5 surefire ways to tell your story horrendously

These storytelling mistakes will cause your audience to disengage—or never engage in the first place. Here are common blunders that rookies and veterans alike should avoid.

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What are the most common mistakes beginners make?

Following are five that I see over and over again.

1. In trying for shock value, they deprive their listeners of interest. Rookie storytellers want to shock their audiences. Perhaps it’s the fear of losing their audiences, or perhaps it’s a diet of too many long-form TV shows in which the writers introduce surprise after surprise to keep us watching for hours and hours.

Whatever the cause, I see the result all the time—the sudden veer in one direction or another without any preparation. Consider the TV writer who suddenly reveals that a character has been dead for the entire series, or that it was all a dream or the like.

What makes a speech—like a story—interesting over its entire length is the tension between fulfillment of expectation and the twist on convention. In other words, you want to signal where you’re headed so your audience can delight in anticipating it. Deprive them of that pleasure, and they have little reason to hang in there with you for the long haul.

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