June 15, 2018 / Esther Choy
Valerie Jarrett is a storytelling superhero. Just two days after Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet about her, the senior Obama advisor kept a commitment to give a keynote address at the American Bar Association’s Law School Development Conference.
I was the keynote speaker the day before her at the same conference. While my topic was Leadership Storytelling, Ms. Jarrett informed and inspired her audience with stories. She captivated everyone’s attention with her strength and grace, and made 45 minutes feel like 10.
“How do you think she became so good at telling stories?” one of the law school deans asked me. “Do you think it’s an inborn gift?”
When listening to someone like Valerie Jarrett tell engaging stories with ease, it’s tempting to think of “storyteller” as a category that we either fit into or don’t. Do we have that secret superpower or not?
Inborn gift or not, all good storytellers have had a lot of opportunity to practice. They pay attention to compelling story materials. They surround themselves with other storytellers. Last but not least, they tell stories constantly and gauge audiences’ reactions. Even for people who are born with a gift, they still practice – a lot. They might be practicing subconsciously, but they’re still honing and improving their skill.
If even natural-born storytellers have to practice, then that means there is a craft to storytelling, and it is a craft we can all learn, practice and improve. You don’t have to be a superhero to tell great stories.
During my Q&A at the conference, law school deans and their development officers submitted many questions about how they themselves can become better storytellers, and how they can help their teams become amazing storytellers too. These are questions many people share when it comes to learning storytelling techniques and applying them in our workplaces in general – not just at law schools.
Find the Q&A here, in Esther’s most recent article for Forbes.
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Esther’s new book, Let the Story Do the Work (published by HarperCollins Leadership), is now available!
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