Last night, I visited a brand new group called Storyworks – Change your story and change your life, who can be found on meetup under exactly that name. I honestly had no idea what to expect, but was fascinated with the concept and at an asking price of a mere £2, certainly felt I had nothing to lose.
When I arrived at the meeting point, the Royal Festival Hall in Waterloo, I was greeted by three friendly faces, including that of organiser Eli Anderson, whose long hair, relaxed attire, and glasses, instantly communicated his studious, yet generous and open nature. Committed to starting on time, Eli gave potential late-comers a reasonable ten minutes to arrive. When none came, the four of us headed into the Hall and found a quiet spot on the second floor next to the window, with its breathtaking views of the river, where we sat down on the floor and talked.
The first thing Eli told us is that we could ask him anything as he believed in total openess. He also went on to tell us how storytelling was not just his passion, but his purpose in life and that he ran these workshops, despite having no shortage of well-paying customers for his own training courses, so that he could give something away because he just wanted to share what he had to offer. If this had been a sales pitch, I would have been sold, but it was not. He was 100% genuine, which is why it was such a privilege to be there.
The exercises he set us were simple yet incredibly helpful:
1) story reflection – tell a story about yourself to the person next to you and listen to theirs, then tell the entire group their story in exactly the same way they told it to you (choice of words, posture, body language, tone of voice). After that, we were asked a couple of questions on what this story had taught us about this person and we soon realised we had understood something truly deep and personal about a total stranger – in just three minutes.
2) breathing – this is a fairly common exercise also used by most public speaking trainers and there is a good reason why. The best way to think of it is as a ten minute introduction to yoga (I’ve never actually done yoga, but I’ve seen pictures and it looked a little like this). The point is, my breathing was slower and deeper afterwards and I felt much more relaxed and ready to open up as a result.
3) unpacking the story – this was the highlight of the evening, where Eli told us one of his favourite children’s stories and then asked us to talk about it and explain which character we most closely identified with ourselves. I’m not going to tell you anything about the story as I could never do it justice in a short blog post – plus then you’d have no reason to go to the next event and check it out for yourself – but I was taken aback by just how much profundity you can extract from a simple children’s story if you really think about it. After all, how many of the world’s greatest fables (from Hansel and Gretel to Jack and Jill) are expressed in the form of a nursery rhyme or story?
So, if you have made it this far down the page, you may be wondering: what does this have to do with debating or breaking taboos? In reply, I would ask how many debates are won and lost based on the speaker’s ability to communicate their point in language their audience can understand, illustrated by stories? When Martin Luther King spoke of his dream or Churchill of our finest hour, were they not telling a story and then asking their audience to visualise themselves as a character within them and then share those stories with their friends, families, and countrymen?
As for breaking taboos. One thing Eli was at pains to point out was how we Brits, as a people, seem to pride ourselves in our isolationism – not just from the rest of the world, but from each other. This country is a veritable melting pot of cultures, religions, and indeed stories, yet we still keep largely to ourselves. It took just three minutes to find out something so personal about the person sitting next to me that I would ordinarily have to spend a couple of months with anyone else to reach that same level of understanding. If that’s not breaking a taboo, I don’t know what is.
‘Storyworks – Change your story and change your life’ can be found on meetup at http://www.meetup.com/StoryWorks/ – they meet on either Tuesdays or Thursdays subject to availability and admission costs £2. Average attendance ranges from 4 (lowest) to 18 (highest).