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True Stories

I had the good fortune to attend the Learning 2012 Conference in Orlando a couple of weeks ago.  One of the “hot topics” was storytelling.  Two sessions stood out for me, and I will feature each in a separate blog posting.

First up was a discussion with Ken Davenport, Broadway producer of Will Farrell’s YOU’RE WELCOME AMERICA, ALTAR BOYZ, OLEANNA, GODSPELL, and the delightfully controversial MY FIRST TIME (which, he noted, was about exactly what you think it’s about).  He is currently developing a musical from the romantic fantasy, SOMEWHERE IN TIME.

As you can imagine, it was fascinating to listen to a Broadway producer discuss the essential elements in storytelling.  However, there was one insight that didn’t ring true for me.

At one point in his presentation, Mr. Davenport stated that the most effective form of storytelling was the true story.  When people hear the words “based on a true story” or “let me tell you about an amazing thing that happened to me,” there is an immediate emotional connection.

I definitely agree that the true story is a very effective “quick start” tool for the corporate storyteller.  The true story has a magic pull, whether the listener equates it to enjoyable gossip or being “an insider” who is hearing a story that is not generally available to everyone.  It immediately draws attention and curiosity.

Your audience will tend to enhance your credibility without asking why you are the one sharing the information.  You become an instant expert by invoking the words “true story.”

Best of all, it requires very little (if any) backstory.  If you have a limited time to make your presentation, you can jump from a one line introduction into a brief setting up of the scene, and head almost immediately into the main event.  This can be easily done in 3-minutes.

True stories also tend to be memorable.  There is something about the label that causes the mind to say, “File this away.  I may need to access it again.”

So, with all of those things to recommend it, why am I not convinced that the true story is the most effective form of storytelling?

One reason is that the discussion moved to the topics of vivid characters and memorable plotlines.  LES MISERABLES was cited extensively.  However, none of these shining examples came from a true story.

Fiction is also a wonderfully effective form of storytelling.  So, is a ballad.  So is a movie.  So is a read narrative.  All of them are highly engaging formats.

The determination of what is “most effective” depends on your situation.  I wouldn’t opt for a true story each time.  My audience will influence my choice, as will the time allotted and the appropriateness of the story to the point I’m trying to make.

In a memorable episode of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, a metaphor of Romeo and Juliet on the balcony was used to instill an immediate emotion and shared understanding.  If you have enjoyed that play of Shakespeare, those words probably opened up the scene in your mind along with the environment in which you saw it.  If a learning point had been attached to it, that would likely be pulled from your memory, too.  A most effective story, indeed!

The true story contains great power for the storyteller.  Remember, though, it is only one tool available to you.  The number is limited only by your imagination.

To learn more about Ken Davenport and his projects, visit his web site at http://www.davenporttheatrical.com/.