I gave a guest lecture on storytelling and listening yesterday. Here are some notes I wrote in preparation. Maybe they’ll be of use?
I use story as a means of clarifying my thinking. When I am working with clients, it often occurs to me that their greatest setback is not that they lack an interesting or desirable product, but that they do not know what their story is. Many times, when they have a story, it’s not the one that best describes their company and product. It’s difficult to create a clear brand, blog, logo, etc. when the author doesn’t know their story.
To me, storytelling and identity are intrinsically linked, because we package our memories in anecdotes. So, if we have a difficult time telling the story, it may mean that we do not clearly understand the nature of the identity, or essence, at hand, whether that be individually, as a company, an idea, etc.
"Storytelling is essential to human life. Telling stories — arranging the events of our lives into units with beginning, middle, and end so that we can understand them — is the primary way people create meaning for themselves, teach, and learn how to behave, understand their history. Conversation is itself a performance. We manipulate facial expression, gesture, voice tones, body language. We enact different characters. So our ordinary lives empower us “all” to be storytellers, to make that first step toward public performance of self and other characters."
— Jo Radner
"Memory is a poet, not an historian."
— Paul Geraldy
Stories train us to identify the essential and eliminate the rest. They are a filter for getting rid of extraneous details that bog down our messages. Stories teach us to be intentional in our thinking and ask ourselves the question, “what can go?”
ee cummings once said, “like the burlesque comedian, I am abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.”
He knew that precision creates movement, whereas inexactness slows movement. Any good magic trick or comedy act, which have their base in storytelling, are performed with an attention to the details and a close shepherding of the story.
The more we clarify our stories, the easier it is for people to find themselves in them. The easier it becomes to find ourselves.
Stories are malleable. They can change and grow. There is a certain creativity inherent to storytelling that is inspirational. It tells us that, though facts certainly exist, we often mischaracterize stories for facts. When we recognize this, we see the road open up again and invite us to tweak our stories in service of betters ones.
"Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives — the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change — truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts."
— Salman Rushdie, Novelist
Any good story needs a listener.
I believe that the future belongs to listeners. With the overwhelming torrent of information that flows in a single day, it is much-too-easy for our story to fall on deaf ears.
What different ways can we listen through social media?
- listening stations
- Retweeting and ‘giving’ more than ‘getting’
- What else?
Through listening, we have the potential to discover our tribe. For example, that is how I met Michael Margolis. He was obviously tracking tweets that used the hashtag storytelling, so he came across my post on David vs. Goliath and the Art of Storytelling.
A friend of mine once said that digesting content is a process of aggregation, curation, and integration. First, we grab a bunch of data. Then we curate the most interesting stuff. Finally, if we are lucky, we make strides in integrating the information we curate.
We are also able to keep track of how our particular story is being received through listening. If we pay attention to the statistics and, maybe more importantly, the conversation, then we are uniquely equipped to evolve our stories to accommodate our audience.
As you know, social media is not a megaphone. Thought it may seem like it is, at times, the most fruitful exchanges, as in life, will always be the ones where people meaningfully reciprocate.
Through listening, we have a unique opportunity to learn. We can shape our efforts by following and listening to experts who regularly broadcast tools and tips at no cost.
On a less technological note, the exchange between the storyteller and listener is ancient and profoundly human, as we can easily note when we are forced to sit and just take in stories, like StoryCorp. It goes back to the campfire.