The Secret of Storytelling | by Hannah Ellenwood
“I want to be a storyteller.”
I had just kicked off a year-long fellowship with the goal of learning about Storytelling in the business world so I could apply what I learned in ministry. And this was the goal I shared in every e-mail, phone call and interview trying to land a short-term apprenticeship in Chicago. Until the interview that stumped me:
“You’re a storyteller, so tell me a story.”
I looked at my interviewer across the table and laughed nervously. In front of him, on a sheet of paper, was my bio; the headline reading that my purpose is: “To empower teams, brands and services through story.” Yet here I was, unable to come up with a single story to share in my interview. I felt like a fraud. I panicked and shared a story that had no moral, no humor, and no resolution — just tension. Though he was gracious, I left the interview feeling like I had failed the test to join the team I wanted to work with most.
So, when I got a call two weeks later extending an offer to come on board, I was elated — so elated that my routine Thursday turned into a “Treat Yo’ Self with a fancy, complicated latte and smile at everyone you cross paths with” kind of day. Little did I know just how much my time at Listen Ventures would influence my storytelling philosophy and shape my purpose.
My very first day on the job, I enthusiastically sat down with the team to dive into their brand purpose and understand the values this partnership was built on — the story of Listen. While I expected to be let in on the secret to building powerful brands, I was met instead with a conversation about the power of listening. The secret sauce wasn’t so secret — it was literally in the name.
Their culture of listening taught me about the art of listening. And that it can be practiced in a variety of ways: Through silence. Through showing empathy. Through inquisitive exploration. Through discerning things left unsaid. Through making space at the table for diverse opinions to be voiced. And through asking the right questions.
Over the next couple of months I did a few things that put this into practice. I asked a lot of questions. I initiated conversations with strangers who were different than me and I stepped outside of my comfort zone in order to learn from the experiences of others.
What I found is that in order to be an excellent storyteller, you must first master the art of listening.
So, as I think about my purpose as a “Storyteller” not only do I want to have a portfolio chock-full of stories told, I want to measure my success in strangers turned friends, differences overcome, vulnerability engaged and lives transformed. Because what has greater impact than telling a beautifully polished story?
Listening to someone else’s story and identifying the beauty within it….listening to another’s story and, as an outside voice, helping them find the beauty within it.
This is the power we have. This is the gift we get to offer. These are the stories we get to tell as leaders in our communities and facilitators in our Rooted groups and life groups.
Today, I aspire to be a listener. And, you know what? I’m confident that will make me a better storyteller too.
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” — Doug Larson
Hannah Ellenwood is the Creative Director of the Rooted Network. She believes that story has the power to create positive impact and rich cultural experiences. So, she loves to come alongside and empower individuals, teams, and brands to tell their stories, make meaning out of them, and connect to a greater narrative. Read her blog The Dented Life here.