The Importance of Resonance and Relevance in Storytelling

Welcome to 2023! The past few years have been quite an adventure. And what a story, or for most of us, a series of stories. But that tends to be the nature of life. Stories unfold. Sometimes with our direction, but often without our permission. Which would explain why so many people have recently told me that 2023 is the year they want to tell a personal story, one that can impact others, but they just don’t know where to start.

New Year's Day 2023, time to tell your story!

The first question that many of them ask me is: “What makes a talk memorable?” It’s not the easiest question to answer, as there are so many factors to consider when crafting and delivering a personal story. And while speaking skills are an important element, they are not the most important factors when it comes to impacting audiences. Begin your exploration here: Resonance and Relevance. Address these two words up front, in the Ideation phase.

Will the audience be interested in my topic,
and will they find my message useful?

People will listen to stories that capture their attention, when it’s a subject they want to hear about. First step is to ask yourself, “Why will the audience care?”

Don’t just think about the answer. Write it down. Make a list. That means you’ll need to know your audience. And if you’re telling your story to more than one group: general audience vs. scientists vs. academics vs. students, the answers will vary. And that’s okay. It’s a great way to discover new audiences.

Pull up a chair, it's time to tell your story!

Once you’re satisfied that your story will resonate with your audience, and you have shifted from the Ideation to the Narration phase, the body of your story needs to be relevant. Ask yourself, “What will the audience think, feel and do after they hear your story?” Each of your Story Blocks should be selected and written to accomplish your intended goals.

Will they feel inspired, have you added to their knowledge, shifted perceptions, challenged a preconceived notion, given them a new way to see themselves or the world around them? In short, is your narrative relevant to their life? What can they take away from your story that will help them going forward?

I do hope that all of you who have an impactful story to share do exactly that in 2023. Maybe it’s a keynote speech, or a talk on a TEDx stage, or maybe it’s for a local community group or at a breakfast meeting. Don’t worry about the size of the audience, as touching a single person is valuable. You never know how the impact will ripple out and touch others.

So if you have a personal story to tell, and need a bit of guidance along the way, send me a message and we’ll set up a complementary call to discuss your needs. I’ve coached hundreds of storytellers, from scientists to engineers, students and academics, creatives and business leaders, special forces and prison inmates.

Know that your story is important, and that it can change the world!

Hitting the bullseye for storytelling with impact

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Daria van den Bercken: Why I take the piano on the road @ TEDSalon Berlin

I had the pleasure of attending a special TED event in 2014. TEDSalon Berlin was just a one day affair, yet it featured a number of compelling talks that served as examples of impactful stories on global issues. This post is an analysis of a talk and performance given by Daria van den Bercken.

Watch Daria van den Bercken’s TED Talk. It’s an unusual format, as Daria plays for the audience, but also includes a video of her playing in public – within her apartment, from behind a truck, and while suspended in midair.

Her idea is simple and straightforward – to listen to music in a state of wonder, to truly listen, and to listen without prejudice – which is how we tend to listen at a very young age.

Do you have a story to tell that is intended to shift perspectives about how we encounter the arts – music, theatre, art, dance? Can you combine a narrative with a demonstration to make your point?


Recently, I flew over a crowd of thousands of people in Brazil playing music by George Frideric Handel. I also drove along the streets of Amsterdam, again playing music by this same composer. Let’s take a look.

(Music: George Frideric Handel, “Allegro.” Performed by Daria van den Bercken.)

(Video) Daria van den Bercken: I live there on the third floor. (In Dutch) I live there on the corner. I actually live there, around the corner. and you’d be really welcome.

Man: (In Dutch) Does that sound like fun? Child: (In Dutch) Yes!

[(In Dutch) “Handel house concert”]

Daria van den Bercken: All this was a real magical experience for hundreds of reasons.

Now you may ask, why have I done these things? They’re not really typical for a musician’s day-to-day life. Well, I did it because I fell in love with the music and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.

It started a couple of years ago. I was sitting at home on the couch with the flu and browsing the Internet a little, when I found out that Handel had written works for the keyboard. Well, I was surprised. I did not know this. So I downloaded the sheet music and started playing. And what happened next was that I entered this state of pure, unprejudiced amazement. It was an experience of being totally in awe of the music, and I had not felt that in a long time. It might be easier to relate to this when you hear it. The first piece that I played through started like this.


Well this sounds very melancholic, doesn’t it? And I turned the page and what came next was this.


