If You Want To Tell A Story, Start Here

On a sublime fall day in 1995, my husband David ripped the children and I from the rest of our family.

At this time, my son Oliver (8) and daughter Alexandra (5) were nothing short of adorable as well as my constant companions during the day (in addition to a few other children I cared for in my home as a daycare provider). Life was zoo-like, and the house was chaos.

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To say I was eager for interactions with adults is an understatement. When the parents arrived to pick up their children, I was ready to chat.

This probably had something to do with the one time I agreed to an appointment with the Kirby salesperson.

Back then, Kirby offered the free carpet cleaning of a room in exchange for time to demonstrate their vacuums to a prospect. I was certain I would be happy to watch the demo and get a free carpet cleaning, and had NO intention of purchasing a Kirby. 

After all, the Kirby was my parent’s vacuum cleaner. They were huge, heavy pieces of equipment built to withstand any torture and most likely an apocalypse. Toss a Kirby down some stairs or from a rooftop, and I’m certain the vacuum would keep right on ticking.

It could do everything from the the obvious suction cleaning of ALL surfaces (including lampshades and mattresses), and then a bunch of weird extras too.

Kirby was built not just to do war with dirt but to win the battle, eradicating dust filled with mites and dead skin cells once and for all.

And all those attachments extended the vacuum’s forever-life and purpose. The bonus was that several of the appendages turned the Kirby into things prospects didn’t even know they needed—a stay-at-home barber (I’m kidding…sort of) as well as a personal chef capable of preparing julienned crudités (again, not sure but maybe).

The point is, the Kirby was built with add-ons that made it MORE than a vacuum—an all of everything solution.

I was certain I would send the salesperson on their way after I listened politely and got my carpet cleaned. I wasn’t much into cleaning, myself, and purchasing an expensive vacuum of almost $1,000 was not in the budget.

On the appointed day, the saleswoman arrived right on time. My children watched in amazement as she demonstrated the power of the Kirby.

Yes, she found our filth. And yes, the white filter paper proved I was a vacuuming loser. We then settled in and relaxed with our Kirby representative.

She was charming, informative and talked with enthusiasm. Oliver and Alex chased her throughout the house as she demonstrated all the places we needed the machine.

The children were brimming with enthusiasm and conviction. We needed this vacuum!

I was ready for closure, ready to send this saleswoman packing, but then the bartering began. “How did we get here?” I wondered as she began the negotiation banter. I made the correct protestations…“Can’t afford it.” “Don’t need it.” “Couldn’t possibly.” Her counter to my arguments intensified while the children leaped around and watched on intently. I was apparently a shrewd customer, because I knocked her down to something like $850.

The saleswoman struggled because I was driving a hard bargain and needed financing to boot.

She admitted this sale would require a call with headquarters to make a case to the higher ups. The children watched the drama unfold, waiting for the word as to our destiny.

The saleswoman got off the phone with her manager and said, “Welcome to the Kirby family!” Oliver and Alex erupted into cheers. “Yay! We are in the Kirby family!”

I don’t remember what happened next or how soon after I closed the door that I felt regret, but I knew there was going to be a discussion with David, and it was going to be an issue. At some point, the children moved on to other adventures, and I waited. I couldn’t help but feel I was a cliché reliving the episode of I Love Lucy titled, “Sales Resistance.”

David and I had a conversation—not the kind I preferred after a day filled with children—and, of course, we knew the vacuum had to be returned. I made it clear I couldn’t do it, that David was going to have to be brave and make the contact.

David triumphed in the kibitz with the saleswoman, the vacuum quietly disappeared and thus our relationship with the Kirby family was severed. I don’t remember if the children felt the pang of the loss. David saved our budget and the day, but he admitted it was kind of hard because the saleswoman was quite convincing.  

TELL ME ANOTHER IS ABOUT STORYTELLING!!!!

The Kirby story is one of my family’s favorites. I hadn’t thought of it for a while until the other day when I was considering this post and asked my daughter for a story idea. She suggested this one, and she was right.

Alexandra and I like stories, hearing them and telling them. We like stories and love each other so much that collaborating on the storytelling game Tell Me Another was a natural project for us.

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Tell Me Another encourages players to share stories—much like the one I detail above—within the realm of a competitive and engaging game. But more than inviting storytelling, we created Tell Me Another to elicit deeper, richer conversation with others. Given these days where we are seemingly less connected in face-to-face interaction, we believe storytelling can help bring us back to each other.

As we launched Tell Me Another, it occurred to us that we each need to rinse and repeat the concept of storytelling, as it is essential to enjoying the full benefits of playing the game.

Here are some tips for getting your storytelling game on for your first and hopefully many times of playing Tell Me Another.

WHY STORYTELLING MATTERS

Storytelling is an essential part of the human condition. We’ve been telling stories since before we had written words. We passed down the stories to help our future survive and move forward from wherever we left off.

Stories help us make sense of the world and each other. Stories give the backdrop to important details and then place them into context to help shape who we are and who we want to be. 

A Stanford study revealed that providing facts alone are only retained about 5-10% of the time, while facts woven into stories are retained more than 75% of the time.

We take in stories everyday but sometimes in our personal contacts we get stuck in talking on the surface. We are busy and multitasking. Storytelling is about slowing down, and listening and learning too.

Storytelling is good for the braincells. The work of creating a story with an obstacle, a beginning, middle and end that ties it all together jumpstarts creativity. And if you practice and get good at them, stories will make you extra charismatic. (Who couldn’t use a little more charisma? Sign me up!)

THE ART OF STORYTELLING IS PART PRACTICE AND PART LOVE AFFAIR

I recently heard the quote, “It’s about progress not perfection,” and it resonated.

The sentiment applies well to storytelling. I am a seasoned interviewer in my work as a personal historian, and a huge fan of stories in my overall consumption of entertainment. I enjoy a wealth of public radio shows, podcasts and other mediums where I enthrall in hearing and reading great stories.

However, I too struggle with the feeling that I’m not as skilled at storytelling in a public setting. Perhaps it’s because I spend less time talking than I did in my youth and now prefer to listen, but like others I’ve found getting into the storytelling groove takes conscious practice.

The tips provided by Kristie Hedges over at Forbes in her post titled How to Tell a Good Story are useful. She offers five, but my favorite was her idea to keep a story library.

Write down good stories as you experience them and generate a list for reference, especially if they inspire a theme you wish to share. And then with your list get out there and practice in your next conversation. Keep the list of the ones you love to tell, and then tell them when you have the chance—because you’ll know as you retell the stories which ones you especially enjoy.

That last bit about enjoyment of the story by you as storyteller is especially important. The ones you love to tell will get better with each telling, and then once you feel the joy of pleasing your listeners you’ll be encouraged to tell more. If you get the storytelling bug, you’ll be actively looking at your life for the rich stories that are there.

Michael Valmont does a great job of walking us through Jim Carrey telling a story in an interview with David Letterman. He breaks down where to start and how to proceed in crafting your own story. Of course, we can’t all be Jim Carrey, but if you go to your pleasure in telling the story you’ll shine.

TELL ME ANOTHER A PATH TO CHARISMA AND ENRICHING CONVERSATIONS

We can’t wait to hear from you when you play Tell Me Another! What were the best stories told? What did you learn about someone else that you didn’t know? Send a photo of you and family playing Tell Me Another. Relate your game experiences. We can’t wait to hear from you!