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Is Digital The End Of Storytelling?

I recently read an article predicting the end of storytelling due to the proliferation of technology. The main theme was that people have become so accustomed to brief messages (“tweets”) and status updates that they no longer have the patience to follow a story as it unfolds.

We have certainly heard such predictions before:

Movies will create a nation of illiterates. (They didn’t.)

Television will create a nation of illiterates. (It may have come closer, but it still missed the mark.)

E-mail will destroy the art of conversation. (I still recall the outrage voiced when people sitting across the aisle from one another in an office exchanged e-mails. However, it proved to be a preference based on subject matter and importance. When they wanted to stop by and talk, they did.)

Social networking will create a nation of illiterates. (It created new styles of communication, but it is not illiteracy.)

And who can forget that computers would make us all paperless?

The digital age has definitely accelerated our expectations of response time and made us more impatient of any delay. In some cases, it can be argued that it has also abbreviated our responses. (Working on Twitter for a while definitely shortens my other messages.)

So, does this indicate a shift away from an appreciation for storytelling? Has our world become so abbreviated that we don’t have time to appreciate a story?

There are certainly people who consider storytelling a waste of time. They appreciate facts…preferably presented as bullet-points…that can be reviewed quickly.

This can work well when there is no need for an emotional investment. “Do you want to stay in and eat or go out?” “Well, we’re a bit short of cash.” “Okay, we’ll fix something here.”

Remember, though, people are hardwired to become involved in the process of storytelling. Even the “bullet-point” executive will unwind when attending a good movie for entertainment. The difference is the degree in being open to storytelling at any given time.

We all have moments when 140-characters are going to completely serve our communication need. There are other times when we want more expression. A wonderful truth about humans is that we are not one all thing or another. We are a delightful mix of expressions and desires.

When we are open to learning or to finding out as much as we can about a topic of interest, storytelling enhances our understanding. It is a welcome way to “fill in the gaps” and to create empathy that might otherwise elude us. It can also be an appreciated change of pace.

Digital may offer new avenues of storytelling that we had never considered before. (Follow @FathomButterfly on Twitter for an intriguing example of short form storytelling.) But, will it be the death of storytelling?

I don’t think so.

Thank you for reading.

So, Tell Me A Little About Yourself

I recently had occasion to participate with an interview team. This is always one of my favorite parts of my job because it allows me to meet and learn more about so many different people, both across the company and from outside the organization.

It occurred to me while I was writing up my comments for an upcoming post-interview integration discussion that the interview process is a natural fit for the strengths of storytelling. It allows the interviewer to see more of the person beneath the résumé and the responses to the pre-selected interview questions on the paper.

Many interviewers become so caught up in the “task” portion of the interview that they miss vital clues as to the inner strengths of the person before them. That’s not particularly surprising because companies emphasize the importance of consistency in the interview process, so they concentrate on conducting a consistent interview from one candidate to another.

In addition to that, interviews have become theme-based. The three that I’ve seen most often have been technical based (can they do the job), talent based (do they have the skills needed to adapt within the job and grow into other jobs), and behavior based (how they will respond within given situations).

However, almost every interview offers a “magic moment” opportunity when the interviewer goes “off script.” The moment is often announced with words similar to, “So, tell me a little about yourself.”

Now, to be honest, most candidates throw this opportunity away. They either recite a platitude (“I’m a self-motivated go-getter who is passionate about [insert job function here], which is why I’m the best person for this job.”) or they talk about their families, hobbies, or reiterate their employment history.

This isn’t surprising. “Tell me a little about yourself” has become the “How are you?” of the interview process. Very few people actually expect a meaningful response. It is recognized by both parties as polite small talk.

But, what if it wasn’t? What if it was recognized and used as an additional information gathering opportunity?

Most corporate jobs share the same broad areas of job criteria. Communication Skills is almost a given in any interview situation. Effective storytelling certainly demonstrates the ability to orally communicate. It can also address Creativity in the type of relative information shared.

If a candidate wanted to emphasize Problem-solving or Decision-making abilities, the story method could be used to walk the interviewer through the thought process, vividly demonstrating the skill level. Many interviews, though, will already have questions ready to probe these areas.