Well, this sounds very energetic, doesn’t it? So within a couple of minutes, and the piece isn’t even finished yet, I experienced two very contrasting characters: beautiful melancholy and sheer energy. And I consider these two elements to be vital human expressions. And the purity of the music makes you hear it very effectively.

I’ve given a lot of children’s concerts for children of seven and eight years old, and whatever I play, whether it’s Bach, Beethoven, even Stockhausen, or some jazzy music, they are open to hear it, really willing to listen, and they are comfortable doing so.

And when classes come in with children who are just a few years older, 11, 12, I felt that I sometimes already had trouble in reaching them like that. The complexity of the music does become an issue, and actually the opinions of others – parents, friends, media – they start to count.

But the young ones, they don’t question their own opinion. They are in this constant state of wonder, and I do firmly believe that we can keep listening like these seven-year-old children, even when growing up. And that is why I have played not only in the concert hall but also on the street, online, in the air: to feel that state of wonder, to truly listen, and to listen without prejudice. And I would like to invite you to do so now.

(Music: George Frideric Handel, “Chaconne in G Major.” Performed by Daria van den Bercken.)

[Note: all comments inserted into this transcript are my opinions, not those of the speaker, the TED organization, nor anyone else on the planet. In my view, each story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these analytical posts is to inspire a storyteller to become a storylistener, and in doing so, make their stories more impactful.]

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Tara Clancy on The Moth Mainstage at the Avram Theater

The Moth has been hosting storytelling events for 20+ years, and the thousands of storytellers who have graced their stages are proof that every story is unique, and that the best stories come from our personal experiences.

I recently came across this video and knew that I had to share it as an example of how the lessons that we learn early on in life can change the way we see the world and our place in it. For Tara Clancy, one such lesson involved a shift from fear to choice.

She does so with a sharp sense of humor while taking us back five generations to set the stage for stories about her mom, her upbringing in Brooklyn, and a most unusual set of after dinner conversations.

It’s a revealing look at straddling cultures, spanning generations, and absorbing the wisdom that comes from interesting dialogues. Consider the experiences as you grew up which shifted your outlook on life. I’ll bet there’s a great story there.


I am a fifth generation native New Yorker. Yes. And while there is definitely something cool about that, there is also actually a downside. Like there was this moment when it occurred to me that while many other American families also first landed in New York City for the most part, at some point they kept going, pioneering their way west with little more than the rags on their backs and all of that. Meanwhile, my own family got off a boat, took two steps, looked around, and were like, good enough for me, forever.

I come from a place where discovering the great unknown means New Jersey. All right, well, it didn’t take me too long to realize that the reason for all of this was mostly fear, and that that fear pervaded everything. Where you live, what you do for a living, you just find the first solid thing and you don’t risk going any further. But as it turned out, my mother was something of a pioneer herself, although not without her share of false starts. So at 20 years old she had hardly been outside of Brooklyn, and when she did finally leave a year later, it was only because she married a guy from Queens, which she then called the country.

Anyway, they had a baby – me. But by the time I was two they had divorced, and to make a little extra money afterwards she had to take on a weekend job cleaning apartments. So the very first was this duplex filled with antiques and artwork and Manhattan skyline views. But as it winds up, it would be her last, because over the course of one year, she would go from being the cleaning lady, to the secretary, to the girlfriend of the multimillionaire who owned it, named Mark. They never wound up living together full time. For one, they were both divorced, so it was just kind of a been there, done that.

But also my mother had this philosophy, which was just that if you take somebody’s money, you have to take their advice. And so when it came to raising me, she wanted to do it her way, which she felt like had to be on her dime. So she would go on to spend every weekend with him, and then every weekday back home in Queens living this dual life for the next 22 years. And on the weekends when I wasn’t with my dad, I was right there with her. So together my mother and I had kind of become superwomen, able to jump social strata in a single bound.

Because of my mother’s plan my life was really never very different than anybody else’s around me. I wasn’t sent to some special school or moved to a penthouse, so I just kind of grew into your typical queen’s teenager. I was a walking cliche in every other way, except for the fact that I still spent every odd weekend talking and talking with this brilliant art collecting, croquet playing man at his mansion in Bridge Hampton. And when I say talking and talking with him, I actually really mean it. I don’t just mean we just sort of made some chit chat. I mean that after dinner, every odd Saturday, for 20 years of my life, he would look at me and ask me some enormous question. Something like, “If I were to tell you that the universe was infinite, how would that make you feel?”

