Have you ever hidden from the truth in something, like the reality of a particular story or experience?
For a few years, I’ve resisted a memory that happened near home in Washington, DC (per the 1.5 minute clip here). It inspired plenty of turbulent reactions on my end. It disappointed my (naive?) sense of how humanity can extend respect and a capacity to empathize. The scene involves a homeless person, one bystander, and myself encountering each other at a local downtown park.
I’m not sure why this took a few years to share this openly. Maybe the emotional whirlwind it gave way to took that long to process. Sometimes the brain takes a while to sift through an experience, and arrive at a more shareable piece of the story.
Do you have a reliable tip or resource that regularly gets you out of a bind??
In that spirit, there’s a favorite tip coming to mind now for telling stories. It’s a perception tool I’m fond of when selecting speech content and stories in general. It helps to weed out irrelevant and overly complex anecdotes too (…trying to amp up suspense here). And it’s most useful when that frustrating mental moment arrives i.e. ‘all-my-stories-and-examples-sound-ridiculous’ when organizing for a talk coming up. You know that type of frustration?!
With all this prefacing in mind (thanks for the patience), a favorite fall-back storytelling tip is:
>>>To select the simple, scenic moments vs to think in epic terms.<<<
Often when selecting content for a speech, especially the storytelling pieces, it’s easy to get bogged down in that is-it-compelling-and-epic-enough brain trap. This line of thinking often stifles logical or creative decisiveness for what can clearly guide the audience. Many fantastic speakers with strong, teachable ideas suffer greatly during speech prep for this reason (happens a lot in my own prep work).
‘What if my story isn’t grandiose enough?!’
Please let go of that mental query, and consider storytelling in a different light.
Thinking in scenic vs epic or grandiose terms helps loosen the strangle hold on the storytelling brain, and hastens clarity of mind. Observing stories in bite-size scenic slices can make intended meaning more accessible for audience and speaker alike.
— can a relevant conversation from your world be relayed, outlining an important decision which many audience members have confronted?
— what is a teachable moment in your experience which defines meaning, in one simple paragraph for the audience even if it puts you in a vulnerable light? A quirky example: “So during my presentation, I had to run out to use the restroom while 50 top executives sat there waiting… Upon return, the only thing I could think of was to laugh and say: ‘Well thanks for your patience. And that’s exactly what we need to change design process in our company for the long term.”
— can one single data point create a simple storytelling scene, which you then base your persuasive argument?
— can one direct question be asked, shaping a micro story for the audience which they can identify with immediately? An example: “What does it take to keep our children safe, especially when city budget cuts will reduce police forces by 20%?”
Often it is the simple, tightly-shaped scenes that define and crystalize meaning. Epic storytelling has its place in the world of audience connection too. But often, the goal to be epic strangles the speaker’s mental processing and obscures clarity of mind. How can meaning directly reach and serve the audience? For this reason, it’s worth dissecting our storytelling archives for the most direct and teachable scenes in order to relate.
A 100 second video story for kicks: international friendship
My goal this year is to practice the simple pleasures of storytelling more. Sharing 100 second video story clips about architecture is my favorite way to dive into this goal. On that note, have you heard or read about the term ‘international friendship?’ In 1908, the U.S. Secretary of State Elihu Root described the OAS building this way, a “temple of international friendship.” It’s a beautiful, striking building in Washington, DC with more in the above 100 second clip.
What type of group or religion or person would do such a thing in Boston? in Oklahoma City? in other parts of the United States? Who would legitimize violence as a way to deliver a message?
Each wave of questioning has carved out my own little pedestal of moral resolve as an American citizen, which wasn’t something I realized independently. It was a realization brought on this morning when Guardian writer Glenn Greenwald served up a gigantic slice of humble pie for breakfast.
A huge empathic challenge
In his commentary, Greenwald clearly condemns the violent attacks on Boston. He empathizes with sincerity. He also compels the United States to stretch their sense of empathy and discernment. He considers the actions of the United States military too, and how it perpetrates the same violence in other countries in and beyond President Obama’s leadership: in Pakistan, in Yemen, more. I can’t quite express the mental hard stop his assertions provoked. It was and remains unsettling to consider. Because his line of thinking gives way to these concerns:
Is there always another layer of empathy to expand the story of truth? That seems existential, relevant, and frustrating.
