Stories have existed since long before recorded history, but the desire to hear stories hasn’t changed, nor has the longing to tell stories. Narrative, like food and sex, has been fundamental to human evolution. And frankly, at this stage in the game we should be surprised/delighted/shocked when we hear someone say that “we aren’t in the marketing business, we’re in the storytelling business”. It like saying branding is about establishing trust. Or authenticity. It is a no brainer, passé, common knowledge. Perhaps more relevant is the fact that today there are more stories than ever, with an unlimited channels in which to deliver them. We are surrounded by psycho-social clutter and a never-ending steam of stories. So the challenge is standing out from this clutter. Just as important (if not more so) to standing out is getting remembered.
But when we talk about it in business, we don’t always mean what we say. We don’t always tell stories, instead we kind clever ways to stop people in their tracks. We don’t captivate or inspire change.
Most dictionaries define a story as a narrative account of a real or imagined event or events. Within the storytelling community, meaning that collective of authors and artists who practice the craft day to day, a story is more generally agreed to be a specific structure of narrative with a specific style and set of characters. It includes a sense of discovery, entertainment, mystery and completeness. Through the sharing of the storytelling experience we pass on accumulated wisdom, beliefs, and values. We create social and cultural bods in the moment. Through stories we explain how things are, why they are, and our purpose in the universe. Stories connect us with our humanity linking past, present, and future. Stories are as fundamental as food, water, and shelter.
It is the live, person-to-person oral and physical presentation of a story to an audience. “Telling” involves direct contact between teller and listener. On the one hand, the teller’s role is to prepare and present the necessary language, vocalization, and physicality to effectively and efficiently communicate the images of a story. On the other hand, the more important one, it is to build a relationship, even if own temporary, that draws the audience in. It isn’t one-directional, it is a dance. With that in mind, the listener’s role is to actively create the vivid, multi-sensory images, actions, characters, and events, the reality of the story, in their mind. The completed story happens in the interaction, not the components of the narrative.
The implication should be relatively simple to grasp – if we’re going to talk about storytelling in a business environment, then we should stop thinking about the story as a delivery system. We should think about the interaction.
- Storytelling is an interactive performance art form.Direct interaction between the teller and audience is an essential element of the storytelling experience. An audience should respond, interact, and engage. The teller needs to react immediately and spontaneously. In other words, the dramatic element needs to be responsive.
- Storytelling is a co-creative process. Storytelling audiences, or clients, should not be expected to passively receive a story from the teller, as one might the content of a book or television program. The teller provides limited visual images in a context that is often sterile. Listeners create these images, beliefs, etc. based on the performer’s telling and their ability to metaphorically enter the story themselves.
- Storytelling is personal and interpretive.Storytelling passes on the essence of who we are. It is the vehicle by which we assess and interpret events, experiences, and concepts from minor moments of daily life to the grand nature of the human condition. As such, we must embrace the act of the telling and our roles within it. Removing ourselves from the narrative diminishes the story and makes it less than genuine.
- Storytelling is a process. Storytelling is a medium for sharing.Because it is spontaneous and experiential, a dynamic interaction between teller and listener, it is far more difficult to describe than is the script and camera directions of a movie, or the lines and stage direction notes of a play. Storytelling emerges from the interaction and cooperative, coordinated efforts of teller and audience. Assume it will be fluid, somewhat unscripted, and disruptive.
Yes, storytelling should drive what we do, how we sell, how we explain, etc. But it needs to be more than a dusting of glitter on the latest PowerPoint deck. It has to be bigger and brighter. And at the end of the day, it has to change the way we interpret the world around us.