Not pigeons actually, but robins. What happens when a wily cat sniffs out a robin’s nest and turfs it onto the ground? Robin omelette and a fat cat, you might think.
Not so fast…
A good story is never boring. And business stories don’t have to be either. The lessons don’t need to be like goody-two-shoes tales cuffing you around the ear. They can be engaging, emotional and – imagine! – fun.
Here’s what I learned when I turned listener of rather than teller of tales.
Skip this, if you don’t like heart-warming stories
This week I was lucky enough that one of my readers (we’ll call him Reader A) told me a story of drama, near-death and some unlikely lessons. The story was about robin chicks and how Reader A saved them when they were under attack from a local cat. He managed to fashion a new, secure resting place for the robins, replacing the destroyed nest in the garden. The parents were reunited with their offspring and a tragic situation was bypassed. It made me smile from ear to ear. It’s a story of miraculous survival, and it drove home the joy of storytelling.
Reader A told me what he’d noticed about the animal behaviour and what he’d learnt about himself too. It was a pleasure to hear the story unfold, to witness the sense of wonder as events played out, and to hear the conclusions that were drawn. Even before events had reached their end, the tale was as compelling as any foregone conclusion.
The shoe on the other foot is a good thing: what I learned about storytelling
A lot of the joy I felt was on being on the receiving end of a story for a change. I spend my days telling other people's stories, writing my own story through this newsletter and my work. It was amazing to hear someone else's joy, their wide-eyed wonder, their discovery of something new.
Why, then, was hearing a story so enjoyable? There were a few things that I observed:
I enjoyed hearing how Reader A perceived the world – Being permitted a peek into someone else’s life is a privilege, not a right. In sharing their story with me, I got the benefit of a perspective I wouldn’t otherwise have had. Even the act of being communicated with – someone wanting to share something with you – gives a sense of joy. It’s bonding, the best outcome of human communication. Perhaps that’s why as children in the schoolyard we whisper secrets to our best pal, revealing little bits of our characters to solidify the friendship.
I could see what it meant to the teller – Enthusiasm, presence, incredulity… it was all right there, in the teller’s voice. I was totally bought in to what they were communicating. It was as plain as day that the tale was genuine, that the teller was immersed in the moment and that – most importantly – they wholly believed what they were saying.
It made a nice change for me to hear a story – Like picking up a good book by a favourite author or watching a film by masterful director, a good story takes you on a journey. Listening to the story, I could simply enjoy it and let my imagination be led as the tale unfolded.
The multiplication factor – In sharing with me, the story multiplied. Now I have my own story, related to the original tale. In some way, I’m now involved in and responsible for telling that story, which is a great privilege.
Above all, the most enjoyable element was that – before anything else – it was a story. Even if I took nothing extra from it, no moral instruction, no lesson learned, no subtext or business parallel, it was enjoyable in its own right. It was full of drama, cliff hangers, hope, fearsome beasts, innocent victims and twists of fate.
A few weeks back I wrote about how vital it is to wrap our message in a story, how compelling it is, and how much easier it is for our audiences to swallow a story than facts alone. I suppose this is a natural follow-on from that. Hearing, instead of broadcasting, made me realise the truth of this. Stories in business and marketing might sound like a frivolous nonsense (at the mention of the word I can see Lord Sugar turning his nose up at an unwitting candidate across his ginormous table). The truth is, stories connect us. They speak to parts of our brain that touch language, emotion, and senses.
The simple joy of listening to a story: a lesson for businesses
Ok, I’ve explained what I got out of the story. What can you do to help make sure your stories are effective? Whether you’re addressing an audience, hosting a podcast, writing an email or planning a huge launch, here are some tips:
It has to be genuine
That’s not the same as saying that a story has to be true. You can use a fairy tale to explain what you mean. What must be genuine, is your reaction to the story or your beliefs about what it taught you. It has to be something that lights you up, drives you mad, or makes you want to do a little dance.
A story isn’t a cattle prod
Great stories bring people together, communicate a shared language and vision, and create a sense of belonging. Don't simply use a story to impart instructions, veiled warnings, or a desire for others to do as you wish. We've all been there, the presenter reeling off a thinly veiled propagandist piece with all the feeling of an automaton. People can tell when they are being cajoled. Approach your storytelling with the mindset of Reader A, share your tale with genuine intrigue.
