Once upon a time – well a month ago – I attended an open-mic storytelling event and was reminded of the staying power stories possess, the vivid imagery they can create, and how much fun they can be to listen to. We heard five stories that night and I had five unique experiences – the first story informed me, the second deeply moved me, the third motivated me, I laughed hysterically at the fourth, and was reminded of how fortunate I am by the last. That is a lot in the span of 90 minutes or so. And what is more – I remember all five stories clearly – I can see all five of them as mini-movies in my mind right now – weeks later. And that speaks to the power of stories for trainers, those who lead meetings, and – frankly – all of us.
Somewhere around 2005, I bought a book about storytelling. Spine unbroken, it is on the bookshelf beside me right now – but it will be my next read! (Update – I HAVE read it!) The truth is, the idea of telling stories – as opposed to technical content – frightened me and I shied away from reading the book for fear I may actually have to do something with it. Then, in 2011, a storyteller’s gift was bestowed on me – facilitating a six-week program attended by the most challenging group of participants M. Knight Shyamalan could have conjured for my personal horror film. It takes nothing for me to mentally step back into that room, see and hear the individuals, and feel the emotions that ran through me – and there were many. It didn’t seem a gift in the moment. But, while coaching another group in managing difficult behaviors, I saw it for what it was – a great story to tell.
Perhaps the greatest gift of using stories – to enlighten, entertain, educate, and so on – is what they do for you. They allow you to experience life differently. Reading an email in which a colleague enrages you with her characterization of you? Reply with decorum, print it, and share the story in classes related to business writing, conflict resolution, or respect in the workplace. Having a frustrating encounter at a rental car counter? File it away under customer service and feel gratitude for the nugget when you use it to open a meeting with your team going into a hectic time of year. To have stories to tell, you need to pay attention to the stories you are participating in. And that can change how you feel about otherwise negative encounters.
Join the discussion (below) and share your thoughts on storytelling or pose questions you have on structuring effective stories. Maybe tell us a story! Here are a few ideas to inspire you: Where do you get your stories? How do you organize them? What components are critical to an effective story? Which stories are you willing to “lend” to others to use as they collect their own? Who is a storyteller to learn from?
Take inspiration from that list or create your own inspiration, and tell us a story about stories…
In Same Training, Half the Time, Kimberly shares a few stories from her experiences and also talks about the benefits of stories as she addresses how to make the most of requests for time-constrained learning. Her new title, Don't Waste My Time, raises how stories can be leveraged in "bad news" meetings.