In my coaching practice, executives often tell me they want to improve their ability to tell stories that inspire and persuade. But as we start work together, they often haven’t thought about the subtle difference in delivering a story versus narrating one.
Big difference. Let me illustrate here as best I can. Okay, I can’t really “perform” or “deliver” a story for you on the page. But the following will come as close as it gets. I’ll write it in “scene” as if I were delivering it live on stage: (At the end of the column, I’ll narrate the same story so you can see the difference.)
Storytelling: Delivering a Story Versus Narrating a Story
A Story Told in Scene
Late Christmas Eve, I’m standing in the checkout line at Walmart. Getting impatient. Why the hold-up at the register?
Finally, I step to the side of the line so I can see around those in front of me. A tall slim redhead in a faded jumpsuit is patting herself down. First one pocket, then the other. “It’s here. I know it’s here somewhere. I put $152 in my back pocket when I left for work this morning. I’ve been saving all year for that drone!” Her voice is growing shrill as she pats her pockets the second time.
The squatty cashier with the pinched voice says, “Ma’am, can you step out of line until you find the money. There’re other people behind you.”
“No!. . . I promised my son a drone. Tomorrow’s Christmas. . . . I’ve been saving $3 a week all year. I had the money! I’ll find it!”
“I had $152 rolled up in my back pocket. I did. It must have fallen out. Please. Just wait!” She begins to dig through her jacket pockets.
“Ma’am, you’re going to need to step aside.”
The mom bursts into tears. “Please, just wait!” She continues to jerk at all her clothes as if to yank the money lose from some hidden place. “I promised him! . . . Just let me call somebody to come with some money.”
The cashier starts to put the drone underneath the counter. “When you find your money, you can come back.”
“No! No! It’s almost 9:00! I just got off my shift!. . . You’ll be closed before I can get back!”
“Ma’am, I’m going to have to call a manager.”
Then the most amazing thing starts to happen. The guy behind her hands her a $20. The guy behind him hands her another $20. Then others from behind me start passing up $5s, $10s, $1s. I can’t stand there like a chump, so I pull out some bills and pass them up.
The mom starts counting the cash. She looks at the cashier: $126!
The cashier with the pinched voice says to the mom: “I need $151.77.”
The second guy in line hands his charge card to the cashier: “Put the rest on this.”
The mom took the receipt, hugged the drone to her chest, and with tears running down her face, turned to wave to the line of folks behind her as she backed her way out the door.
Watching those random acts of kindness proved to be the best Christmas present of MY year.
The Same Incident Narrated
I was in Walmart during the Christmas season. And I saw the most inspiring random acts of kindness that really put me in the right mood for the season.
This mom got to the cash register and realized she didn’t have enough money to pay for the drone that she’d plan to buy her young son for Christmas. But when people in the line behind her saw what was happening, they started passing up cash to her. She got $152—enough to pay for the drone. Obviously thrilled, the mom left, hugging the gift for her son.
See the difference? Setup. Setting. Structure. Present tense. Dialogue. Characters. Details. Meaning. For emotional impact and connection, deliver a story.
For more tips on how to inject more meaning into each presentation of conversation see Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader. For more information and links to your favorite bookseller click here or on the image below.