by Helen Curran

At a recent work event, a presenter told us a few stories, including one about Roger Bannister’s and team’s four-minute mile, which I enjoyed. It’s a great story, especially when you consider the sacrifices made by the two pacesetters to achieve this sporting goal, but I was irresistibly reminded of Helen’s words about why she tells stories. PL

There is a lot of noise on the Internet about the power of stories. There are claims that nothing moves us like stories, nothing connects us like stories, nothing sells stuff as well as stories. There are experts who can teach us to give better presentations through the power of stories, books on sale at airports on how to boost sales through stories and gurus who can improve your life with stories. Storytelling has become big business. I sell my workshop on storytelling by appealing to my students’ baser desires. “Learn to stand up and speak without a script,” say I. I am as guilty as the gurus in that respect, but all I am selling is the chance to discover the world of storytelling.

Stories have been told from the earliest times. We obviously have no record of the earliest stories, but we have traces. Once there was a young woman who married a powerful man thanks to a pair of shoes. In 1 BC Strabo recorded the story of a Greek courtesan, Rhodopis. An eagle dropped one of her sandals into the lap of the Pharaoh who searched for the owner of the sandal, and he married her. In the Pentameron in 1634, Zezolla goes to the ball dressed in a fairy gown, loses a shoe and marries the king. Cinderella has glass slippers, and a pumpkin coach, in the version Perrault published in France in 1697. This story has staying power. There has probably been an advertisement for shoes based on this story, but I haven’t seen it. Are we connected through this story? If we grew up in the developed world, we know it. It is Robbie’s favourite story in the book I, Robot. Is it powerful? I cannot say, but it is a good story, and people enjoy a good story. Is it Egyptian? Yes. Is it Italian? Yes. Is it French? Yes. The best stories are international, and have travelled around the world with the people who love them and recount them to others.

The point of stories is not to make us powerful. They exist to elucidate, instruct and entertain. I love a good tale, and I believe that is what most people want. If big business wants to use stories to sell me more stuff, fine. But I want to tell stories to sell nothing at all, except perhaps to provide a quiet laugh, a moment of wonder and a shared experience of being human. The gurus use storytelling to sell us their services. My view is that we don’t need the gurus, but we do need the stories. So, yes, do use stories at work and at play, but you don’t need to read best-selling books to become a great storyteller. Just find your story, take it, change it and tell it. Pass it on to your listeners, so they can take it, change it and tell it in their turn. Go tell it on the mountain, in the classroom, in the pub and wherever else you can find listeners.

Note: The photograph was taken when Créativ’envol was asked to perform medieval stories by candlelight for the Journées de la Patrimoine, but the candles burnt down very quickly, leaving the storytellers and the audience in darkness. Helen said, “The photos lie, as the flash made us briefly visible.”