Carol Mon Q&A

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What a delight to present the 17th in my Q&A series with story practitioners. This one is with Carol Mon, with whom I became familiar through the Golden Fleece group. See her bio below.

Bio of Carol Mon from her Web site:

Bio: Carol spent 13 years in human resources and payroll and another five in radio and TV before finding her passion for storytelling. Carol_Mon.jpg She draws on these experiences to help others create and tell the right story. Since beginning her career as a professional storyteller/speaker in January 2000 she has told a wide variety of stories to a wide variety of audiences and has delivered dozens of workshops on the power of story in communications.


Q&A with Carol Mon (Question 1):

Q: If you could share just one piece of advice or wisdom about story/storytelling/narrative with readers, what would it be?

A: A big mistake that I see many novices make is to write out their story and then try to tell it by reading. For the most part, the way we are taught to write is very different from the way we speak; therefore, the stories don’t flow. Complex sentence structure, multi-syllabic vocabulary, in-depth descriptions, and emotive words are all part of what we might include in a written story that may not be necessary in an oral presentation.
When listening, people don’t have the luxury of going back to re-read a complex sentence or to savor the beauty of the sentence as they would if they were reading it. Yes, using elegant sentence structure can make the story come alive but too much in an oral presentation may tax the listener. The same is true with “big words” in an oral presentation. This is more from the presenter’s standpoint; too many multi-syllabic words in a row will slow the pace of the story and won’t always roll off the tongue easily. Some less commonly used words will add sophistication to the story — used sparingly is best. An oral presentation filled with many unusual vocabulary words will leave the listener translating definitions in his head, leaving little time for the imagination to develop pictures of the story. In written form, the reader is able to slow down when necessary, but in the oral form, the listener is forced along at the speed of the teller or risks being lost.
Part of the beauty of oral storytelling is the listener participates in the building of the story by using her imagination to fill in the full picture based on the description given by the teller. And part of the beauty of the written story is full descriptive scenes. Emotive words also are used very differently in the written form and in then oral form. When speaking, gestures, facial expressions and vocal changes all demonstrate emotions and different speakers. These must be translated into words to express what is going on in text form. Many of us are probably aware of the old saw, it’s not what you say but how you say it. Taking a dialog and copying it on paper can be flat; words might be needed to communicate the true meaning of what is being said. i.e., “Look! a fire” can be followed with, “how beautiful; let’s sit around it and toast marshmallows, or quick call 911.
And finally, for the storyteller who may not be a talented writer, telling the story orally can help in the writing process. Numerous tellings can be compared to several written drafts without the labor of writing and editing. Telling a story over and over will help get the emotion and feel for the story so that when you attempt to write it many of the bugs will be worked out and can make the conversion to a written form much easier. Writing stories and telling stories are both satisfying experiences but take slightly different talents.
Q: The storytelling movement seems to be growing explosively. Why now? What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?
A: Humans have always used story to communicate, even when it was not recognized as “storytelling.” Before the explosion of the written word there was the oral tradition. History, culture, ethics, morals and traditions were all passed along through stories. It feels like we got lazy when books became so readily available and then music, movies and TV all conveying stories in different formats. As we got busier we lost patience to sit and listen and yet we humans all crave to have our story heard. Since the explosion of digital media people are finding it easy to write or record their stories for their descendants and by all accounts many are taking advantage of the technology.
Digital technology might be one answer as to why an explosion of storytelling now but I believe there are several contributing factors to the renaissance. I don’t believe we humans ever stopped telling stories; we just didn’t always call it that. Marketers are now calling it storytelling and demonstrating how powerful a story is to making a message memorable. Since so many people don’t feel heard the venues extended by companies to let customers tell their stories are growing in popularity. Customers feel a bit of celebrity and mostly they feel heard.
The development of technologies like PowerPoint also has inadvertently pushed the effort to bring back more stories. What seemed like a great communication tool has been overused and abused. Audiences are lulled to sleep with dull slide after slide or dazzled with the technology and miss the point of the presentation. Experienced presenters are finding that the good old story is still the best way to get the message out.
Families are spread across the country; we communicate via email, text messaging, and quick hellos as we pass in halls, shops or even the home because of busy schedules. All very impersonal, yet as humans we crave and according to some studies, thrive on contact and interaction with others. Stories connect us and ground us. As we grow apart with over-scheduling and technology choices we also seek out ways to connect resulting in the explosion of the storytelling movement.
Q: How important is it to you and your work to function within the framework of a particular definition of “story?” (i.e., What is a story?) What definition do you espouse?
A: When I first got involved with storytelling I wrote “Storytelling in its simplest form is merely a relaying of events; in its art form, it is a mystical journey the teller and listener take together.” Both parts of storytelling have a place in our world. I still like the statement for how I believe it covers the different types of tales and would like to build on it by saying that I do not espouse one definition of story; one size does not fit all. Professional storytellers do not put much stock in anecdotes as stories and yet in the business world, anecdotes are powerful, easy ways to communicate. There are a few commonalities between all forms of story and those probably are what should be used to define story. Whether it is a one-liner, epic, ballad, poem, movie, anecdote, or fairy tale, all good stories evoke some kind of emotion and cause a connection between the teller and listener. Let’s not complicate it with pedantic definitions of opening, conflicts, resolutions, and character development. Many non-professional storytellers feel they should not use stories in their communications because their “stories” do not follow a strict form. A looser definition encourages more people to consciously use stories strengthening their messages.
Q: One of the seminars you present is Tell Tales, Make Sales. How did you come to discover that storytelling is effective in sales? Do you have a story of a client that improved sales through storytelling?
A: Sadly, I stumbled upon this class. I belong to a Toastmasters group, and at the time there were several sales people also in the group. Knowing that I was a storyteller, one of them casually mentioned that he uses stories all the time in his sales process but that he didn’t feel he got all he could from the delivery. That got me thinking that maybe I had learned some techniques that sales people could benefit from. For one of the projects in the Toastmasters curriculum I put together a workshop for sales people. After receiving some good critique and glowing feedback for the presentation I developed it a bit more for the general sales population and started shopping it around.
I had one client who actually told stories fairly well but tended to go on too long and include far too much detail. After we spoke he trimmed the story to the essentials and noticed more people seemed to listen far more intently. We also talked about the need to listen to the customer’s story first so that the sales story chosen fits the need. I don’t have any figures of improved sales, but the sales person is far more confident when he tells his sales story.

Q: Your clients seem to be primarily organizations, but much of what you have to teach about communication skills seems as though it would work on an individual level, too. Can you talk briefly about using some of your principles and techniques for people who want to, say, network, find a job, advance their careers, or improve communication skills?

A: Listed on my Web site are numerous organizations I have worked with on the development and delivery of story. Recently my business has grown significantly in the one-on-one coaching piece. Listing individuals as clients is problematic because many are looking for anonymity. I find working with individuals very rewarding because it is much easier to target one’s specific needs. In workshops some participants are good at delivery but struggle to find meaning, others are good at finding meaning but cannot easily find stories. Working one-on-one, the help I give is focused and feels more like co-creating. Workshops can feel a bit more one-sided, too much lecture.
My work with individuals has included working with speakers on stories for their keynotes, small business owners and their elevator speeches for networking, un-employed for interview stories and small business owners who are developing stories for brochures, or web content. It has been a wide variety of work which is fascinating and rewarding in the sense that I get to hear a lot of great stories.

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