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Arjun Adamson

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What is great storytelling?

What great TED talks demonstrate are a refined art in storytelling. But what does that really mean? How you define storytelling? What are the components of it, what are the principles, and what are the implications?


My perspective, (that I'm hoping you will build on, or contest)
Great storytelling is ultimately about capturing elegant context to the complexity and nuances of life.

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    Oct 11 2011: Great storytelling attempts to draw the listener in by connecting to their inner self and appealing to one's commonality.
    It is so easy to be drawn in when the topic affirms what one already believes and it is this connection that binds the story teller to the audience.
    It is much more difficult to connect when the subject matter is foreign or opposes the listeners view point, the good communicator must play the periphery of the topic and slowly bring the listener in with intelligent discourse for sure, but mostly with appeals to the emotion.
    New information is always difficult to assimilate and so the great communicator must weave a story that educates the listener in increments that is sufficient to communicate, a specific point of view or set of facts, but not overwhelm.
    The great storyteller leaves the listener believing that he/she had been affirmed even when the information presented may have never been exposed to that listener before.
    "A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still" We've all heard this.
    Great storytellers, communicators do not attempt to change opinions, they attempt to change minds and so their appeal becomes much more personal and sincere.
    They bring an honesty to the topic that people may relate to rather than react to. It's all about relationships and not revelation, connection rather than cementing.
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      Oct 11 2011: Well said Brian. I also agree that it's connecting with the audience, and steering them into a perspective by first relating with where they are. Storytelling is kind of like 'user experience design' with thoughts.
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        Oct 11 2011: Agreed Arjun.
        I have listened to some talks here on TED that have been truly inspiring, in each case the speaker connected with me in a way that made it impossible to for me to tune out. The essence of what they wished to communicate came after they established the personal connection that, like you've said was a "user (friendly) experience".
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        Oct 13 2011: i like that definition!
        i share the ideas of Brian. maybe it will be useful to think about some designs for that.
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      Oct 11 2011: I could not agree you more.

      Irironically, according to you, then, in order to be effective, a great story teller must be a great listener to people's reason, people's emotions, and the relevance of their lives :-).

      I love it.
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        Oct 11 2011: Absolutely Jeong-Lan, great communicators, storytellers are great listeners and students of the human condition.
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    Oct 15 2011: Great stories touch people with immediacy, impact and intimacy. They're universal and personal and teach us about the world and ourselves. There is no formula or equation to success, it's born out of honesty, reflection and observation of the world around you. If you can in turn pass what you've seen, learned and concluded on to others in an engaging manner, you, sir are a good storyteller. Make me feel something.
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    Oct 29 2011: A few things what make a great story.
    1) Passion. You must feel what your telling and others will feel it too. Please don't ramble of stats and bullet points
    2) Know the topic. You can only talk out of experience.
    3) If you don't truly believe in what your saying then it's pointless and others will pick up on that.
    4) Talk, don't speech. Brene Browns TED talk is one of the best examples of this.
    5) Don't rely of slides. They are an aid and nothing more.
    6) Be frank about your goal. If you want to inspire action then make that objective clear and unambiguous.
    7) One story = One idea.
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    Oct 11 2011: in simple words ....great story telling is getting your audience to believe in you and taking the journey with you in your story... that is it..
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    Nov 8 2011: Notes that come together and conjure up meaning ... in other words letter come together to conjure up meaning and make a story worth telling ...
    Some use a few words ... others need more ...
    A funny story:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8v9yUVgrmPY&feature=related
    A sad story:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0uqliiAqJY
    A family story:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSjIz8oQuko
    ... all our stories make us who we are so I guess they are all worth telling by whomever experienced them as we did.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html
    All our stories matter.
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    Oct 29 2011: Look no further than myth and traditional literature - folk stories. Perfect.
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    Oct 29 2011: Great storytelling reminds us of what we love about other people and ourselves.
  • Oct 11 2011: Story telling. Originally the way we passed on information. The oral tradition. Perhaps with the animation of play, theatre to stimulate also the sense of sight. But mostly the words chosen, the delivery, the cadence, the pause, the inflection. Most effective when delivered by the passionate. Most received by those with whom the speaker has developed trust. Most enjoyed when the experience is transcendent.
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    Oct 11 2011: Interesting perspective. I think that what you're getting at is the audience at the end has the final say on the efficacy of the story. I look at it from the storytellers perspective, and argue that if they are able to convey a story/experience and predict the emotions the audience is experiencing at the end, then they have done an effective job of curating the experience.

    When I describe 'storytelling' in this regard, it can mean many things. It's not just a read narrative, its a journey that you are guiding.
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    Oct 11 2011: On one hand, if the story teller shows the authenticity of the story with the naturally developed, rich, and universal content with highly distinctive values in the context will result in a good story. In that case, the formality also evolves within the story. On the other hand, a perfectly structured story with a considerate conent might have a similar result as well.

    However, my personal view of a good story is when I feel the heart of the storyteller, not his brain work, so to speak. In my opinion, the truly great storytelling does not have to "attempt" anything to convince or change the audience' minds or opinions. I think the "story" will have its own destiny to take place on the audience's ears depending on the place, time, and the quality of the storyteller's ability to deliver it.
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      Oct 11 2011: Wonderfully said Jeong-Lan.
      We seem to agree that the great storyteller must relate to" the heart" if they are to relate effectively at all.

