The Art and Craft of Storytelling

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1 The Art and Craft of Storytelling Let me tell you a story. Stories are the currency of tribal, cultural and religious lore, passed from generation to generation since the early tribes first gathered around the nightly fires. The discovery of fire not only provided warmth and a way to cook food, it also began to form cultural heritage. Storytelling has been the leaders platform for molding and crafting of tribal customs, behaviors and practices and history passed through man thousands of years. Today, from their earliest years, children are told stories, just as you were, by parents and even grandparents. It is one of the early learning tools and often starts with books using simple images and numbers before the child is one year old. Most children love stories. Stories connect them with images, characters, animals, situations. Stories help craft their imagination. They develop contextual emotional responses. They help create memories. They instill a sense of wonder and possibility. The power of stories stays with us as we grow into adulthood and becomes a lifelong force. Books - novels and other literary forms such as biographies, historical writings and others all rely, of course, on stories. Film, theatre, television drama and other mass media are also reliant on storytelling. In each of these, the craft of storytelling is at the core. Without a story, they don t exist. Often the individual storyteller someone like you or me - either as a speaker to hundreds or thousands in the audience or speaker to a smaller audience, a group or even to just one person, can tell powerful stories. One person, telling a story which is authentic, which connects to the audience, even the audience of one, which touches the heart, can create small and even massive change.

2 Stories are told to inspire change all our endeavors: family, sport, religion, education, and of course, business. You are a storyteller. You have the gift of telling stories and impacting on others. I know you do. In the business context, stories can have great effect told on-on-one, to the team or to the entire staff at the annual celebration. They also have impact when told to your customers as suppliers. CEOs, managers, supervisors and team leaders have great potential to motivate their constituents when they tell stories. One simple story in each team meeting is a powerful way of building a sense of community and leading to stronger engagement. Stories about sales success told by one of the team not only encourages and even inspires other team members but they all learn from the story. Leaders sharing stories of behaviors shown by others which demonstrate the values of the organization, stories which relate to the vison of where we re going, stories of where team members or others beyond what s the norm, when the team challenged the status quo, or found a better way, stories of recognition where team members or associates went beyond provide examples which have a powerful effect. Stories can be short one or two minutes or longer. Ideally, the stories should be yours. Talking another person s story and calling it your own is simply not on. There are enough stories in your world that you may see or be a part of every day in your workplace - that you don t need someone else s story. Your story will be much more authentic. In storytelling, authenticity beats presentation every time. So how do you tell great stories? Here are the THREE elements all successful stories. They are must elements of the story: They must be authentic They must be relevant to your audience They must connect with your audience they need to have heart

3 These elements lead to: Individual connection Engagement An emotional response Which leads to. action Before crafting your story, think of the `Big Three I mentioned. How authentic is your story? The key to authenticity is that it s your story. Nine years ago after 12 months of rigorous training, I attempted to scale Mount Everest will have much more authenticity than I heard about the experience of a climber on Mount Everest and I want to tell you about it. Most likely, even if the climber you re talking about was a 75 year old paraplegic, your story told in first person will have more impact. Only when you know who you re telling your story to, can you make it relevant to your audience. Telling a story which has no relevance is simply indulgence. Indulgence on the part of the speaker has no place in storytelling. Relevance is critical. Often, we can tell a story that may not seem to have immediate connection or relevance but the masterful storyteller (like you) can tell a story which draws the audience in but which may seem not to be related to them, and when you reveal the relevance to the audience, then you ll see the lightbulbs light up the room. When you begin crafting your story, think about how your story connects with your audience, the impact that is can have on their heart. The context of the story, the words you use and the way you say them all contribute to the emotional response in your audience. But more about that later. When the story is authentic, when it has relevance and evokes an emotional response, then the story inspires. And with those elements in place the story becomes memorable and you increase the likelihood of action. The important, never-to-be-overlooked aspect of storytelling at this stage of your preparation is : knowing who you re telling the story to. How can you make it relevant, how can you connect to them if you don t first understand who you re telling the story to? You may well have some powerful

