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5 Ways to Screw Up on Telling a Story

by | Oct 9, 2018 | 4 comments

Stories make your message stick – whether you are talking to your board, your team, your prospect, your kids, or even people you meet while traveling.

For the last several weeks I’ve been in Norway and Ireland and had the pleasure of visiting with many people during my travels.

My takeaway from these conversations: “you” are NOT good storytellers.

Here are 5 ways to screw up on telling your story(s):

BORING STORY – What makes a story boring? No conflict. If you want to engage your listener, include the stuff that caused problems. Would you go to a movie or read a book that only revealed that Dick and Jane met and then lived happily ever after? Nice chain of events (in fiction-land) AND boring.

CONFUSING STORY – The trick about telling a good story is to include some specific details about the place or people that bring the locale and characters alive. But, ask yourself, is your info pushing your story forward? Are you going off on tangents? Is your added morsel about sales figures from three years ago creating more clarity or confusion?

POINTLESS STORY – Why tell a story that has no relevance to the listener? Is there a moral, learning lesson or value to your story? You don’t have to be preachy, but you do need to provide a reason for your audience to want to hear your story. Our recent blog on a travel nightmare shows how to make a story (with plenty of conflict!) meaningful to all listeners.

ALWAYS THE HERO STORY – You know people who do this! Every story is about themselves and they swagger on and on about their triumphs. OMG. Do not be this person! The best stories are self-deprecating. You can still share your successes but we learn more from your foibles than from your gold medals.

EXAGGERATED STORY – Sometimes it helps to embellish a story! You can tweak your true events to make the characters, conflict and conclusion more relevant. BUT avoid over exaggerations that belie your message. We will figure out that you are beyond reality on the size of your captured fish and then you become discredited.

The best way to practice story telling is with friends. Be aware of when you lose their interest, or they don’t laugh when you think they should, or they don’t “get” what you’re saying. Review this Glossary of Bad Stories and call us to work on this skill set.

Photo ©:  123RF Stock Photo

© Karen Cortell Reisman, M.S., author of 3 books and President of Speak For Yourself®, works with decision makers on how to speak with gravitas. It’s all in how you speak for yourself. Karen also speaks about her cousin, Albert Einstein, in a message about hope, resilience and brassieres.

Read more at www.SpeakForYourself.com/blog.




Karen Cortell Reisman, MS, Executive Communication Author & Speaker


  1. Garry Granger


    Excellent points…all worthy and spot on !!
    Appreciate meeting you today…I’m inspired !!
    Many thanks for your insight….I’ll visit the web site we discussed…and would enjoy attended a meeting with you

    • Karen Cortell Reisman

      Garry – Thanks for your feedback! Let me know when you want to attend a National Speakers Association meeting. Karen

  2. Lois Creamer

    This is terrific. Great reminder that not everyone may hang on our every word of we pay little attention to theirs!

    • Karen Cortell Reisman

      Thanks Lois! You are right… we need to listen to ourselves as we tell stories and be our own best critic. Karen

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