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National Storytelling Week

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I’m fortunate to have been part of British Gas’s training programme for fourteen years and for eleven of those years delivered a one-day Presenting with Impact course. As you can imagine, during that time many people attended the course, one who stands out for me is the guy who attended twice. Michael, as I’ll call him, walked into the room and his face was immediately recognisable.

“Have we worked together before?” I asked, to which he replied, “Yes; I was here three years ago and enjoyed it so much I thought I’d volunteer to come along again, given that one of my team had to cancel last minute. Is that OK?” Of course it was OK and I jokingly promised to push him harder this time around.

The course began, following the same order as had always been the case; talking about what creates impact, defining the essence of good presentation and each person being filmed as they presented. Then we took a break for coffee, allowing me time to set up so we could watch the presentation videos back for appraisal. That’s when Michael came up to me again.

“You didn’t tell the story,” he said.

“What story’s that?” I asked

“The one about the actor doing Shakespeare,” he replied. “It really stuck with me last time; I’m surprised you didn’t tell it today.”

I thanked him for remembering and expressed gratitude that it had helped him, but also explained that I tell lots of stories and that they often change as time goes by. “Well, you should keep that one,” he remarked as he went off for his coffee.

This was the best part of ten years ago now and I still tell the story of Michael when working with people in business on the art of good storytelling. And as we’re celebrating National Storytelling Week, I wanted to use it as a springboard to say this:

Never be afraid of telling stories to land your message

Stories are increasingly being used as a way to deliver messages that connect with people and help them remember your key themes. But storytelling isn’t new; it’s been around for as long as we have lived in communities, before we could even write. How do you think we passed information from generation to generation and from village to village before most people could read or write? By storytelling. The Bible, and most books of faith, uses the premise of story to help land messages. We all love to share stories of our journey to work or our holiday when we get to the office. And we love to listen to great speakers as they engage their audience by using story to make their message more appealing.

Don’t be afraid to explore the art of storytelling yourself; it is no longer a thing of ‘Once upon a time, in a land far, far away’, but as simple as recounting an anecdote. The story Michael had wanted to hear twice was one that demonstrates the importance of an actor understanding why they are speaking and knowing how to employ their body and voice when delivering Shakespeare. That’s when the audience starts to connect with words which are almost 500 years old and can become relevant today.

Now, you don’t need to deliver Shakespeare, but you can speak your business context in a way which connects with others – if you know why you’re saying it, and use your body and voice in harmony to give meaning to your message. Storytelling isn’t just about the story; it’s also about you giving yourself permission to be an engaging storyteller. Use National Storytelling Week as an excuse to practise the art of story, to develop your ability to connect with and influence others.

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