(*Don’t forget to read last week’s blog post Storytelling: A New or Old Trend?)
Reflecting back on times when I have been inspired, motivated, moved to action and/or learned something that stayed with me, often this originated from a story.
To date my most valued storyteller is my father. In fact, my earliest recollection of his gift of storytelling is what convinced me to go to bed and entertained me during long road trips. I still remember lying in bed and my dad asking me which book I wanted him to read to me? I would reply, “No daddy, I want to hear one of your stories.” He would recount adventures he experienced traveling with his father for work (a highly regarded Doctor in Iran who, who not only spoke seven languages, but traveled all over the Middle East to work with other hospitals as an executive physician with UNICEF International, and conveniently delivered all four of his children in their home).
The best way I can describe my dad’s storytelling is to compare it floating on calm, ocean waters. His words pull you along as the ocean starts to swell, you drawn up the face of the wave and glide down over its peak.
Some of my favorite stories:
One he got lost and fell down a mountain through cactuses and it took more than a day to find him (one reason I never wondered off after hearing this story – always tell your parents where you are going kids).
Another, he wanted to be an engineer and like to play with electronics and dreamed of building rockets for NASA. Well it’s kind of long story, but my dad got into some big trouble after setting the roof of his house on fire with his homemade rocket attempt.
Baba-joon & Mali-joon
Also, there is the one where he was age 11 or 12 on a business trip with my Baba-joon (equivalent of grandpa in the U.S.). It was during a terrible storm. The kind where there is so much water you appear to be driving on a river. They were not able to go home because the road/pass home had been flooded by the river. They were about to turn around, until Baba-joon shouted to the driver “Wait! There are people there.” (Okay so he said this in Farsi, but that’s my dad’s translation to me). The water had risen so fast there was a car trapped in the middle of the road pass over the river and a family clinging to the top of a car. To make my long re-cap of the story a little shorter, with the efforts of the driver, my Baba-joon and my dad they rescued the family! My dad told me at the end of the story that this was very lucky and that God put them there right at the right time. But sadly, shortly thereafter they saw another car with people on top rushing by and going under, for the storm had worsened and the water had risen too high.
Finally, my favorite story that is my inspiration to persevere and work towards my goals is his story of coming to this country at the age of 17 to become an engineer (he didn’t want to be a doctor which is what he would have had to do if he stayed in Iran). It’s a remarkable story and one that it far too long to account here, but gist of it is there was no internet, Skype, easy or affordable way to communicate with family overseas. He went to school full-time, worked three part-jobs (the kind you see on Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe) and today works for Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL)/NASA. He isn’t building rockets but he LOVES his job (he still works 60+ hours a week at age 70). He would say that he had the opportunity to live the “American Dream” and believes in this country and its freedoms — But you have to do the work, freedom doesn’t fall on your lap.
My father is still my favorite storyteller today and the funny thing is I don’t even care if I heard the story a hundred times, each time he tells it it’s like the first.
But I don’t have a Story?!
According to research found by Kristi Hedges, a Forbes Contributing writer, most people don’t believe they are good storytellers for the following reasons:
- I never think of it
- I tend to ramble and lose the point
- I have a hard time gauging interest
- I am never sure how much detail to use
- I don’t have good stories to share
Yes you do!
Now I don’t have my father’s gift for storytelling, nor is my story as inspiring as his. But that won’t stop me from working on it because we all have a story (or stories) inside us to tell or share.
Where do we start? What is our story or stories? How can we learn to share them?
How to start and develop your story (or stories):
1. WRITE IT DOWN
Remember the power of putting pen to paper. It’s much easier to find and develop a story if you have a list to go to. Get in the habit of noting content that would make for a good story – highs and lows, challenges, times of persistence, etc. Sit down and spend a half-hour thinking about experiences you’ve had where you’ve overcome hardship and made yourself (or others) proud.
Make this a bi-weekly or monthly habit.
2. Connect Key Points with a Story
Here is a good place to reference your notebook (or smartphone) where you are housing your stories.
3. Practice your Stories
Practice – Practice – Practice. Remember storytelling is a skill and you want to practice it just like you would for any craft. 4. Don’t seek Perfection
Don’t let the push for perfectionism paralyze you. (* For more on see my blog post: How to Be Perfect)
5. Use a Story Structure.
A good story is simple. Structure helps the framework and flow of your story. For example:
- Clear moral or purpose
- Personal connection – involves you, or someone you are connected to
- Common reference points – the audience understands the context and situation
- Details: Characters and imagery – allow the audience to “See” and connect.
- Conflict, vulnerability, or achievement we can relate to
- Pacing – there’s a clear beginning, ending, and conclusion referencing the main topic
Need More Help?
In April, I attended a 3-day seminar organized by Team Johnson & CEO Chalene Johnson (Motivational speaker, New York Times Best Selling author, and fitness celebrity): SMART Success Live! There are so many things I learned, but one huge takeaway for me personally was that we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable to truly connect with others. This happened because each speaker shared their amazing story superbly and connected with me and the audience.
When you have tried everything and you just can’t wrap your arms around the creation of your story/stories or even finding them, you can turn to hiring experts or take a class!
For example, Bo Eason is an expert in storytelling and so much more (Bo Eason’s Bio http://boeason.com/bos-story-2/ )
When you have time watch this: (40 min)
Bo Eason on the Power of Personal Story http://youtu.be/ZKbHSk8UbU4
Some stories are hidden deep within us and it takes someone gifted like Dr. Mcayla Sarno http://drmcayla.com/ who at times I perceive as an archeologist of emotions and memories that can help you navigate through your mind to find what you have suppressed or forgotten (ie. Often times this is your story). She is a remarkable EMDR specialist who has even developed products where you can get her guidance in the comfort of your own home.
Remember, just because something feels uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It will feel awkward at first, but with practice each story will become easier, stronger more impactful and allow you and your message to connect with others and improve your communication skills.
For More Watch:
NPR’s Scott Simon: How to Tell a Story NPR video