The following is an excerpt from a lecture at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
When you share a story, you will spark a story. That is the power of story: it is an emergent form of communication, possessing the ability to tap into the experiences of your listener. You can connect seemingly abstract, new information to your listener’s existing web of knowledge.
This is why I prefer to speak about story sharing, rather than storytelling. It is more than a semantic difference. Telling is old school, pedantic, and pompous. Telling is transactional; it implies a giver and a taker. When you tell someone something, you shut down true communication. Modern, effective communication is about engagement. It’s about achieving resonance. It’s about moving beyond sympathy to empathy.
You hold immense power as future professional communicators: you will not simply be telling stories to audiences; you will be helping people to share theirs. If you are selling change (and you will probably be doing a lot of that on either the nonprofit or for-profit side, selling a change in situation or in a change in status), you want to enable your audience to see possibilities, solutions, and their part in them. You can help your listeners become the hero of the story.
And what a perfect time to realize and apply this knowledge. In today’s networked world, it is increasingly difficult for institutions to control communication. So business communication is moving from controlling dissemination to more democratic and dialogue-based communication.
Businesses are starting to understand that in a complex market, dealing with complex topics and complex people, story elicitation results in greater and deeper insights. Whether you are working to communicate a message to customers or the needs of customers to your future bosses, consider applying story as a tool for conveying complex emotions and truth.
There is a communications professor at Syracuse University’s school of Visual and Performing Arts who has recently had a profound impact on how I think about my work. Professor Amardo Rodriquez says, “Communication is more than a transmission or transference device—it is a way in which we connect with and realize our humanity.” In my work, I help people share their stories so listeners will find resonance and will share their own stories in return. This is how mutual communication helps advance humanity. The one thing I would like you to take away is that communication is more than transactional. Communication can be transformative.