I'm not a newcomer to coaching. I've been coaching storytellers since the 1980s and literally "wrote the book" on storytelling coaching. So I was not expecting to be taught a fundamental lesson about coaching. But I should know better!
Sharon came to me for help with her storytelling - and I helped her.
Then one day I noticed that she wasn't using what she had learned in her marketing, so I gave her most important web page a quick makeover.
It turns out that she had already told me a story that could do her marketing for her - and save her web site from the "blah-blah-blah's".
At the recent National Storytelling Conference in Kansas City, I had the amazing honor of being given the Lifetime Achievement Award - the highest honor given in the U.S. storytelling community.
I was allowed just a few minutes to address the gathering. Since this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, I tried to give the essence of what I most want to pass on, after over four decades as a storyteller, author, teacher, and coach. So here’s what I said...
Carol Dweck discovered children who loved to fail - because, in their mindset, failure was a chance to get smarter. But our society seems to favor the fixed mindset, in which your smartness is innate and unchanging. Why is that? What role does it play, to keep people imprisoned in a fixed mindset? Is there something storytelling can do, to help others experience the exciting potential of a "growth mindset"?
In 1979, I was a terrified folk musician trying to learn ear-training. The other students were classically trained. Surely I would be the class dunce.
Then our Hungarian music teacher became frustrated while helping another student - and taught me a lesson about learning, creativity, teaching and storytelling coaching.
Our teacher, Lenci Horvath, turned my ideas about education upside down. But I didn't welcome her perspective at first...
Two kinds of listeners every storyteller needs, and how I helped storyteller Karen O'Donnell of Homewood, IL, conceive and realize her vision for
- The effect she wanted to have on her community, and
- The support she needed to advance her own storytelling.
Do you have such a vision? Is it time for you to create one?
What are the most common problems of beginning storytellers? Nearly every struggling beginner has urgent concerns like these:
- Practicing is hard. I put it off, then get more and more desperate as my performance date approaches.
- How do I remember the story? What if I forget in the middle? How can I memorize?
- What if they don’t listen to me? Aren’t there some tricks I can learn, to guarantee their attention?
- For me, the only word that follows “performance” is “anxiety.” My mouth is dry, my palms are sweaty, my voice is unsteady. Instead of telling this story, couldn’t I just die?
I believe that all these common storytelling preoccupations stem, at least in part, from the same causes! In fact, they can all be cured (and, even more easily, prevented) quite simply.
I searched in Google recently for “elements of a story.” The many results were dominated by topics like:
- The 3 parts of a story;
- The 4 elements of a story;
- The 5 steps of a plot;
- The 7 (or the 8 or the 12 or the 17) stages of the Hero’s Journey.
I read quite a few of these articles (and even a few books on Amazon) about the parts of finished stories. Interestingly, they all seemed to assume that knowledge of these parts is essential to making a story.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that these lists of story elements are useless. But I object to the idea that simply knowing them helps us create stories. In fact, they can easily get in the way.
Many of us feel darkness surrounding us socially, as well as physically. We feel the lengthening shadows of intolerance, scapegoating, and bigotry. These dark forces seem ascendant. How can we possibly remain hopeful?
South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, no stranger to such situations, said this:
"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness."
So where is this reputed “light”?
Novelist Kate DiCamillo, in her acclaimed novel (later made into an animated film) The Tale of Desperaux, points to a form of light familiar to every reader of this article...
It’s seldom remembered, but an event in Paris in 1790 introduced a concept that made possible nearly every manufactured object sold in the world today. And, oddly, it led indirectly to unhelpful practices in teaching storytelling.
An Astonishing Feat
In Paris's historic Hotel des Invalides in 1790, Honore Blanc, an inventor and gunsmith, staged a daring demonstration in front of a crowd of prestigious politicians, academics, and military men. Until that time, firearms were built individually. Each part of each gun was separately shaped by hand; no two were identical, so replacement parts had to be laboriously crafted to match each unique broken one. This made repairing a gun almost as difficult as making one in the first place.
But Blanc had a bold, new plan: he had manufactured 1000 gunlocks (the critical part of the gun, which causes the gunpowder to explode, firing the bullet) that were made of identical parts. In front of the startled crowd, he chose one of each gunlock-part randomly from bins, then assembled them into a working gunlock. Then he repeated his feat again and again for the astonished crowd. Blanc had just demonstrated the potential of interchangeable parts...
Storytelling Enters Society’s Bloodstream
When I began calling myself a professional storyteller in 1976, I found myself riding a wave that others had created, a wave that was later called the “storytelling revival.” That very year, eminent child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim had just published The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. Three years before, the first National Storytelling Festival had been held in Jonesborough, TN.
...as I began this endeavor, I saw storytelling as a possible antibody to the commercialism, competition, and materialism that had infected the bloodstream of our society. We were few, but we believed our effect on society would be good.