The Business of Storytelling
Happy Friday, y’all! This week has been less crazy than last week, thank goodness. Still busy, but last week had me tied in knots…deadline for SIDELINED, catching up on work from when I was on vacation, and a two-day conference–one in which I had to give a five-minute presentation to ninety of my colleagues at work.
That had me FREAKING OUT, I tell you.
Pshaw, you say…a five-minute talk? That’s not so bad.
Normally, I’d agree. Piece of cake, bread! I don’t mind public speaking, especially in a business setting when I’m armed with three PowerPoint slides and the truth. But this time, the talk was a little different. And much scarier.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of TED™ Talks or TEDx™ ? Funny enough, I’d only heard about them in passing, and volunteered to do a similar style of talk without knowing what I was getting into. Once I found out that it would take at least four hours of prep and rehearsal to deliver my five-minute “talk,” and that I had to share something deeply personal to make my point, I seriously thought about leaving the country.
This sounds kind of ironic, doesn’t it? I write books. I can tell stories. It’s just…they asked me to talk about my writing journey, at work.
People in my department know I write, but it’s not something I broadcast or talk about much outside my immediate team. I like to keep those parts of my life separate from each other. But now I was going to have to tell an extended audience how one night several years ago, after an extremely difficult few months at a previous employer (in which I had to lay off 20% of a certain workforce), I went home, opened my laptop and words started pouring out of me like blood and tears. And because this would be a work presentation, I had to relate this life-changing moment back to something that pertained to the corporate environment.
Ultimately, I decided to talk about how creativity fuels innovation and how the analytical nature of school and work stifles that creativity, which in turn suppresses innovation in the workplace. It was a fascinating subject to explore…but I still had the problem of speaking about something that was deeply meaningful and personal to a room full of professional colleagues.
I went about it two ways. First — with humor. I showed off my favorite T-shirt (it reads: “Writer’s Block: When your imaginary friends won’t talk to you). After that, I opened up the scab and talked about what drove the stories that had been hanging around inside my head for years onto the page. I let myself be a little vulnerable in front of the audience. Once I put this part of my life out there, the rest of the talk was easier. Especially when I saw nods and encouraging faces in the crowd.
In the end, ten people presented that day. All of us agreed it was one of the hardest presentations we’d ever had to deliver. We also agreed it was one of the most rewarding. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and I lost track of how many people asked about my “other life” afterwards. So what if my knees shook for an hour after I spoke, or if I went to bed exhausted–all for a mere five minute presentation?
I’d told a good story, and the audience heard me.