Storytelling, It’s All the Rage

–Why Using "Buzzwords" Bugs Me

I like to think I was one of the first to use it in my title. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t; we all know storytelling has been around since, well, the beginning of human existence. For thousands of years, stories were how history, culture, and relationships have been shared and carried forward. They continue to serve multiple purposes, including teaching basic concepts, morality, ethics, religion, and more.

Prior to the age of general literacy, storytelling was the only way to share your community and family history. Stories passed down from generation to generation are what connect us, not only to our family and personal identity but to the rest of the global community.

Given our human nature to share stories, it’s a bit surprising that suddenly, over the past 2+ years, storytelling has become a big buzzword. Storytelling for content marketing, storytelling for sales, storytelling for company culture, storytelling for interviews & résumés… as if there’s some magical component of business and life that was recently discovered and will change everything!

WHY DOES THIS BOTHER ME SO MUCH?

Maybe it’s because of my discovery a few years ago of my skill in helping people and organizations better understand and share their stories, both as a tool for general communication and as a way to improve personal outcomes. There aren’t a lot of really skilled storytellers, and there are even fewer good teachers of storytelling.

Maybe the buzzword status of storytelling bothers me because, by making it it’s very own thing, we take the word out of the context of every other component of communication. Like the word engagement. Suddenly, over the past few years, engagement is a word that gets tossed around every industry: Education, manufacturing, travel, public sector agencies. As if, by using the word engagement, we can change the culture and dynamic of an environment without putting it into the context of profit, communication, management, leadership, marketing/sales, human resources, customer experience, etc.

Maybe it’s because I’ve heard the word story misused so often, particularly around our internal messages. Have you heard this one? “Stop telling yourself the story that you’re not good enough.”

“I’m not good enough” isn’t a story. It’s a label. It’s a judgment. When we figure out where that judgment came from, we can start to develop an alternative, using evidence we find that the judgment is wrong. How do we find where it came from? We dig into specific events and conversations in our memories – stories from our past that shape our present. When we share a story from our past, a potential pivot point in our lives, and think more deeply about the context around it, we can adjust the internal message we received at that moment, and that we continue to grapple with in our personal and professional relationships.

ALL BUZZWORDS undermine their original meaning, AND IT HAS ALWAYS BUGGED ME.

Buzzwords don’t get created in a vacuum. To be a storyteller on any medium, you have to have a story to tell.

As my friend Shlomi Ron, of Visual Storytelling Institute, says, you have to be a storyMAKER first. And then you must use the story in context, with an audience, in a way that moves people to do something or to feel something. That’s the beauty and complexity of communication; there are so many components, and storytelling is just one of them.

In business, telling your story has to fit into the culture and context of your organization. That means, prior to coming up with the language of your story, you need to do some digging. Remember the “why” behind your business; take into account your mission, vision, and overall goals. Think about the people involved, including employees, leadership, customers, and other stakeholders (the communities you impact), and figure out how your story will impact them.

To really understand each other, we have to realize that our story isn’t one long, linear experience. Our story is a compilation, a book with lots of chapters and plenty of plot twists. We change, we grow, we build our sense of self – our identity – with each experience. And truly, the stories we choose to tell, and how we choose to tell them, create that identity, that sense of self, and have major implications for how the people around us see how we show up in the world.

Before you use storytelling as a buzzword, CONSIDER WHICH STORIES TO TELL, HOW TO TELL THEM, AND WHERE THEY SHOULD BE TOLD.

Want to uncover your life’s pivot points, create a story portfolio, and better understand how to use storytelling to improve communication and relationships? ⤵︎

My book, based on my podcast, Your Stories Don’t Define You. How You Tell Them Will. is now available for preorder through the Publishizer platform. The deadline to preorder and receive the valuable bonuses available for multi-copy purchases ends August 31, 2019.

