Telling Stories

A teacher once said to his 3rd grade students, “Do you want me to read you a story or tell you a story?” “Oh tell us a story,” they exclaimed, “because then we can see into your eyes.” – Michale Gabriel

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I recently took a 2 day course at work called “Leading through Story”.  This isn’t your typical course taught by an instructor qualified in the content. No, the instructor Michale (Michelle) Gabriel is the course.  A world-renowned storyteller, Michale opens up storytelling and makes is accessible to you and applicable to the work you do inside of corporate America. The synopsis of the course on our corporate website encouraged employees to attend and discover:

  • How an organization’s stories influence the culture
  • How to use stories strategically in your presentations
  • The art and technique of crafting and delivering a story
  • Tools for accessing and utilizing your own stories
  • Innovative ways to elicit stories from others
  • The benefit of professional coaching in story telling.

As with most things, putting these ideas into a bulleted list really strips out the richness of the value of storytelling. I really believe that PowerPoint is making corporate America dumber by the day, but I digress.  No, I think Michale says it best in a 1999 article titled Learning and Growing Through Stories.

Stories are the medium through we can communicate meaningfully with each other. Our wisdom, our intuitive knowing is imbedded in the stories we tell. Just after our need for food and even before our need for love, we have a need for story.

Storytelling is the oldest form of communication. The first thing people do upon meeting each other is begin telling stories. A wise teacher once said, “The shortest distance between two people is a story.” Another teacher was asked by his frustrated students one day, “Master, we ask to hear the truth and all you tell us are stories.” The Master smiled and replied, “The shortest distance between a person and the truth is a story. “

Stories invest our lives with meaning, they develop and express our creativity. They help us to laugh at ourselves. They give us the strength to face life’s difficult moments. They connect us more vitally with ourselves and each other and they turn ordinary moments into extraordinary ones.

“If there were no stories there would be no world because the world is made up of stories,” said a child when asked the question. “What are stories?” Think about it. We create with our stories. We imagine what is possible, we make up a story about it. We bring that story into existence. Our words, our images are just that powerful.

According to brain/mind research, we organize information in story form. It is how we make sense of the world around us. And it is how we communicate that understanding to another. Stories allow us to bypass the linear and access whole brain learning.

When I tell you a story, I let you into my world. I cannot tell you who I am without telling you a story. Stories illustrate the text of our lives. They go beyond facts into feelings. They engage the whole of us–our minds and our hearts. By storying my life, that is, by telling about the incidents that give my life meaning I make sense out of it. I begin to connect the dots of my experience and as I do, gracefully, artistically, memorably, I invite you to go inside and begin to connect your own dots to make sense out of your own experience.

In 10 years working for Fortune 500 companies, this was hands down the best training session I have attended… and I work in the Learning and Training field! The two-day course was transformative.  There were times that I forgot I was at work, I literally forgot that the room I was in was on our corporate campus. The conference room tables were draped in colorful table cloths.  Each table had a vase of vibrant flowers and a large rug defined the “storytelling zone” at the front of the room.  Michale brought breakfast each day and had warm comfy beverages for us to sip on. It felt like a retreat and was absolutely refreshing.

She didn’t talk from Powerpoint slides, although she had some. This is corporate America after all and you aren’t legit if you don’t have a set of Powerpoint slides. .  She taught us about stories through stories.  She told us numerous captivating stories: children’s stories, stories about other people finding their stories, and transformative stories from current and present leaders of our company.  She threw her body, her voice, and her energy into each story and we were unable to peel our eyes away.  Checking the blackberry or sneaking peeks at emails fell by the wayside and she had our rapt attention.  We learned to tell a silly children’s story and practiced it with each other.  She had all of us singing and dancing.  After the first day I forced Matt to watch my performance of the Zole story. I was so energized.

My passion for blogging is one of the reasons why I signed up for this class.  I felt like the class would help me with voice and storytelling in my blogging.  I didn’t really think that the course would lead me to self-reflection, but I think that is one of the best things I took away from the class.  Part of our work in the class was to find our story, hone it, and share it.  I struggled, S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E-D with finding my story until just a couple of hours before I had to give it.  When I finally identified my subject I also struggled with the ending.  I couldn’t understand why I was having so much difficulty with this task that I thought I would be good at. I then realized that the reason that I was struggling with the ending was because my story wasn’t resolved. I worked with Michale to incorporate my unresolved ending into the story and  my performance of the story was cathartic.  “You have a knack for this” Michale said. “Perhaps that is why you blog.”

At the end of the second day we all helped Michale pack up.  We gave each other, both men and women, big hugs and wished each other well. Hugging at work? Unheard of!  It felt like saying goodbye to friends at the end of summer camp.  A man walking through the hallways inquired if it was a retirement party. “No, we just had a really good class” I said.  He shook his head in disbelief and walked away.

I’m working on writing my story to share here on the blog. It is difficult for me to take a spoken story told with gestures and facial expressions and transforming it into a written story, but I’m giving it a go. Wish me luck!

What do you think, is blogging a form of storytelling? What do you like about a good story?

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Telling Stories

  1. What a fun (and helpful) class! It reminds me of my father…every night we would ask him to tell us a “brain story” (i.e. a story that came out of his brain). He just made them up as he went along, and usually did them in installments over several nights. Some of my happiest childhood memories are connected to those stories and I would love to be able to do the same for my children one day.
    Yes, I think blogging is a form of storytelling in that it usually forms part of a narrative that we are telling about our lives, even if it does not immediately appear to fit a traditional story format. And I would love to hear/ read your story on this blog sometime!

    • Bonnie you hit on something else the struck me during the class. I also want to tell stories (not read books) to my future kids! Part of me wants to take some more storytelling workshops to develop this skill further.

  2. That sounds like it was an AMAZING course! (Why didn’t they ever offer stuff like this when I was working?) I can’t wait to read your story!

  3. On a faith related note…there is an amazing talk called “Story” by Donald Miller. The guy who wrote Blue Like Jazz. I think you would really like it! Here’s a link: http://www.jakebouma.com/2007/11/17/donald-miller-story/ (there is a link to it at the bottom of that post).

  4. Pingback: My Story: Knit Together | Parker Haus Roles

  5. Michale Gabriel

    Hi Amy! Well, you can imagine my surprise when I happened to google my name (I am working on launching my new public web site) and found your blog!
    I was so moved by your experience of Leading Through Story–I don’t think any journalist could have described it better. I am honored that you would have written about it. With your permission, when folks ask me “what’s it like?” I will just refer them to this page. I would like very much to quote you on my own web site. Let me know. And thank you for taking what you have learned and applying it so skillfully to the written word! Your blog makes for engaging and delightful reading! Michale

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