Do You Tell Stories?

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“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou

For several years I have attended an annual speaker’s workshop in Las Vegas. One of last year’s presenters was Michael Hauge. Michael works with Hollywood Screenwriters to find and tell what is most authentic in every moment of a story. I learned from him.

Do you tell stories? And I don’t mean fictitious tales. If you do, to whom? For what purpose?

Some of you know that I speak in public. As “facts tell but stories sell,” rarely do I speak exclusively about facts. Rather, I stitch them together into stories to provide an interpretation and to point to a larger significance. I do this because, among other commonalities, we are wired for relationship. In order to grow, develop and move closer in connection, we need to gather from one another. And this can be accomplished by simply sharing an insight or experience with other people.

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For much of my adult life I worked in linear environments, settings which dealt in data, lacked color and focused on bottom lines. We didn’t tell stories; we delivered results to stakeholders. We grew business enterprises that did little to build cultural bridges, construct meaning or provide a shared understanding of our lives as knit together in society.

The only emotion we elicited was scorn from investors when goals weren’t met or elation from the same cohort when financial targets were surpassed.

Yet stories with emotion, the kind that bind families, generations and cultures, are key to what profoundly shape civilizations.

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Have you ever paused to consider how your stories might change hearts and minds? An example: The Diary of Anne Frank did more to educate people about Auschwitz than any research on the topic. And it was simply her story. Stories invite participation. When you tell a story, you are essentially creating a framework for the listener, reader or viewer to insert their own details, thereby enabling an active role in the story itself.

Think about this: Identifying common value is attractive, not just for those with whom we want to communicate directly, but also to other listeners we might want to be part of the conversation. And many of us want to be part of some conversation. Right?

The reality is that each of us can be a storyteller. Perhaps you’ve not thought of yourself as one. What might be an insignificant experience to you could serve as a meaningful lesson for others. Yet, how are they going to benefit from said lesson if you aren’t telling your stories?

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Don’t zip it. Share it!Β As an emerging (or growing) storyteller, consider these points:

  1. Have a reason or an objective. It may be to encourage or inspire or cause someone to think differently. Keep the story’s purpose in mind. At the story’s end, reflect on what you shared. And ask if there are questions.
  2. Be imperfect. We are delighted by stories that involve some vulnerability. People want to hear about struggles, and how to overcome them. It’s okay to talk about success but talk about the challenges; what got you there!
  3. Spread the glory. Give credit and explanation to those in your life who have helped you in your journey. Acknowledge those who influenced you and lifted you up to the heights you reached.

36 thoughts on “Do You Tell Stories?

  1. Great post Eric! I feel that storytelling an essential part of our very presence here. I am reminded of the stories told for generations, handed down to preserve a culture. Today, story telling is no less important and inconsideration of the beautiful quote of Maya Angelou’s at the top of the post, I believe we have to begin with our own personal stories, before we can openly create and tell another. Stories have been on my mind today. Thank you for this wonderful reminder of the power they have to connect, engage and empower.

  2. Just what I needed to hear today Eric. I am running a small group currently (Transition to Retirement) and tomorrow I want to talk about purpose. I will now talk about it as my story about finding purpose! I was looking at your site the other day and I discovered you have written a book! I purchased it and am half-way through reading it. Congratulations on such an achievement!

  3. Great post Eric. Your point about Anne Frank’s diary is well taken. I consider myself a story teller and my blog reflects this premise. So glad to have your stories back here to be shared and savored.

  4. It takes true talent yo be a fascinating storyteller. Anne Frank is an excellent example, Eric. Sometimes unexpected storytellers catch our breath, hold us spell – bound or change our life’s perspectives with truth and strength of character. Oral speakers are very appreciated by me. Glad to know your linear background didn’t hold you back from exploring storytelling, if I read this correctly. πŸ™‚

      • Eric, I had a Dad who was an engineer who tried to be playful and succeeded sometimes on vacations. Not until he retired from NASA did we all feel his sigh of relief! πŸ™‚ So happy that I was able to grasp something which at times, after working during days, I misread. Ido chuckle at some of my comments later on. Hope you had a lovely weekend.

  5. Excellent post Eric… Just the other day at a workshop, we were made to realize how important story telling is even in the most professional settings – that is the best way to interact and capture the audience. Johnnie Walker was used an example and this post brings it back all over again!

    • It is good to ‘hear’ of your workshop experience, Prajakta. It’s too bad that more storytelling doesn’t take place in professional settings – aside from the marketing of products and services. Imagine the productivity potential if the everyday workplace was a setting in which people shared meaningful stories? πŸ™‚ Thank you for adding your substantive perspective.

  6. You hit on an important part of life ~ sharing your adventures so as to add experience to others in life. The quote you have of Maya Angelou is a perfect way to start this post, as I agree ~ β€œThere is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I suppose this is also the beauty of social media and blogging to some extent.

    • Your thoughtful comment, Randy, prompts me to ask (rhetorically), why *don’t* we share our untold stories? Doing so would certainly change the dynamic and focus on social media platforms; me thinks. I’m not advocating for the old TV show “Queen for a Day” stories (drama does little for me) yet a bit more reality and vulnerability- put out there – might just do more for more meaningful connections. Okay, off my soapbox. πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Eric, thank you for this wonderful post. I have been blogging for over a year now, and I think this is one of my favourite posts on the idea of storytelling – very inspiring. I will keep these thoughts in mind as I learn to share some of my stories. Just found your blog – will be following. πŸ™‚

  8. Love this, Eric! What a great post. And I can relate. I’ve always been a story teller, even in the environment of linear thinking where I worked for almost 20 years. And there I was treated with respectful curiosity. It was probably somewhat beneficial to have an “odd ball” among all the ISTJs πŸ™‚

  9. I, too, have long been a storyteller, Helen, I just didn’t realize it until others started citing me as one. Then I thought about it and said, Yeh, I suppose I am. So now you have this INFP wondering about your Myers-Briggs type?

    Also, isn’t good to no longer be beholden to those linear environments? πŸ™‚

  10. For now Eric I want to tell children’s stories. But one day I may write a memoir on growing up in a family of nine children. My father loved to tell us stories, he was a natural story teller. I wish he had written his stories down. I guess they stay in my heart.

  11. Eric, I enjoy your writing and thoughts very much. Each is empowering, or powerfully educational (And according to MSN researchers, in a lifetime one makes 396 friends – only 36 last – and only one in six are considered to be close friends.) Love this!
    Your empathy and emotional intelligence are a balm in a bottom-line world.

    • I will carry your kind words well into my weekend. Thank you, eq. I’m smiling, too, as having toiled for decades in that very bottom-line world, your choice of “balm” is soothing and appreciated. Wishing you peace and good health as we transition into Springtime (provided you are a Northern Hemisphere resident). πŸ™‚

  12. Stories have played such an important role in many indigenous tribes as a way to pass down history through the generations.. And all of us can remember the best stories we loved when first learning to read as our imaginations started to get working..
    I think you know I love a good story weaved within my ramblings.. And I so enjoy reading what you write… Yes I love telling stories and Listening to them .. πŸ™‚

  13. And you, Ms, Dreamwalker, are a delightful storyteller! I can see how this post’s message resonated with you. Here’s to our continuing the tradition of creating, sharing and enjoying endless stories. πŸ™‚

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