“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
I’m always tempted to make it more complicated than it is.
There is only one reason that I am teaching storytelling to young professionals. I want them to understand – to physically experience and then embody – the truth that stories create “limbic resonance.”
More simply, that stories create connection.
How? The limbic system processes sensory information and compares it to past experience. Since all human beings share a common emotional database, stories that express emotion resonate with our past experience as “true” and therefore trustworthy.
And if the story is trustworthy, the person telling it must be trustworthy, also.
We can explain our qualifications – our competence – ad nauseam and get nothing more than a knowing nod of the head in response. But tell a story about that competence in action, how it made you or others feel, what was hard or joyful about learning it, how you failed and succeeded in applying it, and that will get someone to sit at the edge of their emotional seat.
Limbic resonance = connection.
Connection = trust.
Trust = opportunity.
Soon after I published my book, A More Daring Life, in early 2016 I was invited to take a daring new step of my own, teaching in the business school at Cal State University San Marcos. I had no idea what I was in for, no idea of the energy, enthusiasm and kindness of the students it would be my privilege to teach.
A few months ago, I started noodling on an idea built on the foundations of my book but specifically geared to soon-to-be graduates and young professionals. The outlines of a storytelling workshop, one that would teach participants to transcend the quantitative constraints of their resume by learning how to tell a more personal and selectively vulnerable story about their experience and qualifications, began to take shape in May. This weekend, planning and thinking became doing and I led the first one.
For the generous “yes” of those willing to be first I offer my deepest gratitude for trusting me, for being all in and for teaching me how to make it better. (Session 2 is next Saturday!)
To them and to you I offer a toast: “To a more daring life!”
“In the particular is contained the universal.”
We tell stories to create connection. We create connection because it builds trust. We build trust so that we can rely on one another. We rely on one another because we don’t – even on our most selfish, ego-bound days – want to go it alone.
Most of all, we tell stories because they remind us that our humanity is not only shared, but bound up together, inextricably linked for all time.
One of the most glaring mistakes of modern corporate leadership is the use of metrics to motivate performance.
“Our vision for the coming year? To make a gajillion dollars!!”
Do everyone a favor. Tell a story instead.
Of course, we all want the gajillion dollars (and for it to be equitably and appropriately shared) and all of the opportunity it creates, but that will never replace the boring, predictable and completely fundamental human need to be a part of something larger than ourselves; to be part of a story that is worth the telling.
Leaders, be boring. Learn to tell a story.
I was here, and you were here,
and together we made a world.
If you tell me your story, I will tell you mine.
From that small, open place we will take steps that help us to know one another. Through our disclosure we will build trust, and from that trust we will experience the reinforcement of connection.
I will only learn about myself, which means that I will only learn how to walk in this world, through my relationship with you.
When I resist I do so because I don’t want to be reminded of what I don’t yet know. When I resist I am bound by the seduction of the status quo, refusing to yield to the certainty of change.
When I engage I do so because you help me to remember that my initial discomfort holds the seeds of my future wisdom.
Tell me your story, and I will tell you mine.
I’m very interested in public speaking. I enjoy doing it and I enjoy listening to a great speaker. It’s a wonderful, even essential skill to develop for anyone who wants to have more influence, for those who wish to lead.
To that end, for those aspiring to increase their influence through public speaking, I’d like to suggest that you develop three talks of differing lengths; 10, 25 and 45 minutes.
Your 10-minute talk is one big idea supported by one story.
Your 25-minute talk is one big idea supported by two stories.
Your 45-minute talk is one big idea supported by two stories plus 5-7 minutes of audience conversation about how they feel about what you’ve been saying (because no one wants to sit for 45 minutes without a chance to talk…about themselves) and 5-7 more minutes devoted to their sharing of what they just said.
Two takeaways: first, you deliver one big idea, and only one big idea. Second, your talk isn’t about you, it’s about them. The longer you have to speak the more space you should create for your audience to do so.
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.
You can write any story you want to today. You can write it on this sprawling empty canvas and watch as it fills with the wind that carries you into your new reality.
As long as you continue the narrative the sail remains full, stretching outward and upward against a perfect sky, your boat true to that heading.
Whatever story you write, the sail will fill and pull the boat of your experience in the direction you choose.
You can write any story you want to today.
What will you write?
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.