4 stories which will leave a big impact in some situations and when told to others the same story will be irrelevant, or of less relevance. So you ve got the overall approach sorted, with the essential elements of the story clear in your mind and you know who you re telling the story to. But what about the structure of the story? Every book you ve ever read, novel and the broader category of non-fiction, every film, television drama and stage play has the same formula or structure: Beginning Middle End The beginning Once upon a time used in children s books and fairy tales still applies in principle. So does the drama : good and evil, struggle against adversity or even the girl meeting her prince. Then the end: And they lived happily. When you think about the story you re going to tell, in those simple terms, it guides you as to what you have to say. The beginning is the set-up. As a speaker, I always begin my keynotes or presentations with what we call a hook. The hook is often something that I say or do that the audience don t expect. I often use a similar approach in telling stories. The purpose of the beginning is to get the attention of your audience, right up front. The beginning sets the scene, it creates, hopefully, a sense of intrigue and interest in the minds of your audience in what s coming. Here are some suggested beginnings for your story: Let me share a story with you. I want you to imagine, right now... What I m about to tell you may surprise you. The opening line, such as those above, indicates to the audience that you re about to tell a story. If your presentation involves more than one story or if you regularly present stories to a group, these words are a cue to indicate to them subtly where you re taking them. They ve heard you use similar words before which were the start of a story.

5 The beginning phase of your story sets the context. It can provide an overview of what the story is about or it can set intrigue and help build expectation. It can also set out the key components of your story. 1. What I m going to share with you today shows the power of effective leadership and how lives can be changed forever as a result of just two leadership behaviors. 2. Today I want to share with you what happens when 3 friends make a commitment to 3 simple changes in their lives. 3. Let me tell you about two people I met 4 years ago. Mark is a senior finance controller. John is a driver. They both work in the same organization. What they have achieved together in 4 years is nothing short of amazing. 4. Let me tell you the story of the new CEO who shook 3,000 hands in her first 4 days on the job. There s two common themes in the beginning of the story. 1. It sets the course of where we re going 2. You show that the basic premise of story is simple: Just 2 leadership behaviors 3 friends simple changes two people I met 4 years ago New CEO, 3,000 handshakes in first 4 days This is a story it s not a PhD dissertation. Of course, you may well have more set-up in the beginning, but again, it s simple. These two leadership behaviors are key elements of The Leadership Challenge and their effectiveness was established over 30 years ago. Then we move to the middle. Here we re taking our audience or readers on a journey. This is where you describe what happened. In storytelling, it s not a straightforward process of describing the sequence of events. That s a process which is or should be confined to police reports. The sequence of events you describe, the words you use and the way you say them all contribute to the audience coming on the journey.

6 In storytelling, incorporate: Word pictures It was as if he was climbing spiral stairs without a handrail. Metaphors It seemed like an eternity waiting for his parachute to open, and he was freefalling, as he waited for the Board s decision Create a sense of drama Her manager told her bluntly Forget it, you ll never get buy-in from management. Include challenges which were overcome. Include roadblocks which may have arisen unexpectedly. Describe how that person may have felt. Include the how of overcoming. Use metaphors and word pictures to show the emotional impact. Look for opportunities to connect what is happening to the real-life situations your audience faces. Connect the emotions the hero may be feeling to those which your audience can directly relate to, in the difficulty that the hero is facing. Include humor, where appropriate. Remember though, you re not a stand-up comic. Storytelling in the workplace is a simple yet powerful way to change behaviors, to remind colleagues of the organizations values, of the importance of delivering great customer service, of sharing when and how colleagues and team members go beyond and also to recognize and celebrate when they do that. Then of course, that all important part of the structure, the end. Please try to avoid: So, OK, that s it. Good story, eh? When you close the story and of course, like all stories, it will have a natural ending make sure that what you say does two things : Bring the story to a close with a statement which in just a few words captures what has happened in your story, the point of the story.

