The biggest secret to great storytelling

On the few occasions that I have been hit hard by grief, it feels like it will never end. My life feels threatened as if it is truly unsafe for those moments to be in the world. grief

I notice how convinced I am that this event is just not possible, that we should have had years more together. We are never prepared for the unexpected. We simply know it won’t happen to us.

This last weekend I was at a memorial gathering for a friend who lost his life to depression. I didn’t know of his suffering, until he ended his own life.

We spent the day hiking, cradled in the nature he so dearly loved, with family and friends – a perfect day that ended with a meal, each family brought a delicious offering from their home and we ate together.

As we shared our day, our food and our memories, it was a celebration of life.

And for me the realization that we can never know of another person’s world, the stories that make their reality.

And how crucially important it is to give space to those stories.

A story needs to be told.


And if not to the entire world, at least to yourself.

To witness the other

To acknowledge experience

To open your heart

To be fully present

To connect

You are telling stories whether you are aware of it or not. It’s the most basic human desire, to share our experience.

So often we are simply not listening. Too invested in our own stories, or making up stories about what other people think.

You know how it is, you’re talking to someone and in your mind, you have a thousand thoughts, mostly to do with what others are thinking or feeling, or how they will react.

So, this is the secret to great storytelling:

Listen to others first – the greatest gift for me in storytelling, to understand that without story listening, there is no story to tell.

Listen for the words that are chosen – each one matters. They are not random. There is a reason we chose to describe something or someone the way we do – it tells a bigger story about our beliefs and prejudices – don’t miss the details.

Listen for what’s not being told – there’s almost always a story behind the story- often many – so ask a question or two and you might discover something entirely new.

Listen for what you’re telling yourself as you listen – usually that’s most of the content of what we remember (yes, we are that narcissistic!!) – so pay attention so that you can let it go and really listen to the person in front of you

Listen to what is being told through expressions or gestures, or movement or energy. Sometimes you see the opposite to what the words would have you believe.

Rob Reiser, a storyteller wrote this of his fellow storyteller:

Brother Blue, was a master listener. When he listened, it was as if you were the only sound in the world. I remember him saying,  “You are the Voice of God. And if God is talking to me, I don’t want to miss a word.” 

Imagine if we all listened like this!

What story have you heard this week? Share it here.

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