Where I believe that storytelling can excel is in the areas of motivation and identifying what it will be like to work with you. Everyone can say they are highly motivated and that they value relationships. Storytellers can demonstrate these attributes.

Let’s start with motivation. If your story can tell me why this job is so important to you, it will answer an unspoken question that is playing around in my mind. Don’t tell me that you’ve dreamed about being a Claim Service Representative since you were three-years-old. I won’t believe it. However, if you tell me how helping people became an integral part of who you are, and how this job will provide an outlet for you to express this better part of yourself, I’m going to make note of that.

Similarly, another unspoken question will be what it is like to work with you on a daily basis. It’s great that you have an amazing string of degrees and that your picture is featured in the dictionary next to the letters MBA. If you have the personality of a zombie, your achievements are meaningless to me.

Telling a story about how relationships help you to contribute to goals or enhance your skill level reinforces the interviewer’s understanding. Best of all, if your story causes the interviewer to want to hear more, the overall impression is likely to be very favorable.

Storytelling can be a great strength in the interview process. It is not used nearly enough…and it can help you to favorably stand out from among a pack of candidates.

Thank you for reading.

Helping Messages Stick

You’ve probably heard it said that messages need to be repeated three times to stick…although recent studies suggest that six repetitions would be a more reasonable number. I feel that these repetitions definitely help with recognition, but they aren’t necessarily effective for acceptance.

Storytelling can help lead to acceptance. However, it is important to remember that this method is not a panacea. It is only a step in the process.

For example, suppose that I wanted to make a presentation either supporting or opposing abortion rights (a highly sensitive topic). If I begin with a profound, emotional and persuasive story, I may engage my audience’s attention. I will immediately lose the attention of a significant percentage of my listeners, though, if I quickly follow-up with either a “Pro Life” or “Pro Choice” message.

The reason is obvious. The phrases “Pro Life” and “Pro Choice” carry a large amount of baggage with them. As soon as either phrase is uttered, the mind of the listener is programmed to react based on the emotional history that is associated with it.

If I really wanted to work for a change, it would be a multi-step process delivered over multiple sessions. Storytelling is an effective way to begin. I can use it to create an emotional link with my audience, but then I must stop. If I immediately press the point I want to make, I’ll lose many of them.

In controversial matters, stories take time to germinate. You have almost literally planted a seed that will grow into something that can be considered further. It requires time for it to take root. People will need to think about it for a while and reconnect with the emotional experience that spoke to them initially.

Most trainers who have been at the job for some time will readily admit that there is a big difference between getting a message across and having the message be accepted. Repetition can help people respond by rote, although it does little to influence practice.

If I am trying to influence a change in how a person does a task, I will have a difficult time if it appears to the person that I am replacing a system that is comfortable and works with a more challenging system. Unless I follow-up with further reinforcement, many people will return to “the way it has always been done” as soon as class is over.

To make the change stick, I need to create a motivation for a desire for change within the individual. They have to want to see it happen…and that doesn’t happen instantly.

In my job, I often counsel associates about continuing education opportunities. A frequent reason not to pursue this from an outside source is, “I can’t afford it.” This is a very, very valid reason. If I seek to dismiss it, I won’t be heard.

The best hope I have of reaching associates in that instance is to make them a part of a future success story that they truly want to see happen. They need to internalize the story and make it a part of their inner being. It needs to become a sought-after dream. Otherwise, they will default to the expense argument and the topic is dismissed.

If they will internalize the vision, the cost issue is still there. The difference is that now we can talk about how to manage the cost. If I immediately follow the desired future vision with a “Now, sign on the dotted line” statement, I’ll lose them. It takes time to accept the vision. Without accepting the vision…and the internalized story of a desired future strongly helps to do that…the internal static of the listener will drown out my words.

Again, it is important to realize that such core issues will not be resolved quickly or with one visit. People need time to absorb what they have heard, then come back and ask clarifying “What if?” questions. They need to be able to challenge what they have heard, and receive reassurances that make sense.

