Three Reasons We Don’t Tell Our Story

Some folks are eager to tell us their story. They know their message is one that others could benefit from hearing, and they’re always looking for an opportunity to share their ideas, their wisdom, or the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Whenever I meet one of these people and mention that I used to produce TEDx events, they quickly shift into pitch mode, expressing a desire to be on stage. They’re not the least bit shy and their storytelling passion is front and center.

But I also meet a lot of folks with powerful stories worth sharing, yet they’ll come up with reasons to avoid telling that story to an audience. They’re resigned to remaining silent as I hear them say something like the following…

  • I’m not a great public speaker, and I’m not a professional
  • I just don’t know how to make my story sound interesting
  • I might make a mistake, or even forget what I want to say

Sound familiar? Well, you’re in good company, but I’m here to tell you that none of these reasons should stop you, or even slow you down. So let’s address them, and get you motivated to begin sharing your important stories with the world.

You were born a storyteller

That’s the first thing I want every potential speaker to know, and to embrace. As babies we learn about the world around us by watching and listening. And it doesn’t take long before we learn to speak and begin telling our stories. Simple stories at first, but stories that gain in confidence and complexity day by day.

Think about the thousands of stories you’ve told since – to your family, kids in the neighborhood, and your classmates at school. You’re always telling stories. That said, we’re rarely taught how to tell a story designed to impact others – a story that’s very intentional in its wording, structure and delivery – a story with meaning beyond recounting past events.

Like any other skill that we wish to master – playing an instrument or a sport, for example – we must spend a lot of time and effort to make that happen. The more times you speak in public, and the more effort you put into writing and rehearsing your stories, the better you will get at it – so you don’t need to be a great speaker (yet), or a professional, you just need to be you to tell your story.

Create an interesting story

While we’ve spent our lives telling random stories to each other, stories told to an audience are more intentional, and structured to express an important idea or convey a specific viewpoint. So there are a number of skills to be mastered.

I approach the story process using three steps: ideation, narration, presentation. Before you write a single word of your story you need to define the main message that will drive the narrative and represent the gift that you’re giving the audience. The proverbial pearl of wisdom.

Using a classic marketing mantra, ask three questions regarding your audience:

  • What do you want them to think?
  • How do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them to do?

Will the essence of your story shift their perspective, teach them something new, touch them emotionally, challenge preconceived notions, or inspire them to act? Ideally, your message is original, imaginative, one they haven’t heard before.

With clarity on your subject, look for story elements that will support your view. Check out these Story Blocks for examples of how you can create a compelling narrative. Utilize elements that will be of interest to your audience, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a captivating story.

Mastering your narrative

Telling a story that includes specific elements – events, observations, feelings, thoughts – presented in a specific order to maximize impact, requires practice. Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse some more. Rehearse by yourself, then do it in front of friends to get feedback. Do they understand the intent of your story?

Take advantage of your phone, tablet or laptop by recording your talk. When played back you will hear yourself saying words you wouldn’t normally use in conversation. Editing at this stage will result in a more naturally sounding talk. Next, capture your presentation on video. Note your body language and facial expressions. Word are always most important, but delivery can add emphasis.

You don’t need to memorize your entire talk (more on this at a later date) but you should know your opening and closing by heart. Starting strong gets the audience engaged, while closing strong will make it memorable. You also need to remember each element of your story, and the sequence of presentation. Delivering your narrative out of order will often confuse the listener.

As to making mistakes, the audience doesn’t have a copy of your talk, so in most cases they won’t even notice if something is missing. But if you do catch yourself saying the wrong thing, such as stating a wrong date or quoting an incorrect number, pause for a moment, take a breath, and correct yourself. The audience will appreciate your honesty.

Conclusion

I could spend hours going into each of these subjects at length, but the bottom line is that there’s a strategy for dealing with each one and you should never allow them to get in the way of sharing your story with a larger audience – your story can change the world!

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

The Challenge of Finding Historical Truth

My last post touched on the art of Interviewing From a Historical Perspective as a way to enrich your story by including the experiences of others. But finding the truth in history can be a problematic topic unto itself, as so much of what we think of as history deviates from the truth in sometimes subtle, and sometimes dramatic fashion.

