I must admit that even 5 or 6 years ago, I thought of storytelling outside kids’ bedtime as a bit wishy washy – a waste of time, even. My eyes (and ears) have been gradually been opened to the power of storytelling and now seems to be coming up everywhere.
This week I joined a free webinar hosted by the Happy Start Up School, aimed at entrepreneurs and change-makers. I’m trying to transform how the conservation community engages the business community, so I thought I might pick up some useful tips to help me with my “pitch”.
The first thing I learned is that the best storytellers are the best listeners, i.e. they’re not just waiting to say “ah yes, that makes me think of the time I blah blah blah…” (Nadine, restrain yourself!) but instead are those who are really listening, ready with questions, trying to get to the real, perhaps hidden, story about what was happening within the person.
When you’re the one sharing a story, it’s about offering a measure of vulnerability. I didn’t take this to mean to overshare and lose all credibility, but to share what is/was really going inside you at the time. i.e. were you anxious? Nervous? Excited? Why?
I saw the benefit of this a few weeks ago, when I managed to secure a coffee meeting with a colleague who is leading a major initiative within our organisation. I surprised myself by blurting out at the coffee machine that I was nervous. Thankfully he didn’t find this odd and actually responded by asking why. That made me feel secure talking about how I felt like this was my one big chance to influence the process and I thought it so important that I didn’t want to fail. He surprised me by in turn saying that he had felt the same when first asked to take on the initiative. I felt instantly at ease and our coffee break went on for nearly two hours!
As our storytelling guru on the webinar Sebas Castro said, sharing vulnerability from an authentic space can help to get rid of hierarchy – it’s a “short cut to connection”.
Some other advice he mentioned includes:
- Always tell your story as if telling it to a friend, even if you’re on stage or on a webinar. (He did this really well himself: on the webinar it felt like he was just having a chat with me… and tons of other change-makers!)
- Share relevant context in terms of situation and emotions early on – but don’t ramble!
- Share how the ordinary situation is actually extraordinary, given the particular context.
- Quit while you’re ahead, to leave your listeners satisfied but curious to take action afterwards (i.e. having given them the ending, but not all the details on how it happened).
Finally, some very powerful advice he shared at the end: when someone tells you a story that resonates with you, let them know. But say more than just thank you: let them know what their story conveyed for you, and give them an email address so they can keep in touch as your story progresses. It’s the “modern, empathetic way of creating connections”. And in this day and age of divide/fears/backlash against the “other” side, the more we can share our stories in a way that can create more meaning and connection with others, the better.