Storytelling for Businessby Nick Owen
Storytelling is an art which lies within the ability of everyone to achieve. To develop the art, it is necessary to practise and to pay attention to feedback. There are four types of feedback.
The first is to watch and listen to storytellers that you admire. Ask yourself: what are they doing that makes such a strong impression on me? How do they do that? Once you begin to discover what it is that they do, you can begin to model their behaviours. If it works for them, it may well work for you too. This is feedback you gain for yourself.
The second is the feedback others give you while you are telling stories. You will need to maintain eye contact and keep all your senses open and alert, noticing the reactions you are getting as you tell your story. Are they the reactions you want at each stage? Effective storytelling is like weaving a spell; you are putting listeners into a light trance, similar to daydreaming, and when you are succeeding it will be easy to move your audience from one state to another. Your feedback here is mainly non-verbal.
This does not mean, of course, that your audience is passive. A lot of thinking and emotional processing may be occurring. The more you observe your audience, the more you will know if you are getting the results you want.
The third type of feedback is the feedback you give yourself afterwards. What didn’t go to plan? What could I have done instead? What other choices were available? What resources do I have that I wasn’t using? What difference might each of those resources have made? For example, was my breathing centred? Did I sufficiently structure my story? Could I have framed it better? Did I choose the right time to tell it?
And when things do go well, congratulate yourself and also give yourself feedback. Why was doing that so successful? How could I have made it even more effective? Storytelling is a journey and the road to excellence in storytelling has no end. You can always get better.
After the performance
The fourth type of feedback is that which others give you, solicited or unsolicited, after the storytelling. It is always worth taking the view that feedback is a gift. At any rate, it is not the truth – it is only one person’s judgement from their perspective at that particular moment. And you can decide whether to accept it and integrate the feedback into your storytelling, to think about it, or just to reject it. After all, it’s simply information, which you can accept or reject.
It can, however, be very useful to invite someone whose judgement you respect to sit in on a story and give you feedback afterwards. If you do this, it is best to ask for specific feedback on just one or two elements. For example, was my eye contact evenly spread to all of the audience? Was my voice loud enough? Did I have a good range of emotion or tone? Did I use silences and pauses well? Did my physiology support the different sections of story? Otherwise there is too much information for an observer to notice, so the feedback will tend to be general and of less use.
The world tennis champion was being interviewed on a radio programme. ‘Had he always been a champion?’ the interviewer asked.
No, he hadn’t, he said. Although when he’d been young he’d been picked as a potential future prospect. But other boys had been better than him – more naturally gifted.
‘So where are they now, these boys?’ said the interviewer. ‘What happened to them all?’
‘Well,’ said the former champion, ‘They just didn’t make it. For all their talent, they didn’t have what it takes.’
‘So what does it take?’ asked the interviewer.
‘It takes discipline. No matter how much talent you have, you’ve got to have the discipline to nurture and develop it.’
‘Is that the secret’
‘There’s another,’ said the former tennis ace, ‘And it’s harder and more demanding than the first. You need humility, no matter how good you are. You need humility to listen to your coaches, to take advice, to test new possibilities, and to admit you don’t know everything. These two things are the secrets of my success. But mostly it’s listening to feedback: it’s the breakfast of champions’.