When do healthy self-reflection and ownership in our country achieve an acceptable level of thoroughness? fairness? And could their be agonizing delays in justice along the way, with the perpetrators of Boston’s attack in mind here? How can we systemically change our military ethos, protect our citizenry, and honor innocents in other countries too all at the same time?
Necessary, wearisome questions all. None of which I know how to address.
Gaining relief from local history, a favorite bridge, and a change in context: 100 second video story
A colleague recently said how difficult it can be to defend one’s point of view in the face of disagreement. That resonates. The very idea of heated debate inspires some pensive butterflies, especially when a level of political vitriol can potentially be involved.
Two ideas come to mind to prepare before and during a disagreement:
Practice your views on-camera and when the stakes are low.
Many people have expressed being caught off guard in a contrarian conversation with colleagues, bosses, or clients. If only a fortune teller app came with mobile phones to forecast when disagreements will occur… What can help self-assertion though (and adrenaline management) is to spend 5 minutes a week – or day! – expressing opinions to a video camera. A mobile phone camera works great. Nothing replaces live-time engagement with humans certainly, but fortifying one’s clarity of mind when the stakes are low through regular on-camera practice increases resolve (…for when the more vulnerable, live-time debates arise). Client and friend communities describe this type of video practice as incredibly useful. It’s one reason I like to stick my mug in front of a camera to video blog: it creates a practice forum with adrenaline.
Assert a greater vocal tone and ask two specific questions.
When in a heated disagreement, certainly there can be many variables and influences in play.
If the other contender in your debate or stressed conversation is in a constant-talking-without-pause mode, consider looking them in the eye and saying in an assertive, respectful, and deepened tone: “Could I ask you one question?”
When they pause to take a breath, ask them what is the most important point they want you to hear. After their reply, clarify their response and then ask a second question: “Would you listen to my main concern as well?”
When typing this out, it looks simplistic and a little corny; but it is alarming how many levels of discord occur when rants are indulged endlessly. There’ve been a few times when the tension was so high (happened to be on the phone), that I asked to call them back in 10 minutes to resume conversation. Punctuation of thought and a request for permission can help with rebuilding hopes for allegiance. It can advance comprehension of either sides point.
What helps make heated conversations or disagreements more productive in your view? And in the meantime, peace be with you!
For fun with disagreements: 100 second video story
In the spirit of disagreements, I just discovered a beef I have with good ole Mark Twain of yonder year. He was once quoted as saying “the ugliest building in America was the Old Executive Office Building” in Washington, DC. Well I couldn’t disagree more, with some more fun assertion in the above clip.
Gurgling of commentary
It’s easy today to return back to my high school years, a time when my parents and I observed Thatcher’s boldness with pride from our American south western town. I want to indulge those memories and stay swallowed up by them. But the present commentary about the prime minister gurgles more loudly than the cherished recesses of my mind.
Voice and a lack of empathy
Which brings this reality to the forefront: public leaders of all stripes deserve public attention and scrutiny. That keeps, hopefully, accountability on the radar, and the balance of power in check. Whether living or dead, I see the merit of discourse surrounding the Iron Lady or any other public leader. This minute though, I’m struck and humbled by my voice’s own blind spot (…a spot that may metaphorically live in anyone not leading in a hyper scrutinized arena like Maggie Thatcher). Even though to form and voice opinion is a right to anyone, I am finding today just how much my assertion of this right lacks empathy.
Has your leadership been tested in such a way?
As in, I sit here in luxurious distance from asserting any degree of leadership which broaches the in-the-fire leadership environment of our world leaders. Expressing positive and negative criticism toward public leadership empowers me as a citizen with little consequence. It’s the down side of free speech I suppose. I (anyone outside of in-the-fire leadership) can indulge to voice prevalent or vile commentary because it is simply possible (and because my mind can’t possibly imagine what type of leader I would be in that heated forum day to day in which Mrs. Thatcher served.
That’s an uneasy dichotomy with public voice and citizenry:
…to acknowledge the merit of voicing critique of public leaders, all while having zero capacity to understand what the test of leadership is really like for those leaders.
While taking all this in throughout the day, I will endeavor to grapple with (and slightly modify) that religious saying: “There by the grace of God go I and us all, plagued by the scrutiny of our decisions.”
It’s been a great week with spring making its wonderful appearance in Washington, DC. The 100 second video story project continues, and remains an energizing, personal storytelling challenge.
