Full text of storyteller Dominic Colenso’s talk titled “The Power of Telling Your Story” at TEDxVitoriaGasteiz conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Dominic Colenso – Actor. Director. Storyteller
Once upon a time…
For simple and very powerful words, from a really early age, we’re exposed to the magic of storytelling. Since human beings first walked the earth, we’ve been sharing stories, warning each other of mortal danger, teaching right from wrong, inspiring our tribe to action.
The latest science tells us that when we hear a story, our bodies produce the hormone oxytocin, and we instantly start to form a connection with the person that we’re listening to.
Stories bind us together and help us make sense of our experience.
I’m a storyteller. I started my career as an actor, became a theatre director, and I now help business leaders in the digital age reconnect with the power of the spoken word.
I’m here today to encourage you to embrace your own story, and share more of it with the world. The reason that I say more of our story is I believe that most of us are holding back.
In the bite-size world of social media, we tend to share only the selected highlights. Our Instagram feeds, and Facebook walls proclaim to the world all those wonderful things that are happening to us. You know those carefully staged selfies, let’s give this a go.
Now everyone say TEDx… one, two, three, TEDx.
Well those pictures only paint half the story. Like it or not, we become museum curators archiving our achievements in digital form, and yet for many of us, those posts only paint part of the picture. It’s like watching the trailer for a movie but never actually seeing the whole film. You get a sense of the action, but the experience lacks any emotional depth.
Think about all the things that you’ve achieved in your life so far. That series of events that led you to listening to this talk; those amazing adventures and all the disastrous decisions that make you who you are… how well do you share those stories? Do you share them? Or do you keep them to yourself?
Most of us dismiss our stories as either irrelevant or embarrassing or uninteresting, and yet those stories are vital in helping our audience understand who we are. And when I say audience, I mean anyone that you communicate with: your family, your friends, your team at work, or 300 complete strangers at a TEDx event.
When you share your stories, you create connection. When I started my journey as an actor, when I decided at 16 years of age to go to drama school, I thought it was going to be easy.
You go to drama school, land your first job, work your way to the top. Simple. The reality was very different. The journey was a lot less linear.
I had a huge high… my highest point I was starring in a Hollywood movie, flying around the world signing autographs. At my lowest I was working in a call center trying to convince people that I’d never spoken with before to part with their credit card details; not an easy job.
However, when I started a new chapter of my life as a public speaking coach, I had an instinct to dismiss my past. I felt that if I wanted to be taken seriously in the world of business, I needed to project a more polished corporate image. I stopped telling my story. It was a really flawed strategy.
One rainy November afternoon, I found myself sitting in a dull office in the north of England sipping tea with my business partner, very British. My new business was a couple of months old, and we were struggling to find our identity: we weren’t making any money.
All of a sudden, my coach asked me a question that would change everything: “Why don’t any of your marketing materials mention your past? Aren’t you proud of it?”
“Well, of course, I’m proud of it,” I replied, “it’s just not relevant.”
The second that those words left my lips, I realized my mistake. In denying my previous experience, I was creating a story and turning it from something interesting and unique into something bland and vanilla.
The drama had disappeared, and the narrative had become dull. In an attempt to try and fit in, I had lost my sense of identity. I see it all the time with the clients that I work with: the reluctance to share the things that make us who we are, for fear of appearing either boring or arrogant.
And yet, those stories are the very thing that make us who we are. I’m not advocating being boastful or regaling people with a long list of all your accomplishments; I’m advocating sharing things about yourself that help you connect with your audience.
We don’t read the CVs of the people that we admire; we read their biographies. We want to peek behind the curtain to experience the highs and the lows.
Sharing your story is an act of vulnerability. It requires allowing yourself to be seen, but with vulnerability comes power. In the digital age of social media, the age that we live in, invisibility and anonymity… they’re just not an option.
A quick Google search of your name and reams of data appear. Your story is out there. It should be you who tells it.
Now whenever I talk about what I do, I reveal a lot more about my past: the highs and the lows. I talk about the fact that I’ve flown a spaceship; that’s true. I’ve lost a million dollars, also true. I’ve been fired by Simon Cowell. It creates intrigue; it opens conversations, and I encourage you to do the same.
I want to prescribe sharing some part of your story at every opportunity. Why? Because it will make the world a more connected place.
We live in a time poor society where we’re encouraged to keep things brief, to stick to the facts, to ditch emotion for logic. But we are imaginative beings.
When we give our stories voice, we allow them to resonate in the hearts and the minds of the people that we interact with. As soon as a story has been told, its power multiplies. As soon as it passes the lips, it exists in the imagination of both the teller and the listener; it has momentum.
And stories allow us to do more than just document our experience; they allow us to imagine and create what is yet to come. The traces of our past shape the narrative of our future, and will continue to influence the stories that we tell.
Simple three-act structure: the beginning; the middle; and the end. Every person in this room has a unique story to tell. I guarantee that if we were to share the collective experiences of this audience, we’d have enough material for several blockbuster movies, and yet many of us dismiss our past as uninteresting and irrelevant.
I thought the same, but now my past is my biggest asset.
So I challenge you to start sharing more of your story immediately. When you leave this event, rather than standing on your own summarizing your experiences in 140 characters or uploading the perfect photo, find someone you don’t know. Walk up to them, and share a little bit of who you are.
Reveal something about your past, tell them how it relates to your present, and give them a glimpse into your future. For example, I might say my name is Dominic Colenso. When I was 21, I starred in a Hollywood movie. I’m here today because I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to talk on the TEDx stage and next week I’m going to be working with the leaders of a Global Payments Corporation to help them improve their public speaking.