Kindra Hall Q&A
I believe Kindra Hall sought me out on Twitter or Facebook (or both). As I learned more about her, I was utterly charmed by this lovely young woman and her entertaining newly designed site/blog Kindra Hall Tells All. I’m thrilled to present this Q&A with Kindra.
Bio: [In her own words from her site, Kindra Hall Tells All] I grew up in small-town Minnesota. I graduated high school in 1999, college in 2003, and finished graduate school (completing a thesis on the use of storytelling in organizations) in 2005. I now live in Phoenix after experiencing enough snow and below zero temps to last a lifetime.
When I was in fifth grade, my teacher Mrs. Sprain did a storytelling lesson in her reading class. This experience set the rest of my life in motion. Throughout high school I competed on the speech team as a top storyteller and went on to tell nationally at the National Storytelling Network annual conferences and at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN; in 1999 as a youth teller, and in 2008 at the Exchange Place. It was at these events and through these experiences that my natural passion for the art of a good story found some direction.
However, as much as I love telling for a live audience, I had more stories to tell than I had venues to tell them in. After moving to Phoenix (but before I had friends) I sat in my apartment and started posting stories online (on MySpace of all places) for others to read. I didn’t know I would love writing as much as I did, and I didn’t expect to love hearing people’s responses as much as I do. I now post these stories here — at least once a week. As this site has grown, I have had the honor of working with other people and their stories so that the world will know them better — just as you will know me more by reading the stories I have shared. Read more here
Q&A with Kindra Hall:
Q: You are unusual in that you are both an oral-performance storyteller and a writer of stories. To what extent is there a difference in your approach to writing a story (writing for the eye) and preparing one for oral performance (writing for the ear)? I’ve had some discussion on my blog about the best way to deliver oral storytelling — especially in, say, a podcast, where you might be able to get away with reading the story instead of just telling it. Is it best to write nothing down and just deliver the oral story from memory, or should you use bare-bones notes, or what? Bottom line, what’s the relationship between the orally delivered story and the written one?
A: This is a conundrum I have only recently come to terms with.
I started writing my stories mainly because I had more stories to tell than I had places to tell them. I started seeing stories everywhere I went, recalling stories from years ago, and if I had waited until I was standing on a stage to share them, I fear I would have exploded. I know there is a lot more to say about whether a written story is considered “real storytelling,” but that conversation can happen another time.
Here is my perspective on the relationship between the orally delivered story and the written one. The No. 1 challenge for someone who is telling a story orally that they have already written: It is easy to become more focused on the WORDS — less focused on the STORY.
By nature, when you write a story, you spend a certain amount of time going back and getting the words just right. They need to flow, they need to express emotion, and the words carry the full weight of transferring the meaning of the story to the listener. You choose these words carefully. Fortunately, you have time to make these edits. You are in the comfort of your own home.
When a teller steps on stage, or even into a sound studio, the priorities change. Now it’s not the words that are responsible — it is YOU, the storyteller. You don’t have time to meticulously edit every word, nor should you be trying to recall them verbatim as these things disconnect you from your audience. The most powerful thing about oral storytelling is, when done right, the story is co-created with the audience. If you’re too busy trying to remember what you are “supposed” to say, the audience can’t participate and the story will fall flat.
I had to learn this the hard way. Trust me, it was painful.
My advice is this: When you wish to tell a story you have written, read over it again. Once, maybe twice. While you read, be aware of the timeline — what happens when, A, B, C, D, The End. Second, instead of focusing on specific phrases or wording, focus on the emotions they convey. Consider the emotional journey you want your audience to take, instead of what words you want them to hear. Finally, put the written copy away and don’t look at it again until it’s all over.
Here’s the thing. Sure, there may be times when the words you used on paper sounded better than the ones you told on stage. However, the interaction, the spontaneity, the co-creation that comes from saying the words that happen to come out, far outshines the alternative. Your audience will get more from the telling, and the story itself (if I may take a moment to personify it) will be happy to have been given life instead of just recited.
Even with Podcasts — I feel the audience knows when you’re not being real. Use this same strategy. Leave the notes at home. Remember the timeline and the emotional journey you want your audience to take.
Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?
A: My storytelling career began with performance. I started telling stories in elementary school in my English class. I then competed on the high-school speech team telling stories, and eventually found my way to the National Storytelling Conference in 2000 at age 18. However, I when I first realized that story could be more than performance was in my high-school physics class where I had to write a paper about gravity. After all my research was completed, I was still one page short of the requirement. I took a risk and included a story about riding roller coasters as the introduction for about three-quarters of a page, and used a shorter version of the same story as the conclusion. I was nervous my instructor would reprimand me but instead I got an “A” with the comment: “Excellent use of theory applied to real-life situations.” I was shocked — I thought it was cheating. However, I continued using that strategy all through college, and every time I received the same comments. I soon realized that using story wasn’t cheating — it was brilliant. Story is how we learn, how we make sense of things. While facts have their place, a story to illustrate the facts is what make the information memorable. This is true outside the classroom as well — in business, in family, in media. Once I figured that out, I was hooked.
