Sharpening our storytelling skills

You can always learn new things and get better. I’ve been a professional writer for a long time and thought I was pretty good at storytelling, but I recently began reading a book released a couple of years ago called The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo. Gallo has some impressive credentials, as a storytelling coach to some people who you might think don’t need help in that area, like Bill Gates, Larry Page and Tony Blair.

Just the first few chapters have already made me realize that we are all storytellers and that effective storytelling is among the most important modern success skills for people in any field of endeavour. We can and we must therefore do well with it, if we wish to achieve our goals, whatever those goals may be.

One of the key points he makes is that emotional content is sometimes more motivating than rational content. This made me roll through my Twitter feed to see if I was doing more data dumping than storytelling. I think I have been.

Gallo also says we will tell more powerful stories, especially in person, if they are built around our own story, our own passion, because passion is visible,storyteller's secret contagious and authentic.

He also describes using classic, proven story structures, which echoed some of the lessons I learned about a million years ago when I attended a course on screenwriting. Your first instinct might be to cringe at the idea of a crass pursuit like how to write a movie script, but we have to admit that Hollywood and Bollywood formulae have an excellent record for capturing huge audiences, inspiring public discourse, and motivating people to move our society in some positive directions.

Both Gallo and my screenwriting instructor counselled that I should not be afraid to ensure that anything I present in public offers drama, humour, emotion, interesting characters who must struggle, learn lessons and rise above their early failures. Audiences love the triumph of the underdog. Most great stories contain an element of that idea.

I remember the screenwriting instructor saying also that there are two key elements that must both be present in good storytelling: 1. Tell stories about highly interesting subject matter if you want to compete effectively with all the other storytellers on the planet. If it’s boring, or only of interest to you, rethink the effort.  2. The way you tell it must be interesting too. The style. The language. The structure. Think about it carefully. Be creative. Rewrite until it’s great.

Some of my other posts have talked about a different way of seeing and doing environmentalism for the modern world. Some of those ideas were borrowed from social scientists, who are increasingly pointing out that we need to evolve our approach, beyond focussing too heavily on the climate change problem, or the trolls and deniers. We need to create momentum by describing successes and inviting everyone to get on board. Don’t be left behind.

This was welcome news for me because as a journalist I’ve been telling stories about great people and their climate change solutions for 15 years. In October I have my first book coming out, which tries to remain positive, and focusses on climate solutions and priorities. It offers quite a few tales about clean energy experts, and top 10 lists for citizens in various walks of life.

Anyway, the point is that telling stories well is very important for environmentalists, and really, for anyone living in the information age. If you haven’t read Carmine’s book it might be worth getting. It’s both practical and inspiring.


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