“You’re making life harder for yourself.” These were the words of a trusted advisor. Thing is, I can’t deny it. The path I’ve chosen, isn’t the easiest. If I wanted easy, I wouldn’t have gone into business in the first place. I would have chosen a different path. I would have got another job. But his point wasn’t about going into business for myself – it’s my specific focus that he questioned.
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When I introduce myself as a storytelling coach I usually get one of two reactions. Firstly, they’ll say ‘that’s really cool’. Or maybe ‘that’s really interesting’. I get the distinct impression that even those comments, while positive, have a subtext of “I have NO idea who you are or what you do.” Then there is the second group. They cut to the chase. Sometimes they come right out and say it. “So what’s that all about then?” Occasionally they say the same through the art of mime. They do a splendid job of looking like a particularly perplexed puppy. Their eyes widen and they tilt their head to the side.
You see being a ‘storytelling coach’ isn’t ‘normal’. People don’t really get it. And sometimes that works for me. It’s the classic double-edged sword. My friend and fellow coach Tim Mart said to me recently something that was music to my ears. He said, “when I hear ‘story’ I think of you.” And that story resulted in a new story coaching client for me. Tim describes what I do as ‘an awesome niche’. And, it unquestionably is. But maybe, just maybe it’s too niche. Maybe I AM making things too difficult for myself.
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The flipside of an ‘awesome niche’ is that what I do can feel too abstract to people. It’s dismissed as being irrelevant. There is a disconnect between what I do and the value it can deliver. That’s my fault entirely. It’s more important than ever that I communicate the business case for storytelling. And I will do that because there is a lot of evidence to support the power of storytelling. But that’s for another time. Today, I want to share where this mild obsession for storytelling comes from. I want to explain why, despite the ‘what the hell is a storytelling coach?’ challenge, that I’m committed to being a storytelling coach.
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Throughout my life, I’ve had friends and family say – “You should be on stage.” Or, “You ever thought of doing stand-up comedy?” And, sometimes – complete strangers have suggested the same. It’s all very flattering. I’ve referred to myself as an attention seeker on countless occasions. It’s true. But why – to what end? The end is laughter. The end is a smile. The end is a real human connection. Every single time I make someone laugh, something incredible happens. I get a natural high. I feel a sense of contentment.
Here’s the thing. My ability to make people laugh isn’t because I tell jokes, it’s because I tell stories. I’ve been telling stories since I was a kid to make people laugh. Most of those stories are true tales of my various misadventures. Stories that I need to capture before they are forgotten and replaced with other tales. And, yes, some of those stories are embellished for comedic effect, while others are complete fabrications. In this respect, I’m a clown. I play to the crowd, and most of the time, I’m the butt of the joke.
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But, like most clowns, I also have a serious side. Some of the stories I’ve shared in public have produced tears of sadness, rather than tears of laughter. I wrote a poem about my Grandad on the day that he died. It was a poem about a happy memory, but in context, it’s a sad story. It made me cry and it made my mum and dad cry as well. Then there are the stories I’ve shared about my own battles with stress and anxiety. Tackling those stories have helped me understand who I am. Those stories have made me better. Actually, let’s take that a step further. Those stories have saved me. They’ve allowed me to live again. They’ve allowed me to replace a long held false narrative with the truth. They’ve helped me replace deep sadness with insane happiness.
And, the magic of those particular stories is that I know they help people. Every single time I open myself up and share something a bit raw, people will reach out to me. They’ll see their own experience or current circumstance reflected in my own. I’ve had people share their own story in private. I’ve had people share things with me that they’ve never shared publicly. I’ve had strangers reach out to me and thank me for telling my stories, they told me that sharing my experience has somehow made them feel less alone. If I achieve nothing else in life, that fact alone makes me proud and reminds me that stories matter.
