My favorite night at THNK is the storytelling night. There are obvious reasons: the beautiful stories we hear, the opportunity to be with our participants for five hours straight, and that we have a great setting in a theater in the heart of Amsterdam. But there are more reasons. One is that I never fail to have great learning myself. Another is the way the group supports each speaker at the end of the evening, pushing each other to go where they haven’t gone before. This fills the room with an amazing energy- and that is not to say a “woohoo!” energy that lifts the roof off the house. It is actually a quiet energy of sensitivity and strength. It is one of the most overarching energies that I have ever felt from a group. Both vulnerable and strong; both pushing you on to perform and accepting you fully as you are. The energy is wise and simple, beyond right and wrong. With it we give something back to each speaker, who still stands facing their audience, and we talk about the journey they took in their speech and in their story.
This time for me the biggest learning came when we discussed the body language of one of the speakers. He had been leaning back and fiddling with his fingers throughout most of his speech. We discussed the effect of it, and which body position would give him more power, for instance the position called “hero neutral” with your arms straight beside your body. And then the group said they would also miss the fiddling if it disappeared completely. This brought home that the storyteller really goes on a personal hero’s journey.
This journey is a structure underlying many of the world’s tales and myths uncovered by Joseph Campbell. In short, the hero leaves the safety of the village on a quest and deals with failure and near death to eventually overcome his or herself, find the elixir, and come back a changed person. Stories are about going out on a limb and they are about change. So during the course of telling of a story, we ideally expect the storyteller to make that journey in front of our eyes. Hence we don’t want them or their bodies to be in a position of power throughout the whole telling. In a sense, it should be a journey away from safety, to where it is unknown and dangerous and then back to find the world is changed, either outside or within. From strength to vulnerability and back again, or to somewhere else altogether.
Practicing storytelling can help you feel safe enough to make that journey, and allowing yourself to have that emotional range by exploring outside the safety of your bounds. You need to be able to trust yourself to do that. It helps if you know you have ways of pulling yourself back from cliffs or ravines in the moment when you might lose it. Thanks to that inner power, you can allow your vulnerability to be a bigger part of your story than it might otherwise be. It helps to know that you are strong enough to be weak.
I have been lucky enough to teach storytelling with groups outside of THNK since and have made this part of what we talk about. The energy never quite matches our THNK storytelling nights, though. Therefore I wait with healthy anticipation for the next session. The way the participants trust, support, and push each other is truly quite special.
If you would like to read more about storytelling, please have a look at these 2 blog posts: