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.