How to Tell
By Cristina Spataro
I have always been a storyteller. As a child, I concocted tale after tale with my friends about our favorite protagonist “Barbie”, envisioning the lives we wanted when we grew up. As an adult, working as a therapist with clients in crisis, I have used storytelling and role playing as a means for patients to work through difficulties and see different possibilities for their lives. In my writing, my aim is to hone the art of crafting stories, to entertain readers, explore truths, and work through issues. So when I learned that the Center for Faith and Work was offering a workshop on the The Art of Storytelling and Public Speaking in Business, I wanted in. The topic spoke to me and my desire to grow as a writer. How could I be a more effective storyteller?
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the workshop. I work in the mental health field and write fiction, but this workshop specified a focus on storytelling in business. Would workshop leader Adam Wade be teaching us how to give sales pitches? Since I use stories in different ways for different purposes, I was game for whatever I might learn, sure I would gain some useful nugget regardless. I wasn’t disappointed.
Adam began the workshop by introducing himself in an unconventional way. He spoke with loving detail about his early life in New Hampshire with his parents, and the farewell meal his mother prepared for him when he moved away from home. As he described himself stuffing his face with his mother’s signature cheese and sauce, and his father’s declaration he would never eat chicken parmesan like that any place else, Adam vividly illustrated not just that family scene but how truly good storytelling is deeply personal and always about connecting with your audience. Then, he had us introduce ourselves—and what we had for lunch that day.
Just as his description of himself devouring his mother’s meal gave us a strong sense of who Adam is, having us share our lunch choices gave us a glimpse into our fellow attendees’ lives and likes. The intros ranged from a woman who had oatmeal raisin cookies for lunch to my admission that the turkey sandwich I had choked down during my brief break gave me far less pleasure than the curry mushroom dish I chose at the workshop.
Adam opened these windows into our feelings and experiences a little wider with our first exercise. He asked us to pair off into groups of two and three and describe someone who had been a mentor to us. He encouraged us to pepper our stories with details—how we met our mentor, how he or she inspired us, and how we’ve passed on the knowledge they imparted—and he reminded us to relax and be ourselves.
“This is not the American Idol of storytelling,” he joked, making clear the goal wasn’t to perform, but to make a genuine connection.
In response to the exercise, my tablemate Dave told me about a man he affectionately called Uncle Win, who created one of the first camps for handicapped children. As Dave described a man who taught him to see the handicapped as whole people and remained humbly desirous of taking care of others in whatever capacity they needed him, I felt the sting of tears in my eyes. I truly grasped what Adam meant about the importance of making a connection.
Dave would go on to share his story with the entire workshop of 20 as he and four other people responded to Adam’s call to come up to the front of the room. Each story was as different as the people who told them, every one of them confirming that the art of storytelling involves highlighting those moments of poignancy and genuine human connection we can all relate to. This is the essence of how storytelling can also be applied in the business world, in that business contacts are forged and strengthened through making meaningful connections with people.
Along with this key takeaway, Adam gave us a sample story outline to reference and four practical tips I’ll keep close:
1. Don’t memorize your story. Rather, let it be a living thing that changes with each telling.
2. Smile and maintain good eye contact—these are simple ways to connect with your audience.
3. Keep water at the ready. (Adam noted water can be used both for quenching thirst, and giving you an opportunity to pause when you need to.)
4. When anxiety strikes, focus on one person in the audience to tell your story to.
By the time, we did our final exercise, we as a group had come to see that the point of storytelling is always to deepen the connection between storyteller and audience. Whether a story is going on the page or in an ear, it should remain in the heart.
If you would like to attend one of Adam’s storytelling workshops, connect with him at Adamwade.com.