The seven deadly sins of storytelling

18 Jul
July 18, 2013

In a recent post I talked about the power of storytelling.  This week I’m turning my attention to the seven deadly sins that can impact on all of our stories in a negative way, and I’m going to suggest some approaches for dealing with them.

Story

Based on the original seven deadly sins, I thought I’d apply these to storytelling so that you always deliver the very best stories that you possibly can.

As a reminder, the seven deadly sins are:

  • Wrath
  • Sloth
  • Gluttony
  • Greed
  • Pride
  • Lust, and
  • Envy

Wrath – more commonly known as anger in today’s lexicon:  Storytelling is a great way to engage your teams and staff but only when it’s delivered in a calm and appropriate manner.

Never deliver a story when you’re angry and certainly don’t deliver a story that has an underlying angry message.  Be powerful in your delivery but don’t attack.  Be supportive and seek improvement; don’t criticise failings.

Sloth:  Whatever you do, put a bit of effort and passion into your storytelling!  Carefully prepare the content of your story and polish the delivery – don’t just throw it out there and hope for the best.  Great storytellers vary the tone and speed of their voice and they embellish the story with hand gestures.  Don’t be lazy – the more effort you put into your story then the better the overall result will be.

Gluttony:  A great story is like a great meal – you don’t want it all, but you need just enough to satisfy your appetite.  Don’t try and fill your story with every conceivable nuance or detail.  Keep it slim and to the point.  Just like a well-crafted joke, your story should contain little or no fat but should retain all the elements to maintain impact.

Greed:  Treat your story with respect.  Use it appropriately in your communications and – for the most part – tell one story really well rather than tell two poorly.  Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement speech was a master class of storytelling.  Steve said, “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.”  Steve was spot on – a life in just three stories. So don’t be greedy – fewer is better.

Pride:  Encourage others to tell stories and praise them for their efforts.  Don’t let your story become more important than other people’s stories – all stories have their place.  And don’t think that just because you’re the boss you’ll always have the best stories – because you won’t.

Lust:  This sin is all about longing for power and fame so don’t let your story go to your head.  Don’t try and seek fame or fortune from your story alone. Remember that you’re telling your story to achieve a positive result, not to be self-promotional, so make sure that it’s your story that’s famous and not you.

Envy:  Freely share your stories with others – don’t just covert your own.  Other people may not tell your story as well as you do but remember it’s the message and the influence that’s important – not just who tells the story.

Conclusions

Storytelling is a powerful way to convey messages and passion and achieve a positive change.  Watch out for the seven deadly sins and your stories are bound to be better than ever – and that’s not pride, that’s a fact!

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2 replies
  1. Craig Taylor says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I’m in agreement with almost all of the above, but I’ve re-read the ‘Sloth’ element a few times and there’s something that’s niggling me…..

    What if it’s not ‘our’ story/

    What if we are capturing/facilitating other peoples stories; people who may not be natural storytellers?

    People who may not appear ‘dynamic’ (I guess that’s polite that saying ‘non-sloth-like’)! on camera/paper/microphone?

    Should we accept a story that commits the ‘sloth’ sin, but is genuine, in the ‘first person’ and REAL as opposed to scripting it / over egging it and it then appearing… well…. scripted?

    I’d welcome your thoughts?

    Craig

    Reply
  2. Jonathan Kettleborough says:

    Hi Craig,

    Some good observations and questions – as always.

    The basis of the ‘seven deadly sins’ was to increase the level of professionalism when telling stories but behind my original post lies a great deal more complexity.

    Let’s take the issue of sloth. Certainly what I am saying is that – for the most part – when storytelling in business it’s far better to be polished and prepared – as with any form of presentation.

    That said – if you are listening to stories from others then they may well ‘commit’ some of the sins yet still have a huge impact. Here’s an example . .

    I recently heard a story from someone which was delivered in a quiet, faltering almost apologetic manner. Yet as their story unfolded you could have heard a pin drop in the room. As the story finished some of the audience were in tears and we had to take a break to allow both the audience and the storyteller to regain their composure.

    Was it a ‘polished’ story – certainly not – but the depth of emotion and personal loss communicated to the audience was immeasurable – I would decry anyone in the audience that day to ever forget where they were when they head it.

    But would I take that story and ‘polish it up’ – no I wouldn’t because the underlying message was just so powerful that to even try and alter it in any way would have been an insult.

    What I’m saying therefore – in that wonderful way a consultant does – is that it depends. If you hear a great story badly delivered then sometimes it will need to be given a ‘lift’ should you want to retell it as part of a training session, but some stories are just so powerful – and only you can tell what these are- should, in my opinion be left alone and not played with in any way.

    I hope this helps but please give me a shout if you need further clarity.

    Jonathan.

    Reply

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