I heard the pop and immediately fell to the floor, writhing in pain, grasping and signaling desperately at my knee. I knew my soccer career was over.
If I had told you the real fact of the matter — I hurt my knee — would you be as engaged? Why were those first sentences so much more interesting? Because humans are storytelling creatures; our brains are wired to want and need stories.
Storytelling helps our brains make sense of complex information and connect with it emotionally so that it becomes meaningful (and therefore worth remembering).
Most leaders know a story is needed when speaking in front of a crowd or writing a post on social media. What they often don’t realize is that storytelling is actually needed daily, from routine meetings to coffee corner chats with employees. Anytime you want to inspire, influence, motivate or clarify, a story can help.
If you want to succeed in influencing and getting your points understood and supported, you need to be storytelling far more often than you probably are currently. Here are seven tips to make sure your stories grab people’s attention.
1. Stop telling a story and start storytelling.
There is a difference between telling a story and storytelling. Telling a story is something we’ve done daily for most of our lives, and it focuses on conveying facts: all of the standard who, what, when, where, why.
Storytelling is about making an emotionally compelling, memorable and relevant narrative that ties those facts together in an interesting way. Storytelling is meant to give meaning to the audience, revealing to them a new perspective and giving them the drive to think or act in a new way.
The key here: Focus on the audience and what they can be inspired by in your storytelling experience.
2. Be clear about your message.
What is the message you want the audience to take away from listening to your story? Make sure you can describe your message in one short sentence. Then, go back and look at the story you’ve written to determine whether that one message is clear for all audience members. An entertaining story is interesting, but it won’t be useful if people walk away without understanding your message or with mixed messages.
Your story should be clear to your audience so that they could walk away and answer the following three simple questions: What? So what? Now what?
3. Make it personal.
We don’t want you or need you to be perfect. In fact, research shows you’re more likable if you spill coffee on your shirt before you give a presentation because it makes you more relatable. Vulnerability and authenticity are key to making a story interesting and memorable but also key to engaging listeners on your journey.
Follow this basic principle of all good storytelling: Show; don’t tell. If you’re trying to highlight a company value, simply stating the value doesn’t stir any emotion for the audience or inspire them to any action. Showing how you lived the value does all of that (and more). When in doubt, don’t describe facts; show how those facts come to life for you.
4. A story is more interesting when we understand your hard choice.
In a story, there is usually some (moral) choice you can make. When your audience understands how you made your choice, it can inspire them to face their problems, too.
Follow this basic formula: Describe the challenge or dilemma you faced and why you couldn’t ignore it. What choice did you make to resolve the challenge, and how did you decide on that choice? What happened as a result of your choice? What did you learn about yourself from making that choice?
Ideally, your lesson should take you one step closer to understanding and becoming a truer version of yourself.
5. For a good opening, start in the middle of the story.
I went to the supermarket and bought my usual bread, milk, eggs. After that I … Nobody cares. You’ve lost their interest.
I dropped my groceries and watched all 10 eggs shatter as I saw him pull up in that ’91 Ford Mustang of his.
We, the audience, are now dying to know: Who is he? What significance does his car have? How startled must you have been to drop your groceries? Were you startled or scared?
Make the audience puzzle and guess to activate their brains and draw them into the action.
6. Less is more.
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
This is an entire story in only six words. No matter how limited your time is, you can always make sure your words count to tell a story.
Every sentence you add should somehow move the story along or bring a moment of clarity. Every word should do the same. Get rid of unnecessary words and be laser-focused on telling a sharper, crisper, easier-to-follow story that your audience will love.
7. Think of your story as a gift to others.
People are deathly afraid of public speaking because they fear being judged by others. When you are presenting, it’s helpful to realize that the presentation isn’t really about you. You are the hanger on which the clothing hangs, and the center of attention should be the clothing.
The focus of your storytelling is to share an important message so that the audience may also be inspired and make great decisions in their lives. The more you focus on yourself (Am I doing a good job? Do they like me? Have I proven I am very smart?), the less energy you have to focus on delivering an impactful message.
Do a great job with the message, and the rest of those worries will vanish. Remember that the ego should always come second to giving the gift of inspiration.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com