Simon Hodges is director of Words That Change - generating stories for organisations and professionals in all sectors. Based in Amsterdam, he has worked with some very big and very small people, but prefers those with very big hearts. He is a trainer for speakers at TEDxAmsterdam and for the UK’s Mediatrust. Here he shares some of his top tips for storytelling:
As our conversations become more numerous, they need to become more meaningful. The voices that speak loudest are the ones that are most clear and authentic. You also need to be showing what value you add on a practical and universal level, whilst showing people clearly what you do.
Why? Because we do not invest in things, we invest in values. Whilst going about our lives, we promote what we want to see more of. Society now has had enough of things, but it’s thirst for meaning is infinite.
Concrete first, meaning second. So how to locate your meaning? Break it down into three basic questions:
- What you do? - basic description
- Why you do it? - your essential value
- How you have come to believe it? - your personal journey
organised by Konnektid and Peerby in June 2013.
We’ll begin with the basic description
It sounds obvious but it is easily forgotten: state clearly what you do. Make it simple and basic. If you write books or facilitate meetings, say so. Similarly if you design efficient business processes, contribute to organisational change or generate networks around a specific cause. If you go airy-fairy (NL: zweverig) in your basic description, people will switch off. This is the art of being concrete and you can test it with colleagues and friends until the meaning is clear to them.
Your essential value.
The art of meaning, however, allows for a richer imagination. This is where the audience wants to be inspired. Failing to inject your inspiration into your story robs the audience of its basic desire: to be shown why what you do has meaning in their lives. And the basis of any why in an evolving culture is inspiration. Inspiration is anything that strikes the heart as true, meaningful or required. In this way we become listeners to our own impulses. And this listenership is rewarded. In the tumult of online communication, quieter voices speak more powerfully and sustainably than frenzied shouts.
Now the curious and quite radical thing is that - because human values are essentially the same - the real inspiration that have dived inside yourself to discover, will more likely be what what inspires others as well. The Earth and its people spin around a central axis both physically and psychically. As any responsible Jungian will tell you, it is the commonness of psyche what binds us together.
Make it a journey
Your clear and concrete basic description will invite interest from the reader, but it doesn’t mean you get to swamp them with unrestrained passion. You need to embed your inspiration in a journey so people can relate to it. Show how what you value has been inspired, challenged and evolved over the course of your life. Once this journey has been written or shared with friends, see if you can sum it up in a word of phrase. What is it you really stand for and offer through your goods and services? Is it courage, clarity, inspiration, playfulness or something else? Making a value that is authentic to the accumulation of your experiences - and what you have learned from them - will mean that it resonates when you share it as a story. This resonance and call for authenticity mean that the length of the journey is not important but the quality of honesty about it is. This is why we’re more often inspired by children than by business managers. Kids have not thought to do anything other than embody value. As we age we learn all kinds of tricks to keep us from ourselves. Returning to value is some way to return to innocence whilst honouring experience.
Combine your basic description, your value and journey and you have the basis of quite an outstanding story that you can spread in all your communications.