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Stories make an emotional connection. That’s why I’m fascinated by them. That’s why I’ve become obsessed with them and, that’s why I’m committed to being a storytelling advocate, evangelist and coach. Stories have an uncanny ability to cut to the chase. They allow us to get to the heart of the matter quickly. And, not wishing to add to the sea of quotes that is part and parcel of our digital lives, this quote says it far more eloquently than I can. This quote sums up my passion for storytelling.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The raw power of story is its ability to make us feel something. The ability to make us laugh and cry in equal measure. Those emotions, those feelings leave an indelible imprint. That’s not just the business case for storytelling, it’s the LIFE case for storytelling.
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Telling stories is normal. It’s part and parcel of who we are as human beings. In fact, it’s what separates us from our primate cousins. I watched a documentary recently that featured a particularly rotund Orangutan. Pop a black jumper, jeans and glasses on him and I doubt that even my own mother would be able to separate us. As well as an uncanny resemblance, we also have similar DNA. But, my chubby little ape friend can’t make up stories. He can’t imagine in the same way I can. He can’t retell stories or create new ones.
There won’t be a single day in your life where you don’t tell a story. There also won’t be a day when you aren’t on the receiving end of stories. We are storytelling animals. It’s our default communication style. And it’s also our prime means of entertainment. We watch TV, go to the cinema and we read books. We read people’s blogs, their Facebook updates and we watch the stories of their life on YouTube of Facebook Live. We seek out stories. We want stories. We need stories. We live stories.
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If we’re so natural at this storytelling malarkey, surely I’ve just made myself redundant. If it’s just something we do then why would anyone need a storytelling coach? Well, the truth is most people don’t. Most people can get by just fine without me. If you’re interested in becoming a better storyteller there are countless ways to do it for yourself. Buy some books. Watch some videos. Consume lots of stories. And, of course, just get on and write or record your own stories. The reality is that you and the majority of people don’t need me, but, there is a minority that would like a helping hand in telling their stories.
Next week will be the one-year anniversary of me changing the name of the business to The Story Edge. But it wasn’t until June last year that I started to describe myself as a storytelling coach. In those nine months, my coaching clients have taught me just as much as I’ve taught them. The greatest lesson is I’ve learned though is that while we are natural storytellers in our personal lives, translating that into the realm of business, charity or work – is another thing entirely. Lot’s of people struggle to tell purposeful stories that have real intent. It’s like we lose that innate ability to tell a good tale. All of a sudden we don’t know how to tell a story.
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This sub-head isn’t my attempt to show humility. It’s the truth. I’m a good storyteller. I’m a passionate storyteller. And, I’m a story lover. I can help you. If you want. I know I can because I’ve done it. But that doesn’t make me an expert or a guru. I’m a perpetual student. I’ll keep on learning. I’ll keep on advising. I’ll keep on promoting storytelling in all its forms. And, yes I’ll keep on coaching those that want a bit of direction.
I’ve seen people share stories they never thought they’d share. I’ve witnessed first-hand people having huge personal breakthroughs as a result of thinking more deeply about their story. And, yes, I know that people have achieved personal and business clarity by crafting their own narrative.
My embryonic success as a storytelling coach is 99% down to the stories I tell. If I told people what I did, rather than showing them, I honestly don’t believe I’d still be in business.
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Storytelling matters. More now than ever. We’re surrounded by cynicism, intolerance, negativity and genuine human suffering. We’re scared and we’re scarred. My belief, more than ever is that the World needs more stories. Stories that cut through the noise of our manically busy existence. Stories that make a difference to others.
Success to me is seeing more people tell more stories. Success is seeing less dull, formulaic content and more passion fuelled tales that let me understand who you really are. If we accept the cliche that ‘people buy from people’ – why aren’t we telling more stories? Success is being more vulnerable, more human and finally letting people in.
If you want to make a deeper connection. If you want to be understood, and if you want to make a bigger difference in the World – TELL YOUR STORIES.
That’s why I’m obsessed with storytelling. And that’s why I’m proud to be a storytelling coach.