Once a Upon a Time: Three Things I Learned on Storytelling

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

On May 28, my friends and colleagues at PRSA Chicago hosted an interesting breakfast workshop that addressed one of the oldest forms of communication — storytelling.

storyOur speaker, Rob Biesenbach, certainly had the credentials, boasting an impressive big agency background and successful career as an author and consultant.

Along with more coffee than I should drink in a day and a huge breakfast panini, here’s what I learned about storytelling  following this excellent presentation.

  1.  Follow the KISS Principle: To craft and deliver an effective story, keep it simple.  (But drop the second “S” and don’t call your audience “stupid.”) Mr. Bisenbach noted that storytelling “is not as complicated as you think.”  I wholeheartedly agree and wonder why so many organizations have a trouble telling a simple story. Probably because of the lawyers.
  2. A Definition: Mr. Bisenbach noted that a true story has these three elements:  Character, goal and challenge/obstacle.  True in some respects, especially in the verbal sense; but the English major in me recalls that a story — or better yet,  a modern short story — has these elements: Conflict, plot, rising action, falling action, conclusion. I know this for a fact because, as noted, I was an English major.
  3. Passion is No Ordinary Word: That’s true. It’s the title of a song by British rocker Graham Parker and applies to effective storytelling.  Demonstrate passion by  “looking inside yourself and stepping outside your comfort zone when delivering a story,” Mr. Bisenbach said.

Stories can be spoken (the original format, I believe) written (the format that came next) and recorded (the way many of us today absorb them).  But they’re at the heart of all communications.

Too often today, those of us who are in communications disciplines lose sight of that fact.

Now that I got your attention, did you hear the one about the PR blogger who had childhood aspirations of being a baseball player, astronaut or secret agent but couldn’t run, throw, hit or field very well?  And was afraid of heights and didn’t look good in a tuxedo?

Ah, that’s a story for another time.

So, what’s your story?