Story — the Only Thing that Connects Us Now (and 4 Ways to do It)

Stewart Bewley

Last night we were hanging out with some friends on Zoom. Normally we would hang out with these friends after church on Sunday, unsuccessfully trying to have a half-finished conversation amidst noise, distraction and children using Avenger-style “Get me home now” physical tactics! Now all that has changed all we have is Zoom and interestingly, a lot less distraction and much more purpose. We would NEVER have said pre-Covid 19 “Hey tonight, let’s get on our computers and chat”. In fact, it would have seemed wierd, an unfortunate choice for those who can’t get babysitters, a desperate attempt to keep a friendship growing, a poor second best to the real physical deal.

But last night was really special because we all brought our real selves, our struggles, our joys amidst the very long days, our dreams, hopes and journeys. There was this understanding that in this moment we had a rare opportunity to peer into each other’s lives, to be really real and to celebrate each other. My friend Chris put it this way:

“I don’t like the word Social Distancing. I much prefer Virtual Closeness”.

In that moment, he had inverted a command from our government (and a very important command) into an invitation, an opportunity for us to be deliberate with each other.

Miri Rodriguez, head of Microsoft’s Global Internship Program said this week in Business Insider on the secret to getting hired … “Bringing yourself is really important,” Rodriguez told Business Insider. “I came from the slums of Caracas, Venezuela. Never did I think I would be in Seattle working with the company I do. It’s relatable and it’s a story of perseverance.”

All we have is ourselves now because everything else has been stripped away. Yes we have social media, yes we can still get lost in the sea of Linkedin/Facebook/24 Hour News, but if we just step away from our screens for a few seconds and sit still, we now have an opportunity to come face to face with ourselves and to ask ourselves a really important question — where have we come from, where did “we” begin? She calls this the Origin story, others call it the Hero’s journey, but whatever you call it, it is a story.

And how do you tell a story? The first thing you need to do is recognise that story, soft skills, the ability to present — these are no longer nice to-haves or one off training days to get you out of the office. These are the only skills that will enable the spotlight to shine on your unique skillset. Stanford University say a story is 22 times more memorable than a fact. Everyone can email, can chat on Zoom or Teams, can give an update, but no one can tell your story like you. And if you don’t tell it, it is like sitting on a hidden treasure and watching the dust settle.

You need to get the treasure out. How do you do that? Here are 4 steps

  1. Chart, like scenes in a movie, the answer to this question: “How did I get here today”? Your journey may have started at the age of 13 when you knew what you wanted to do, may have started with a rejection or a life-changing experience, but it started somewhere. Start with that gut-feeling beginning and create more scenes to get to where you are today. And where you see the future.
  2. Force yourself to tell the story in only 2 and a half minutes. This will limit the number of scenes and get you out of your head.
  3. Use picture. The brain is wired to receive 2/3’s of information in picture. If you only give it bullet points and abstract ideas with no concrete detail, your audience will drift and you will drift. A good story has no drifters. In two and half minutes this will limit you to the pictures you choose as it takes time to paint a picture.
  4. Fight adrenaline. Adrenaline is the secret killer of picture, story and structure. It knows no difference between social and physical threat and when you go to present it senses threat.It will want to run you out of the room, to run you out of your story. It will tell you to shut down and retreat. It will stop you speaking in picture and make you longer and boring. Unless you use a technique to beat it. So force yourself to use picture and stick to 2 and a half minutes. The “technique” of painting a picture, of forcing yourself to speak in 2 and half minutes, of going through your story scene by scene will equip you to put adrenaline in its place.

And finally … share your two a half minutes with a safe person. Force yourself to go all the way through, from the beginning to the middle to the end. Record it on camera and send it to me. I will happily give feedback and video coaching. If I have taken you this far I want you to succeed. Now more than ever is the time to embed these skills, to allow for virtual closeness to and fight to reveal who we are and what we bring to the world.