And for that when I was five years old, right? But I just lived for it. And we would just talk and talk, and sometimes my mother would, would kind of leave us to it, and then she would come back in an hour later and she would be like, “Are you too gonna talk about the moon and the stars all night?” And that’s actually what she came to call them. Our Moon and Stars talks. So by 16 years old, like every other teenager, I didn’t wanna be away from my friends for five minutes, let alone a whole weekend. And so for the first time, I decided to ask Mark if they could come along. So I give him a call, ring, “Mark speaking, hey, it’s Tara. Would it be okay if I brought some friends this weekend? Yeah, that’d be fine.” Click.

He wasn’t one for small talk, right? So the problem wasn’t him. The problem was that some of my friends had no idea about any of this. Now, it really wasn’t that I was trying to hide it. It’s just that the details weren’t always easy to slip into conversation. Truly, the only thing I could compare having to tell them about all this stuff is just kind of like my own coming out. You know? I’d sit them down and I’d be like, “I have something to tell you, and I hope you find it in your heart to accept me. But I know a rich guy.”

But truly, I wanted them to come. I didn’t want them to be embarrassed, so I knew that I had to explain some things to them. And so literally here I am in the schoolyard one day at recess, and in one corner kids are just beating the crap out of each other. It’s how we do recess in Queens, right? And in the other corner I’ve pulled aside my friend who I’ve invited, Lynette, and I’m just sitting there and I’m trying to explain to her what it means to go antiquing.

But before you know it, there we are. Me, Lynette, her boyfriend Rob, piled into this little red civic. We’re flying down the highway heading from Hollis to here, to the Hamptons. And just for brevity’s sake, we’ll say Lynette’s, like Rosie Perez, Rob’s like Eminem. They’re in the front. I’m in the back, and as we’re getting closer I’m getting more and more nervous, and I’m trying to think of everything I haven’t explained, and I’m like, “Oh my God, did I tell you about the ketchup? The ketchup? Listen, you can’t put the ketchup bottle on the table. You gotta take the ketchup out of the bottle. You gotta put it in a little bowl with a spoon. Don’t ask.” And then I keep getting nervous, and more things, that I’m like, “Oh, guys, I got another one. I forgot to tell you guys. Listen, there’s no TV there.” And they’re like, “Dear God, what does he do all day?”

So that kind of led me to explain what we did after dinner, which wasn’t watch TV, it was the talks, the moon and the stars talks. So I should have said while I loved these talks, they actually were not for the faint of heart, meaning Mark didn’t care if you were some kid unaccustomed to this kind of thing. He was going to talk and argue with you like you were his peer and fully expect you to keep up. I just didn’t know if my friends were gonna be into that or if he was gonna be into them, but before you know it, too late, there we are, pulling into the driveway.

So the most shocking thing you first saw at Mark’s house actually was not the beautiful hand laid stone pool, or this enormous regulation croquet court, or even the historic farmhouse. It was just Mark himself. He was six foot 10, yeah, six foot 10. So here are these two kids from Queens, like, is that a man or is that oak tree wearing Chinos?

Likely because everyone completely ignored my stupid paranoia and were just themselves the day went without a hitch. But after dinner that night, when I knew the questions were coming, I couldn’t help but to be a little bit nervous again, and then of course, he just goes for it. He looks up at them and he’s like, “So if we were to presume we could fix all of the societal ills right here and now, where would you begin? Go.”

I mean, you guys gotta understand. Nobody is asking us these kinds of questions, right? And even though we are at an age where you might be starting to think bigger picture, you might be starting to think about what you wanna do for a living, we come from a world where it only ever felt like there were two job options. It was cop, not a cop. What else could there be really? You know, really.

Sort of like your parents, you took the first solid city job that came along and you held on for dear life, and you were proud, and you did your best, and you did it forever. So solving society’s ills. But of course, soon as he says it, I kind of look down, take this breath, and then I hear Lynette say something, and I look up, and now Rob has disagreed with her. And now Mark is sort of nodding along and just like that, it’s on.

And not just that one time. Most of these friends would come back for many more of these talks over the years. And while in a way it was this beautiful thing, of course, in another way it was a little bit sad because what most of them would tell you now is that those talks forever changed the way we thought of ourselves.

They really made you think that maybe there was a little more to you than you knew. And for some, certainly not all, but definitely for me, they even made you think like, boy, you know, if A) I like talking about these big things and B) the universe is infinite, then C) there’s gotta be some more job options than bus driver.

But truly, I think this experience gave us something that unfortunately I know my parents didn’t have. And that’s just when we came to that crossroad in life the next couple of years, we had the confidence to know that we had a choice. And so today I live in a whole other world, Manhattan, a whopping 20 minutes away from where I grew up. But that’s not because of fear. That’s my choice. Thank you.

