You Matter – Your Story Matters

Over the years I’ve talked to thousands of people about storytelling, especially the impactful niche of personal storytelling, and the most common reason many folks are reluctant to tell their story is that they don’t feel their story matters much, that their experiences and lessons learned over the years wouldn’t be of interest to others. When I hear such explanations it can sound as though they’re saying they don’t matter, so why would anyone listen to them.

When I mention this view they quickly counter that they do, in fact, matter to their inner circle of family and friends, that they are loved and listened to. But in the grand scheme of things, to society as a whole, they don’t feel they have much wisdom to offer. That’s a belief I have never subscribed to, which is why I enjoy the process of working with these individuals to uncover the pearls of wisdom they have to share, and to build a narrative around them.

Working with entrepreneurs and business leaders, students and academics, immigrants and refugees, inmates and military personnel, I’ve seen how powerful these personal stories can be once they understand and believe that their story can positively affect the lives of others.

Which brings me to an insightful book that preaches the gospel of recognizing how much we matter and the benefits which can be derived at the individual level, and within our society. You Matter: Learning to Love Who You Really Are by Matthew Emerzian offers insights into the topic of why each of us matters, how acknowledging that fact empowers us, and why that newfound understanding and perspective ultimately benefits the world around us.

You Matter.: Learning to Love Who You Really Are by Matthew Emerzian

I had the pleasure of meeting Matt in 2012 after he gave his TEDxSanDiego Talk. It was hard to square up the man with a smile that exuded such happiness, positivity and charm, with the narrative he had just shared on stage.

From his perch atop the entertainment world as a senior vice president working on projects for artists such as U2, Coldplay, and Black Eyed Peas, Matt’s world crumbled around him as he fell into a deep abyss of depression and chronic anxiety disorder. A place of darkness and despair that could cripple the best of us.

I believe that self-and social transformation are first cousins and they happen interchangeably at the same time.

But thankfully Matt’s story is one of personal transformation and revelation as he came to understand the principles of living a life that recognizes the value each of us possesses, and the inherent value of service to others. Coming out of his ordeal Matt founded a non-profit, Every Monday Matters, committed to helping individuals and organizations understand how much and why they matter – to themselves, the community, and the world.

If you read his book (please do, it will transform you) you’ll experience a degree of openness and vulnerability that few storytellers dare to share. In doing so he illustrates the fact that the only way a story of change can have impact is for the audience to understand the full extent of the highs and lows, the doubts and rebirth. Such stories can’t be sugar coated, or stay on the surface. Authenticity must be front and center. They need to spend time in your shoes.

Judging is much easier to do than taking the time to invest in others, to learn their stories, and to understand why they might be different from us.

Along the way Matt also came to embrace the need for empathy and compassion, to hear the stories of strangers, as well as his friends and family. To ask questions. To see the value in experiences different than his own. I’m a big proponent of storylistening for just this reason, as our stories become more impactful when we listen to and respect the journey that people we meet have endured. Storytelling wisdom is gained when we listen more than we speak.

We cannot let anything get in the way of serving one another. So always be ready to serve – every day, in every way. Remember, you matter, but it’s not always about you.

The most impactful stories are those crafted with the audience in mind and formulated to resonate in a way that will alter their perception of an important issue. To that end I always tell speakers, It’s your story, but it’s not about you. When change is what matters most, the essence of your story should take the audience on a journey, leading to a new place of understanding, but do so with a sense of service, not with an objective of accomplishment.

When we all show up in a grateful and giving way, we help dreams come true for one another, and that’s a life well lived and a world well served.

As you come to embrace how much you matter, how much we all matter, and how much more we matter when thinking of each other, take a moment to consider how your personal story can exemplify this impactful paradigm of humanity. How it can reveal more of who you are, and create more profound connections. Remember. You Matter. Your Stories Matter.

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

 

Is Climate Change the Most Important Story of the 21st Century?

There will be many world-changing stories throughout the 21st century. Artificial intelligence and genome science are two that will alter the very nature of how humans exist and interact. But it may well be the story of climate change that is the most important of them all, as it’s a story which describes how the nature of our entire planet will be changed in ways that make it much less hospitable to life itself.

It’s difficult to find a metaphor that properly parallels climate change, but there’s one I often use that’s close. Like a car traveling at 100 mph towards a brick wall, when you apply the breaks, and how hard you push on the brake pedal, will determine the outcome. Too little, too late is not an approach that works well in this scenario.

Some say the wall doesn’t exist, others see the wall yet feel we still have plenty of time to react. I’m in the group who believes that no matter how hard we brake, a collision of some sort is inevitable. We have long since passed the point at which a safe stop can be executed. (I truly hope that I’m wrong in my thinking, but many trends are going in the wrong direction)

Hands Earth Climate Change Protection

How that story ultimately plays out is dependent upon all of us, but I have my doubts that the story will have a happy ending without honest and committed leadership. On that front, many leaders have chosen to ignore reality, but others are making heroic efforts to create a different outcome, one that turns the CO2 tide and ensures a vibrant future for humanity.

