Wednesday, December 06, 2006

curious: storytelling at work

Back in late 1998, Bill Johnson wrote the following about the "craft of storytelling":
Part of the craft of being a storyteller means learning to create images with words. That requires a willingness to learn the craft of language, how to use words to create metaphors, evocative descriptions of scenery, strong dialogue, just as being a qualified carpenter or mechanic means a mastery in the use of the tools of that trade. The storyteller must have a mastery of words, or be willing to study and master that craft.
As a software marketing person, you're probably familiar with "stories" as a way to capture requirements, to describe a user persona, a market segment or as a way to wargame objection handling.

I'm asking you to put that aside.

Next time you find yourself in front of an audience, imagine that they are there to hear a story and you, my friend, are the designated storyteller.

Consider that your story has to have characters, it has to have a narrative thread, it needs conflict, it needs a conclusion. It needs to be memorable, unique and whole.

But what the story needs most is you.

If the story is going to be remembered, it needs you to choose words that are evocative, words that stimulate the imagination. You must consider how to use your voice, your arms. Consider how you'll look at different people around the room to draw them into the story.

You'll stay on topic - because no one likes a story that wanders.

You'll stay on time - because no one likes a story that lingers too long.

You'll care deeply about your audience - because no one likes a story that's dull.

You'll make your point clear as rain - because everyone loves a clean ending.

Ages ago when we all sat under the stars together, afraid of the dark, we looked to storytellers to make sense of the unknown. The traditional craft of storytelling was essential to the transmission of knowledge across geographies and generations.

But as it has become easier to preserve facts, we've lost the art of putting those facts into a living context. And as the speed with which we can transmit knowledge has increased, we don't have the time to assimilate knowledge in the way our brains are built to do it - through heuristic imagery and associative language.

So take the time to tell your stories the way stories used to be told, with passion and craft. Put yourself at the center of the circle next to the fire and wrap your listeners in pictures.

You will be more effective. And you'll develop an innate ability to call bullshit on elements of the story that others want you to tell, but which you know in your bones to be wrong.
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms. -- Muriel Rukeyser

1 comment:

Ron said...

This is a heartfelt, thoughtful, intelligent post... but, wow, does it seem a mile away from any way that I would tell stories! ( I just can't use the word 'heuristic' without producing phglem!) Hell, it seems a mile from the way you tell stories! Let me take a stab:

People want to listen to you, really they do, if for no other reason than to pass the time.

If the audience is nodding off, whatever you're currently doing is wrong. Stop and do something else.

Have a bag of tricks that would put Felix the Cat to shame.

How do you know if you have them? When you move forward, they back up. When you move back, they move towards you. When you whisper, they stop rattling their papers. When you look up, you've instantly made eye contact with the entire room, not because you try to look at them, but because they are looking at you.

The director Sam Fuller put it best: "If the audience doesn't get a hard on in the first 15 minutes, why watch the rest of the picture?"

Good posting!