By Aoife Delaney
HEALTH & WELL-BEING:
Stories which really connect with your clients
Phil Kingston, Abbey Theatre
Stories which really connect with your clients
By Phil Kingston, Abbey Theatre
Theatre seats are red because it’s the first colour to disappear when the lights go down, it helps us to disappear into the story of the play or film. Good storytelling like good acting is an act of generosity and requires us to disappear too. To tell a story is not an assertion of one's ego but a sharing of one's heart. With some simple tools and the intention to be open, you can connect and inspire.
At Theatre Skills for Business here in the Abbey Theatre, Ireland's National Theatre, there's a moment in our workshops when the atmosphere changes, because people's egos start to disappear. The game but the wary bunch of professionals turn from larky into something more serious. Eyes brighten, shoulders relax, people sit forward in the dark red seats and their colleagues on stage seems to grow. The battle to assert personality has given way to something bigger. They are engaged now because they've started to tell stories and nothing's the same from then on.
We’ve learned a lot over the last few years about how to transfer the skills of the rehearsal room to business settings. How the ensemble tradition feeds into teamwork, how voice control and projection connect to authenticity and presence, how reciting someone else’s words can make them more your own. But one of our recurring successes is seeing how the way playwrights and actors tell stories can enliven other forms of communication.
And this is particularly relevant to incentive travel because narratives start when we break a routine, when we choose or are forced to step out of the ordinary. Destination Management is a gift to storytelling because leaving the familiar is the oldest way to begin a story. The very mention of travel will excite our anticipation of new sensations and the change in perspective these will bring. And just as the would-be traveller is hoping these new experiences will change them for the better, audiences trust a story’s journey too will somehow transform them.
So how do you find compelling material? We always ask our clients to tell a ‘personal' story because this is one of the quickest ways to connect with people's values. No matter how funny or tragic or seemingly mundane it is, a personal story can't help but reveal what we care about. And that's when the connection really starts. Of course, you can choose how open or not you're going to be and this in itself can say a lot about the health of your company. I can honestly say those who take the risk to be more vulnerable than is comfortable are rewarded by a respect and identification superficial stories can't inspire.
To borrow a phrase from the storytelling phenomenon known as The Moth you need to "speak from a scar, not from a wound". So, respect your audience. Be aware that a story which refers to an event that you've learned from, dealt with, reflected on, is not only safe but often enlightening to share with others.
Practically speaking story structure is quite straightforward, you just need building material. So whatever your story is about, choose a significant moment, say when you realized the country you were visiting was truly strange or the project you were involved in could really help the client. Ireland's own James Joyce, one of our greatest writers, called these moments epiphanies - flashes of insight when a deeper meaning is possible. We have them every day and often don't take much notice. But as the psychologist, Carl Rogers remarked ‘That which is most personal is most general'. Your ‘ordinary' observation of the way the taps always seem funny in foreign hotels will speak to us more than a clichéd description of a sunset.
Now, in order to get to this moment and maybe to report its after-effects, you will need other moments, other pictures, like a comic strip or film storyboard, and this collection of images is your basic material. The important thing is to record these in concrete detail. Images sometimes imply just visual but you can also include the time of day, the temperature, the sounds, the smells and tastes. If you show us this moment it is far more powerful than if you just tell us it happened.
As you move through your tale remember basic story structure involves a protagonist who wants something and is thwarted. Overcoming these obstacles leads to a climax which leaves them changed. So if you are talking about Ireland and relating a story of your first view of the Cliffs of Moher (an iconic cliff walk) as a child you could power the story with your desire to get the most out of the family holiday. The obstacles are the terrible weather, your scepticism the cliffs will be dull and the banality of your journey towards them. All this is overcome in the final climatic revelation of their rugged beauty.
At this point, it helps to loop back to something you said earlier like ‘My grandmother always said the cliffs crept up on you' or ‘I never realised the wind could be so exciting'. In improvisation, this is called re-incorporating. It's the simple but deeply satisfying technique of returning to something that was mentioned previously, preferably something that didn't seem that important at the time. And here you reach a natural end whose content will emerge in the moment. I see this on the Abbey stage when our clients find the license to make larger statements like ‘This is when I learned the value of friendship' or ‘Our family would never be the same again'. Statements which could be cringe-worthy clichés but have now been earned. You don't have to be an actor to be a good storyteller but you do have to be generous.
ABOUT THIS CONTENT:
PHIL KINGSTON, Community & Education
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