The decisions we make are largely based on our perceptions of the past, which means the only way we can tell a true narrative is to understand the past correctly. As long as we live within a lie that others have told to protect/enhance their reputation or further their false ideology, we will create/enable a new generation of liars. ~ML

In a recent Longform podcast episode Evan Ratliff spoke with Michelle García, and part of that interview dealt with the issue of determining what is true, as well as the difference between just telling the truth and telling an honest story.

Do listen. It’s a masterclass in coming to understand who you are, where you come from, and the challenges of telling an impactful story others need to hear.

How You Alter the Narrative

If your intent is to capture a story’s essence, to reveal a fundamental truth to your readers/listeners, then you need to be aware of the perspective that you bring to the table, a perspective that affects the process of assimilating the facts, coloring the raw landscape that you’re attempting to faithfully paint.

This process of self-examination and reflection embraced by Michelle guides her in the story creation process, and as you will hear, it requires a special sense of awareness – of your beliefs, your values, and your way of experiencing the world in each present moment.

That the facts are all there, and they’re all accurate, and they’re all right, that I began to wonder, just because you have the facts right, does that mean the story is true in its essence? ~ Michelle García

At one point Michelle refers to a conversation that she had with a law professor on the topic of history repeating itself. His observation was one that we should consider when trying to understand any chain of events: “It’s not that history’s repeating itself, it’s that this is the present moment, reaching into the past, to define its future.”

Take a moment to ponder that statement and consider how it relates to the story that you want to tell. You’re writing in that present moment yet recalling a myriad of events you’ve experienced. The conversations, the environments, the emotions, the interpretations. And you’re telling your story for the simple reason that you have a desire for others to understand what you have learned or come to believe, and maybe, just maybe, their future will be different as a result.

The true power of storytelling lies in the fact that your story can become part of someone else’s story. ~ML

Michelle García as Restless Rebel

I’m always fascinated by the journey that creatives embark upon, or become a part of beyond their will, as they etch out the path which brought them to the current moment of creation. What drives you, pushes you, frustrates you?

I was such a rebel. I was punk. I was angry. I was Sex Pistols. I was The Ramones. I wanted to kick doors down. You have a fury that no one has articulated, put into words, taught you how to channel, and so now you go about the world like a loose cannon, which is what I did, looking to find where you can sort of catalyze all of this energy. ~ Michelle García

Michelle came from a small Texas town that in one narrative would have been a footnote, but in today’s climate of immigrant controversy, of demonizing the other, has taken on a more relevant meaning.

To be able to write about where I was from, was, in a way, to capture a spirit of storytelling, a spirit of what it means to be a journalist, in a way that I had not known before. ~Michelle García

Is that true in your case? Is place a character in your story? A character that’s woven into the fabric of your storyline? How has your origin story shaped the reality of your present moment? The role that it plays is often overlooked or sidelined by speakers/writers. Don’t let it take a back seat. It’s part of your truth.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Interviewing From a Historical Perspective

The process of crafting an impactful story often begins with identifying events and insights from your life’s journey, but such stories become more compelling and diverse when they include the experiences of others, as additional voices will broaden and deepen the narrative landscape, allowing audience’s to better understand the point you’re proposing, or the lessons you have learned.

One way to do this is by interviewing people who can offer listeners/readers a perspective that expands beyond yours. As with the disciplines of writing and speaking, interviewing is an art form that one must study and practice. When clients ask me how to conduct interviews I steer them to the On Being podcast, hosted by Krista Tippett.

Her interviews with renowned scholars, writers, poets, scientists, and religious leaders explore the most fundamental and profound questions. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? If you’re looking to sharpen your storytelling skills, consider this podcast is an interviewing masterclass.

The podcast recently replayed a timely episode recorded on November 17, 2016: This History is Long; This History Is Deep – it’s an interview with Isabel Wilkerson. By reading the transcript while listening you can identify when Krista is diving deeper into a particular topic, or moving their conversation into new territory.

