Can’t think of a story relevant to your topic? Try this.

She stood looking at me expectantly, waiting for an answer, grinning.

I was gobsmacked. As – I assume – were the other people standing around us, witnessing her question.

Well, I thought. THIS is unprecedented.

 

 

A couple of months ago, I was two hours outside of Toronto, running a workshop on storytelling. As always, I drip in little stories from my life as examples of the concepts I explain in action. And – I like to show balance in those examples.

Earlier on in the workshop, I’d told a story where, in passing, I’d mentioned an ex-boyfriend.

Then, I told them this:

 

“To use stories in your work,” I told them, “To get all the powerful effects on the brain that stories elicit, all you really need is an action scene. Narrative isn’t important.”

By this stage, I’d already explained what I mean by an action scene (as I do in THIS post – it’s just asking yourself, ‘What did it look like?’ and ‘How did you feel?’).

“For example,” I went on, “A few months ago, I wanted to write a blog about what I, as a white person, have learned that I need to be doing around the Black Lives Matter movement – because, it turns out, just not being super actively racist isn’t enough.” I gave them a lopsided grin.

“I wanted to start that blog with a story. Partly, because I always do, and mostly because, I knew that if I started the blog saying, ‘LISTEN UP, WHITE PEOPLE, YOU HAVE TO DO STUFF’ – then a lot of my audience would just click away.”

“But,” I told them, “I don’t have any stories about experiencing racial prejudice. So instead, I told them a story about sitting with my four year old niece in the bath. She says, ‘I want to marry Daddy.’ I tell her, ‘Well…by that logic, you know you could also marry mummy?’ And she says, ‘No, there has to be a daddy and a mummy.’”

“So I explained, ‘Actually, you can have a mummy and a mummy and a daddy and a daddy.'” Then I wrote, ‘As a queer person, I’ve been talking to the kids in my life about LGBT issues for years. I haven’t been talking about race – but I’ve recently learned that I need to be. Here are some other things I’ve learned…’”

“The narrative in that story I used was not very powerful. No one’s going to make a Hollywood movie out of it – ‘ANGELINA JOLIE…IN…WOMAN HAS A BATH WITH HER NIECE AND EXPLAINS GAYNESS’. But – it does tell you a lot about me.”

“It shows you I’m close to my niece. It shows you that I’m the kind of person who’s close enough to my niece to have a bath with her. It shows you that I’m the kind of Auntie that educates the kids in her life when they’re as young as four-”

Here, I cupped my hand over my mouth and stage whisper, “Because that’s when you have to start!” Back to normal voice. “It tells you some things about me, so you get a sense of me as a person and like me more – and then, you’re more likely to trust me as we move into the political, educational stuff. This is especially important when talking to people about something as scary and uncomfortable as making them explore their privilege and what they’re doing about racism.”

(if you’re curious, you can read that blog HERE)


I said all of this, and I used that blog as an example, for three reasons:

The first – the reason that was obvious – is that that blog does a great job of showing how you can benefit from storytelling even by using an action scene that isn’t even directly related to what you’re talking about.

But there are two more, which I didn’t – and don’t – explain when running this workshop:

One, that it’s a sneaky way to spread the word to any people in my audience (like me ten years ago!) who don’t realise that systemic racism exists, or didn’t realise that THEY have a responsibility to do something about it – and must take action.

I’m all about preaching to the unconverted, so sneaking in political messages dressed as something else is something I often try to do. Activist Trojan Horsing, if you will – except, instead of soldiers, I’m sneaking in ways to change the world for the better.

But there’s another reason, too. Because I’d mentioned an ex-boyfriend earlier in my workshop – and because I present as straight (and most people who meet me assume I am), I want to do my part for extinguishing bi-invisibility.

This is a way for me to sneak in the fact that – surprise, everyone! – I’m queer.

(which, if you’re not familiar with LGBT reclaiming of that word, simply means ‘not straight’)

Back to that moment of being gobsmacked, while other people watched:

The workshop had ended and, as I stood by the side of the room, a bunch of people came up to talk to me. One lady – short brown bob, awesome red dress – strode to the front. She looked my right in the eyes, put on a huge smile, and confidently said,

“I want to ask you out on a date!”

Well, I thought, THIS is unprecedented.

“Oh!” I said. And she continued,

“I want to take you to an Italian restaurant – the best in Ontario!”

Getting over my shock, I did a little internal check-in. This lady was a babe. And, if she’d enjoyed my workshop, we probably have a sense of humour and points of interest in common. But…

I smiled and screwed up my nose, “I’m actually kind of seeing someone…” – and I was. The gentleman in question and I had only been out a few times so far, but enough that I might have felt weird going on a date with someone else. “But, if I ever come back through town, I’d love to!”

Her whole face fell and her eyebrows shot up. “A friend date!” she said, looking horrified. “I meant a friend date! It’s my husband’s restaurant.”

Cue me COLLAPSING in laughter.

“Oh my god!” she said, looking mortified. “I’m so embarrassed! You totally mentioned that you’re queer! And I totally forgot! I’m so sorry! ”

I hugged her. “Don’t worry! It’s really funny!” Then, “For the record, I would have been totally game if I was more single.”

She hung around as I chatted to everyone else, answering a few questions, and we hugged again as I was leaving.

She told me, “I can’t believe I did that! I’m so sorry!”

I took her arm, “Buddy, honestly, it’s ok! I think it’s hilarious!”

And I did. And I do.

 

To recap:

– If you want to use stories in your blogs, newsletters, workshops and talks, they don’t need to have complete narratives. There is power in describing scenes

– White people: there’s stuff we need to be doing about systemic racism (more than ‘not being overtly racist’). Some ideas here: yesyesmarsha.com/blm

– If you’re not a fan of having someone like me affectionately laughing at you, remember to be aware that, by using words like ‘date’ and ‘girl-crush’, that some of us might be game for making out with you and take you at your word :)

 

Thanks so much for reading! If you know anyone who struggles with which stories to use in their blogs, you can share this with them (or all your followers) using one of the round buttons below. And if you’ve ever had one of these awkward-for-them moments, let me know in the comments below!

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

 

PS want to know my best-ever client secret – and get even more advice, tips, plus stories that I won’t put on the internet? Come and join the Yes Yes Family – it’s free! Also, people say nice things about it like, “Yours are the only emails I read every week!” and “I love the stories you send, I always look forward to them!” Just put your details in below:

(photo credit: Matheus Ferrero from the amazing unsplash.com)

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