The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling has become a very popular selling tool in the world of brands, everyone is looking at how to best to tell their brand’s story.

It is also becoming increasingly popular for individuals to focus on. Is it just another hype, or is there actually some weight and importance to telling your story well?

To Scheherazade in One Thousand And One Arabian Nights, storytelling becomes a matter of life and death. Her only chance to stay alive lies in her ability to capture the Emperor’s imagination each night with an irresistible cliff-hanger.

But for those of us that don’t have execution facing us, why is telling stories so important?

Last night I was at an acting workshop, and before we performed our scenes, we each had to say a few lines about ourselves so the casting director could get a sense of us. The surprising majority didn’t have a clue what to say, and despite being in a room full of actors, you could visibly see the panic in each individual’s face as they struggled with what to say. Many settled with ‘Hi, I’m X, I’m X years old, and I’m an actor’. Not a huge amount of revelation going on there, and needless to say, not enough to hook the all important casting director.

That’s just one example, where knowing your story, and being able to tell it well, in a couple of enchanting lines, is invaluable.

I’m going to introduce Shekhar Kapur’s (director of Elizabeth)TED talk, We Are The Stories We Tell Ourselves. It’s such a fantastic talk, and he manages to verablise everything I feel about stories and their importance in our lives. Please watch it, even just to watch the lovely Cat Blanchett dance around at the beginning.

The guardian has a great article on How To Tell Your Career Stories, which is how you can use storytelling in getting your next job. Essentially, it’s getting people to know who you are, but making yourself sound like a very exciting character, so your audience wants to be part of ‘what happens next’. There’s a lot of advice out there on ‘how to tell your story’, which can go in depth about analysing yourself as a character, but not making yourself the hero, and then figuring out the antagonists, adding a big revelation, triumphs to overcome…it all gets a bit convoluted. If this is what you’re after, I would skip all the various articles and just reach for E.M Forster’s Aspects Of The Novel, which is a great deconstruction of storytelling and very funny. For a starting place on how to tell your own story, Bobette Buster’s Do Story: How To Tell Your Story So The World Listens, is probably a great place to start. My personal favourite article on telling your story, is Susan Cain’s How To Tell Your Own Life Story. She actually gets to the crux and the importance of telling your own story, for yourself, and to those around you. Taking meaning from your life events, essentially reflecting and making sense of them, helps you figure out what is important to you and where you want your next chapters to fall. It also helps you deconstruct negative events into parts of your narrative, so not necessarily terrible bits of your history, but all necessary parts of the plot to get you to where you are now, and where you will be going.

For more professional situations, I have found the most useful and realistic advice about telling is a Harvard Business Review article, How To Tell A Great Story. It basically says to not complicate it and practice it. (The article does also talk about who should be the hero etc, but I think this is more for presentations rather than introducing yourself

For a little bit of light hearted comedy, because we still need to remember to laugh more, Mitchell and Webb do a great sketch on how not to introduce yourself

Also if you haven’t seen Tim Burton’s Big Fish, starring the ever-smiling Ewan McGregor, you should. It depicts the wonderful quality that storytelling has, and it’s most concentrated power, to transcend reality. Ed Bloom Senior lives off storytelling and fabricates his life story into a fantastical magical adventure. I won’t say anymore, but it’s about the struggle between his exaggerated stories and his realist son’s responses. It’s a wonderful watch.