The Art of Story Telling

Feb 18, 2015

This is an excerpt from one of Ergo Editorial team member’s work in helping an innovative Managing Director at a global consultancy to mentor his team.

Ever sit in on a presentation as you strain to read the small font delivered in a Tolstoyan-length PowerPoint, where each chart is packed with information? And then somewhere in the middle … you start thinking about lunch. You’re done!  On the flip side of that, have you ever sat with an elder, maybe a grandparent, who, with only a look in their eye, a memory and a smile, kept you in rapture about some seemingly small event that happened once in their lives.

Mark Twain wrote a book How To Tell A Story, and even espoused his tongue-in-cheek Rules for Storytelling as a checklist that could serve many of us well. He talks about the “matter” of a story and then the “manner” of its telling, giving equal to weight to both, which might be useful to embrace on our content-lade world. Such a checklist is even more useful when humor is involved … as they say, “timing is everything.”

And while Twain was talking about literature, with all its action, comedy, and drama, we think you will find his advice interesting, if not actionable, for story telling in business as well.

A few of his suggestions stand out:

  • Good stories require that “crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader,” meaning overly artful turns of phrase. Business, and professional services in particular, is rife with jargon that does more to obfuscate (uh, let’s say ‘confuse’) meaning rather than clarify and illuminate. Twain says we should “eschew surplusage” … indeed!
  • “They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages in his tale and in their fate.” How can we personify and personalize your work inside and outside your organization? How do you make the driving issues come to life?
  • And then he offers a few one-line tidbits for the storyteller who should … “say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it,” and “use the right word, not its second cousin.” Last, he simply states that good storytellers “employ a simple and straightforward style.”

Such guidelines apply very well to our work because so often we are trying to help clients and peers envisage, embark on, and complete a journey to develop their thought leadership and the right content to support it. So, learn to tell the right story, the right way … and make your grandmother proud!