At the 2016 TED Conference, one of these heros took the stage to tell her story of challenge and of hope on the topic of climate change. Having served as the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres understood the topic well, having played a pivotal leadership role leading up to the Paris Agreement in 2015.

In her TED Talk, Christiana observes that perspectives and mindsets need to shift if we are to address the critical issues that climate change represents, and uses the shift from failure at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to the success achieved six years later in Paris to illustrate what can happen when decisions are based on a shared vision of the future instead of protecting one’s own turf.

As inspiring as Christiana’s talk was, it left me wanting to know more about her background, passion and motivation. That’s often an issue with developing a short presentation – this was under 15 minutes – as there’s only so much information that can be included. The fact that she worked on the Paris agreement lends credence to her qualifications as a speaker, but I knew there was so much more to the story and was therefore left a bit unsatisfied.

Which is why The TED Interview Podcast is so brilliant. Debuting in 2018, the format allows Chris Anderson an opportunity to get behind the interviewee’s talk as a way to understand more of the speaker’s background, their motivation, and how their talk is playing out in the months or years since.

After you’ve had a chance to watch Christiana’s TED Talk, pour yourself another cup of coffee and listen to the podcast interview. You’ll gain a much better understanding of who she is, why she ended up in such a critical position, and how her desire for a sustainable world continues to feed her passion.

And here’s the challenge: Were there parts of the interview that you felt should have been included in her TED Talk? If so, what parts of the TED Talk would you have pulled out, assuming the length had to be the same? You will face the same issue when trying to determine what events, feelings and insights you want to put into your narrative, and which ones to leave out. Narrative impact will vary greatly based on this selection.

While creating your story blocks you will need to determine how long each one is, and which ones to leave in the final version. If you’re creating multiple versions – 15 minute short talk vs. 45 minute keynote – those decisions will be different, as will also be the case when addressing different audiences. Before speaking, understand who is listening.

TED Countdown Project

p.s. For those of you interested in being part of the climate change solution, check out TED’s bold initiative – Countdown – that is bringing the world’s foremost experts and thought leaders to the table as a way to create impactful solutions while also encouraging grass roots, community-based movements to support the goal of environmental stability.

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

 

The Essential Power of a Family Story

In addition to the many podcasts that I listen to regularly, I stay connected to the art and craft of nonfiction storytelling by keeping tabs on a few sacred sources of story wisdom, one of which is Nieman Storyboard.

Their articles delve into the practice of narrative journalism and highlight some of the best stories from authors and speakers who are making a noteworthy difference in a world that often struggles in that regard.

Nieman Storyboard, a publication of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, showcases exceptional narrative journalism and explores the future of nonfiction storytelling.

A recent Nieman Storyboard article by Ioana Burtea covered a keynote speech by journalist and novelist Tatiana Tîbuleac given during The Power of Storytelling conference in Bucharest. The Needle and the Thread spans three generations and reveals the difficulties that Tatiana encountered in regards to how, and when, to tell a transformational and healing family story.

The Power of Storytelling 2019 Conference

Distilling the essence of a 34 minute story in 1800 words is an art form unto itself and Ioana’s article extracts impactful quotes and narrative elements which take the reader on a guided tour of Tatiana Tibuleac’s talk, including this gem that inspired me to click through and watch.

“It’s amazing how life can go on in a place designed for death.”

While her delivery is akin to an offhand comment, those 13 words carry with them a fateful measure of meaning arranged in layers of joy, sorrow, and hope. They speak about those who survived, who had a life yet to live, and those for whom a Siberian gulag became the last chapter, last sentence, and last word of their story.

“My story is a wound that took three generations to heal.”

I invite you to read Ioana’s article for a glimpse at how she tells a story about a story, and then watch Tatiana’s keynote in its entirety to see how she weaves the essence of her grandmother’s story into her own journey from being a young storylistener to becoming an adult storyteller. And the admission that she’s still a work in progress.

It’s also interesting to note that in this age of dramatic stage presentations, with an emphasis on big body movements and emphatic vocals, Tatiana delivers her talk while sitting. Yet the emotions of her story still come through in her voice and facial expressions, as well as her hands. And the narrative structure itself keeps the viewer engaged throughout, offering us a “what’s next” refrain to maintain the story’s forward momentum.

“I didn’t want to write a book like a gun,
I wanted to write a book like a hug.”

Story length is another aspect to consider. I often work with clients who need to craft a narrative which can be use in a variety of circumstances, from a TED-style talk to conference keynote, and in such cases we’ll build out a 15, 30 and 45 minute version of their talk. As Tatiana’s length hits the middle, think about what you would cut to make it a 15 minute talk, and what topics you would go deeper with in a 45 minute version.

Do you have an essential family story to share, one that transformed you in some way, one you’ve carried with you for a very long time? Is now the right moment to tell that story? If so, capture it on paper, and be sure to include your personal journey from the story’s origin, to the point of understanding its full impact. Future generations will benefit from your wisdom.

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

 

De Oratore by Cicero – Book 2 – The Effects of Oratory

In addition to being a lawyer, politician and philosopher, Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero) was also a preeminent Roman orator. Drawing on the teaching of Greek rhetoric and the craft of oration in Roman times, he composed De Oratore to highlight the principles he believed were at play whenever someone planned to speak on an important topic.

While political speeches and legal proceedings were at the forefront of public speaking during this time, the concepts presented here are valuable in the drafting of any nonfiction narrative. Written in 55 BC, and comprised of three books, De Oratore is a dialogue that is set in 91 BC.

Cicero shares a dialogue, reported to him by Cotta, among a group of excellent political men and orators, who came together to discuss the crisis and general decline of politics. They met in the garden of Lucius Licinius Crassus’ villa in Tusculum.

Lucius Licinius CrassusQuintus Mucius ScaevolaQuintus Catulus
Marcus Antonius OratorGaius Aurelius CottaPublius Sulpicius Rufus

Marcus Antonius explains to Catulus:

But to determine how we should arrange the particulars that are to be advanced in order to prove, to inform, to persuade, more peculiarly belongs to the orator’s discretion.

Determining the order in which to present all your story blocks is one of the most powerful aspects of narrative structure, and one of the most difficult to master. You’ve identified the various elements that can tell your story, then you’ve selected those which best support your argument, idea or experience. Now the challenge is arrangement – which block goes where.

How to open, how to lead the audience on the journey, and finally, how to conclude your talk so that the listener understands what you have shared. Your story resonates emotionally and intellectually. While there are no rules for this structure, keep in mind the need to grab their attention early on, keep them engaged throughout the entire talk, and have it all make sense.

Antonius then offers:

…to listen to him from whom you receive any information or to him to whom you have to reply with such power of retention that they seem not to have poured their discourse into your ears but to have engraven it on your mental tablet?

If your story is compelling, and presented with the same energy and passion that mirrors your thoughts and feelings, and if it impacts the audience and inspires them to see the world with a fresh perspective, then Antonius believes that your message will not only resonate, but has the power to alter their memory, and thus, remain with them.

Keep these ideas in mind as you work on the sequence of your story blocks. If the audience believes what you’re saying (ethos), then finds their heart touched by your words (pathos), and the logic holds up (logos), you will maximize the impact of your story.

[De Oratore excerpts from Delphi Complete Works of Cicero, Translated by J. S. Watson]

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

 

The Emotional Side of Storytelling

Personal storytelling is all about sharing and understanding. The sharing of your experiences, views, insights, opinions, perspectives and wisdom, in the hopes that your audience – in front of people and/or by way of video or audio production – will gain a newfound understanding of the important topic at the center of your story, as well as better knowing you, the speaker.

In order to achieve this enhanced level of understanding, and to foster positive change as a result, there are two questions that I always pose to a speaker as they develop their story:

1) What will the audience think?

2) How will the audience feel?

The thinking part is a mixture of information and logic – the facts that you offer to support your message, and the way in which those facts are arranged. (more on this in a future post)

The feeling part is about the emotional reaction(s) that your audience will have, both during and after your presentation. In most cases a great talk will create feelings of being inspired, empowered and hopeful. Despite the negative aspects and implications that you may reveal during your speech, as problems are rarely upbeat in nature, you also include a proposed solution that invites the audience to participate, thus offering the vision of a brighter future.

For example, a story about traveling to Mars in a spaceship may evoke feelings of excitement, as well as fear, pride and hope, while a talk about overcoming the challenges you faced in order to become a successful entrepreneur may evoke feelings of connection and empathy, as well as inspiration and determination.

Without an emotional reaction to your message,
an audience will simply become apathetic.

Listed below are examples of how an audience might feel during or after hearing your story. It is by no means comprehensive – it’s up to you to determine the emotions that you want to convey in your story – so feel free to add to this collection as you see fit.

Feeling wiserFeeling smarterFeeling depressed
Feeling lovedFeeling hopefulFeeling challenged
Feeling proudFeeling inspiredFeeling recognized
Feeling happyFeeling reverentFeeling empathetic
Feeling fearfulFeeling powerfulFeeling entertained
Feeling scaredFeeling liberatedFeeling determined
Feeling excitedFeeling validatedFeeling understood
Feeling humbleFeeling awestruckFeeling empowered
Feeling curiousFeeling connectedFeeling enlightened

As you draft each Story Block while working on your manuscript, think about the emotion you want the audience to feel during each point in the story. While recognizing the importance of word choice, do the words/phrases/sentences as written properly represent those feelings?

And when you enter the presentation phase and begin rehearsing, make sure your voice also matches the intended emotion. This is where vocal variation can really shine in its ability to bring your words to life. Record yourself, then play it back and listen to the tone, volume and inflection of your voice. If you’re rehearsing in front of friends or family, ask them if the emotions in your voice match the intent of your words. They’ll usually hear any mismatches.

Storytelling Emotions CollageEmotional Reaction Photos by Robin Higgins at Pixabay

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