When you have a message that is vital to get across to your audience, throw away the checklist. Discard the approach of only repeating the message over and over again. Try making the emotional, human connection through a story to plant the seed, and let human reasoning internalize it to nurture and grow.

Thanks for reading.

A Taste Of My Own Medicine

Can you remember a time when you received advice that you didn’t want to hear, but it turned out to be for your improvement? Well, it was my turn to be the recipient this past week…and it was so much more effective because the messenger used my methods to reinforce the delivery!

I will admit to having reached a time in my life when personal comforts with only small amounts of resistance are important to me. (As you can readily imagine, I am often disappointed.)

This past week, I had a meeting with one of my mentors. As I mentioned in one of my earlier postings, I have an Advisory Board of mentors, each of whom responds to a different aspect of my life.

At our most recent meeting, my mentor had an uncomfortable message to deliver. He knew that it was one that I didn’t want to hear and one for which I had prepared a litany of justifications for not pursuing. (I didn’t, and still don’t, consider these justifications to be frivolous. They do, however, keep me firmly in my comfort zone.)

Since this is of an intensely personal nature for me, I hope you will forgive my not going into details. Suffice it to say that my mentor felt strongly that he needed to find a way to reach me…to have me give his words serious consideration.

Yes, he did it by telling me a story.

My purpose in writing about this today is not to tell you that I was so influenced that I immediately consented to the suggested change. I’m still considering the aspects…and I do like my comforts.

What I found to be impressive is that I am considering the change at all. My mentor was right in his approach. I wouldn’t have heard his advice.

His story, however, touched me emotionally. In the days since, I have thought about the lesson over and over again. It comes to me unbidden at unusual times and I find myself pondering what I should do.

As corporate storytellers, this is often the most that we can hope to achieve. Changing a cherished or desired belief is not an easy thing for our audience to do. Sometimes, the best we can hope for is to have the thought “Can she be right?” come to mind from time to time. Slowly…gradually, we either become motivated to change, or we put the possibility on the back burner.

Stories can do that. They can provide the emotional link that reaches deep into us and allows us to question, while the logical approach can be easily deflected.

I’m currently reading Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED. It’s one of those books that I probably should have read during my college years because I can imagine the coffee house debates it would have stirred. Somehow, none of my professors thought to assign it, and the daunting length is enough to give many potential readers a moment’s pause.

Upon further reflection, I don’t know that the story would have had as much meaning to the person that I was in college. With retirement lurking much closer than the budding start of a youthful career, the book has touched experiences that would not have been present…or not as readily recognized…”in my younger and more vulnerable years.”

What I find so enthralling about ATLAS SHRUGGED is the extent of its influence on me. In many ways, its philosophy is the polar opposite to my firmly held values of how people should be respected and treated.

And yet…

I find myself understanding, appreciating…and caring for…the opposing view. I am in the hands of a master storyteller, and she has me completely wrapped up in the lives of the profit-seekers. They are human, too, and their motives have much to recommend them.

In short, my interpretation of these cold-hearted people is strongly influenced by my being critically judgmental. Would I have Henry Reardon over for dinner? No, probably not. We’d spend too much time staring at each other without uncovering a common thread of conversation.

But, I’d have to think very, very carefully about endorsing a practice that would restrict him. That’s a bit of a different “me.”

It was the emotional bridge of great storytelling that reached me.

Thank you for reading.

The Dialogue Dilemma

I usually like to feature solutions in these comments…tools and techniques that have helped me to get a story point across to an audience with greater efficiency and understanding.  This time, however, I want to share an aspect that has me puzzled.

I’m referring to the power of dialogue, and its absence in corporate storytelling.

Writing is one of my favorite activities.  I’ve written a novel, several screenplays, I had a go at playwriting, and I’ve made some progress on a short story collection.  All of these forms have reinforced the importance of dialogue.

Through dialogue, we easily learn much about the character who is speaking.  We can tell if the words follow actions.  We can sense an affinity.  We can admire.  We can detest.  In short, dialogue offers a tremendous cue to form our opinion and understanding of a character.

