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The Power of Storytelling to Change the World: Dave Lieber (Transcript)

Dave Lieber at TEDxSMU 2013

Here is the full text of author and storytelling expert Dave Lieber’s talk titled “The power of storytelling to change the world” at TEDxSMU 2013 conference.

Dave Lieber – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

And then…

And then 20 years ago, I moved to Texas. I’m not from here; I didn’t know what makes you laugh or cry. I’d never been here before, but I’m hired to be a newspaper columnist at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

And I notice right away that Texans are the most welcoming group of people that you could ever imagine, and they have a unique way of doing it: they ask you a series of questions.

And the first question I got asked — it’s your state slogan — “Boy, where you from?”

It’s a trick question because when I would tell them where I was from, they would quote back a picante sauce commercial from TV. How does that go?

“New York City?”

And what’s the next line?

“Get a rope.”

I didn’t know what that meant. But the Texan has to connect, so the second question I’m getting asked everywhere I go after they find out I’m a New Yorker, is they lean in, and they say, “What church do you go to?”

And that’s a trick question too, because I would tell them I don’t go to church, and they’d get upset; they’d go, “Why not? Don’t you believe in the Lord?”

I’d say, “No, I do believe in the Lord.”

“Then why don’t you go to church?”

And I gave the worst answer you could give in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1993. I said, “Because I’m Jewish.”

And the Texan would drop back, and because it’s in the DNA of a Texan to connect, he’d then say, “Well, I knew a Jewish boy in the army 20 years ago. Do you know Lieutenant Harry Cohen?”

And I’d say, “No, sir. It’s a big tribe.”

So my first week, I wrote a column explaining that I was new here and didn’t know this three-word expression “chicken-fried steak.” I asked if it was chicken or steak.

I mean, it’s kind of funny to you, but you’ve got to picture this: here I am in this conservative, Republican, mostly Baptist, native Texan, everybody’s married area, and not one person said, “What we need here is a liberal, divorced, Democratic, New York City Jew.”

Let me stop and just share with you what I did there, for a moment, because I wish you could see your faces right now. You look great.

I mean, you’ve been here for eight hours, and you’ve heard amazing group of speakers, and you look like you’re ready, just starting.

I love the smiles on your face because what I did there was start with the story. I believe in the power of the story to change the world. And I didn’t get up here and read my business card to you — my Dave Lieber, Dallas Morning News, watch-dog columnist, you know, New Yorker, come to Texas — because that’s kind of boring and that’s bullet points.

And the brain is set up to listen to a story because it engaged your billions of neural endings — this is the only science I’m giving you — the billions of neural endings were kind of flapping up high, and that’s my job.

But right now, I’m consciously lowering them because I stopped telling a story. Now’s when you can yawn. And it’s kind of interesting. Don’t you think that some of these scientists, as brilliant as they are, cutting-edge research, they had a problem with the story?

They go to the board, the PowerPoint; they go to the bullet points because that’s what they know. And I’ll just suggest, throw out some crazy thought that that’s why sports is more popular than science.

Because sports is a story with a beginning, middle and end, a hero, a villain, a winner, a loser, and science is a lot of numbers and data and questions and work.

I’m going to show you, actually, how to tell the story because everyone needs to tell their story and the story of whatever they’re trying to accomplish. And it’s a simple formula, and I don’t need the board to do it.

Because I can control this space because your mind is so powerful. So here’s the formula.

Okay, pretend I’ve got paint that’s a straight line across where you get to meet the character, and that’s what we just did when you met that character — me, coming here — and then the hero goes out into the world, and the villain knocks the story down into a low point, and the low point of the story, where everything is dark, is the most important.

But then, in any good story, the hero has some heroic qualities that he or she pulls out of his pocket, doesn’t even know they have, and uses those heroic qualities to lift up, pushing up against the villain to the climax of the story, and then the curlicue at the end is the denouement — the loose ends must be tied.

So this is the formula, and that’s what we want. Not bing, bing, bang, bong.

This story thing started in the caves with the caveman with the story — getting the mastodon. It goes on to the Greek and Roman myths. It’s the Bible — the greatest stories ever told. It’s Shakespeare — the comedy and the tragedy. It’s the Victorian novel. It’s the Nickelodeon, it’s silent movies, it’s loud movies.

It’s TV — the novel of our time is the TV, the happy comedies and the tragedies. We saw that here: we saw Amanda Jackson. The first time you gave spontaneous applause today, in your seat this morning, was when you heard that Amanda Jackson of DeVerse Lounge, when you heard that she gulped when she said her name, and then she attended, and then she got up and spoke and was a star.

And you, your neural brain endings made you applaud. That was cool. That’s what I’m saying.

Dr. Judith Allen tells a story about her brother, and he’s down in the low point; he’s a kid on the couch going… (Snore), and now he’s the chief information officer of Toyota. And of course, my colleague, who works at the Dallas Morning News — long before I got there in May — and was a superstar, Rena Pederson, right out of the gate, she told the story of the Nelson Mandela and Burma, and we were captivated because she knows what I’m talking about.

I have to do this story thing because I’ve been in the newspaper business now for 38 years, writing for daily newspapers. And I’m worried that I’ll spend two days on something and write my heart out, and you’ll just go like that and skip it. Or like that and skip it.

And so I’ve come to depend on the power of the story to get me everywhere. I write a column twice a week where I expose corruption in business and government, Fridays and Sundays. Tomorrow’s column, in the Dallas Morning News — and you can read it on dallasnews.com/watchdog — is the terrible tale of the life and death of a con man. The upshot is he died.

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