in the middle. The reason movie writers shape their story this way is because they want to engage you emotionally.

To connect emotionally is to understand the audience. What do they care about? What stresses them? What delights them? And as you figure that out, and decide which stories you’re telling, then shape the order of your content to deliver the engagement that you want.

Here’s how I think about it – everything is about tension. Am I creating it? Am I resolving it? Am I building loops in triplicate of ever-increasing tension? And is there a final “aha” that resolves it all?

If you’re thinking like this, and asking yourself these questions, then you’re likely going to get the kind of engagement that you want.

7. Explain yourself

If I’ve telling a series of stories, I’m often telling a story that doesn’t immediately appear to be perfectly applicable. The applicability is hidden (it’s my “aha”). So after telling a story or two or tree, it’s time for me to share my main point. When I get ready to do that, I always say the same thing – “Why am I telling you this?”

I do that because mystery drives curiosity, but I don’t want my main point to get lost. So being explicit is often very helpful. Given that I’m telling stories on Zoom, I may not be able to capture the oohs, ahs, and other audible responses. My audience may be muted. So if I can’t hear them, how do I know if they caught what I was tossing their way?

I have to be explicit. “Here’s why I’m telling you these stories.” “If you get nothing else, here’s what I want you to remember.”

What do you do when speaking on Zoom?

Did I miss a tip? Do you do something different when you’re telling stories on Zoom?

Hit me up on Twitter and share your tips.

About Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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