Storytelling & Me

I was updating my resume and LinkedIn profile recently and had difficulty coming up with a nice headline for it. I needed something unique, something edgy. Something that sets me apart from the rest. I almost got lost at the thought of not really being great at anything (stupid second voice, more on that below). And then this came to my mind.

Data storyteller. Or simply put, storyteller.

Now at first, I thought I was shooting for the stars. Yes, I enjoy transforming messy, unstructured pieces of work into something more structured and pretty. But how dare I consider myself a storyteller? I don’t even enjoy small talk! Surely the “real” storytellers out there would laugh at me in mockery.

But it’s 2020. And it’s time to shut that second voice in my head. You know, that voice that’s always full of doubt or second guessing things? Start listening more to the first one instead.

With my dominant first voice back in the picture, I quickly realized that storytelling has been part of my whole professional career. Heck, on a personal level, I think all of us have been storytelling in our own ways. Whether it’s to your spouse, peers or your uber/lyft driver, I’m sure you’ve had to explain something new to someone, right? Anytime you’re making sure your message comes across correctly, you’re storytelling.

We just never thought to frame our mind into thinking of it as such.

Why I Enjoy Storytelling

Often when we think of people claiming to be a “storyteller”, we’re biased into thinking of them as loud obnoxious people who just talk too much. They love the sound of their own voice and end up filling space in the room with zero content at all.

That is not why I enjoy storytelling. At. All. In fact, that’s so far away from my personality completely (extroverted introvert).

What I enjoy most is the look in people’s faces when something “clicks” the minute they understand something (beyond your usual nods or customary uhum’s). From grandparents, partners, industry and non-industry peers to even 5-year olds, it lights me up when I’m successful in making everyone understand the same thing. Of course, the narrative given to each person will be adjusted to fit the moment better.

And that’s the fun part I enjoy most — formulating the storytelling plan itself. Storytelling gives me a platform to tap into my creative side. Taking something that is messy, disorganized or with a lack of flow… into something that is well thought of, structured and easy to digest.

Ultimately, the goal is not just about telling a story — it’s about making sure the same message is understood no matter who you’re talking to.

Building Awareness

Have you ever had a thought stuck to your head? You get really excited to share it with someone but alas, they end up just giving you a blank stare. You end up frustrated and scream (to yourself i hope) “Why weren’t they as excited as I was? This is a BIG DEAL!”

Congratulations, you now know what the false consensus effect is.

False consensus effect is a bias that causes us to overestimate our opinions/ habits/ beliefs to the general population. In other words, we think others think/behave the same way you do.

It’s a very human trait to have; I’m guilty at it at times. It’s very easy to assume that everyone is in tune with what’s going on in your head.

I often think that people tend to focus too much on their own content ; less so on the audience themselves. We’ve all been through presentations where slides are filled with texts you can hardly read. Or when the presenter starts using jargon because they assume everyone knows them.

Borrowing elements from the basics of design thinking (not that I’m an expert), storytelling is not just about telling a story. It’s also about empathizing with your audience; a sense of awareness of how they are most likely to digest information that you are presenting to them.

This is the part that I find most challenging. There’s a lot of people in this world and everyone soaks information in differently. How then do you cater to everyone’s needs?

Simple really — you just can’t.

We’re all human and we’re not perfect. I say embrace imperfections in life! The only thing that we can do is to be aware with our deficiencies and do our best to minimize it. As long as you’re aware of your audience or users needs, that’s step one in being an effective storyteller.

Perception

Going back to my hesitation of using storyteller as my LinkedIn headline, it all comes down to perception. It was my opinion that when you tell people storytelling is your forte — you’re perceived as an expert.

Cue spotlight on you. Awkward.

While there are things that I’m good at (we’re all good at something!), I don’t consider myself an expert in anything. I always default into thinking that there’s others out there who know more than me.

But i heard something in a podcast (i’ll edit this if i can remember which one it was) that tweaked my tune on this perception — just because you’re not an expert, it doesn’t mean that you can’t teach.

People often think that to be a teacher or coach, you have to be an expert at things. But in fact, being a good teacher is more about elevating someone from one level to the other. From beginner to amateur, semi-pro to pro or even world class to legendary, it’s about making sure that the person you’re teaching understands new things that they never knew before.

In fact, i actually think that experts can actually be bad teachers as they forget the things beginners need to know in order to advance to the next level.

Don’t think you’re a storyteller? Trust me — you just never realized that you were one. The next time you’re in an uber/lyft ride and choose to be conversational with your driver, I’m pretty sure you’ll be telling them a story in some form or fashion.

It’s funny really, you’d think that storytelling means that I’m better at voicing an opinion or narrating stories.

But in fact, storytelling made me a better listener.

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