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: The effect social media has had on our lives is profound and directly impacts this second (third, or fourth) surge in storytelling awareness. Society is not only demanding, but fully expecting transparency — expecting it of companies, of our government, of all of the people who hold various positions of leadership. Fewer and fewer emperors are allowed to walk around naked. That being said, it is my firm belief, it always has been, that if you don’t tell your story first — someone will tell it FOR you using various means of social media and you may not like their version.
While there are certainly other reasons, these two: the need for transparency and the urgency of telling it first, have certainly helped in the explosive growth and buzz around storytelling.
Q: Are there any current uses of storytelling that repel you or that you feel are inappropriate?
A: There are a few things to this. First, I need to be clear: whenever a story is told that is based on lies — I have a problem with that. Because we are so susceptible to the stories we are told, telling false stories with the intent to pass them off as true is entirely inappropriate. It is disgusting. However, I do not have a problem with people using story to persuade others. If you want to persuade, whether in sales, politics, or discouraging texting while driving, story is the way to do it.
I remember watching the news after Bush won the election over Kerry. A woman representative from each camp was on the split screen and I heard the Kerry rep say, “Well, the Bush people just told a better narrative” — as if that was a crime — as if telling a better story was a cheap trick. I remember saying out loud, “Yeah, they did. Good for them. Now learn from it.” Four years later, separate from political party preference, I believe they had learned their lesson.
As an advocate for the power of story, even if “my team” loses — I have to appreciate a well-told narrative, as long as it’s based in fact.
Q: If you could share just one piece of advice or wisdom about story/storytelling/narrative with readers, what would it be?
A: See the stories that are happening around you and tell them. Anytime you feel a surge of emotion — there is a story there. Anytime you feel yourself saying, “Huh. That’s unexpected” — there is a story there. Sometimes the smallest stories mean the most because our lives happen in a collection of small moments.
Q: I’m intrigued by your wedding-story work, and I also read and loved your own stories of your relationship with your relatively new husband. I’ve never seen/heard stories at a wedding. Did you originate the idea? How easy is it to sell couples on the idea? (I would imagine you get a lot of business through word-of-mouth — people seeing stories shared at weddings and wanting them at their own.)
A: This was an original idea — an accidental idea if you will. It came about as Michael, my husband, and I were planning our wedding. With storyteller Donald Davis as our officiant, and with my background in story, we thought stories would be a much more effective way to communicate what was important to us as a couple going forward as husband and wife than a handful of verses. It was a very natural decision for us, and I certainly wasn’t intending it to become a business. It was actually my wedding photographer who suggested it. When she posted our photos online, she included our stories with rave reviews — and she recognized that there was a need in the market.
Currently, all of my clients have come through referrals. They have seen my blog or heard about me through some of my wedding industry friends or previous clients. With these clients, I don’t have to do much “selling,” as they have already seen the value. As this business grows, I’m sure I will face the challenges that come with offering a service not many people have considered. I plan to use the success stories of my other couples to illustrate the value of the product and service I offer.
Q: Since many of my readers are involved with organizational storytelling/business narrative, I wondered if you could talk a bit about what aspect of this topic you researched for your master’s thesis. To what extent do you have the opportunity to do work with storytelling in organizations currently?
A: My thesis was on the role of stories in organizations — particularly the role they play in the various phases of the socialization process. Basically, the findings revealed that stories never stop impacting members of the organization. Managers, CEOs, companies, as a whole need to be very aware of the stories being told by, about, and especially within the organization. There is no room for laziness here — laziness can get expensive.
I have worked with organizations in the past to teach the different ways stories can be used. Now, I am currently offering half and full day workshops centered around how individuals and companies as a whole can, not only use stories, but how they can find them, hone them, and tell them effectively.
Q: You tweeted recently about having writer’s block. How do you deal with that and get ideas flowing again? Do you have goals for how often you will write and publish your stories, and if so, do you ever feel oppressed by those goals?
A: Ug. Yes. I have my days. I do have goals focused on posts-per-week. I’ve upped it to twice in week, though I’d like it to be even more. The problem is, I’m not always “feeling it.” However, I believe that that is an artist’s cop-out. I heard an interview with multi-Grammy winner David Foster who attributes much of his success as a musical genius to the fact that he works on the days he “doesn’t feel like it.” Sure, he may not produce a Grammy winner on those days, but he’s improving his craft and honing his discipline. These are important characteristics for storytellers to have as well.
So on those days where a story isn’t coming easily, I know I still need to tell. I page through notebooks of old story scraps, I read through some of my other work, and I keep my mind open. Eventually, if I stay focused, a story comes to me. I don’t try to judge whether or not it will be a “Grammy-winner,” I just write. This mindset has helped me get through those frustrating days and has made me a better teller. I often find stories I wasn’t expecting.