"Everyone can tell a story," he said with a smile. "Story is to humans as water is to fish." And with that, the one-day Spring Communications Workshop began.
The speaker, Michael Mann, spends his days as a narrative consultant and storyteller leading workshops around the country for children and adults. He came to southeastern Minnesota in late May to train a group of church communicators, children/youth/family professionals, lay volunteers and pastors on the art of storytelling.
Before the workshop, I believed I wasn't much of a verbal storyteller. I mistakenly thought the world was divided into two basic camps: "good storytellers" and "people who didn't get that gene."
The afternoon revealed I was wrong in nearly all my storytelling assumptions. It turns out we all have the storytelling gene; some of us just haven't had the chance to utilize it, yet. Mann's empowering workshop revealed every human is wired to hear and share stories. It's a skill we all can learn through practice.
"Storytelling is written into our DNA," Mann said. Quoting author Jonathan Gottschall, he added, "Storytelling is a superpower hiding in plain sight."
After Mann's introductory words about the science of storytelling and its embeddedness in the human brain, it was time for us all to start practicing our new super power.
"So, what's the first step to being a good storyteller?" He paused and then answered his own question. "The first step is to become a better listener! We need to stop multitasking and really start listening. We need to listen for the sake of listening — not just listening for the sake of coming up with a good response."
Mann then directed us in a simple process to use as we prepared to tell our first story. We were invited to share about a time when we got injured as a child. Mann called this our "Band-Aid Story."
We split into pairs. One partner shared his/her Band-Aid story and the other listened. Then each pair swapped roles; the listener became the storyteller. After a bit, we switched partners and told someone else our Band-Aid story. This went on for several rotations. Each time we told the same story, we became increasingly confident. In the afternoon session, we did a similar exercise with another story from our lives. Throughout the day, we practiced and practiced, and our new superpower of storytelling got stronger. It was a day well-spent.
The workshop was impactful on a variety of levels. People who had never had a chance to share a part of their story before were invited to do so. While it was somewhat scary and overwhelming for folks, many described that it also was empowering.
The workshop was holy ground. Michael Mann said to all of us at the beginning of the day, "You have a story, and your story matters."
This way of valuing people and their stories isn't limited to one-day workshops. This can be the spirit of our congregations and workplaces and neighborhoods, too. Every person has a story, and every story matters. So how do we nurture this type of community ecosystem? Perhaps we begin by following Mann's number one rule of storytelling: We all commit to becoming better listeners.
Here's to a summer full of stories: experienced, told and heard.