Imagine a group of managers discussing what to do about communication. One says: “Why don´t we try with storytelling?” and starts explain that stories can make complex messages understandable. The other managers are sceptical. They don´t understand, it sounds a little strange and very modern.
The managers are right. Storytelling (oral!) is strange and very modern.
Old fashion medias - books, Radio, TV, Movies and in many ways also the Internet (even though it is a more active from of communication it is still based on dead computers) - have one thing in common: They are based on one way communication.
So in one sense it gives meaning to say that they don´t really care about you. You can fall in love, you can change your life, you can spend your time eating water melon or fish budding, you can die - they don´t care, because they can´t feel you.
It is the same with power point presentations: The speaker doesn´t really care about you. The whole set up is finished and you as a listener are there as part of a strange ritual, that you have to fullfill without understanding the reason. If you die in front of a presentator with a wonderful PowerPoint Presentation he probably would notice, but you can fall in love, talk to your neighbour, answer your e mails and do a lot of other thing while the PowerPoints seems to have their own will.
But then someone tells you a story, something else happens. The storyteller care! The listener care! You can´t die without the storyteller notice, you can´t fall in love without the storyteller is aware of your reaction. You can´t answer e mails without the storyteller noticing it. So what? I will tell you.
When you listen to a story, you know that you are important. You become part of the creation of the story. And so with the rest of the audience: We can change the storytellers way of telling the story.
It may not be something you notice consciously, but just the feeling of eye contact, the direct and clear communication between two people, is enough for me as a listener to feel that I am important in determining the direction the story will take. Each of the people listening to a story affects how the story develops.
It is a strong feeling to take with you out into the real world. You helped shape the story; now go out and shape reality. You have to experience it to understand it completely: how the almost hypnotic state a story can put a person in can activate and create at the same time.
As the storyteller, you enter into an unpredictable dance between storyteller and listener(s) – where the power and energy constantly shift from one to another. This complementary dance of contradiction is what I refer to as "interplay" or “interaction”.
Interplay Between Storyteller and Listener
The first interaction between the storyteller and the listener is the choice of story.
Try to imagine one of the listeners. What is her interest? Who is his partner? Try to put yourself in the shoe of the listener and from that point answer the fundamental question:
• Is the story relevant to me as a listener?
If you have answered yes to that question, ask yourself the next, just as crucial:
• Does the storyteller learn something new from telling this particular story to this particular audience?
The storyteller must be curious - must have the spirit to explore the unknown. This story will be told once to these people at that moment. So you as a storyteller are excited to learn from the experience.
When you search for a good story, try searching unlikely places. If you are the boss, ask the cleaning staff, if you are a mother searching for a good story, search in your own life. Do you remember your first bike? The first kiss?
Sometimes a story needs to be refined to be a diamond. And the only way to find out if the story is a diamond is by telling it. So find someone to practice on. Ask the person: Will you please listen to this story and give your honest feed back?
Interplay Between King and Servant
You have found an opportunity. The listeners are there. You have an audience.
Before you start telling your story you have to consider: Are the listeners comfortable? Do they hear you? Can you see their eyes?
What about the light? Do you stand in front of a window? Are your face visable?
Your beginning is crucial.
Go straight to the story. Let us hear: Where? When? Who? You know that your story is good. Show it! Be there for the listener. In the silence, you invite us into the world of your story.
Stimulate our senses.
It could be done very fast by telling about the looks, the sounds, the smells. And then silence.
If you are uncertain, be honest. Don’t shout, whisper. Instead of throwing more energy to a sceptical audience, you should try the opposite: Give less energy. Create a moment of silence. Invite the listener into a mutual experience.
Tell us your story both as a king and as the most humble servant. It is a complementary movement between opposites.
When you finish your story, you are the king again. Just finish your story.
Stop talking and let the listeners speak. Don’t apologize and don’t ask for their sympathy. Just relax and let the listeners give their feed-back.
Interplay Between Meaning and Pictures
If the story just contains a lot of beautiful images and the meaning is nonsense, you have lost your audience. And they will never come back to you. So you have to pick a good story with new insights for the listeners and you as a storyteller.
But just as important is the need for clear and creative images in the story.
Read the work of H.C. Andersen. In every story you are stimulated. He creates images, tells about the sound and the smells. In this way, he activates you, he invites you to work.
My Swedish colleague, Anders Granström tells about a city that had a wall around it. When he has finished his story, he asks the listeners, “What colour is the wall?”
A woman on the first row saw a red wall, in the back two men agree on yellow and soon the room is filled with suggestions.
As long as the details are not relevant to the meaning of the story, the listener can create their own images.
There are always two stories told: The story of the storyteller and the story of the listener.
Silence is a key word here. It is in the silence filled with tension that the listeners create images.
Interplay Between Silence and Words
When you are quiet as a storyteller the silence is filled with tension. In the silence the listeners create their own story. They imagine the ending, they ask if it’s a reliable story, they create the images of the story, they are very active here.
The silence create rhythm, the story is like a piece of music. Some of the parts should be told very fast, others are slowly told with lots of details. It depends on the story and the only way to find the rhythm is to tell the story.
Interplay Between Epic and Dramatic Storytelling
Once upon a time is a typical epic phrase. You describe the scenario, where does the story take place? Who is in the story?
When you change your voice, so it sounds like one of the characters in the story, you are dramatic. You can also change your body gestures as long as you remember a story told is not theatre.
It is of the outmost importance that the storyteller links organically with the movements, the gesture and the changing of the voice. If it doesn’t feel natural, don’t do it.
There has to be a balance between the two, the epic and the dramatic parts in your storytelling.