It has been said that a good storyteller knows many stories, but a great storyteller knows the audience.
It could also be said that people who are “fluent in story” understand different story spaces and can more easily navigate between story spaces. Whether you’re using stories to teach, lead, entertain, or sell, there are a variety of spaces to understand.
What exactly are story spaces?
To help explain, see if you recognize any of these people:
- Sam is a friend of mine who connects well with people in small groups and one on one, but you’d never get him up on stage. Sam is a great communicator at campfires and watering holes.
- Lucy is a business leader in my network who is radiant when talking to a group, but is flat and a bit distant in one on one situations. Lucy’s forte is the mountaintop setting.
- And there’s someone I’ve met recently, Robert, who is still figuring out his professional story. He needs more cave time.
Learning Spaces are Story Spaces
Dr. David Thornburg, one of the first employees of the famed Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), shares a framework of four learning spaces in his paper, Campfires in Cyberspace. Thornburg’s model is often used in the field of education to describe ways that students learn in physical and digital worlds, and I believe that it’s equally useful here in the context of professional communication. These story spaces can exist in just about any physical venue – it’s the manner in which humans interact that creates these four story spaces:
Cave: Personal story space.
The stories we tell ourselves, when we’re introspective. This is the place to start. If you haven’t figured out your own story, its very difficult to move into the other spaces with any assurance. Confidence comes from investing the time and doing the work that leads to self-awareness.
While cave time involves a lot of personal reflection, it doesn’t have to be experienced entirely alone. Story coaches can help clients with exercises and questions that help them zero in on their personal story. Books provide personal story frameworks to jump start and guide the process. In my experience, cave time isn’t the most glamorous part of story work that everyone gravitates to do. However, cave time offers excellent return on investment. I can’t tell you how many coaching clients and business owners have had breakthrough moments about who they are and where they need to be going after a little cave time.
Once they figure out their personal story, a transformation happens and the rest of the story spaces become easier to enter.
Watering Holes: Many to many.
Serious stories may be happening in these casual spaces. If you’ve ever had a “meeting after the meeting,” at a bar, you probably recognize that watering holes are where much of the real business of life gets done! Coffee shops, informal meetings, and the proverbial office water cooler are where information is traded, alliances are made and broken, and learning occurs. Networking events, conferences, and one to one business meetings are where many of us spend our time and stories each day.
Campfires: One to many; The one rotates.
One minute you may be the teller, the next minute you may be the listener. Campfires are a little more formal than watering holes, because people don’t enter and exit the space as easily, and one person tends to hold the floor at a given moment. At moments, campfires are like mini-mountaintops, but constantly shifting.
Mountaintops: One to many.
This includes speeches, talks, and performances. This is the story space that many people think of first when they think of storytelling, and the emphasis is on the “telling.” It’s generally one-way communication, with a big tent approach. Speaking to large crowds in public is also on many people’s list of fears.
So what’s your storyspace?
Do you tend to equate story communication with one of these story spaces in particular?
In which story space are you most confident?
How do you flex your style to each space?
Is there a story space that you want to pay more attention to in the coming year?
The better you understand how to navigate story spaces, the more effective a communicator you can be!
Andrew gives keynote talks and workshops on stories for business and develops client success story programs.
For more resources, visit http://sevenstorylearning.com and connect on twitter or Facebook.
All photos from flicker creative commons licensed. Cave photo courtesy of SKI tripper, coffee photo courtesy of chichacha, campfire photo courtesy of Dawn Huczek, microphone photo courtesy of comedy_nose.