Storytelling Live!

Blogger: Rachel Park, Strategic Facilities Planning Principal | Princeton, NJ, USA
May 15, 2012

Last week, I watched Ira Glass host “This American Life: LIVE” simulcast his show at my local movie theater. What an awesome experience. The theme of the evening was bringing “invisible” stories or actions to light, since these stories would normally be on the radio where you’d need to create your own mental image.

Each of the five acts was incredible, bringing such talent as Tig Notaro, David Rakoff, Mike Birbiglia, David Sedaris, Monica Bill Barnes and OK Go to 10,000 people on two continents (in the U.S. and Australia). Regardless of the medium (which alternated between animation, music, dance, and words), each of these acts are at the top of their game; very engaging and very entertaining. When my husband and I walked out of the theater and I said to him, “this type of pop culture is what we all should be exposing our kids to rather than the cr*p that they're watching!”

Storytelling is such an important part of our everyday lives. At work, we tell stories to communicate with our teams, clients and co-workers. Over the years I have noticed that successful people are great storytellers; unfortunately, there are a lot of people who just aren’t good at it and need some tips and practice. Just the other day, I overheard from my cubicle a “repeater” story teller. By the second time hearing the same words, I tried desperately to zone out, but by the fourth time I had to walk away. This style turns people off as the speaker does not progress the story. There are all types of communicators from “BS-ers” to “whiners,” but each of us should try to become “engagers.”

What makes for good storytelling? Well, Ira Glass explains that the way we learned to write and tell stories in high school should be thrown out. Ouch! We were all taught that you start with a topic sentence followed by some facts. Boring!

Ira suggests a number of building blocks that are sure to keep your listeners engaged (Google him for his four videos, starting with this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loxJ3FtCJJA):

  • Anecdote – start with a sequence of actions or events to build momentum and suspense; progress the story,
  • Moment of Reflection – the point of the story, linked to a greater meaning,
  • Shape the Story – keep people listening,
  • Questions – ask them up front and then answer them along the way.

Whether you are explaining an idea or presenting facts in a meeting try to incorporate these techniques to better connect to your audience. The outcome will be more interesting, motivating and appealing for all!

Image courtesy of Rachel Park

Reader Comments (1)

Two of us in Omaha attended the live event too, Rachel! We are both involved in training at HDR, and we agreed we should find more ways to actively engage our audiences. We had a blast participating in the "playing music with your smart phone app" - and the dance segments were some of the most moving I have seen.  My 'secret career dream' is to be a 'story-telling' comic....I would be honored to move an audience with my stories.  Thank you for encouraging us and providing links to Ira's videos.

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