Sarah Elkins
Sarah Elkinshttp://elkinsconsulting.com/
Sarah is a communication coach, Gallup certified Strengths coach, keynote speaker, writer, and professional musician. Sarah uses storytelling as the foundation of her work with management teams and individual clients to improve communication and relationships. Her podcast, Your Stories Don’t Define You, How You Tell Them Will focuses on storytelling themes, the primary concept being that the stories you choose to tell - and how you choose to tell them - impact your internal messages and the perception of those around you. Her podcast was named in the top 50 in the category of emotional intelligence on player.fm. Her passion for connecting people and helping them learn to better connect with others is embodied in the events she hosts, No Longer Virtual, which are small, interactive conferences based on the theme of connecting beyond the keyboard, recognized twice by Forbes as “Can’t Miss Events for Entrepreneurs” in 2017 & 2018.
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Maureen Nowicki
Maureen Nowicki

Thought-provoking Sarah to the point I would like to listen more of what you have to say on this subject. I am going to check out your podcast topics now. Thank you for delving into storytelling as I definitely can see the importance of understanding it and working with it in our professional lives in an informed fashion.

Larry Tyler
Larry Tyler

Interesting point of view. Coming from a family of front porch storytellers we loved the buzz words because we knew something good was coming. Most of the family couldn’t write or spell so storytelling is how I know so much about those that came before me. My grandchildren love when I tell them stories so I guess I will continue to use those Buzz words as my children and grand children will as well. Enjoyed your post thank you. (edited)

Tom Dietzler
Tom Dietzler

Sarah, to me and countless others, you’ll always be the Grand Poobah of storytelling. You’ve been mining this field for so long, and you should take heart that the message is finally resonating in so many places. But I get it, it’s the halfhearted nature of things in life becoming “viral” – Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame have been boiled down to mere seconds and we all nod our heads like Beavis and Butthead mumbling “Heh-heh, that’s cool…” and we’re off to the next cat video. What you have always modeled is the intentional nature of story-telling as you so cogently point out – having it play into our why, having it mean something and mean something beyond grabbing the listeners’ attention, but as in the days of parables and allegories – it’s demonstrative of a larger point. What kinds of patterns does the story demonstrate, what lessons does it teach, what degree of self-awareness occurred as an aftermath of this story? The stories aren’t useful props – they are eye-opening revelations of how we get better at understanding our history and using that acquisition of self-awareness to become more productive, to have healthier relationships, to become better at becoming the people that we were intended to become.

Life is too full of “busy-ness” and not nearly full enough of the things that bring satisfaction and meaning. When I connected with Sarah Elkins on LinkedIn and later had her give me some meaningful and insightful guidance on my writing, I rightly perceived in her truly high level knowledge, deftness at using her talents and explaining to others the real usefulness of her craft. She was telling stories before it became a thing, and she’ll always be that someone who made it life changing and meaningful to me. Great piece, Sarah, so glad that it popped into my LI feed.

Laura Staley
Laura Staley

I find this to be a thought-provoking piece, Sarah. As human beings we are meaning making machines. When something happens, we often, without really thinking deeply, make it mean something about us, life, the other person/people. I believe you would call this a judgment. We are often completely wrong. The mind will weave all kinds of “stories/judgments” that may or may not be based in reality including the web of thoughts/memories/impressions/lived experiences connected to a limiting belief (or judgment) such as “I’m not enough.” I appreciate your commitment and passion for the deeper dive into those pivotal moments, the actual lived experiences of people, and how these can be shared with others.

There’s a distinction between a lived experience and the internal world of thoughts/beliefs (thoughts we continue to think over and over again)/feelings that may have little relationship to “what happened” out in our lives. Our interpretations of life events becomes this interesting filter or lens through which we attempt to make sense of our lives. Like wearing sunglasses that turn everything “rose-colored,” people may struggle to notice they sifted experiences through that filter.

Becoming a silent witness to both our internal lives and our external actual experiences “out here” can be beneficial on many levels. Paying attention from a quieter place of that “deep dive” can bring much needed self-awareness that then informs the stories we tell about our lives.

I also found Tom Diezler’s insights, valuable thoughts to be very impactful and spot on.
Thank you for this post, Sarah. Thank you for your commitment to a richer, broader, meaningful discussion and use of storytelling.

Johnny Johnston
Johnny Johnston

Interesting article. In my mind building or telling a good story requires the utilization of the senses where its heart creates an image, sound, scent, touch, etc. Takes the listeners to the moment you’re speaking to, then opens the mind to the journey you’re speaking about and builds anticipation as to the stories conclusion. However business storytelling is primarily based on action steps and facts that target a goal in its origination and concludes with a step by step plan of accomplishment. Thank you for this piece as it makes me think about building a better defined format in my creative storytelling.

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