Tell Me A Story

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Back when I was studying classical music, I was working on a particularly difficult section of an Italian aria that I was due to perform in a few days. I had no trouble with the notes, but the words... oh the words. Finally I heard my father yell from the other room, "Mary! No one there speaks Italian! Tell the story!" Of course what he meant was my ability to communicate with my tone, my face, and my body would be far more valuable than singing every single word perfectly. If I did my job as a storyteller, the audience would connect to the beauty of the piece. And of course -  like so many things -  he was right. By the time I got done, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

In recent years, the art of storytelling has enjoyed a revival - so much so that one may think it is a 21st century phenomenon. Of course that's not true. Jesus told parables, Aesop wrote fables. Franklin Roosevelt visited with us by the fireside and Ronald Reagan could always be counted on for a folksy anecdote. Storytelling has given humans the opportunity to connect for millenia.

The beauty of storytelling is that, when done right, enough room is left for the listener to fill in the framework with his or her own thoughts, memories, and emotional connections.

In advertising and marketing, Mad Men has given us Don Draper as the ultimate example of the power of a story well told. If you haven't seen the episode "The Wheel", then take a moment and let Don Draper tell you of the impact  Kodak's Carousel had on his family - and by extension, all of our families.

 

Generous leaders are not afraid to share their stories. They may be funny, they may be cautionary, they may be poignant. All good stories give us the ability to connect to those around us. Stories work because they put our entire brain to work. Think back to my teenage self learning the Italian aria. Pronouncing the words correctly was the musical equivalent of bullet points on a PowerPoint. It's transactional. It shares facts. Pouring my heart and soul into the song, that's a story that people will remember.

 

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