A strange thought occurred to me recently.
It’s weird but…I think I might have been the most popular girl in school.
You’d think I would have known that when I was in school, right? But looking back, I don’t think any of us knew what “popular” really meant when we were growing up.
We have this idea that the most popular girl in school is drop-dead gorgeous, wears the best clothes, and has hot guys lobbying to be her boyfriend.
When I was 12, I would have called a girl like that popular. But those so-called popular girls were anything but popular.
The term popular means someone who is regarded favorably, has many friends, and everyone wants them in their lives. Those “popular girls” from my youth actually had only a few friends (or minions or frenemies) and were widely disliked by other kids and teachers.
I, on the other hand, was quite fat in middle school. I wore braces, headgear, and glasses. I also dressed myself in novelty T shirts with dorky sayings on them like, “If you’re trying to drive me crazy, you’re too late!” I was bullied—a lot!
Well, I was extremely popular if we consider the most important factor that determines a kid’s popularity…
I had all the kids in school beat in the number of invitations I got for slumber parties.
Of course, I went to all my friends’ sleepovers, but I also got invites from the nerdy kids, the foreign kids, the troublemaker kids, the “popular girls,” and surprisingly, for boys’ parties. Heck, I even got invitations from my bullies.
What was the deal? What it some kind of joke? Were they only inviting me to get an extra present or to put my bra in the freezer while I was asleep?
Nope. It had gotten around that I was very, very good at telling ghost stories.
The highlight of any slumber party is long after the parents have gone to bed; when the house is silent and everyone’s just a little delirious from too much candy and lack of sleep.
All the kids would sit in a circle in the living room, and someone would bring out a flashlight for added spookiness. A terrifying ghost story would make a slumber party a success no matter how many fights, disagreements, or friend drama happened earlier.
I had a trademark ghost story, but it would actually start much earlier in the night. Soon after all the guests arrived, I would start acting a little bummed out. I would explain that an old friend from 2 towns over had died recently, but I wanted to come to the party anyway so that they could cheer me up.
As the night wore on, we’d laugh and play and no one would remember my bit of sad news. That is, until sometime after midnight when it was time to tell ghost stories.
I would explain how I went to visit my old friend, “Sally,” after many years, and she had been acting really strange…saying things like how there were voices telling her to hurt the people she loved.
My story goes on with more weird occurrences in my friend’s life…some family members getting caught in a burning house…a teacher mysteriously disappearing. The reason I had visited Sally “just 2 days ago” was because she had narrowly escaped death while the rest of her family died after their car drove off a bridge.
“Did you hear about the accident on the news?” I’d ask. Someone would always say they think they did.
So, I’d build up to the part where Sally is recovering in the hospital, and she asked to see me. Sally told me that she was responsible for all the accidents and deaths. The voices in her head told her to do it!
I was about to leave the hospital and let Sally sleep, but she asked me to lean down towards her. As I put my head next to hers, I heard a sinister voice say, “You’re next!” Then, Sally screamed like nothing I had ever heard before…and dropped dead!
dun dun DUN!
I wouldn’t say another word. We’d sit in silence for a few moments, and I’d purposefully look into the eyes of every guest. If someone asked a question, I’d stare off into space like I was listening to something only I could hear.
And that’s how my story would end. It usually resulted in the kids not being able to sleep or not wanting to be alone with me.
I was told by more than one parent that if I ever told a story like that again, I’d never be invited to another slumber party.
But I always was. 🙂
A good story can endear people to you for life. It makes them feel something inside them, and they can connect with you on a deeper, shared level.
And on more than one occasion, a bully became a real friend after I told a juicy story.
How to Tell Better Stories
- Make them personal. When you meet someone new, tell them something about you. Resist the temptation to talk about the weather or the latest celebrity scandal. The lives of real people (including you!) are much more interesting. Break the ice with a story about one of your hobbies or something funny that happened to you. You’ll put everyone at ease, and perhaps your new friend will share a story about herself.
- Take your time. There’s nothing worse than someone rushing through a story because she doesn’t want to bore everyone. I’ve had people tell me a story so quickly that I’ve had to ask them what the punch line was or who was involved because I couldn’t keep up with the lightning fast pace. Good storytellers take their time, insert dramatic pauses, and include little details. In my ghost story, I always mention how pale and transparent Sally’s skin looks as she lies on the hospital bed. People remember the special parts, so don’t rush!
- But not too much time. OK, so there is a limit to how long people will listen to you tell a story. I’m sure we can all relate to being trapped listening to the bore at a dinner party who won’t shut up. A good story has a beginning, middle, and end just like a book or TV show. Think of an interesting story…say, that time your dog caught a squirrel and put it on your pillow or maybe the story of how you met your partner. Take a minute to plot out the 3 most essential parts of the story. Say it a few times aloud until you can tell the whole story (including pauses, details, and important parts) in under 30 seconds.
- Practice. The best thing you can do to become a better storyteller is to share stories often. Practice really makes perfect, so don’t be shy about telling people about your life or interesting stories you hear. You’ll start to relax and find your own storytelling style.
Do you tell good stories?
In the comments below, tell me who’s the best storyteller you know and share your tips for telling an engaging story.
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