Yet, dialogue serves a very minor role in corporate storytelling.  Perhaps this is by choice, because a certain amount of acting skill is needed to perform dialogue well.  Storytellers tend to focus on thoughts, descriptions, and narrative observations rather than the words that the characters are speaking.

I seem unable to bring dialogue into my storytelling, also.  Oh, there are snatches here and there, but very little of it that could be considered character defining.

Essentially, dialogue in corporate storytelling appears to occur in one of three circumstances.  It is used as a quote, as part of a joke, or to highlight an important point.

Quotes tend to be short and, as such, they don’t help much in defining a character.  They illustrate a defining moment, but they don’t tell us much about the ongoing personality.  People say some remarkable things, but none of them fully capture the whole person.

Jokes are used to entertain.  A joke can lead to a learning moment, yet they don’t reveal enough of the people involved to make them real to us.  I typically see jokes used as icebreakers rather than as elements of storytelling.

There is genuine storytelling power in dialogue that highlights important points.  Again, the problem tends to be that the exchanges are too brief.  We can appreciate the wisdom of the analytical or relationship-centered mind that produced the observation, but we have no idea if we’d enjoy having the person join us for dinner.

Now, considering that the purpose of corporate storytelling is often to make a point, maybe I’m worrying myself over nothing.  Is there value in knowing more about a character in a corporate story?

I can’t get the thought out of my mind that it is an important aspect.  If we knew more about the characters involved, we would take away stronger images that would influence our behavior long after the story was finished.  A quote holds power, but its duration is limited.  Our affinity with a character allows us to pose the question, “What would the person do in this situation?” 

We take the learning to a deeper level where its impact on us is even greater.

So, there’s no resolution this time.  I open and close still lost in my dialogue dilemma…and I would greatly appreciate your insights.

Thank you for reading.

Stories That Challenge

One of the most powerful stories you can tell contains a message that your audience probably doesn’t want to hear.  It’s a message that lets people know that things will become harder before they become better.

The movie, MARY POPPINS, assures us that “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  I would never presume to argue with Mary Poppins.  Yet, there are those times when audiences are primed for bad news.  Their imaginations have been imagining the worst, and a “things are not as bad as you think” message will only fan the flames of distrust.

The converse is that “things will get better” messages can also be met with distrust.  We want to believe that, yet we feel personally threatened…and that influences our ability to accept the message.

Facts alone aren’t always reassuring.  Homilies such as “It’s always darkest before the dawn” sound like clichés. Fear adds a layer of suspicion…and fear is an immensely strong emotion.

Stories speak directly to the emotions.  They can counter-balance negative situations by presenting an image of a desired state.  Since we are naturally hardwired to understand and remember stories, their messages can stay with us long after their telling is complete.

Since the financial troubles of 2007, I have listened to many “we need to tighten the belt” messages.  From the reactions to them, I could tell that the majority were received negatively.  The impression was that the listener was being kicked while already down.

A few of those messages, though, were contained within stories.  While the reaction wasn’t a joyous jumping up and down, there was a feeling of hope and a sense that someone was working to sort things out.  There was a belief that we would emerge from the darkness.

What were some of the elements employed?

·       The elephant in the room was identified.  When a story dances around the issues, the audience hears a fairy tale.  The speaker isn’t grounded in the reality of the people.  Acknowledging a painful situation that everyone knows promotes a belief in the honesty of the speaker.

·        The emotional situation was acknowledged.  When people are worried, they do not need to hear that they are professionals and should act in a professional manner.  There needs to be a validity given to the very real human emotions they are experiencing.

·        The picture of an ideal resolution was painted.  The audience needed to envision a desired state, an image that would carry them through the difficult times ahead.  Having a vision of something strongly desired a powerful motivator.

·        The steps to get there were driven by values.  Outlining steps in a process lets others know that a plan is in place.  Tying those steps to values such as personal integrity and acting for the common good makes them inspiring.  Instead of merely following a plan, we are ennobled. 

·        We were reassured that we were not in this alone.  This was the “My door is always open” part of the presentation.  Very few people will take you up on it.  Still, it’s comforting to know that option is available.