…our country is like a really old house. I love old houses. I’ve always lived in old houses. But old houses need a lot of work. And the work is never done. And just when you think you’ve finished one renovation, it’s time to do something else. Something else has gone wrong. ~ Isabel Wilkerson

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Creating a Vivid and Continuous Dream

John Gardner was an accomplished author, literary critic and university professor – a rather rare combination. He was one of the best teachers of fiction writing, and his two books on the topic, The Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist, have helped thousands learn the craft.

If you read my previous blog posted titled The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but?, you’ll know that my approach to personal storytelling is to stick to what’s true and not delve into the world of fiction. That said, we can still learn much from the methods used to write fiction, which is why I’m sharing a few quotes from Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist that apply equally to nonfiction.

…the best stories set off a vivid and continuous dream…

We’ve all been there. Reading a book that you can’t set down or watching a movie that has you leaning forward, barely breathing. When you get lost in a compelling story, the ‘real’ world has a way of disappearing, replaced by the narrative at hand. It’s a common experience with great fiction, but is also happens when we see a speaker live on stage that has everyone in the theater spellbound. While there are many factors at work in such situations, word choice and an eye for detail are key elements.

…one sign of a writer’s potential is his especially sharp ear – and eye – for language. The better the writer’s feel for language and its limits, the better his odds become.

As with most talents, this comes naturally to some, but most of us have to work at developing this illusive skill. The good news is we can learn it with practice. Noticing cliche words and phrases, or those lacking imagination or specificity. Our story’s first pass often contains a lot of safe language. Words that easily come to mind, and work okay, but we can do better.

We need only to figure out exactly what it is that we’re trying to say – partly by saying it and then by looking it over to see if it says what we really mean – and to keep fiddling with the language until whatever objections we may consider raising seem to fall away.

Writing and revising is tedious, but it’s the only way to move from just okay to excellent, from a general to a more specific meaning. If the goal is to give a speech, as opposed to writing an essay, then the process will involve rehearsing and editing so that the worlds don’t just read beautifully, but sound superb. How do we do that?

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Behind the Scenes of The Memory Palace

I’ve been a podcast listener for many years, and at the beginning of my daily walk I’ll open the PocketCasts app on my phone to find an episode that will indulge my storytelling addiction. There are podcasts which live there temporarily – I’ll add and delete as my desires change – but several of them have a permanent slot in my listening rotation.

The Moth, This American Life, 99% Invisible, Radio Diaries, Ear Hustle, The Kitchen Sisters, Longform Podcast and Unfictional are on a brief list of shows that have become long-time audio companions, friends I can trust to expand and challenge my perceptions. Another member of that illustrious list is The Memory Palace, a podcast I fell in love with day one.

Created by storytelling genius Nate DiMeo in 2008, you could say it’s been around the digital block a few times. Nate’s no stranger to audio, having spent a decade plus in public radio and heard on landmark shows such as All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Marketplace.

The Memory Palace is not unusual in one sense, as it simply presents historical vignettes about people, places and past events. Its uniqueness is comes from DiMeo’s ability to pull a single thread from a complex tapestry of facts and feelings, then offer it to us as a bespoke narrative. Like a wandering medieval minstrel, he takes his audience on a magical exposition of the past, somehow condensing hours of exposition into mere minutes.

As much as I love the well-polished episodes that he produces, it was a special treat to hear this behind-the-scenes conversation with Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich on storytelling and life. It’s a conversation that revealed pivotal moments early in his career, alongside his passion for, and approach to, crafting stories that can touch people.

Whether you’re a professional storyteller or just aspire to gain a greater mastery of the art, DiMeo’s journey from nearly clueless to consummate creator will change your perspective on telling stories in the digital age.

A Conversation About the Memory Palace with Robert Krulwich

“…the lesson that it showed me, was that audio storytelling on the radio had the power to reach into your life and could change your day…”

 

“…the most profound thing of journalism is finding the real person in there, and being able to draw them out, and to find a type of truth that goes beyond mere facts…”

Learn more about Nate DiMeo in this beautiful article by Sarah Larson in The New Yorker, and this insightful piece by Joshua Barone in the New York Times.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved