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.

De Oratore by Cicero – Book 1 – Writing to Learn 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 Scaevola
Marcus Antonius OratorGaius Aurelius CottaPublius Sulpicius Rufus

replied Crassus when Sulpicious wants to here more,

Writing is said to be the best and most excellent modeller and teacher of oratory; and not without reason; for if what is meditated and considered easily surpasses sudden and extemporary speech, a constant and diligent habit of writing will surely be of more effect than meditation and consideration itself

The point being that speaking extemporaneously lacks the depth that can be achieved when a narrative is given proper diligence and consideration through the process of writing. I’ve seen this happen with everyone I’ve coached, as the interplay of writing and editing uncovers new layers to the story, adding meaning and strength to the message that you’re delivering.

Such are the qualities which bring applause and admiration to good orators; nor will any man ever attain them, unless after long and great practice in writing, however resolutely he may have exercised himself in extemporary speeches; and he who comes to speak after practice in writing brings this advantage with him, that though he speak at the call of the moment, yet what he says will bear a resemblance to something written; and if ever, when he comes to speak, he brings anything with him in writing, the rest of his speech, when he departs from what is written, will flow on in a similar strain.

As an extension to the initial benefits of putting your words to paper (or keyboard) is that the story blocks you create in the process are better remembered and they can be used for those times when called upon to speak without time for preparation. You will better embody your message(s) and improve your ability to diverge from a written speech in an authoritative way.

On occasion I encounter clients who prefer to outline their talk to identify the major points and order of delivery, but resist the call to write out every word of their talk. In such cases I let them know that they are under no obligation to recite a written speech word for word. Lots of folks have difficulty memorizing a speech.

But once the writing process is complete the text can be turned back into an outline for the rehearsal phase, providing speakers with the freedom to select specific words on the fly. The difference is that the writing process significantly changes their narrative, which means the outline produced after writing is often quite different (better) than the outline initially drafted.

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

Idea to Published Book Bootcamp

Seems everyone has a book in them, which is not surprising when you think of how quickly we’re able to assimilate information, learn new skills, and travel the world at a whim. We’re both smarter than ever, and at the same time, hungrier for knowledge than at any time in history.

But how to get started, how to stay on track, and assuming you make it to the writer’s finish line, how the heck do you get that book published and promoted? Enter Author Bridge Media, whose sole purpose is to take aspiring (and seasoned) writers through each critical step. And to that end, their Idea to Published Book Bootcamp is the best place to start.

This three day, intensive and interactive program will help you to:

  • Write a book that creates an emotional connection with readers
  • Brand your book to attract credibility and grow your business
  • Publish your book on platforms such as Amazon and Audible

Need an added incentive to attend this workshop? Of course you do. And that incentive would be me (shameless plug), as I’ll be one of the speakers, providing my take on Storytelling with Impact – how to convert the amazing idea your book is based on, into an equally amazing 15, 30 or 45 minute talk, from a more focused TED/TEDx-style presentation, to long-format keynote.

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Idea to Published Book Bootcamp 2017