Friday, 25 February 2011

So you’re a good storyteller. Are you a good story listener??

Since my book deadline conspired against me going on my annual Inspiration Trip to Texas, I’ve been keen to make sure I soak up the best of what London has to offer with talks and events throughout February and March. Last Friday I went to my first ‘The Story’ a one-day conference at The Conway Hall where a mix of artists, writers, digital producers and bloggers shared their storytelling experiences.

Storytelling is important to me as it unites all the projects I juggle. Whether I’m writing my new book or advising a client on how to communicate their offering, it’s all about stories. 2011’s 'The Story' had a good line-up, from the comedy writer Graham Linehan to the photographer Martin Parr. There were also a few surprises; I didn’t think I’d be that interested in Phil Gyford’s story, the guy behind Pepys’ Diary. But it was fascinating to hear how Phil has taken a story from the 17th Century and used digital tools to tell it now, from daily blog posts to Twitter. With 50% of his online community over the age of 60 it was great to hear an online success story that was not about young people.

But the stand-out for me was Karl James, a performer and director who runs The Dialogue Project, where he uses recorded conversation to explore people’s life stories. Karl played some audio clips of conversations reminding us about the importance of listening. He says we’re missing out by not listening properly, and I think he's right. In one audio clip where he’s asking the father of a child with leukemia about his feelings, there’s a gap of 19 seconds between Karl's question and the father's response. Karl didn’t try and fill that silence, he needed that silence to hear the right story. Through another example, he showed us that sometimes the story is not where you’re expect it to be, and that you need to listen to give it the freedom to get there.

Karl gave me such a simple but essential takeaway - how good are we at listening? In a crowded and noisy world full of multiple stories on multiple platforms are we pausing to listen? So I’m embarking on my own listening strategy, with my family, my friends, clients and people I’m interviewing for my book. I’m going to be listening more.


thomsinger said...

Listening is important, but hard for many people to do. There is nothing wrong with being a "talker" or "story-teller"... in fact many successful people are masterful in this area. But mutual understanding can only occur with listening.

It is also not just listening, but not being afraid of silence. Both in conversations, but also when presenting. Too often we talk to fill the gap. When speaking to a large audience I find my power comes in my long pauses.

Ian Sanders said...

Thanks for contributing Thom, you're right about a silence. I think we're often too quick to fill a silence because we feel uncomfortable with it so I like your point about the power of a long pause...