·        There was a reaffirmation that this could not be done without us.  We all know that if the business does not survive, we all lose.  We expect there will be business decisions made that we will not like.  Those decisions become more palatable, though, when our personal worth and an acknowledgment of our contributions are noted.

The Challenge Story is essentially a heroic speech.  It is a call to action during uncertain times.  Emotions are already at a high.  Stories allow us to tap into that emotional channel and create a sense of emotional purpose.  Few things in life are more powerful than that.

Thank you for reading.

The Stories Behind Performance Appraisals

It’s that time of year again.  Companies all over are conducting performance appraisals of their employees for the year so recently finished.

For many people, this is an experience to be dreaded.  Employees dislike it because they feel that they are being judged.  Their managers don’t care for it either because of the hard feelings that can occur.

Many of these concerns can be alleviated through storytelling.  It is a tool that plugs directly into the emotions and promotes shared understanding.

I have vivid memories of my first experience with the performance appraisal process as a manager.  One of my associates came to the meeting with a large stack of documentation.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating if I say that the stack was a good six-inches in height.

I began the meeting by acknowledging the pile.  “You apparently have something you’d like to discuss, so I’ll let you begin.”

My associate shook his head.  “No.”

“Ah.”  I gestured at the stack.  “And all of these?”

“That depends on what you have to say.”

You see where this was going?  My associate wasn’t going to hear a word that I said because he wasn’t prepared to listen.  He was in defense mode.  If I brought up a concern, he was prepared with documentation to refute it.  The curious thing about all of this is that I truly thought he’d done a great job.

No one likes to be judged, and performance appraisals tend to have that element built into them.  Even when the intent is the most well-meaning, there is still that sense that we may be put into a position of defending ourselves…resulting in losing a pay increase, status, etc.

So, how can storytelling help?  It helps by establishing an emotional connection that allows us to understand more of the thought behind what is being said.

For the manager, part of the process involves a review of the past.  This review is often from one perspective (although it often involves feedback received from other sources).  People tend to think of perception as subjective…that is, proceeding with an action based on limited facts.  That is when performance appraisal turns into conflict.

Now, imagine that the points of view are supported with a story.  While stories can include facts, they also bring the listener into the emotions surrounding the storyteller.  “This happened and then this happened, and all I could think of was…”  The listener enters the narrative and imagines his or her own reaction to it.

In short, stories are an excellent way to share the reasons behind an observed behavior.  We don’t always make the right decision, and most of us are not required to be perfect.  Learning the reason behind an action allows us to say, “Yes, I understand why she did that.”

The same is true for the manager.  Associates want to know why an action is being taken.  If it is part of a required process, it helps to know that.  It doesn’t mean that it will be welcomed, but it is much better than searching for a performance flaw to lower a rating.  I don’t feel judged if I am told, “Salaries are restricted to this percentage of increase this year.” 

Stories are especially helpful in imagining a future state.  Most of us are accustomed to doing more with less in these lean financial times.  So, if I am told that I should take training to learn a new skill, my first inclination is not to see it as a benefit.  I see it as something else I’m responsible for doing.

However, if I can be given a mental picture of my future with that skill under my belt, I can tie into that in an emotional, positive way.  The story allows me to see the potential and internalize it.  I will likely add to the vision myself creating a much stronger internal motivation.

Although many of us worry about emotional outbursts in the performance appraisal process, emotions aren’t something to be avoided.  They can work to the advantage of everyone involved when they allow us to see things as others see them and understand why certain choices were made.

What is the story behind your decision-making process?  Why are you perceiving things the way that you do?  Find the stories that allow others to share in those insights, and you can have a more productive exchange.

Thank you for reading.

Sleeping On Your Stories

Have you ever had a difficult time selecting just the “right” story to illustrate a presentation?  Here’s an approach that has helped me to make a selection.  Try sleeping on it.

Time spent dreaming can often be put to productive use.  Many are familiar with how a vivid nightmare gave Robert Lewis Stevenson the premise for THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.  I have also experienced dreams that provided ideas to work through my own creative writer’s block.

