One of the least understood skills in storytelling is the ability to be able to find an appropriate story to tell at the time you need it.
There is no use being the best storyteller in the world, being able to tell stories full of tension and suspense, packed with sensory details, and that make a memorable impact if you can’t remember and be able to access that story at the time you need it.
Let me give you an example.
Here is a video clip of one of the contestants from Series 3 of the Australian Bachelor, Laura Musgrave, meeting Bachelor Sam Wood for the very first time. To have any chance of winning Sam’s heart, and beating the other 23 contestants, it’s vital for Laura to make a good first impression with Sam.
Let’s see how she goes…
Now if you are anything like me, you are now both laughing and cringing in equal measures. The story Laura decided to tell when Sam asked her “What’s your funniest animal story?” starts off with those three (now famous) little words… “So, anal glands“.
Now, let’s go back to the point of why she might be telling this story. It might be to:
- make Sam smile, laugh and enjoy being with her
- show a bit of her personality
- be a conversation starter
- make Sam curious and wanting to know more about her
- ultimately make a good first impression that may lead to a romantic relationship
Do you think that story helped achieve any of those things? At a stretch you could argue it showed a bit of her personality, but even that, from the look on his face throughout that story, wasn’t something that he was warming to. And, in terms of the outcome she was after – the first step in getting him to fall in love with her – it was a big massive fail.
Laura struggled with the vital storytelling skill of being able to find an appropriate story to tell, at the right moment, to help her achieve the outcome she wanted. It didn’t matter how good a storyteller she was, as she couldn’t find the ‘right’ story at tell at the time.
This becomes an even more challenging skill, when you take into account that Laura was in a ‘hot’ emotional state when she was trying to think of a story to tell. Hot emotional states are those that are experienced with a high level of arousal and is related to high levels of interest, emotion or activity. It’s where high levels of emotion can impact the rational process of making a decision.
In Laura’s case the emotion she was feeling most that put her in that state was nerves. In an interview with news.com.au shortly after she left the show, which unsurprisingly was only a few weeks into the show, Laura said: “I was very nervous. If I could have banished the nerves, I probably would have thought a bit more about his question.”
I hope you see from this example that an absolutely vital skill in storytelling is the ability, even in hot emotional states (i.e. nervous, angry or frustrated), to able to access appropriate and impactful stories. If you can’t recall the ‘right’ story to tell to help achieve an outcome, at the time you need it, you will never be able to purposefully use storytelling to its full power. It doesn’t really matter how well you tell the ‘wrong’ story. Just go back and watch the video clip again, and concentrate on Sam’s face if you need to be reminded of this!
In Part 2 I will share some of my suggestions on how you can build this vital storytelling skill.