Empowerment and Storytelling

I am fascinated by people who are able to tell a good story, but also sometimes scared of how a powerful story can be  appropriated  for marketing reasons. A story is something that is inspiring, empowering and in the same way unique to this person, it contains a broader truth to which others can relate.

What Transforms a Good Story into a Long-Lasting One?

  • Authenticity!!! Committing to share a unique experience without leaving the bumpy road aside. People need ways to connect with you and this space opens up if you share a story with valuable information and be as multidimensional as possible. As a storyteller the story leaves you when it is recounted and people will start to engage, share their own truths, and interpret it. This might be the most difficult part: what happens with your story in the world doesn’t have necessarily anything to do with yourself.

  •  Extract repeating patterns: why does something happen recurrently, what is the motive behind. Every story has a certain circumstance in which it happens and a specific experience.
  • How is the story presented? There are lots of possibilities here: conversation, animated, podcast, written down. Every medium has its specificities and shapes a story. Some formats work better with shorter, experimental structures and can be developed throughout the publishing process, others are able to show deep insights through the connection to different mediums. In the future we will see more multiplatform storytelling.
    • Ebooks: Searchable, easy note-taking through other tools
    • Books: Help to focus, tactile, different reading experience
    • Podcasts: Human interaction (voice, speaking pace) is big hear,
      one feels instantly connected to the human on the other side of the speakers
  • Who tells the story? We all hold various selves in us: citizen, lover, mother/father, authority, teacher etc. The only proper self to share the story is the one that has been apprenticed. The self in whom this story resides.
  •  Content is not the same as a story. Content is a term used in the digital space for branding, instant circulation and usually easy digestible information. It is based on the assumption that the attention span of users is short, so content is broken down to invite them to spread it on social media. But real stories want to engage and require timely investment and intimacy. Purposeful content and to care for a cause might tell a story, but remember we don’t arrive at meaning via sound bites and status updates -- thinking and building a community takes time.
  • Keep it simple: A good story doesn’t get lost in too much detail.
  • Stories are fueled by knowledge and lit on fire by intuition. 

Neil Gaiman has played around with a lot of mediums to tell his stories—graphic novels (The Sandman), novels (American Gods), short stories (Trigger Warning), children’s books (The Graveyard Book), television (Dr Who), and the occasional song (I Google You). To listen to him in this conversation at the Long Now Foundation might be one of the highlights on the insights of storytelling. Be patient and don't fall for instant gratification, take some time for this treasure.

How can Storytelling Enable Empowerment?

  • Reinventing how a story is told. Breaking with assumptions of who is allowed to tell a story and in which way. The empowerment of communities leads to strong stories that demythologise common one-dimensional narratives.
  • Stories are not fixed momentums as we think of them now. Throughout history stories were passed along from one generation to another in celebratory events. Stories were sacred as they hold a transformative power and a connection to a wider truth. A good story is able to make us feel alive, connected, involved and understood.
  • Embracing who you are: A story might be geeky or badass, but don’t shrink away to tell it. Life is multidimensional and in every narrative that is dominated by a view is a space to tell another story. Usually, it is the stories that do not fit in a box that stick the most with the audience.
  • What is the message of the story? Is there a wider truth? And how will others feel when they listen to it?
  • Storytelling is not about perfectioning the way to tell the story, but about the authentic way to tell a powerful story. Telling a story when the voice is shaking is a sign that the story is worth it to be told.
  • Empowerment is about building a community, being heard, having an impact on issues bigger than ourselves and personal connections. One can see an impact when the conversation starts to shift and other narrations start to link to the story.

Amanda Palmer is a singer-songwriter, performer and a fabulous storyteller. She is very dear to me for her authentic, unapologetic approach of what art is able to do and how to connect to people. She wrote the recommendable book The Art of Asking, after her TED Talk on the same subject, which has been seen by more than 4 million viewers. The book is a a beautifully written inquiry into why we have such a hard time accepting compassion and how to make a living through accepting the help of others and trusting that your art matters. In this great conversation on the Design Matters Podcast by Debbie Millman Palmer opens up about her journey and her artistic ambition to feel real. 

In this wonderful Longform Podcast episode Cheryl Strayed, known for her bestselling books Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, dives into the depths of her writing process, her credos and her experiences in Wild. 

Storytelling and Art

  • There is a big connection between words and visual imagination. A lot of our oral history relies on visual metaphors to break down narration into understandable structures.
  • Artists are storytellers and they use their art as tools and mediums. This is the reason why a lot of artists feel uncomfortable to talk about their art, as they already translated it into a specific form. It is a myth that great art doesn’t need mediation. Actually, it is in the moment when the art goes public when the big magic happens. But mediation doesn’t have to look like a conventional guided tour. Storytelling happens in two directions, the one that tells and the other one who listens and is able to react. Providing information is just one way to make the art work accessible.
  • Art is a commitment to the search for truth. It is important to state that art needs its autonomy for the freedom of the cause and does not necessarily need to provide a solution or purpose. But it can enable others to share the discomfort that searching brings along, and therefore feel the alleviation through compassion, attuned to human struggles. This might be the biggest connection point where storytelling happens.

I am really interested in your thoughts on storytelling. Leave a comment below or engage with me on social media. I would be so happy if we make this platform a safe space for engagement.