A Toolbox For Storytellers
When Overmind decided to preach Storytelling to Business Executives, they asked me to deliver the opening talk to our first seminar, an introduction to storytelling. As someone from theatre, of course, I had to rehearse first before we opened the seminar to the public.
I gave a short introductory lecture on the Aristotelian principles of drama and story, and the conventions and structures of narratives. I thought it was comprehensive enough, brief, and straightforward. But when I asked my test audience what they thought of it, they said “good stuff, but we didn’t feel it.”
It wasn’t boring, they said. But it did not hit deep either. “For someone who preaches the power of storytelling, you never told a single story in your presentation.”
I have been teaching at the university for a long time before I delivered that lecture on storytelling and it was only then that I questioned my own methods of teaching. From then on, I made sure that whenever I taught something, or wanted to bring home a point, or to illustrate a thesis, I told a story.
Telling stories gets easier once you get into the habit. The hard part is making sure you have a bag full of stories to draw from everytime you need one. Which means, you cannot keep a dusty book of histories on your shelf. You have to be always writing and creating stories. But how do you make sure that you never run out of stories to tell?
Here are some tools I have developed for myself to keep me sharp as a storyteller:
Observe and watch people. Before one can tell a story, one must be able to capture a developing story. Without sticking your nose where it does not belong, it is good to be always aware of your surroundings and know what is happening. Observe how things are developing, how people react to certain situations, and how events affect the organization as a whole. What moves people? What motivates them? What influences their decisions? Towards what or whom are they drawn?
Keep a journal. Practice the art of writing stories by documenting the key events of the day into a short daily journal. You can limit yourself to the highlights: what went right, what went wrong, what could you have done better? This does not only help you reflect on your day, this also helps you improve your writing.
Recall and retell. Just like journaling, recalling and retelling exercises your observation and oral storytelling skills. This requires an audience. At dinner, talk to someone, perhaps your family, how your day went. Recall the highs, lows, and key events and relay these to your audience. Notice how they react to your story and consider how you can improve on your telling.
Read or watch stories. Expose yourself to well-written or well-told stories. Read a classic, or even a contemporary novel. Too long? Try a collection of short fiction or anecdotes. You can read biographies or autobiographies if you’re more into real life stories. Watch movies. Get a hold of the 100 must-watch movies list and try to tick off as many from that list as possible. Enjoy these stories and try to identify what attracts you to certain kinds of stories.
Discuss and Evaluate. Look for a friend or a community to discuss the stories you have read or seen. Exchange thoughts and feelings. Ask each other: who was the story about? Who did he/she love? What was his/her vulnerability? What is his/her ultimate desire? How did he/she overcome the obstacles and challenges? What resonated with you? What did you not like about it? No need to be so technical about your analysis and evaluation. It is enough to start with what you felt and be accurate in identifying what made you feel that way.
These five things helped me to constantly look at how people and events are connected and maintain a storytelling mindset. If one can transform these tools into habits, one will surely never run out of stories to tell.