We are all storytellers.We may not think of ourselves that way, but it’s true. We tell stories all the time, to our family, our friends, our coworkers. It’s how we communicate. We even tell ourselves stories, through memories of time gone by or visualizing what we want for our future. They are an integral part of our life.
They are so integral that we all think we know our own stories. How could we not? We tell them all the time! Here is the interesting thing I’ve learned by telling stories with Portland Story Theater – you don’t actually know your story as well as you think you do until you tell it over twelve minutes. Think about that, how often do any of your stories last longer than ten minutes? Eight minutes? How about five? No, most of the stories we tell each other are only a couple of minutes at the maximum. They are meant to entertain at a dinner party, wow during a night out with friends, or convey a quick truth in a personal conversation. In fact, they are such short snippets we might even say they are more like anecdotes than stories.That’s all fine and good but you still know your own story. You’ve told it in different segments to different people at different times but you’ve told it hundreds of times. You know it back and forth, up and down, so how could putting all those anecdotes together be all that hard or teach you anything new? Crafting a great story is more than stringing anecdotes together. It is more than conjunctions and transitions. When you try to create a story from all those little bits and pieces you’ve told over and over again you realize the one thing that will hold them all together is actually missing from each little piece. Vulnerability. We don’t normally include vulnerability in our anecdotes because it isn’t the reason we tell them.
It is when you start to string these together into a narrative with a clear arc and an ‘aha’ moment that the need for vulnerability becomes apparent. A series of anecdotes on their own won’t hold a story together or an audiences attention. You realize vulnerability is the invisible glue which holds it all together. Letting yours show through is when the audience actually comes along for the ride. It’s when they see your vulnerability that they return the favor themselves and the whole experience between you reaches a deeper level.Getting to this point is where you as the storyteller learn a little more about your own story. Crafting your narrative means not only asking yourself the ‘who’ and ‘when’ of your story, but also the ‘why’. It’s the ‘why’ that prompts vulnerability. You find you have to keep asking and exploring the ‘why’ for your story to make sense. To give it continuity. To give it the gravity it deserves. It is here you find that even though you have told this story a hundred times you never really told it with this much depth. It is in this depth where you will reveal new meanings to the story you always thought you knew. Now, whether to include some or all of these intimate details is always up to the storyteller. But there is no question having this new knowledge will only enhance the way you tell the story itself.
It’s an addicting feeling when you are on stage and your story prompts laughter, it is immensely satisfying when you hear “are you kidding me” come from the open mouths of an audience. It is what we are all looking for when we tell our every day anecdotes and it is incredibly rewarding when it happens onstage. But what really makes an impression is when you can make an audience go silent with you. You get to ‘that’ part of your story where you pause and an entire theater pauses with you. When you can almost hear this moment reflecting off of a moment in their own lives. It doesn’t get much more powerful than that and its all due to being vulnerable.