The Art of Storytelling
Ever sit in on a presentation as you strain to read the small font delivered in a Tolstoyan-length PowerPoint, where each chart is packed with information? And then somewhere in the middle … you start thinking about lunch. You’re done! On the flip side of that, have you ever sat with an elder, maybe a grandparent, who, with only a look in their eye, a memory and a smile, kept you in rapture about some seemingly small event that happened once in their lives.
Mark Twain wrote a book How To Tell A Story, and even espoused his tongue-in-cheek Rules for Storytelling as a checklist that could serve many of us well. He talks about the “matter” of a story and then the “manner” of its telling, giving equal to weight to both, which might be a shock to the PowerPoint jockeys we’ve become. This is especially true when humor is involved … as they say, “timing is everything.”
And while Twain was talking about literature, with all its action, comedy, and drama, I think you will find his advice interesting, if not actionable, for story telling in business as well.
A few of his suggestions stand out:
- Good stories require that “crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader,” meaning overly artful turns of phrase. Our industry is rife with jargon that does more to obfuscate (uh, I mean confuse) meaning rather than clarify and illuminate. Twain says we should “eschew surplusage” … indeed!
- “They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages in his tale and in their fate.” How can we personify and personalize our work with each other and with clients? How do you make the numbers come to life?
- And then he offers a few one-line tidbits for the storyteller who should … “say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it,” and “use the right word, not its second cousin.” Last, he simply states that good storytellers “employ a simple and straightforward style.”
Such guidelines apply very well to our work because so often we are trying to help clients and peers envisage, embark on, and complete a journey. Telling them about who and how is as critical as the destination itself. Learn to tell the story behind your work and how it involves and impacts all the people involved … and make your grandmother proud!