      I do believe though that every written word is a deliberate attempt to find an audience, to communicate an idea, to stir or elicit some kind of response. The fact that some, great storytellers, do it better that most does not change that fact.

      How one responds, the effect of the story on the reader is an individual thing for sure and one's emotional state at the time determines the depths or impact of the story. The great storyteller, I believe, seeks to take the reader to an emotional state of their (the storyteller) choosing.
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    Oct 11 2011: I would agree re: context, complexity and nuances. Not so sure if they have to be elegant! Kurt Vonnegut spoke about this. It is pretty funny, and I think quite true. Check it out.http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/literature/kurt-vonneguts-chalk-talk-on-t.html
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    Oct 29 2011: My favorite TED talk on this subject is the one given by Shekhar Kapur called We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves.

    I cannot express his interesting perspective as well as he did it himself, so if you have not yet heard that talk, please do not miss it!
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    Oct 29 2011: To me, great storytelling is being able to take the viewer, the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Being able to invoke an emotional response, whether that be hate, love, jealousy, etc.. When we are taken on a great storytelling journey, we feel a push and pull at our emotions, a feeling that maybe, just maybe for a short time...we are the character and we get engaged into this wonderful world that the creator or author has built for us.
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    Oct 29 2011: Great storytelling is the art of speaking in front of a crowd, taking them into on an emotional and intellectual journey which makes them thinking...
    A great story has an idea which can change people lives... There aren't many professions or art forms that can change people lives.. Storytelling is one of them. Isn't it?...
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    Oct 14 2011: I agree Amir, the concepts of a great story are never formulaic, some have tried that approach with limited success.
    The great storyteller may use all kinds of devices to lure one in but this period is like a first meeting where one has seconds to make a good impression.
    Once a connection is made with the audience, the storyteller must begin to relate to the viewer/listener on a myriad of levels. They must entertain and keep interest, but most of all they must connect emotionally if the audience is to walk away thinking, "wow"
    Words matter and content is essential but to touch people on some level is paramount for the great storyteller. He/she must make them think, laugh, cry, shout, or even act, these are the hallmarks of great storytelling.

    BTW - I have looked at some of your work and found it quite interesting; "Beauty Club", the simple and elegant "Sun Drop" as well as the rhythmic sound of "Rain"
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    Oct 14 2011: If I knew the solid answer to that I would have been the happiest Director in the world.

    It is very easy to talk about the concepts of a great story in abstract but very hard to talk about a formula. When Charlie Kaufman , one of the greatest Screen writers of all time was asked what is the structure that you work based on he said , the one that does not have an structure.

    By my sight the answer was never in the books of Syd Field or likes and never will be .

    Dan Dennett has a very amazing and interesting talk here on TED about Happiness and what makes us happy. He said Devote your life to something bigger than yourself, serve that purpose and you will always be happy.

    I love that and I guess that is the key to every great story , when the story serves something bigger than the the movie itself and its limited time.

    I know it is very easy to say and very hard to achieve.
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    Oct 13 2011: Hi Arjun, the best story-line is your life story-line what you been through what you have got it from this life.
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    Oct 13 2011: I believe that are some elements that compounds the art in storytelling. I think we can learn with the greatest storytellers and improve our own job/art.
    Some elements here where proposed and i think they are:
    1) make a connection :envolves the audience and the storyteller (ST). 2) its pleasure when it seems the ST are not working hard on it. 3) its pleasure when the listener don't feel that the ST are trying to convince. 4)
    Emotional elements are useful because of their power of connection with the story. An emotional element involves a knowledge of the human. it contents his desires, dreams. if we propose a theme and link them with this emotional needs i believe that we could have the audience.
  • Oct 11 2011: When it is done in such a way that one needs it more than food. What do I need more than food?
    The truth. Being real. Those two things alone do not insure a connection to an audience of one or more, however.
    This highlights to me just how far removed we are becoming from them.
    My point is this: having a moment of clarity, a life-changing event or experience, or, hearing a great story, sadly doesn't change the lives of many who have them. That's really sad. A life-changing moment that doesn't change ones life.
    It appears to me that having a moment of sanity stands a much better chance of bringing about change but sanity is usually scoffed at, brushed off, minimized and scorned. In other words, it isn't recognized.
    This implies that the majority are insane or seriously mentally ill.
    So what does or should, a good story pass on, awaken or instill in those listening? What will resonate with them? What will connect to their innermost truth and be recognized and honored enough to get into action and change because of it? I suppose making change a criteria is not necessarily the goal but it seems that any and all we pass on to one another. is desperately in need of helping us to change and that means into action.

    Someone once said, "God is speaking to you in whatever is happening at the moment."
    Someone else said, "our only purpose in life is to reveal God to one another."
    I don't believe in God, but listening to whatever is happening at the moment implies being present and that is what good storytelling does.
    I don't believe in God, but revealing the beauty and magic to each other by reflection seems to be a good story to tell one another. Or, I guess good story telling just helps a person get through, to go on. As Samuel Beckett said, "I can't go on! I'll go on."
  • Oct 10 2011: Great story telling is a narrative that makes you want to change something you think or do In your life,after you have read it. We are nothing unless we can change our minds
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    Oct 10 2011: Well, I too would like to know what "a refined art in storytelling" means. From experience, if you really want to talk about storytelling, you'll have to omit fluff. So, what did you mean there?
    Regards,