Executive coaching, skills development, training and consulting in high stakes communication

Tell Me A Story

I went to a storytelling festival last weekend.  The tellers and the crowd were as one might expect – devoted, colorful, passionate and from many different walks of life. There were over 300 people in the audience on the first night of a three-day event.

I left the evening feeling both delighted and sad. Delighted because we humans can demonstrate a wonderful capacity for creativity and connection in our communication.  Sad because I was reminded of how difficult it is for most of us to make the time and manage the attention span required for a good old fashioned storytelling experience.  Storytelling is like the marriage of an intimate conversation and theater. In the classical sense, storytelling predates written history and  involves conveying events in words, images, gestures and sounds – primarily as a way to entertain, educate and preserve cultural and moral values.  Not really different from TV and movies today? I would argue that we gain a certain richness of experience, understanding and texture from live storytelling. There is a particular kind of engagement and attention you can get from another human being that another medium can’t deliver.  It is the same with live music or theater.

In business, storytelling is coming back into favor as an alternative to power-point. I don’t see too much storytelling in the leadership ranks of my clients. Most of the time there is a preference for directness and brevity.  I would like to suggest a structure for storytelling in business that may help close the gap between the need for a point and the desire to tell a story.  It is called Event, Point, Relevance.

Event: This is where you tell your story, briefly.

Point:  Now you come quickly to the point, the reason why you have chosen this story.

Relevance: At this stage you tell the listener why this story is relevant to them or the presentation or message you are giving.

I recently had a client who wanted to ad a little ‘spice’ to his usual themed sales presentations.  He decided to tell the story of a 56 year old woman who recently took the longest ever time to swim the English Channel – more than 28 hours. It was a remarkable tale of grit and determination as the tides swept her away from her goal.  She declared, “Time and tide wait for no man…but I wasn’t going to give up” A good story for motivating and encouraging others.

Here’s an example:

(event) A 56 year old mother of three took the longest ever time to swim the English Channel. Some would say her finishing was against the odds.  Particularly as the sun came up she realized the tide had taken her further away from the finish.

(point) Most people thought she wouldn’t finish

(relevance) Big goals are never achieved without strong resolve and vision.  Despite doubts and fears, press ahead and gain rewards.

Perhaps every day in some way each of us can keep the storytelling magic alive by communicating a compelling, creative and passionate message – in the flesh. Try a story to get your message across.

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Comments ( 3 )

  • Phyllis Orzalli says:

    I enjoyed your analogy of telling a story as a way to get your message across. People love hearing stories and with an audience telling them. Stories connect us in a human kind of way. It would be beneficial if we slowed down long enough to listen. Thanks for that reminder.

  • juliet says:

    Thanks Phyllis. I appreciate your comment – and for taking the time to read the blog! 🙂 Improving one’s attention span and having it rewarded with a great story is a powerful combination!

  • Nina Killham says:

    Great blog. I think you’re right about there being an age-old interest in story telling. I can well imagine that the person putting down the power point and leaning forward to say, let me tell you a story, would get a lot more attention!

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