Please Don’t Tell

It’s hard to admit this, or even remember it.

I stood up in front of about 25 people. They were my peers, people I followed and admired and deep down I was trying to make a good impression.

I had chosen a new story. I had not done a huge amount of work on it. Just thrown it together instinctively and though I knew it was powerful, I was nervous that I could pull it off.

The story started well, I set the scene and began to create curiosity and tension around the core conflict of the story. Just as I got to a crucial part I started to feel the emotion rise inside me. That’s usually a good thing but this was like a tidal wave. It was ripping me apart and before I knew it I began to cry.

I was so confused. The story wasn’t even true, I had made it up. Why was I crying?  The audience, assuming it was a true story, encouraged me to tell through the emotion, to keep going.  

I did. I finished the story. I was shocked. I had no idea the story would move me so deeply. I had not considered that even a ‘made up’ story would touch issues that were so core to my being.

Afterwards, I spent a long time trying to figure it out. Actually for years, I have thought this through. And I realize there some crucial secrets to telling effective and safe stories.

  1. Work on the meaning of your story before you tell it. Understand what it is about for you. Where does it move you? Why do you want to tell it?
  2. Decide if you are ready to talk about the core issues that the story represents. Are you clear about your own feelings relating to these issues?
  3. Figure out who the story serves.  If the story is serving you in figuring out the experience or trying to understand how you feel about it – then you are serving yourself.  If this is the case, it will become less interesting to your audience and possibly make you feel too vulnerable and weakened by the telling. You ALWAYS want to be serving your audience.
  4. Practice telling the story.  The aim is to move your audience while remaining empowered and connected (not falling apart!). Hone in on the key emotional triggers in the story and make sure you can tell them with enough distance to avoid being dragged under by the feelings that can arise for you.
  5. Understand that there are some stories that you are not ready to tell.  Yet.  And that’s okay.  Sometimes a bit of distance or time or a new perspective is what you need before you can tell this particular story. 
  6. Please don’t tell.  What you’re not ready to tell. It’s uncomfortable for your audience (at best) and can be damaging to you (at worst).  You have many many stories, tell the ones that empower you!

While I embrace and encourage you in ‘daring’ to tell you story, particularly the difficult ones, you need to stay safe, we all do.

Sometimes, it just means telling your story to one person, then to someone else.  And to keep telling it in a protected and safe space before you are ready to go big.  

Yes, you can transform these ‘difficult’ stories; slowly, gently and with great compassion.

So, who will you tell your story to this week?
Leave a comment below.

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4 comments on “Please Don’t Tell

  1. As a therapeutic storyteller, I applaud you for bringing this important issue to the forefront. It is what I have said for years (and written about in a national publication). As healers and/or storytellers, we need to be there FOR our audience. It is not their job to take care of us and possibly be short-changed in their own emotional/spiritual experience. I told healing stories in a lockup facility and worked closely with a young man (18 years old) who responded to Story. When released he died. I was cratered and could not tell my story of him for many years. Finally there has been enough healing that I can honor him by telling his story in other facilities/groups I visit. His is a strong message and a cautionary tale. I am grateful that I waited – and grateful that I can now honor him.

    • Thanks for your feedback Susi – it’s great to have you here! I’ve been aware of your work for quite some time. And your example here is very powerful…and a wonderful way of articulating it…we honor our subject so much more when we have waited to tell the story at the right time. Thank you and warmest wishes, Lisa

  2. Great story Lisa. I agree with Susi’s comments. I had a similar experience some years ago. I told a story to a group of fellow storytellers. It dealt with a deathbed, father-son reconciliation. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by emotion — both the audience’s and my own. Everyone was in tears. Later, one of my colleagues talked to me of how difficult it was to hear the story when she was so concerned for me. BIG LESSON. I realised that the story had awakened unresolved grief in me over my own father’s death. Fortunately this experience took place among colleagues in a rehearsal and not in a public performance. It was a most valuable lesson. The 6-step approach you outline above is similar to what I now advise my own coachees, and a process I remember to go through myself when developing personal stories. I’m pleased to say I can now tell that story without being overwhelmed. I still feel the emotion from time to time, but more aware of how to use that emotion to serve the story and the audience. Now, the audience can experience the story, THEIR emotions, without worrying about me.

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