It can be a work in progress
When I first heard it, Reader A’s story hadn’t yet worked through to its conclusion. Would the chicks make it in spite of their ordeal? Would they fly the nest? We didn’t yet know. That’s OK! Stories can be raw, unfolding, still unravelling the mysteries of the lessons they have in store. If anything, those are the most compelling, because they are present. They are in the moment, literally, and the teller and the listener are walking through what it means in real time. Don’t worry about having a polished story, neatly tied up in ribbons, with measurable outcomes and quantifiable impact. Embrace the moment.
Stories are fun
The biggest takeaway for me this week, is how much I enjoyed listening to this story. For a while, I totally forgot that there were any lessons attached. I simply wanted to keep listening and find out if the robin chicks made it! I cheered as the cat was banished from the kingdom and the defenceless chicks were reunited with their parents. What made it fun was the teller’s immersion in the story. It was clear that they were taking just as much enjoyment from telling it as I was listening to it. They put their genuine reactions on the line, their personality, their self. And that’s what made it so easy to connect with the story and to be engaged in the lessons that came out of it.
Try telling stories, with as much genuineness as you can muster. I promise you’ll enjoy it. And your colleagues, your prospects, your clients, they’ll pick up on that.
I need you
It got me thinking… I'd like to hear more from you, you lovely delights.
This is a space for you as much as me, and I'd like to invite a guest curator of my ‘What’s Caught My Eye’ section on a monthly basis. Why? Because it’s important to me that what goes on in this newsletter is a conversation – between you and I, and also amongst each other. The clue’s in the name after all: Your Words Matter. If you’re up for it, let me know and I'll send details separately.
Your words matter,
P.S. I can report that of the six chicks, two survived their ordeal. Sadly, four were lost as a result of their encounter with the cat. The two surviving chicks have flown the nest, thanks to the efforts of Reader A.
The Weekly Writing Reflection
Welcome to my humble writing abode.
Each week I share an inspirational quote and a writing prompt. The idea is for you to spend a moment doing some active reflection through writing. Enjoy!
‘No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.’
- William Blake
And your writing prompt (unless you want to freestyle):
- … gives me wings because…
The DAILY Writing Reflection is making a comeback!
If you’re a long-time reader you’ll be familiar with how The Weekly Writing Reflection started: as a daily writing challenge, a way to spread a little cheer and positivity at the beginning of lockdown (full details of the challenge here if you’re new and want to get up to speed).
This time I won’t be sharing a writing prompt via my newsletter, I’ll share via Twitter from August. If you’ve missed the regular burst of positivity (or if you’re new and think that sounds like your cup of tea) connect with me on Twitter @LauraSwritesGCM.
I’ll share more details in next week’s letter. Watch this space!
What’s caught my eye this week
Each and every week I’ll share a few snippets of inspiration, thought-provocation and jubilation. Hand-curated delights, selected by yours truly to stimulate your mind, soothe your soul and pass some time.
Would your face launch a thousand ships? No, nor mine, and nor did that of a Trojan Queen, so don’t worry about it. A few weeks back, I was after book recommendations. Well, The Silence of the Girls is exactly the opposite to what I thought I wanted: it’s a tale of tragedy, vengeful Gods, mutilation and death. Pat Barker (author of the exceptional Regeneration trilogy) gives a powerful take on a familiar tale, told from the perspective of an enslaved Trojan monarch. Next up, Mythos by Stephen Fry. 2020 seems to have taken on a rather Greek flavour – quite apt, after the year we’ve had: fire, drought, injustice, plagues. Very Greek God-like.
Americana, a visual travelogue – A few words here, though the centrepiece is the exquisite photography. If you’ve ever watched a Hollywood film, read an American novel or travelled the highways and byways of the land of liberty, Arnaud Montagard’s photos will feel stiflingly familiar.
What happens when your work is your identity… and then you lose work? A thoughtful exploration of what it means to face a crisis. If you’re self-employed it’s hard not to intertwine the work that you do with your personal identity. Worth reading, and passing on to anyone who’s having a rough time of it.
How prosperous is your Kingdom? A regal theme emerging today, not sure why. As Steven Pressfield points out, ‘when the King (or Queen) is strong, the Kingdom prospers.’ How’s your dominion doing?