Storytelling is about creating connection – it’s an essential part of building trust and relationships with clients, customers, affiliates and investors. This blog is about the role of storytelling in times of crisis and how it helps us survive them.
As a Storytelling Consultant and someone who worked on the relationship between story and trauma for over two decades, it is sobering, tragic and painful to follow the crisis in Eastern Europe and around the globe.
We know that the war and suffering of today are tomorrow’s trauma, which for the most part will be left untreated and unhealed.
So what has storytelling got to do with war? Does it even have a role to play when lives are being destroyed every second?
While stories don’t stop bombs or bullets, nor bring back lost loved ones, stories are a form of power in times of crisis. Stories are a different and very important form of power.
A different form of power
For so long history, with its claim to objective truth, was given prominence in how traumatic events were remembered and who remembered them. That has changed over the last two decades as stories about experiences that were once silenced are now being told.
Stories bear witness to those experiences and their aftermath.
Stories are the voices of those who managed to survive the despots and their war machines. They are also the voices for those who didn’t survive.
And stories are the memories for the individual and for the community in the present and the future. That’s vital for the other form of survival – how do we make sense of what we’ve witnessed?
If stories connect us, then in times of crises, they connect us with the past, help us emerge from the silence and build relationships in the future.
How Stories give Meaning to Experiences beyond our Reach
It’s the stories we tell that help us give meaning when meaning is well beyond our reach. In times of crisis the writer Ursula K Le Guin shows how art and story do that:
“One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience. There are always areas of vast silence in any culture, and part of an artist’s job is to go into those areas and come back from the silence with something to say.“
I’m sure another great writer, Maya Angelou, was also referring to storytelling as a sense-making tool when she said that in times of trouble, the artists go to work. The Nobel Laureate for literature, Toni Morrison, echoes this sentiment. Here’s how she put it:
“Certain kinds of trauma visited on peoples are so deep, so cruel, that […] only writers can translate such trauma and turn sorrow into meaning, […] A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.”
It’s artists and writer that help create the future out of the silences and the ruins of the past.
And a society that doesn’t support and nourish art and artists leaves itself defenceless in times of crises.
If you’re in business, then you know that Your Bio or Your Story is one of the important brand stories you need to help you communicate core information to your potential clients: Who you are and What you do.
You personal story, or bio, is one of your important brand stories.
Dos and Don’ts of writing your Bio
Here are a few things you should be aware of when writing your personal story:
- Your Bio is NOT a summary of your CV. It is NOT a linear list (often in reverse chronological order) of your career, starting with your education.
- Your Bio is your personal story, so it follows the structure of a STORY (before – turning point – after). And like any good story, it should arouse curiosity & interest.
- Your Bio is a condensed version of your personal story. Depending on the platform, aim for between 50 and 150 words. Your Bio, like all your communication, benefits enormously from a ‘less is more’ approach.
One of the main features of your story is this. It should connect you on a personal level with potential clients, so drop the hype & hollow phrases. Write as you would talk to someone who’d like to get to know you, i.e. without needing to convince the other how ‘passionate’ and ‘committed’, and ‘awesome’ you are. To do that successfully you have to first own your story, then share it in a way that engages the reader on a personal level with you. And keep it simple – simple stories facilitate communication as I’ve pointed out many times.
What is the purpose of your Bio?
Contrary to popular tends, it’s NOT a text version of your favourite selfie.
It should create credibility in the reader/potential client who doesn’t know you that you are capable of doing the job you claim to do and that you are someone they can trust to do the job well.
To create that credibility your story should build confidence in the READER, not, as is often the case, demonstrate your confidence. It’s the reader who needs to find a reason to have confidence in you and subsequently wants to connect with you.
Want to test whether you Bio fulfils its purpose?
Have a read of your Bio, then ask yourself:
“If I didn’t know this person, would I consider hiring him/her?
And if reading your Bio doesn’t produce a definite YES, then maybe it’s time to get some professional help so that it does just that!Learn More
In a world becoming increasingly polarised between us vs them, right vs wrong, etc., we’ve lost sight of what connects us to each other. Our stories create the common ground that allow us to connect with each other.
It’s easy to have our attention diverted by the stories of division and difference peddled by various news platforms 24/7. These stories blind us to seeing what is so important and so very simple. We have far more in common with each other than divides us.
Where do we put our focus?
What can we do to make that change? We can shift our focus away from staring at how wide the divide is between us. Instead we can look for the stories that create the common ground ground we all share; the common ground that is right in front of our noses if we took the time to look.
While this might seem an impossible task right now as the fractures between us seem to grow wider and deeper every day. It’s actually not that difficult once we choose our starting point.
We can begin by focusing on the stories we tell, the stories we listen to, the stories we share and re-share, the stories we decide to own, ignore or discard. What are those stories about? Are they stories that celebrate our common humanity – the common ground we all share? Or, are they stories that pitch us against each other and highlight our differences and disagreements?
Stories are the common ground
The writer Kate Forsyth nails how stories can make or unmake us, can build bridges or widen the divide between us:
“Stories are the common ground that allow people to connect, despite all our defences and all our differences.”
What if we started to REALLY listen to the other’s stories and talk TO each other – the essence of real dialogue? We could discover a simple, obvious truth. We all nurture the same fundamental desires – for love, security, fulfilment, healthy + wellbeing, happiness, …
What if we first identified the common ground we share and then work on narrowing the gaps on how we want to reach our shared human desires. These are the experiences that make the stories we tell each other?
There are many reasons why the race to embrace storytelling in business has often ended up being a swift race to the bottom. Here’s just one example of bad storytelling advice:
“Tell YOUR story”!
The idea behind this advice is that ‘your’ story will inspire people who don’t know you to do business with you! Think about this. Would you want to do business with someone you knew absolutely nothing about after you heard them talking about themselves? No, you wouldn’t.
Why the rush to tell your story?
Plain egoism is a biggie here. There are lots of people who love talking about themselves and live under the illusion that others find their stories interesting. How many times have we been cornered at a party or a business event by someone like that? Another popular argument put forward for telling your story comes from Simon Sinek’s theory Start with Why. As I pointed out in a previous post, he applied his theory to established, well-known businesses and he has since revised his theory.
One of the keys to successful storytelling is correct timing!
No one is interested in YOUR story until they are almost ready to buy from you. So telling your story too early is bad timing and bad storytelling advice! Basic neuroscience helps us get the timing right.
When we talk to strangers, we are operating from the reptilian brain. That‘s the part of the brain that is responsible for our survival mechanism. It knows only yes/no and fight/flight responses. When we are in the reptilian brain we cannot hear the other’s story. We can only ‘hear’ someone else’s story, connect with it and respond to it after we have moved into the part of the brain that is responsible for our emotional and logical response, located in the front lobe.
How do you move someone out of survival mode into receptive mode?
Tell them THEIR story.
Until that shift in the brain has happened, the only story you should tell your potential clients is the one they are able to hear, i.e. THEIR story. That’s how connection happens! To get their story right, you have to know their story. To know their story, you have to have listened to them so closely that when you tell it, they can say:
“That’s me!” “That’s exactly what I struggle with!”, “That’s what I want now!”
If that’s not their response, you need to go back and listen again so that when you tell them their story you are holding a mirorr in front of them in which they see themselves more clearly than without it.
Only when you have successfully done that, are they are ready to hear your story. Otherwise, your story will fall on deaf ears!
If you could do with some help with telling the right story at the right time to the right audience, I’m here to help you!Learn More