However, the “sleeping” mind can also be used to work through problems.  The flow of logic may be different, but dreams can be very useful in determining solutions…and what are our dreams but another version of storytelling?

The procedure I use is quite simple.  Approximately 30-minutes before retiring for the night, I go over the details of the issue before me.  I focus on what I consider to be the strong points and the weaker points.  I’m not judging them; merely making note of them.

Then, I go to sleep.

When the process works, I awaken to find that I’m considering an approach that I hadn’t considered before.  Most often, this is because my logical, daytime mind would judge an approach rather than allow it to develop and see where it goes.  My dreaming mind is content to allow the solution to unfold.

The results frequently fascinate me.  For instance, if I can’t come up with a story that is appropriate for a presentation, and I have been unsuccessful at modifying an existing story to make it “fit” my presentation, my expectation is that I will need to locate source material that will work…and that it will be someone else’s story.

What usually happens is that I recall an aspect from my own life that I had forgotten.  I will awaken in the morning wondering why that event had played itself out in my mind.  After all, it had been insignificant enough or old enough to be stored away in the mental version of dust-covered recesses.

It is usually later in the day, often when I am not thinking either about the dream or the presentation that needs to be completed, that my mind will put the two items together.  Yes, I have an “Ah-ha!” moment.  At that point, the real work of constructing an outline can begin.

I won’t pretend that this method works every time.  In fact, I will often have to attempt the process two or three times before I receive an insight that bears a favorable result.

Oh, yes, I should also mention that I’m not one of those people who sleep with a writing pad or an audio recorder next to me when I have inspirations in the middle of the night.  Yes, there have been many times that I recall having a night dream that seemed inspired…and it has disappeared upon awakening.

Still, if I pull myself into consciousness and write down what I was thinking, I find that I am unable to go back to sleep.  Since that often happens around 2:00 in the morning, that can really wear me out.

Also, I vividly recall jotting down a sentence about a dream that had inspired me as if it had been a revelation from a Divine Being.  I drifted back to sleep knowing that I would reawaken in the morning with the groundwork for The Great American Novel firmly established.

What had I written?  “The pink bubbles are coming out of the radiator.”

If you feel that you can use that idea for your own epic masterpiece, consider it my gift to you.

Thank you for reading.

Our Stories Can Help Us, Too

My reflection on the past year and setting objectives for the year ahead happens on my birthday.  (Since my birthday occurs late in November, it’s close enough to New Year’s Day to keep me in step with those around me.)

If you scan the internet, you’ll find no end of advice on how to keep true to the resolutions that you make.  This advice often comes with statistics about how soon New Year’s resolutions are broken after being made, so you may want to skip those to avoid initial discouragement.

Maintaining resolutions often involves forming new habits.  There is some evidence that suggests this means that you are literally forming new neural pathways in your brain…and, yes, it takes approximately 21-days for the new pathways to become the primary pathways.

Three weeks can be a long time to maintain a consistent pattern when your own mental processes are at odds with the new program.  It’s no different for me.

I have found a method that has helped me achieve a high success rate for the more difficult objectives.  Yes, it involves storytelling.

Here is the process:

When a change is very important to me, I write out a very short story (about a page or so) that describes the problem and how I overcame it.  (Notice that I didn’t say how I will overcome it.  In my story, I have been successful.)  I also write how life is different for me now that the problem is behind me, and how the improvements have had a positive impact.

Next, I put the story through a couple of revisions.  I never change the “facts” in them.  My focus is in adding descriptive passages that make the key points come alive.

For instance, achieving my objective may make me “happy” in the first draft.  In subsequent drafts, I describe what being happy means to me.  In a story from last year, achieving my objective meant that I went to bed at night filled with peace of mind.  My relationships with those around me were more satisfying because the gift of peace gave me quiet time to listen to what they were truly saying, and I appreciated how fortunate I was to have them nearby.

Throughout the story, I provided more and more specific details of the pain that had been felt and the relief that had been achieved.  In the end, I had the perfect story of an aspect of my life that gave me great pleasure.

