I was invited to a very unusual event recently. It was a meeting about “storytelling.” It was hosted by Peter Guber. Peter is an Academy Award-winning producer of movies, including Rain Man, The Color Purple and Batman. He is the past CEO of Sony Corp. and currently chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment.
Peter is clearly passionate about the power of “story” and considers it the “secret sauce” that has enabled him to achieve his success. Consequently, he decided to create an opportunity for a diverse group of experts to come together to exchange ideas–be inspired, enlightened and enriched–but, most important, to share stories!
Peter invited about 16 people (including “yours truly”) along with individuals such as Warren Bennis–one of the world’s foremost experts on leadership; Keith Ferrazzi–author of “Never Eat Alone“; and Mark Victor Hansen–co-author of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, as well as many other “storytellers” from various businesses, backgrounds and areas of expertise.
Effective storytelling is an important part of one’s emotional intelligence. I’ve always believed in using stories to make a point but never really gave a lot of thought to some of the “hows” and “whys” of their effectiveness. There were a number of “take-aways” for me from this meeting that I would like to share with you.
Storytelling is about tapping into a passion about some topic. It is about taking the listener to a place that is visceral, visual, concrete, emotional and possibly unexpected. One of the participants, Dr. Mark Goulston, said that “a story is a portable storage unit for one’s dreams, fears, hopes, humor and sorrows that people visit–or visits people–from time to time for them to stay in contact with their humanity.” [The group really liked this definition, and so did I.]
Mark Victor Hansen said that when the authors were working on the Chicken Soup series, they were looking for stories that gave or gave people:
- God bumps or goose bumps
- Happy tears
- A change in perception
- Weakness in the knees
- Change in your life
One of the best comments of the day came from Peter, who said, “what if” is more powerful than “how to” in a story. Very true, indeed. Getting people to think of the possible rather than simply look at the present can truly help make a great story.
After spending an entire day talking about what it takes to make a good story, I verified the fact that it is very difficult to describe to someone “how” to tell a good story. However, you sure know one when you hear it!