August 4, 2015 / Esther Choy

velcro as metaphor

As much as everyone loves a good story, one misconception persists.  When my clients hear the word ‘story,’ they often imagine popcorns, soft drinks, and at least two hours of their lives coming and going.  Many of them don’t have two minutes to spare, let alone two hours. So the thought of having to set aside so much time for storytelling makes them hesitate.

Telling an engaging story, however, doesn’t need to be so ‘onerous.’ In fact, a story can be as brief as a few short sentences or as long as a keynote address. In some instances such as business networking, storytelling can be  – and should be – just a few words long. The key is not waiting for that perfect moment, where someone issues an official invitation for us to tell stories.  In fact, everyday opportunities abound and they beg us to tell stories.

Think about how often you or someone you know have encountered the following everyday question:

  • What are you working on these days?

  • How was your summer?

  • How was your weekend?

  • How was your new job?

  • Where are you from?

  • What do you do?

  • Tell me about your role?

  • Are we on track?

  • Heard any good stories lately?

  • How’s your day?

  • Why do you want this?

  • What did you do today?

A participant in my recent SPARK talk wrestled with this last question, ‘What did you do today?’ everyday.  Her ten-year-old son asks this question frequently. No matter how many times she has answered the same thing over and over again she is not satisfied. Here’re a few examples of what she typically says.

“What did I do today? Um… I wrote a lot of emails.”

“I went to a lot of meetings.”

“I answered a lot of my colleagues’ questions.”

Although factually correct, these responses are just not very meaningful to the ten-year-old, or his working mom.  So she set out to tell a story using a classical storytelling tool: metaphor.  The following is paraphrase of her new response.

“What did I do today? Well, Velcro… You know how when we go to the grocery store, sometimes we see these shopping cart covers that parents use for their young kids to sit on? Did you know that it was impossible to hold all the pieces together for it to function? But someone figured out that the missing piece was Velcro. With Velcro, all the pieces somehow can work together. That’s what mommy did at work. I was trying to figure out that one missing piece that could hold everything together.”

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This story took her less than a minute to tell; and it packs a punch.  The story is relatable to her son (and much older audiences). The metaphor sparks his imagination and curiosity.  The story also speaks to that value this working mom brings to her job. Her job is not a series of endless emails and meetings. Rather, she is an inventor, a problem solver, and someone who ushers in simple and unexpected solutions.

So before you encounter another everyday question, spend a few minutes and craft a story. You and your audiences will feel much more engaged and satisfied!

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Esther Choy

Esther Choy founded Leadership Story Lab in 2010 to help others leverage the art of storytelling to create extraordinary opportunities.
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"This is an amazing and insightful post! I hadn’t thought of that so you broadened my perspective. I always appreciate your insight!" - Dan B.

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