How Our Stories Are a Crystal Ball into Our Future

Storytelling is a hot topic right now. Where storytelling was once limited to authors, speakers and public relations professionals, it’s now getting the attention and respect it deserves, being used by many professionals to share information on a personal level.

As a professional storyteller, I make a living by not only telling stories (through my books and public relations work) but also by teaching people how to tell impactful stories. I’ve previously written about how storytelling changes our brain chemistry,which helps us retain information.

There is another side of storytelling that is often overlooked – how it provides insights into the professional and personal life of the storyteller.

Did you know that every time you tell a story, you are not only conveying information about your topic, but also laying out clues about your past, present and future? People are tuned into these clues, as much as they are the content you are sharing.

This is an area of storytelling that fascinates me. Truly fascinates me.

The power of words

Despite working as a storyteller for over 20 years, I had never really given much thought into what personal insights I was sharing with my audience. Yes, I knew that words have power, but hadn’t fully appreciated how the words I use say as much about me as it does my content.

Wanting to learn more about storytelling, I began watching TED Talks on storytelling. I stumbled across Rewire Your Brain Through Storytelling by Ane Marie Anderson. In this short video, she explains the narrative identity.

While the narrative identity relates more to the stories we tell about ourselves, versus storytelling to market a product or used to connect with the audience in a presentation, there are still some lessons learned from narrative identity that we can all use in our communications.

The essence of narrative identity is how the stories we share about ourselves provide insights into our past, present and, most importantly, are a strong predictor of our future. Are we using positive or negative words? Are we victims or the hero in our stories? How do we respond to negative situations? Do we give up or see them as opportunities for growth?

Every time we share a story about our life we are not only sharing clues about who we are, but we are also laying a path for our future. Where this path will lead, depends heavily on not only the stories we tell but also HOW we tell these stories.

By changing the narrative from negative or a victim to positive and taking an active role, we can actually change our personal and/or professional path. While this may seem simple, it’s not so easy. Especially when the path is one we are familiar with and has been followed for many years.

New path

But, like all paths, it is able to change its direction – either gradually or abruptly. How it changes, and where it goes, depends on the words we use, and the stories we tell ourselves and others.

So how does this relate back to storytelling in presentations or meetings?

Often, how we tell stories in our professional lives is a reflection of how we tell stories in our personal lives. If you’re humorous or lighthearted when tell stories at work, it highly unlikely you are serious or somber when telling stories with your friends.

An important element of storytelling is realizing and understanding not only how you tell stories, but also how people respond to what you have to say. Now this can be a tough discussion to have, as not everyone will be willing to give you honest feedback. But it is important to find a friend or coworker who will give you feedback on your storytelling style. Is it positive or negative? Is it inspiring or demoralizing? Do you use humour or are you serious? And most importantly, how do people feel after hearing your stories?

Going back to the narrative identity, and looking at the clues we are laying out about our past, present and future, is how you are telling stories a reflection of the direction you want your life to be heading? Or is it how you want people to think of you when you leave the room (wow she is so positive and inspiring or yikes, that was all doom and gloom)?

Self aware

The best way to figure out how the narrative identity works when it comes to storytelling is to listen to the stories others are telling. Try and go beyond the content and tune into the subtext. What words are they using? What is their body language when they are talking? How does their story make you feel (tapping in to the emotional level)? And finally, what clues do you have about the day they’re having, their past and where do you see their future heading?

Now I’m not suggesting you become an armchair psychiatrist but rather by tuning in to the clues others are laying out through their stories you can become more self aware of the impression you are making on others.

As you continue to improve your storytelling skills, I encourage you to not just look at storytelling tips and techniques, but also take the time to become self aware of the stories you are telling and how you tell these stories reflects on you.