Communicating is the single biggest part of my job. Whether I’m consulting, presenting, or recording training videos, I need to understand what the other person is trying to communicate, and get my own point across in the most effective way.
The tricky part, though, is that my audience (or clients) have already heard the boring ways of presenting the same information over and over. They’ve grown desensitized to hearing about backups or heaps or security or whatever, and they need to hear the important stuff in a way that really sinks in. I can’t just study my fellow SQL Server – or even IT in general – geeks to get better at communicating. I need to learn from communication professionals.
I had the chance to see a few professional storytellers last year, and I was blown away. I wanted to know how I could bring that kind of captivating magic to my own work.
The Story-Teller’s Start-Up Book ($12 Kindle – $13 paperback) by Margaret Read MacDonald is a great place to start. She targets readers who’ve never told a story out loud before, and explains the background and framework for oral storytelling. She focuses on telling stories to children, but at the end of the day, my audiences are just tall children at heart.
Storytelling isn’t about memorizing and repeating words.
Storytelling is memorizing the skeleton of a story, and then using your own skills to put a new set of muscles and skin on those bones. At the end of the day, we can’t just all read Books Online aloud. Books Online is the skeleton, and your telling is what makes the skeleton dance.
Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
“Learning a story alone in front of a mirror is rather like practicing dance steps without a partner.” She teaches you how to learn a story’s bones, but when you really want to get into it, you’ve gotta have an audience. Audiences teach you how to pace a story.
“You must tell the tale several times, refining your telling with each experience. To do this, you must arrange storytelling opportunities.” I just spent several days on the road giving my How to Think Like the Engine session, a deck I’ve given maybe 50 times in various settings. It continues to morph and grow, and after this week, I’m excited to get back to my home studio and record a new version.
“Your opening phrase is your bridge between the world of ordinary conversation and the other-world of story. This crossing must be both magical and deliberate.” Before this book, I didn’t understand how hard storytellers work to ease you out of your day-to-day life and into their fantasy world. I have to do the same thing as a presenter – I have to draw a nice clean line between the insane zoo of the conference hallway, and welcome them into a frame of mind where they can learn quickly and question freely.
“Did you know what you wanted to communicate well enough to relax and enjoy the sharing?” She has a whole section on evaluating how you did, and this is just one of the great questions.
“Plan a way to stop every audience response that you start.” In my in-person training classes, I’m starting to give the audience more leeway on things like group exercises. Margaret explains how to plan to end those responses and bring people back into your story – much harder than it looks at first glance.
I already know I’ll be revisiting The Story-Teller’s Start-Up Book over and over through time. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s got a couple of user group or conference presentations under their belt.