Hey, What’s Your Storyspace?

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 Nemiccolo is founder of Seven Story Learning and author of Aizuchi Playbook: Brand Your Business with Story.

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.


Another Real Story

On my book blog, WadingtheStream.com, I am gathering Awareness Stories. The stories are very interesting. I am interviewing these individuals after a rough 2-3 years. I was reminded just how rough by this post on my Facebook wall:

…unemployed because in part (or mostly) due to following the leadership and coaching received from a leader whose “story” is posted here. Bitter, perhaps, but I was always aware there was a reality out there that I now find myself embroiled in…bottom line is the person that took my place when I was coached to try a new position is still employed at my former place of employment. I still look, apply, and hope that the phone rings every day.

Here was my response:
I am so glad to hear from you … of course I wish the reconnect was around much different circumstances. In the last 2 years, I’ve been very disappointed in how some have handled these challenging times (how some have behaved). You are in the grieving process, and I encourage you to allow this process to play out as part of the transition from what has ended to what will be a new beginning.

And−forgive my strong encouragement−please remember who you are as you actively discover what is next for you.

Your Personal Purpose/Brand is a core part of communicating who you are:
I Prepare & Guide Others to Fulfillment
(I coach the individual to focus on the  present challenge)

Your own present challenge is a tough one, no doubt. If a conversation might be of any assistance, please feel free to let me know and we will find a time to talk.

As you talk with prospective employers, be sure to tell the good story of how you do what you do (that Brand above). With the intention of assisting you in telling this story, I include your long brand that you and I composed:
I am a leader who is a committed teacher. Part of my teaching demeanor is sharing all feedback in a positive way leading to a better connection for the individual. Others trust me at my word – I honor the individual in how I keep my commitments. I give my time to support and serve others one by one.

All−and only−the best,


Accountability in Uncertainty

Don’t neglect the satisfying parts of your job. -Ken, Coaching Client

The stress of what is going on around us can distract you from what has always been most important to you. Ken was telling me about the environment of uncertainty in his organization and answering my question about why he seemed to be coping so well. As we talked, he told me a personal story where someone very important to him was also struggling with their job in a situation of uncertainty. When they focused together on the most satisfying parts of her job, the dialogue began.

The Meaning of Satisfaction
While on our Virginia Creeper Trail outing, my wife and I talked as we hiked in the Spring warmth. The situation surrounding her work is clearly one of uncertainty for the organization. She had an interesting and wise take on her own satisfaction.

As we have moved around the country, only in her current job has she been in a position long enough to experience a level of satisfaction where she could feel paid by her energy expenditure. I know this job uses the best of her strengths on a regular basis. She can work hard and rest satisfied. Whether a situation is certain or uncertain, she takes personal accountability to perform in this manner; acting on strengths.

Acting with personal accountability on a regular basis. Is this not the best we each can do?

What is the most satisfying part of your work?

Default Setting

In his new book Drive, Dan Pink has created yet another ‘must-read’ for anyone who aspires to 21st Century Leadership.

As Dan says on page 92 of this well researched and written work, “This era doesn’t call for better management. It calls for a renaissance of self-direction.”

My Client Ric, like me, is a fan of Dan Pink. We were in a conversation recently where I referred to Dan’s language of a “default setting.” Ric and I were talking about a new approach to leadership development in his organization. His entire leadership team had recently participated in a two-day experience that was designed around a very not-so-normal outcome.

Because of the non-traditional, creative approach in this experience, some people are struggling with an outcome focused on behavioral commitment. Traditionally, a strategic retreat ends with ‘next-steps’ and ‘action plans’ with assignments. In other words, these strategic planning retreats end in a manner that lets the majority of the participants off-the-hook to actually do anything – to be accountable for any change.

Forming a team to address such-and-such issue is simply a dodge to making a personal commitment. In this particular two-day experience, it was clearly stated up front that the intended outcome was a single and focused collective commitment and accountability … a behavioral commitment. This was achieved.

Action planning and next step type outcomes are externally focused. A behavioral commitment – intended individually and collectively – is internally focused. And there lies the rub.

Externally focused outcomes do not manifest in any real change when not driven by internal commitment – behavior that yields the desired results. A focus only on the external is the default setting.

It’s like my laptop – if someone were to take it from me and restore it to the default settings, I would not want it back. If I must once again make it my own, then I would prefer to have a brand-new one. It was both effective and productive because I was free to make it my own. It was a product of self-direction.

The 21st Century calls loudly for an authentic flow from the internal to the external – a flow of individual commitment that organically unfolds into a productive, collective accountability.

Knows Her Stuff

I love Sandra Rinomato. She is the hostess of Property Virgins on HGTV.

Now, why do I like Sandra? As Becky and I sat and watched a couple of episodes this Friday night, I asked myself that question. In 2004, I actually did some work for the organization that owns HGTV. Besides that, why do I like Sandra so much?

She reminds me of Anne Kaplan of Coldwell Banker in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Anne assisted us in buying our house in Grayslake, Illinois in 1997. We then enlisted Anne to help us sell that same house in 2001 as we initiated our move to Northeast Tennessee in the Appalachian Mountain range. Anne was so cool. She listened to us and through what she learned, she understood our preferences. She then honored those preferences as we searched for our house.

I still remember walking into one house and Anne saying, “This is not for us, let’s go on to the next one.” We did not hesitate to turn around and walk out the front door to move on to the next house.

We trusted Anne. Why?

She listened to us. She learned from what she heard. I also remember having a wonderful time searching for homes with Anne – we laughed. And it was obvious that Anne loved what she did. Anne lived out the 4L’s modeled by my friend Kathryn Tucker Windham.

Thank you Anne for knowing your stuff and for loving what you do. I haven’t forgotten you.

Listen to Your Voice

Amy and Ed are part of a collective of leaders sharing the leadership development journey. We were in a phone conference where Ed had asked for assistance with an issue. Ed’s organization was making some tough decisions and people were unsettled and afraid. Ed had organized a series of meetings with non-management facilitators and had asked for our feedback.

As our dialogue deepened, Amy and I were not certain we were providing any assistance. That is when Amy’s wise intuition took over as she asked, “Ed, where is your voice in all this?” It turns out Ed’s voice was in his planning from the beginning and becoming conscious of this fact made Ed more resolute in his approach.

Amy and Ed are learning to recognize the sound of their own voice at all stages of decision and choice. They are learning the sonorousness of purpose.

The music of your purpose must be heard. You first listen internally to find voice. You then learn its sound and consciously allow it to be heard. Being at peace with who you are fuels purpose.

Punching Through

We had worked on his messaging goal which had to do with allowing his voice to project in how he leads, influences and serves. His goal was to break through the busyness that kept him from living and working with conscious purpose.

Like many others in this 21st Century, my Client is leading in times of uncertainty and fear. As we moved to talking together about using story as a leader, I asked him for a supportive narrative he could use to connect others to a particular message. His story was about obstacles.

My Client has studied in the martial arts for years. When studying karate he had reached the stage where he was to break a board with his hand. All he could think about was how he was going to break his knuckles. All he could see was the board. This is when he learned to practice seeing beyond – and punching through to – the other side. After many years, he is still amazed how he doesn’t feel a thing when his hand reaches its destination beyond the obstacle. With equal experiential understanding, he assured me it hurts like crazy when you focus on the obstacle.

As my Client discovered, busyness is an obstacle. It is the enemy to many things important to us as individuals. Busyness is a distraction keeping one from commitments that add true value through our voice and purpose. Busyness is an obstacle keeping us from punching through to the other side where we find peace.