I don’t have a story to tell…

In storytelling programs, I invite people to do an exercise titled ‘I could tell you about…’ then in pairs and in rapid fire, so you can’t think too deeply about it, over 1 minute you take turns answering what you could tell the other person about – your family, your job, a hobby, a trip you took, etc.  Then you choose one of the topics your partner shared and ask the person to tell you a story about your job, or your hobby for instance. And there you have it, a story. You share the stories and as you do other stories are triggered in your listener’s mind.  That’s because stories beget stories. Our lives are made of stories. 

Here are some simple prompts to identify a story you might share – an experience that changed you, the first time you…, events that inspired emotions (anger, sadness, joy, relief)  the story of today, this week’s story, this year’s story.

One easy way to shape your story.

In essence, stories are experiences with a frame around the experience and are generally shaped in a beginning, middle, and end format.

This is another way to think about the frame of a story. 

Situation – Conflict – Resolution.

  • The Situation (beginning) is where we hear the details of time, environment (both physical and emotional), and the persons involved (characters)
  • The Conflict (middle) is the change or the choice point. In a story, something changes.
  • The resolution (end) is how we and others are changed by the conflict, usually emotionally, but sometimes in other ways.

Developing your story

A useful way to get more from a story is to ask someone to listen and prompt you to elaborate more on:

  • Detail (tell me more specific detail about…? bring in the senses (sight, hearing, feeling, space, colours, etc)
  • Action (you don’t want to get bogged down in detail though, keep the story moving forward by asking what happens next?)
  • Emotion (what are you and others feeling?)

If you want to get an insight into the impact of your story on others ask a listener what they think the essence of your story is – i.e. failure or self-belief, betrayal. 

Storytelling presence

Much of communication happens outside of the actual words you speak.  Things to consider when enlivening your presence are physical variety – movement and gesture, facial expression, and energy. Also your voice and sound communicate a lot of resonance and feelings to listeners. So be aware of your vocal variety, you can use different voices in the story for different people, and never overlook the power of pacing and using pauses.

A quick way to increase your presence is – to show don’t tell when storytelling – show how you feel, what you see, smell, and taste.

Given time, intentionality and practice your story can move hearts and minds. 


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