7 Have a call to action. So what sort of changes could you make when you displayed these leadership behaviors in your workplace? If three ordinary friends could make this sort of change that affected the lives of several hundred people, what could you and two of your colleagues do to make a powerful and lasting change? Of course, heart is important in storytelling if you really want to connect with the emotions of the audience and make it inspiring and memorable. The elements I ve mentioned will help achieve that but it s your delivery that makes the difference: Emphasize key words - vocally stress the important words. Pausing is powerful. Pausing allows your audience to reflect on what you ve just said. It also creates a sense of anticipation, or drama, if you like. Telling stories effectively doesn t require theatrics and what we might call a passionate vocal presentation (In theatre performance, we call this over the top.) Often the simplest presentation of the story is the most powerful. And of course, look at those you re telling the story to, make eye contact. So where can you use your influence through storytelling? Any situation where you re speaking or training. Successful professionals use stories in the sales context with clients. Obviously, if you re doing a Ted Talk, that s a great opportunity for storytelling. You can also tell stories over family dinners though I probably wouldn t make it an essential part of the family gathering. ( My dad tells stories at every family dinner! ) The workplace is an ideal environment for storytelling. Stories in the workplace build relationships, they influence, they remind and they motivate. You can encourage team members to share their stories, so that others can learn. Let me give you an example of a simple story that could be told by the manager at, let s say, a weekly team meeting. This story actually happened, of course, although the names and the location have been changed.

8 Before we start the team meeting today, I want to share something with you which absolutely demonstrates how one of this team showed that he lives the values of this company. On Tuesday, Paul took a call on Barry s phone as Barry had left for the day for a meeting with a client. The call was from a client in Chicago who had an urgent need for two of the new widgets. The client had a must-have need the next day. Our deliveries for the next day had been collected an hour before. At this was close to Paul finishing for the day, he decided the best way to ensure that the client got the product tomorrow, was to go to the Postal Service you know the one, two blocks away - and use their overnight express service. He gets to the Postal Service 10 minutes before they closed. Paul, I m sure, was relieved that the parcel would make it to Chicago by tomorrow. But the clerk told him that all express overnight deliveries had been collected from this office 10 minutes ago. Paul couldn t believe what he was hearing. Ten minutes! If only he d left the office 15 minutes earlier. But I ve got to get this to Chicago by tomorrow! Well, said the clerk, there s a public collection bin in Park Street. You can deposit the parcel in the bin before 7pm. Problem solved! I m sure Paul s relief was clear to the clerk as he raced out the door. Paul managed to park his car really close to the bin. The time was now Plenty of time before the 7pm pick-up. He pulled the handle of the parcel chute to put the parcel inside. Then he was confronted with something he didn t expect. The opening of the chute was too small for his parcel to fit in. But the client needed the items tomorrow. Paul knew he had only one choice. The driver collecting the parcels didn t arrive at 7 as scheduled.

9 I m told it was just after 8.30 that the driver arrived in the collection van arrived. Paul explained to the driver that the parcel was too large to fit in the chute of the bin so he d waited to give it directly to the driver as it had to be in Chicago the next day. Yes, the parcel was delivered and I m sure the client is very happy even though he would have no idea what Paul had to do to get the parcel to him. What makes me even happier than the client could ever be, is the commitment by Paul to our customer. This is the sort of thing that clearly demonstrates our values. Our values aren t just words on the plaque in Reception this is how we live and what Paul did is a great example of living our values. Of course, there would be loud applause for Paul. You have the gift of storytelling. All it takes is to follow the guidelines I ve given you and then to practice. You will change lives. And there will be loud applause for you. International Professional Speaker and Facilitator Certified Master The Leadership ChallengeÒ

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