Being a storyteller in the era of ‘storytelling’ side hustles and generalization

By Limor Shiponi

Some time ago I crossed roads with someone in the marketing automation business. “Great!” he exclaimed upon recognizing me, “we’re both storytellers!”. Hell not. But as storytellers know, right now we’re told again and again “everybody is a storyteller”. Can you argue the opposite when huge media forces, journalists, corporate CEOs, data analysts, scientists, business consultants, advertising agencies, app developers, authors, educators, designers, photographers, Pixar and Coca Cola say so?

Yes, you can. But you’d be wasting your time and energy. It’s enough that a few of us are doing it occasionally. Those forces don’t really want to know the truth and there are too many false promises and dollars involved. As we well know – this too shall pass. Storytelling was never about big bucks anyway.

What we need to look at

I think we need to look at storytelling. No external applications, only becoming better in storytelling as it really is. The good news is that people recognize storytelling for what it really is when they meet it. The bad news are there is not enough of the good stuff to go around.

I know we all come from different backgrounds, arrived to storytelling for different reasons, with varying ideas about what we want to make out of it. But eventually we stayed for a long time and made storytelling an important part of our agenda. Some of us are full-time storytellers, some part time; we all take it seriously. Sticking with storytelling you find out there is no other way but being serious about it – as much as life allows you to be.

A warning

If you’re looking into learning those tech, media and marketing “applications”, look at it as a side hustle or your full-time business, not as part of your storytelling. A lot of what you know as a storyteller will help you become good with those occupations and storytelling will go with you everywhere, but don’t think you’ll be storytelling in a different way or appreciated/compensated for what you know about storytelling. On the contrary, you’ll have to find a way to keep your storytelling fresh and sound, untouched by those influences. If you don’t, you’re going to damage your art and this is from experience: I realized it the day some generalizing words and jargon got into my telling. It was a clear warning that made me back off and relook the way I want to lead the double strand – being a storyteller and being in business.

Keep away from storytelling generalizations. If by explaining exactly what storytelling is you’re excluding someone – so be it. Being kind to everybody but not to yourself and what you’ve worked so hard to achieve won’t get you very far as a professional. You’ll just become a me-too-every-body-is-a-storyteller, you know, in general as if?

In general is where all the powers I’ve mentioned on top are gathering. Fighting your way there is close to impossible because when it comes to being hired under “storyteller” they’ll be asking for your “other” credentials, not for storytelling as we know it. For some reason they don’t appreciate “people” as a good clients list.

Remembering there is always another bend in the road

Learn how to get critical about your storytelling ability, in detail. It will help you map your skills and decide how you want to proceed with improving on them.

Get as many gigs as you can afford to handle. Paid or not, practice makes better and better is the best way to market.

Decide what kind of storyteller you want to be (this list of applications can help you think) and take your path over there. Be in the suitable ‘zone’ for your preferences, the audiences you want to meet, resources and skills.

Enlarge your repertoire with stories of rich substance. Develop your own taste for stories and don’t overlook fairytales, legends and folktales; telling them is walking in the footsteps of giants.

Tell to kids, not only to adults. I know there are places where storytelling is treated as “kids stuff” but there are places where it’s exactly the opposite. Not telling to kids is like trying to fly with one wing.

Bon Voyage.

6 thoughts on “Being a storyteller in the era of ‘storytelling’ side hustles and generalization”

  1. Pingback: Being a storyteller in the era of 'storytelling...

  2. Thank you for that.

    Yesterday on PBS I listened to Ralph Lauren talk about his designs as “storytelling.” No, Ralph. There’s no narrative to decking a skinny young woman in consumer products.

    This post says what I was too incensed to articulate.

    1. Hi Megan, welcome. Ralph probably has nothing more accurate to say. Can’t think about any other reason such a well established fashion maker would want to dilute the talk about what he makes. Let’s take our energy somewhere better.

  3. Pingback: Being a storyteller in the era of 'storytelling...

  4. I love the term “side hustles”. I expect to see the social media training types moving into “storytelling” in a big way over the next few months. The good news is that should increase the size of the training pie, simply from their hype.

    I started telling stories three years ago and being semi-retired have been able to spend a lot of time reading and soaking up the background of the art form. I have also read the literature on business storytelling: Annette Simmons, Steve Denning, Raf Stevens, your blog, and other online resources.

    I would like to have a piece of that training pie. The question is how to stay true to the art and develop and market an honest service/product.

    1. Hi Murray,
      It’s a serious question you’re asking there. I’ll write a post about it in the close future. Promise 🙂

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