The tradition of oral story telling goes so far back in human history that nobody can really find the first examples of it. It was probably something to do with a hunt that was made epic and entertaining. There were stories of angry gods and far away places and battles. Story telling was both entertainment and information gathering. They were how we related to the world.
And yet today we get nervous if we have to pitch something or take a meeting. We don’t know what to talk about on a first date. We find ourselves choked off and silent. But the urge to spin a tale, to hold your listener rapt is one that is written in our very DNA.
You tell stories every single day. What’d you do today? What did that person say? How was your vacation? So why should your meeting be any different? Tell me a story – the story of your script – the story of your new product – the story of your life.
I am a huge fan of The Moth. If you aren’t familiar with the Moth and it’s many, many subsequent offshoots, the Moth brings back the idea of oral storytelling vis a vis “story slams”. Speakers – many famous and gifted professional story tellers – along with ordinary people, take the stage to tell us a story.
Perhaps we are nervous when its our turn to tell a story because we are simply out of practice. Perhaps we listen to or watch other people’s stories so much that our own become atrophied. Why not get back in touch with the art of story telling by attending events in your area or starting a story telling group?
The ability to tell a great story will not only make you the belle of many a cocktail party but also much more effective in meetings and social interactions in general. Remember, story tellers don’t only talk AT their audience – they engage them.
You don’t have to take the stage to be a good story teller – again – you tell stories every single day. Have you ever been at a gathering when someone starts to say they’ll tell you a story – and your blood kind of runs cold and your eyes search the room for a way out? Why is this? Because this person is not a good story teller. Their stories wander, are completely self-referential and are not engaging. They are long-winded and too full of details. This person just likes to hear him or herself talk.
I am sure you also have people you know who are excellent story tellers. People who get going and you are grinning because you are so entertained, because they give just the right amount of details, without too much, because they use sound effects and mimicry, because they really put you right there in the situation. Because their stories have a point. We all have stories – we’ve done so much in our lives. But part of being a good story teller is knowing when that story is best used. Yes, yes, you’ve been to Borneo, but would that story really fit into this situation? What is relevant about the story? In what way is it entertaining?
Telling yourself stories is something we do everyday too. We just don’t think of it that way. We narrate our lives every day – sometimes positively, often times negatively. This always happens. That never happens. So-and-so thinks this or did that. You would be amazed at how your life can change if you change the stories you tell yourself.
StorySlam Live in London is an amazing organization that you can get involved with if you are in the UK. The Story Slam in Tel Aviv is great, if sporadic fun with great stories. The LA Story Telling Festival is an active community of story tellers.