Four Storytelling Lessons from a Talking Horse, a Princess and a Suitcase Full of Stories.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is book two of a series of seven called The Chronicles of Narnia. Right now I am reading The Horse and His Boywhich is book three. It tells the story of a boy called Shasta, a princess called Aravis and two talking horses called Bree and Hwin! It grips you from the first sentence and transports you to another world. Here are some lessons we can take from the book which, if we apply them to all our presentations, will turn us into great storytellers.
01. Make Your Title Very Clear
The Horse and His Boy is one of the clearest titles you could read, because the book is all about a talking horse called Bree and a boy who he helps escape to Narnia. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is about… yes, you guessed it — a lion, a witch, and the wardrobe that transports the children to Narnia! Both titles are simple in their description. They inform us of the story that is about to unfold, they include picture and hint at journey.
Look at your next presentation. On your first slide create a headline that is simple and instructs the direction of the presentation. Here are three examples:
- ‘The numbers for January (description) and the reason why (instructs)’
- ‘The vision for the next three weeks (description)and three ways to achieve it (instructs)’
- ‘Three reasons why we lost our latest client(description and journey)’
02. Get a Storytelling Suitcase
‘In Calormen, story-telling…is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read essays.’ — C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy, p. 36.
Nobody wants to read essays but we all want to hear stories. But that means the stories have to be easy to listen to — in short, we have to create a discipline of storytelling and story-collecting. It’s time to get a storytelling suitcase.
Start by writing down simple five facts about yourself. First personal and then do business. Here are mine:
- I used to be a hand model for the power rangers (personal).
- I was nearly a backing singer for the Spice Girls (personal).
- Amplify my business came from a thought in a shower (personal & business).
- I nearly deleted the email from Microsoft asking me to coach their global sales team, because I thought it was spam (business).
- My first ever Zoom webinar in lockdown nearly ended in complete disaster — I created two meetings at the same time (business).
As a listener you want to know more about these stories. How was I a hand model? What was it about that shower? Why would ever create two meetings on Zoom, and why I would ever delete an email from Microsoft? It is my job to be ready to flesh out those stories. But how do I do that? Three simple words…
03. Create a Beginning, Middle, End
This month my CSO Steve and I travelled to Sardinia to coach a blockchain company. It was not only hot and beautiful, but very revealing. At one point, in one of our workshops, Steve said, ‘Every presentation has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.’ Then he paused and said, ‘Can you believe we get paid to say that?!’ It should be simple, we should all know this, but we don’t.
Often we start off well enough, don’t think about the middle and definitely DON’T plan the end. We trail off. But that is not what Aravis does in The Horse and His Boyand that is not what any successful presentation does. So all you need to do is this: think about a short headline you want to start, a short headline you want to put in the middle and a short headline you want to put at the end. Write it down, then force yourself to say it loud in rehearsal. Then you are ready to do it in reality!
4. Assume the Storytelling Position
‘“That’s the horns blowing for the city gates to open,” said Bree. “We shall be there in a minute. Now, Aravis, do droop your shoulders a bit and step heavier and try to look less like a princess. Try to imagine you’ve been kicked and cuffed and called names all your life.”’ — Bree (the talking horse) talks to Aravis (the escaping princess), C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy, page 51.
The words people have said to us, the ways we have compared ourselves to others, live in our bodies. And when we get up to speak — whether virtually on screen or in-person back in the office — our bodies reflect how we feel and what others have said.
For Aravis it was the opposite. She knew who she was and the status she had, so she only knew to stand tall. Instinctively standing tall is a life’s work, but I have discovered that we can behave our way into confidence. The answer: do this exercise three times a week and allow your body to feel how it wants to feel — strong and tall. Your mind will follow. If you enjoy this and you want to go further, here is my one-minute warmup.