Watch Tara’s video, make some notes about what impressed you, then read the manuscript and watch again. You’ll see & hear differently the 2nd time around.

[Note: all comments are my opinions, not those of the speaker, or The Moth, or anyone else on the planet. In my view, every story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these posts is to inspire storytellers to become better storylisteners and to think about how their stories can become more impactful.]

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Speaker Adventure – June 2017

Was this the coolest and craziest Speaker Adventure ever? Well, that’s certainly what it felt like at the conclusion of June’s retreat held on the 3rd and 4th. With Sonia taking us on a journey to aboriginal rain forests of Peru, making her case that indigenous peoples are the keepers of 80% of the earth’s healthy ecosystems, yet don’t have a seat at the table when critical economic and environmental decisions are made. She convinced us that the earth’s future hangs in the balance.

Speaker Adventure Graduates June 2017 Cool

Mark’s bravery and vulnerability were at play as he recounted his own struggle to create a peaceful world in which to live, encouraging us to take a step back whenever the potential for anger was present. For those faced with disruption, or the possibility of encountering it in the future, John reminded us all that trust is something that can’t be outsourced, or replaced by artificial intelligence, and it forms the foundation of important relationships which survive disruption.

Speaker Adventure Graduates June 2017 Crazy

We all deal with decisions and attitudes on a daily basis, but have you ever considered the power of examining both at the same time? That’s the secret Jerry has used throughout his career and in his personal life. What saved Jenny from an abusive childhood and led her to a life of joy and happiness? Music. And she’s now on a mission to spread the word that music can have profound, and positive, effects on the lives of children. Aaron realized that his ‘fast and free life’ wasn’t sustainable, and once he made the decision to change, he came to see and experience the evolution from half-hearted, to committed, and ultimately to devotion. His life has never been richer!

Be a part of our next adventure!

Speaker Adventure

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Exploring the Mehrabian Myth

Every profession as its own set of rules, instructions and standards. As you might expect, these guidelines will vary, sometimes widely, as every individual has their own take on what works best, but in general, they adhere to generally accepted guidelines. On occasion, however, a convention will appear that is egregious false, yet becomes something of a meme and is widely disseminated.

The notion that words don’t matter, or more accurately, that they matter very little when compared to our facial expressions, or the sound of our voice, constitutes one such myth. As often happens, the myth was derived from scientific research, but simply misinterpreted, or misstated, and the resulting meme that is spread far and wide bares little resemblance to the intent of the original research publication. In short, a mangled version of the truth, somehow becomes the truth.

Sometimes this myth is referred to as the 7%-38%-55% Rule, while in other situations it’s offered up as a claim that states “93% of all communication is non-verbal”. In either case it’s 100% bullshit, but let’s dive into the numbers, and the source of the information which became the myth.

We’ll time travel back to 1967, when Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Professor of Psychology at UCLA, conducted a study that examined how people reacted when they heard words that did not match the tone of the speakers voice, like saying, “Of course I love you honey.”, but in a sarcastic tone that clearly indicated you were mad. In these cases, when the tone was out of alignment with the words, the tone of voice was perceived to be more powerful.

Dr. Albert MehrabianIn a 2nd study, Dr. Mehrabian compared vocal elements with a speaker’s facial expressions, and found that facial elements were more powerful than vocal elements. Face trumps Tone. By combining these studies he came up with the following summary:

  • 55% is what the audience sees – it’s your body language
  • 38% is what the audience hears – the tone of your voice
  • 7% is what you actually say – the words within your talk

To get a visual synopsis of the issue, take a moment to watch this video from CreativityWorks.

“The non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude, especially when they are incongruent: if words and body language disagree, one tends to believe the body language.”
– Dr. Albert Mehrabian

In 2009 BBC reporter Tim Harford asked Dr. Mehrabian
if 93% of communication was non-verbal:

“Absolutely not, and whenever I hear that misquote or misrepresentation of my findings I cringe because it should be so obvious to anybody who would use any amount of common sense that that’s not the correct statement.”

The point being, his studies were never intended to examine the relative importance of words, tone or expressions within the context of our conversations, much less public speaking and storytelling from the stage, yet the myth was created and continues to thrive like a classic urban legend.

“There’s just no question that you cannot extrapolate my findings to communication in general.” – Dr. Albert Mehrabian

You can think about it this way. If you really think that 97% of communication is non-verbal, then try describing the movie you just saw to your best friend – without using any words. Charades anyone?

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