Green Eggs and Ham was the story of my life. I wouldn’t eat a
thing when I was a kid, but Dr. Seuss inspired me to try cauliflower!
It’s all storytelling, you know. That’s what journalism is all about.
People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a
middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that
never stops beginning.
Are stories just a form of entertainment—like movies, television shows, books, and video games?* Or are they something more? This chapter takes the stance that stories are a fundamental and primary form of communication, and without them, we would lose an important way to teach our children, to train our employees, to sell our products, and to make information memorable to those of any age.
Consider a Jewish story Annette Simmons references in her book The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling:
Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door
in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When
Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and
hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took
her home. There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and
sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at
the doors and was readily welcomed into the villagers’ houses.
They invited her to eat at their tables and warm herself by
their fires. (27)
Certainly stories can be a form of entertainment—a book to curl up with on a cold rainy afternoon, a movie to share with a best friend, a video game to conquer—but stories can also be much more and, as will be discussed at the end of the chapter, today stories can be found just about anywhere. Furthermore, because stories can be found anywhere from a movie theatre to a corporate boardroom, everyone should know how to tell a good story.
In her book, The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling, Simmons talks about seven different kinds of stories everyone should learn how to tell. One of them is the “Who I Am” story. Simply put, a Who I Am story shows something about its author, and this type of story fits into the genre of memoir or creative nonfiction. Here is an example from Simmons’ book:
Skip looked into the sea of suspicious stockholders and wondered
what might convince them to follow his leadership. He
was 35, looked 13 and was third generation rich. He could
tell they assumed he would be an unholy disaster as a leader.
He decided to tell them a story. “My first job was drawing the
electrical engineering plans for a boat building company. The
drawings had to be perfect because if the wires were not accurately
placed before the fiberglass form was poured, a mistake
might cost a million dollars, easy. At 25, I already had two
masters’ degrees. I had been on boats all my life and frankly,
I found drawing these plans a bit . . . mindless. One morning
I got a call at home from a $6/hour worker asking me ‘are you
sure this is right?’ I was incensed. Of course I was sure—‘just
pour the damn thing.’ When his supervisor called me an hour
later and woke me up again and asked ‘are you sure this is
right?’ I had even less patience. ‘I said I was sure an hour ago
and I’m still sure.’
It was the phone call from the president of the company
that finally got me out of bed and down to the site. If I had to
hold these guys by the hand, so be it. I sought out the worker
who had called me first. He sat looking at my plans with his
head cocked to one side. With exaggerated patience I began to
explain the drawing. But after a few words my voice got weaker
and my head started to cock to the side as well. It seems that
I had (being left-handed) transposed starboard and port so
that the drawing was an exact mirror image of what it should
have been. Thank God this $6/hour worker had caught my
mistake before it was too late. The next day I found this box
on my desk. The crew bought me a remedial pair of tennis
shoes for future reference. Just in case I got mixed up again—
a red left shoe for port, and a green right one for starboard.
These shoes don’t just help me remember port and starboard.
They help me remember to listen even when I think I know
what’s going on.” As he held up the shoebox with one red and
one green shoe, there were smiles and smirks. The stockholders
relaxed a bit. If this young upstart had already learned
this lesson about arrogance, then he might have learned a few
things about running companies, too. (1–2)
This example shows some of the reasons why people tell Who I Am stories. Chances are that if Skip had gone into this meeting and said “Look, I know I’m young, but I’ve got a lot of experience, I know what I’m doing, I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. Just trust me,” he would not have won over his audience.
Please keep this example and the basic definition of the Who I Am story in mind while reading through the next section, which provides a little background and theory about the fine art of narration and storytelling.