I’ve been working away quietly at the hotel getting ready for my sessions at the Faciliteringsdagarna in Stockholm starting tomorrow. There has been a pre-conference session going on with Michael Wilkinson and I checked in with the participants at lunch. What Kalle said made me think.
He told me he’d worked as a musician for 15 years and that taught him how important it was to isolate the small things that make a big difference. As a drummer, he’d regularly practiced the paradiddle whenever he could — that’s one of the core patterns of drumming with downbeat, beat, double beat, upbeat and so on. You can vary this pattern infinitely. Alone, it doesn’t sound like music, but if you practice it until it becomes part of you, your music will be stronger and better.
The same is true for stories. Here’s some small thing that will make a big difference.
Practice REALLY seeing things. See them so well that you can describe them so others see them. There is a such a beauty and finesse possible in description. It takes us to where you are. Practice the language of the senses so people can feel what you feel. What are the parts that make a moving whole?
Practice the parts of your story. Practice your beginnings and endings. There are thousands of ways into the forest. How will you begin this story so that you intrigue your listener to stay with you to the end. Then practice the end. The Chinese say that a good story should have the head of a tiger, the body of a pig and the tail of a peacock. Grab me at the beginning, give me a feast in the middle and may it end in beauty (and that doesn’t mean a happy ending, by the way).
Isolate the parts of YOU as a storyteller — what makes good presence? How do you feel in your body? What stance are you taking in the room? How well do you use your voice? How do you blend words and silence? What is your tone like? Observe others in action — especially when they are telling stories. How do others grab people’s attention with their voice?
And finally, listen. Listen a lot. Listen even more. Some of my young friends like to say “listen louder”. What are the stories the world needs now? What are the stories calling your name? Where can you be a storycatcher for stories that need to travel in this world? And where can you tell them? This you can only know by listening. Perhaps listening is one of the most beautiful acts of love you can practice every day. Even to yourself. And especially to others.
All of these things are simple. Some of them are not so easy. But the first step to mastery is practice. Just keep on practicing. Today is just practice for tomorrow, Aikido masters say. That’s a good thing to remember. The PERFECT bus already left town. Let’s just keep practicing.
Part of the magic of storytelling is about integrating the little things so well that the whole thing feels both spontaneous and utterly authentic. Besides, there’s no better practice in the world than practicing being the best of yourself.