The secret to story-telling: honesty and three questions…

I was coaching a bunch of German Bankers this week – there is a change coming to the industry and they need to tell the story of that change to everyone. In five hours we de-jargoned their language, got them talking passionately about their job and got them telling stories and using metaphors like they had never done before. It was amazing. Yes, I say that a lot, because it is amazing to see people change in front of your eyes and find intense satisfaction in their job and skillset.

Sounds like a hippy gathering, with peace and love and socks in sandals? Not atall. It was gritty, challenging and demanding. To tell a story well, to communicate brilliantly you have to be true to yourself – you have to tell the truth. Our bodies and voices and words will reveal if this is a script we feel we have to say. So I always start with honesty. I ask people what they had for breakfast. That way we can get to know the person not the job title. It is quite phenomenal what people have for breakfast, where they have it and why they have it! I then ask them to be incredibly honest about the coaching ahead – does the word “story-telling” make them think of magic pixies (in the words of Brene Brown)? Are they cynical about the day and wishing they could catch up on emails? Giving people permission to speak like this  unlocks them to really consider why they are there. They stop being “done to” and start becoming “do-ers”. They become willing participants and own the phrase “story-telling”. There is always a shift in the room and you get the best of people’s attention.

Then I get them to pick up pen and paper and put into ink three things they want to achieve that day. As soon as people write, the ownership is sealed, the room becomes theirs, the hunger increases and they are ready to go.

Then we begin …  but really, beginning is the moment we sit in a circle and create a pop-up culture of vulnerability. You can learn all the exercises in the world on content, on delivery. You can write out three objectives and learn how to influence people, but if the heart isn’t in it, it is a lie.

We don’t need more techniques, more knowledge. We are living the same script every human has ever lived before TED came along, before “coaching” became a job people like me got paid for. It is a script of struggle, of desiring to connect with everyone around us, to find meaning and purpose in what we do and who we are. And it lands, very practically in the every day struggle of communicating to others. Wouldn’t it be great to go into every meeting, every interaction and connect on a level that is beyond the “F” word – the “I’m fine”. From conflict to collaboration, in the most challenging of conversations to the most connected, we all want to feel we did the best we could, peeled off our masks and revealed the truth.

So – do a truth inventory. My stunning wife Liz has these three questions she asks herself before she speaks to audiences:

Who is in the room?

Who am I trying to impress?

Who am I trying to avoid?

Who is physically in the room and how will my history or non-history with them affect how I relate? If Richard Branson comes in will I focus on him and forget the person who is sitting uncomfortably in the corner? Will I see him as more important and lose sight of the audience? If I see myself going for avoidance or adoration, I check myself, remember the message I want to deliver and try to see everyone as equal. It’s not easy because we are human and fallen, but it keeps me honest, honest to the story.

The rest is technique, learning and practise to make sure we land our intentions. I make a living out of technique, but beneath it and beyond it is confidence. Check out our online academy, our one minute warm up. Watch some cool TED talks and be inspired, read some amazing books to feed you. But remember – true growth starts and ends with you and you only.

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