#73 The One Thing That Makes a True Storyteller
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I’ve shared a lot about what makes a great storyteller and the elements of great stories. But I don’t think I’ve ever shared my perspective on what makes a storyteller. And that’s odd because I have a strong point of view about this and it guides a lot of the work I do both as a writer, consultant (who runs a story-led consultancy), and writer of this newsletter. I go into my work and into the world under the belief that all of us are storytellers. Every last one of us, yes even you whoever you are who insists you aren’t creative. You too are a storyteller.
Whether you’re a nurse, an artist, a writer, or even an accountant or developer who works with numbers all day, you are a storyteller. We all are. It is a fundamentally human endeavour. It is tied to our imagination and is something we do from an early age, about the age of two in fact so most of our lives. It’s a type of play that starts out in the form of fragmented stories according to Stuart Brown, M.D. who wrote the book of 2021 for me, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. In case you’re wondering, yes I also think that storytelling can be and often is a playful act.
We don’t start out with the elements of story in that early imaginative play—a beginning, middle, end—but as we develop we gain the capacity to create cohesive narratives. It is a global phenomenon. Brown describes storytelling as “the unit of human understanding.” It’s how we learn about the world, ourselves and our place in it. We start to create narratives young and it is an essential part of how the human brain creates meaning. We tell ourselves stories to understand the world around us and tell each other stories to connect us to that same world.
Brené Brown, a favourite storyteller of mine writes in her latest book, Atlas of the Heart, that in order to cultivate meaningful connection we need to practice story stewardship—honouring stories as sacred. Both the ones we share and hear. She writes, “We are good stewards of the stories we tell by trusting them to people who have earned the right to hear them, and telling them only when we are ready. We are good stewards of the stories we hear by listening, being curious, affirming, and believing people when they tell us how they experienced something.”
It is on us to be good tellers and receivers of stories if we want to access the magic and connection they help create in the human experience.
It’s easy to describe writers, directors, actors, marketers as storytellers, but it is an act we all do. Some more deliberately or intentionally than others, but we all do it. We do it everyday. We tell ourselves stories about the world and our place in it and what we have to offer. Some of it good and uplifting, some of it damaging. It’s how our brain makes sense of events and situations and phenomena we come across. It plays a role in shaping and enforcing our biases. I often challenge myself with the question: what is the story I’m telling myself right now about this situation and is it helpful? (Another Brené Brown gem). Being aware of our beautiful capacity for this powerful act of storytelling is essential because that act shapes our understanding and experience of our lives. It shapes who we connect with and who we feel is part of our community and who isn’t.
It’s powerful stuff, yet so few of us are aware of the role it plays in the human experience and so we don’t take the time to understand and hone our skills as storytellers. It’s why I write this newsletter; it’s why I insist on sharing the things I’ve learned on the path of being a lifelong intentional storyteller. It’s why it’s so important to me to help you see the storyteller in you.
So, as I said, and insist and will never let go of, we’re all storytellers. From almost the beginning of our lives. So what makes a storyteller? Being born human. As we get older, that natural habit and behaviour of creating narratives and gleaning understanding and meaning and cultural connection through them may not seem as overt in all we choose to do, but we’re doing it. The thing is, because it allows for meaning and connection, it is one of the most powerful skills we can wield as human beings. It’s why my businesses purpose statement is: We are storytellers and we exist to help people understand and leverage the transformative power of stories in their business, careers, and lives. Because I fundamentally believe in the power of great storytelling to change the world and I want to help create a world where more of us see ourselves as storytellers and leverage it to make it good, better, best.
One way to tap into your overt storytelling skills and build on them is to ask yourself, what is something I’ve experienced or seen in the world that I want to share with others? What is something I’ve created or understand that I hope others can benefit from? What is something I’ve seen someone else do, experience, or create that I want to help them share with the world? What has made me the person I am today and what of it do I want to share with my family, my friends, my co-workers, my community? What lights me up in a way that I hope others can be lit up by as well?
Storytelling can help you share those things in a way that connects and inspires. Also, it’s magic and magical. As Stuart Brown puts it, “Storytelling has the capacity to produce a sense of timelessness, pleasure, and altered state of vicarious involvement that identifies narrative and storytelling with states of play.” And you know how I feel about the power of play.
But that magic and play will be the topic for another note. Today, I want you to hold onto the idea that we all have stories inside of us. Sometimes it’s just one beautiful story, oftentimes it’s many. It is a gift when you choose to share them with the world. And your story matters more than I can say—you’ll have to share it and see for yourself.
A Story Well Told: YOUR Big Story! Coming in January
It’s FINALLY here (almost). I’ve spent the past few months reading comments, doing research, and diving into feedback from my brand storytelling pilot course. I went back to all I’ve written about storytelling in this newsletter and pulled the most powerful tips and tools into a four-week storytelling foundations program. Mostly because that’s what you asked for. When I reached out for a sense of what you wanted more of, foundations in storytelling and how to make your story relevant was the main response I received. So that’s what I focused on in creating this program. I feel so excited to share it with you.
Throughout January I’ll be sharing more about the course and hosting a free webinar on storytelling. Enrolment will only be open for a limited time beginning January 17, 2022 so keep an eye out. Class begins January 31, 2022!