Monday, January 27, 2014

The Neverending Stories

Over the past few years, I've encountered numerous articles, blog posts, and editorials which tout the importance of storytelling. I've seen the rising popularity of TED Talks, watched effective short talk formats being embraced at conferences and events, and noticed an uprising of "how-to" books, tutorials, and videos which impart tips for effective storytelling. I admit that I have been smitten by the power of storytelling, and bitten by the art of presentations bug. I am a passionate believer in the power of story.

But just like anything else which has gained currency and popularity, storytelling can be abused and exploited as means for profit. Sometimes I feel that storytelling is one of the latest buzzwords in a corporate context--destined to land in a Bullshit Bingo game square adjacent to "leverage," "think outside the box," and "synergy." Storytelling can also spiral out of control when the message rambles endlessly and pointlessly, or when the messenger adopts the tone of an omnipotent expert. Perhaps storytelling has jumped the shark? Not a chance!

Humans have told stories over many centuries, and will continue to do so even after the media and business sectors move on to the Next Big Thing. Storytelling will always have an important place for strengthening communities and bringing people together. I'm not a fan of those "get rich quick by storytelling" mentality: I prefer honesty, authenticity, and community-building intent behind stories. And I want to learn how I can better share my stories in those manners.

Many of the moving stories that I've heard in recent years resonate with ideas that I feel strong affinity for. At World Domination Summit 2013, Tess Vigeland shared with three thousand strangers how she had immersed herself into a scary place of uncertainty (WDS talk here). Jia Jiang gave the audience hope and levity when he confronted his fear of rejection head-on and embarked on his Rejection Therapy project (WDS talk here). At a recent Lightning Talks event at work, a colleague shared his passion for aiding the less fortunate people in the local community. Another colleague shared her enthusiasm and expertise in winter cycling. These storytellers, whether at national conferences or at a local skunkworks event, exude resonance, hope, insight, inspiration, and call to action (using the aforementioned examples, I have stopped fearing potential changes to my job situation, ceased treating rejections as catastrophes of apocalyptic proportions, raised my awareness for assisting those in need, and started cycling into work during cold-ass weather).

I want to share my stories for same reasons these inspiring storytellers do: to connect with and relate to the audience, to bring people together, to offer hope to others, and to make people laugh. I want to raise awareness that storytellers are not perfect and all-knowing: my life experiences involve acknowledging imperfections, fears, and vulnerabilities, and turning adversities into positive progressions. I want to learn what aspects of storytelling that I can improve upon: connecting with the audience, creating the story arc, and striving for brevity are all areas that I can get better at.

Choosing which stories to share is important. Most of my audience are lifelong learners who embrace possibilities and are actively paving their own roads to awesome. They will resonate more favorably if I share my List of 100 Dreams with them instead of my 99 Problems. I could share stories about my failure to get promoted at my job for the past four years, but I want to instead share stories about how learning new skills and showing enthusiasm for others' projects have led me to establish strong relationships with influential friends and peers. I could bemoan my regret about never hitting a home run during my youth baseball days, but I want to focus on how learning to play seven different positions over that time led me to appreciate flexibility. I could harp on my experiences as a failed twenty-first chair clarinetist in junior high, but instead regale about how I took advantage of an opportunity to switch instruments to make a All-State band twice during high school. I could lament about my aborted one-person synthpop band which disbanded before releasing an album, or count my blessings that my endeavors led me to other musicians whom I have befriended (and subsequently joined their groups).

Choosing which stories to share leads to different outcomes. When I focus on telling stories from a place of misery, misfortune, and scarcity, I attract drama and chase away potentially interesting people. Sharing stories from a place of possibility, authenticity, and abundance leads to encountering many amazing people who eventually invigorate my life. Jonathan Fields' Good Life Project offers this insight: "Life is a story, if you wouldn't read the one you're telling, write a different ending."

1 comment:

  1. Oh yes. You're speaking my language Mo! I live in the Storytelling capital of the world (self proclaimed and justifiably so) and our studio across the street from the International Storytelling Center. It has become quite commercialized over the years...but there is still great power in our stories to connect, illuminate and progress. Thanks for sharing!