Everything you say can be viewed as storytelling: whether it’s communicating something as mundane as your trip to the grocery store, or conveying your experience of ecstasy while taking Ayahuasca in an Amazonian rainforest—they’re both stories and can be told in a multitude of ways. You can easily imagine how an exceptional speaker could transform their grocery trip into an amusing story, just as you can also imagine how a lesser speaker could fumble over their words as they try to explain the majesty they felt while high on Ayahuasca. And that’s the one thing I want to get across to you in this post: just because you can quickly put one foot in front of the other, it doesn’t mean you have good running form; just because you can vibrate your vocal chords, it doesn’t mean you’re a good singer; and just because you can speak, it doesn’t mean you’re a good storyteller.

The master storytellers of our are time are comedians. When in the presence of the best of them, they can create a hypnotic effect on the audience by carefully regulating their pacing. They utilize certain techniques such as: the dramatic pause, increasing their speed to illustrate excitement, and slowing things down to emphasize something. While comedy shows are planned performances, those same techniques can be used to enhance normal conversation, as well.


How do you know if you're a good storyteller?

Once you become aware of people’s individual speaking styles, it becomes easy to spot the ways in which their pacing affects your ability to pay attention and comprehend them. For example, take the substitute teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He is the very definition of boring because he never varies his pace or tone while speaking. Contrast him with the British comedian Russell Brand, who is as masterful at speaking as say Jimi Hendrix is at guitar. That’s the thing people don’t understand: speaking eloquently so that people want to listen to you is a skill that must be practiced. To believe otherwise—that you’re a naturally good storyteller—likely means you’re succumbing to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to become a better speaker.


Pacing techniques

This is how I taught myself one aspect of pacing. I practiced pausing at different parts in my sentences and studied the effect it had on my conversational partner. Slight variations can imply and impart alternative meaning. Here are some ways to reply to the question: 

How was your weekend?

  • “You know it was pretty good cuz me & Becky danced salsa.”
    • Standard, straightforward pacing with a steady cadence. Nothing special.
  • “You know…it was pretty good cuz me & Becky danced salsa.”
    • Pausing after “you know”—and perhaps looking off in the distance as you wait—implies contemplation and thoughtfulness.
  • “You know it was pretty…good cuz me & Becky danced salsa.”
    • By pausing before “good”, you’re priming the listener to expect an adjective. The tension makes the listener pay attention for its resolution.
  • “You know it was pretty good cuz me & Becky…[makes playful eye contact] danced salsa.”
    • If Becky is a love interest, pausing after her name can create a different kind of suspense—sexual tension.
  • “You know…it was pretty…good cuz…me & Becky…danced salsa.”
    • Pausing can be overdone and in this case you come off as robotic. That’s why I recommend using the pause…sparingly.

Going beyond the dark arts

Pacing also helps you think more clearly and should not solely be categorized as a dark art. Dr. K—a licensed therapist who makes content on YouTube—demonstrates this when speaking to others. He’ll often ask his guest if he can have a second to think to himself. This abrupt change in pacing is beneficial on multiple levels:

  • If the conversation is filled with tension, resetting the pace cools things down.
  • It conveys a sense of wisdom through his composure and restraint.
  • And, it gives Dr. K time to process the conversation—which makes it less likely that he'll contradict himself (and potentially help be LessWrong).

Adopting good pacing makes you a better storyteller, helps organize your thoughts, shows you’re in control of your emotions during a conversation, and heightens your status by appearing more authoritative. The master storytellers already know this—care to join them?

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is math a story?

Depends on the conversation and application. When applied to engineering, math is the language used to solve problems. 

Math is also used, for example, to help explain the principles of physics. And the physical laws help tell the story of our universe.

Anyone else read all the pauses mentioned in the article out loud? I see what the author is saying, when mentioning pauses happening too frequently. However, I have another pro tip. Pausing every other word could be exciting if the speaker does a different tone and a different accent with every change. That’ll truly keep the listener on their toes.