The third step was to do an audio recording of me reading the story that I’d written.  This also took me through some revisions, both written and on the performance side.  I’ve learned that the written phrase can sound much different when it is heard.  What seemed impressive on paper can sound stilted when read.

When the story is where it needs to be, I pay attention to adding appropriate inflections to highlight key points.  If the story tells me that I’m excited, then my vocal delivery must reflect being excited.  “They all lived happily ever after” doesn’t have quite the same impact when the voice suggests that I’d rather be taking a nap.

Once the recording is complete, I set aside a time each day to listen to it.  The best time for me is right before I step into the shower.  The running time is around 2-minutes…just long enough to assure that the water is nice and warm. 

While I’m showering, I determine the one thing that I’m going to do today to bring me closer to my objective.  I think of it as my daily personal development plan.

Eventually, I no longer need the story.  It is a part of me.  The “success image” is firmly planted in my mind, and I can easily recall it whenever I want it.

That’s it.  As you can see, there are possibilities for many different variations.  The main ingredient is to have a positive emotional involvement with my objective, and stories are a direct highway to the emotions.

Thank you for reading.

Comfort (& Joy) Stories

At my household, ‘tis the season for the traditional Christmas films to make their reappearance.  The original classic versions of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET and THE BISHOP’S WIFE vie with short subject favorites such as HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (with the amazing voice of Boris Karloff) and A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS.

Of course, there’s more to viewing these now than it merely being the right time of year for them.  They provide comfort…a feeling that for the time we are engaged by them, all is right with the world.  The stories do not change, yet they pleasure they bring is absolute.

There are so many other examples.  I’ve often read A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the Charles Dickens classic, during the Christmas season.  Now, December is the month when I start a Dickens novel that I haven’t read before.  Even though the theme isn’t Christmas, it still provides both intrigue and comfort.  (This year, I’m reading THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP…highly recommended.)

For years, I gave readings of THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS at family gatherings.  (Before you ask, they were by request, not because I was imbibing in too much Christmas cheer!)  At other homes, friends told me of the tradition of reading a portion of THE GOSPEL OF LUKE.

All of these bring comfort to the select audience.  They are regarded with anticipation and greeted warmly as one would welcome a friend who has come back for a visit.

Comfort stories don’t only make the rounds in December.  Halloween brings us ghost stories and THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HALLOW.  Yes, those are comfort stories in that they feel right being told then.  It is a time of year when we can listen with tense excitement…and prove our bravery when we survive them!  “Who has my golden arm?  …YOU DO!”

At other times, the proud parent will tell of the latest achievements of a beloved child.  Many of us take comfort in these tales as they remind us of the good that is present in our lives, too…and that might be taken for granted.

Comfort stories that are effectively told make a tremendous impact on our audiences during our presentations.  When a story “feels” familiar and safe, the audience is inclined to trust the storyteller to lead them to new adventures.  It is not unlike the effect of “Once upon a time” on a young child.

What are the subjects of comfort stories that you can use?  The list would include:

·        Family

·       Difficult moral choices that proved to be worthwhile

·       Helping others and making a difference

·       Humorous retellings of common incidents most of us have experienced

·       Life lessons learned from children

·       Inspirational stories that confirm the human good

Any of these will engage your audience and allow them to feel ready to go on a narrative ride with you.  It is a plus if the story also allows the listener to feel good about who they are, but it is not necessary.

Companies that master the comfort story have a built-in following.  Their customers feel good about buying from them.  They feel that they are part of the story. 

For example, Nationwide Children’s Hospital is a pediatric care facility located in my community.  The stories they tell are remarkable tales of children and families who come to them in distress and who are returned to the path of recovery.  Their tagline is, “When your child needs a hospital, everything matters.”

Now, I’m not foolish enough to believe that every case that comes before them is a successful one.  I also know that there are other hospitals in the community who are especially good at what they do.

Yet, if my daughter is faced with an extremely serious or life-threatening health situation, who am I likely to think of in my moment of panic?  Where will I most likely want her to be taken?  Which hospital’s story is my source of comfort at that time?

What are the comfort stories in your professional life?  Your audience is waiting.

Thank you for reading.