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Storytelling as "The Fabric of Society", Part II: Don't Forget the Humor!

March 4, 2012

Former stand-up comedian Jim Pelley (profile) was in town for a couple of days last week to speak at Big Agenda Coaching and BizEnrich events on the Eastside. His storytelling skills are superb, and came with the added bonus of laughter, which was a welcome way to end the week!

Dropped Turkeys Inspire Children

Sometimes there are some serendipitous timings in life, and last week was one of them. Just a couple of weeks after having the privilege of hearing Tom Skerritt discuss his views on the importance of Storytelling (Part I here), I was fortunate to see Jim Pelley in action not once, but TWICE in two days in some very small groups where we had the benefit of a full volley of his humorous interpretations of what life gives us.

Jim is one of of the writers from the original Saturday Night Live program when it started in the 70's, and told a wonderful story of how the enduring "Julia Child" spoof we all remember being played by Dan Aykroyd actually began as something of a true story from a Thanksgiving dinner in 1972 gone awry in his childhood home (with the climactic part of the tale being his tempering of his mother's excitement over the news his script was being used with the detail that her symbolic Julia Child character would be played by Mr. Aykroyd)!

Humor As The Great Connector

Jim has made a wonderful career out of his talents helping the corporate world take themselves just a wee bit less seriously (we hope) as a way to improve motivation and productivity. But the biggest lesson for me in his two chats with us was about the role of humor in storytelling, as well as it's bigger role and its importance in our day-to-day lives. As a tool that "releases people's pain and frustration", humor adds an element to storytelling that "connects us to a deeper level of the person and the situation".  I think we can all remember times when a good laugh (intentional or otherwise) was the one moment that we remember from an important event or meeting, in part because it was at that moment everyone in the room had something in common. Even in the most difficult of situations or at the climactic point in a serious - or even tragic - story, humor often serves as "the bridge between a sane individual and the insane world" and becomes the means by which we can relate to both our heroes or villains.

Humor As A Business Partner

Humor in storytelling applies to nearly all of our business interactions too. I've never been one to subscribe to a dogmatic belief in making everything about business "serious", and enjoy seeing how many others make a success of what they do by being themselves.  Marketing is perhaps the easiest application of humor, and is almost universal in its use in different cultures, if not in HOW it is used (the longstanding tradition in Japanese advertising to use foreign actors to represent embarrassing or just plain silly life situations always fascinated me when I lived there). But I've also always found the most successful people managers utilize humor successfully with their internal teams as well. A great insight Jim shared was that a "real sense of humor gives us the ability to have choices and control". It helps to think of your workday as just one part of a story, or a story until itself. So why not create a story that you not only enjoy, but would like to share?

Stories That Connect and Evolve

Building on what Tom Skerritt talked about ("everyone can tell a story") and mixing in a bit of Jim Pelley's insights on how humor gives us more tools in the telling of stories, it's critical for us in the business world to not only have a story, but to be comfortable and confident in telling it. I also think it's important to remember that stories evolve. If you find your business growing or moving in a direction that was not the original intent but decide you like it anyway, then change the story! No need to be embarrassed or concerned - if that is what works and you intend to exploit that, you don't "owe" your original audience the upkeep of the "old" story if it is no longer true...a good story is authentic, and you'll find it easier to tell it that way.


Have any stories you would like to share? I'm all ears....

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