The ability to spot an oral story is THE key to effective story-work. You only get the benefits of storytelling if you’re telling a story. This knowledge alone will set you apart from all the people who are merely talking about stories but not telling any.
Just this week, for example, I bumped into one of Melbourne’s digerati and we got talking about story and he said, “Well, when I give a presentation I think about the story I want to tell, you know, the overall theme.” After a bit of digging it was clear that what he meant by story was just the overarching theme, the gist of his talk. It wasn’t a story at all.
So here are the steps:
When you hear someone say, “Just this week …” or “The other day …” or “In 1991 …” then it’s likely they are starting to tell a story. These are time markers.
Sometimes an oral story starts with a place, for example, “We were in the boardroom and Bill walked in …” or “At the crusher Sam heard the bell …”
And very rarely an oral story will start with a description of a character. “Jim been with the company 20 years. He’s the kind of guy who powers through the work. Well, …” Written stories frequently start with a character description.
This is the bare essential. Stories describe something that happened; a series of interconnected events. When you hear someone say, “and then … and after that … and because of that …” you are hearing a story.
If you hear people’s names, and you hear what they did or if you hear dialogue, then there’s a good chance you’re listening to a story.
A story is a promise. A promise to share something your audience didn’t know. It doesn’t have to be a big insight but the listener should at least raise their eyebrows a little. That’s what makes it story-worthy.
And to make it a business story it just has to have a business related point.
Now, these tips for spotting oral stories says nothing about whether the story is a good one.
So keep this in mind:
a story describes what happened;
a good story helps you see what happened;
a great story helps you feel what happened.
If you would like to test your story-spotting skills just head over to The Story Test and publish your results on Twitter or Facebook,