Storytelling and learning from an architect
Paul Pelz designed the mighty Library of Congress and also the Gothic Revival structure where President Theodore Roosevelt attended church over 100 years ago: the Grace Reformed Church. To see this building is a potent experience (more in a 100 second video story above). It consumes the senses with its varied textures and coloring.
It’s one big wow of a structure.
Roosevelt’s favorite DC church, and Pelz’s masterpiece, bring (2) factors about storytelling to mind:
Contrast and drama: There are so many contrasting materials that feed the artistry of this building: the glass, brick, stone, and bold gothic detail. Each ornamental expression adds a layer of drama. It’s a grand brick-and-mortar metaphor of the strength speakers can also convey when using contrast in presentations. Using contrast in our stories frame teachable moments more vividly and often, more credibly. What risks or opposing views or emotional depth can be shared when telling audiences our point of view? The inherent texture in contrasts can authentically help audiences connect to meaning. It’s a powerful act of leadership and empathy on the speaker’s part.
Competition vs cohesion: A risk in creative work like storytelling or speech making (or architecture too I find!) is relying on too many devices. As with giving a speech for example, too many soundbites or metaphors can come across as competing parts and dismantle the audience’s experience. With this exquisite church however, to behold it is to consume a physical narrative with plenty of intricate artistry but in a cohesive way. All the different attributes of the mighty exterior feed a greater experience of meaning. So too should the experience be for our storytelling audiences.
This church is a stupendous structure to visually consume, and a great analogy to how storytellers and speakers can deliver a cohesive, full experience to audiences.
My mission this year: practice, practice, practice storytelling methods and pace!
Video storytelling – in 100 seconds or less – is a big part of that passion and mission. The personal goal this year is to have fun and publish (20) of these story-focused videos. I’m learning a lot with accessible, fun video tools on the iPhone (SocialCam and Vine) and iMovie (loving the audio-only content option when importing video). It’s all like a social content lab in the pocket, which has been exhilarating while testing different ways to assert stories clearly and more visually.
What’s been helpful this week to keep the video story under 100 seconds:
Establish three acts at least mentally before heading out onsite to record i.e. an intro of content, middle body of content, and outro of the short piece.
Allocate ranges of time for each of the three segments i.e. 30 to 35 seconds for intro; 50 to 55 seconds of second act storytelling with photos; and 5 to 10 seconds for the closing outro phrase. This may be too structured for future pieces. So far though, it provides useful, time-preserving structure .
My heart leans toward architecture, history, and photoblogging for this storytelling testing ground! Here’s a 100 second video post on the beauty (and agonizing history) of St. Matthew’s Cathedral.
What topic would compel you to share a 100 second story?
100 second story about President Roosevelt and the beautiful design of the Mayflower Hotel
A good friend and colleague recently called me out and said:
“Hey if you like sharing stories so much, why don’t you share more on video?!”
When it comes to storytelling, especially on video, I often make it too complex instead of focusing on the fun in it. Does that resemble your experience at all? Does your own creative anticipation ever trip up intentions or enjoyment for storytelling?
Self-analysis helps the education of any storyteller or speaker. An over focus however on questions like these below can drive one’s storytelling self bananas (…and straight out of the storytelling passion all together):
Is the story human and relatable?
Is it direct, sincere, and relaxed?
Is it energized enough?
Am I too self conscious or artificial sounding?
Considering these questions honestly can be a boon for growing storytelling strength (and joy in the creative effort). But sometimes it can be too easy to resign to the questions themselves — and let the chance to test and share stories openly pass on by. Let us be vigilant! Let us recover and assert the will to share the stories we believe in even if a degree of imperfection may find its way in the process.
New mantra: do not let excessive self-scrutiny smother confidence to create and connect.
So to take a break from writing today, I strolled down to the Mayflower Hotel to observe the beautiful building (here in Washington, DC), share a quick video story for fun, and try out the audio feature on iMovie.
What stories do you enjoy telling? to whom? and what helps you share (vs hide) them?
LiveYourTalk just started a new on-the-go blog about making speeches and building trust in public voice.
It’s over at tumblr. It’s going to be more socially accessible. And content will be easier to find! This has been a goal for a mighty long while. And my blogging intent will be to share more live-time media and snapshot perspectives about the riveting world of speech making.
Here’s to new (and renewed!) conversations and more live-time moments to engage over. Have a good one today.