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Art of Storytelling Workshops

The best sort of people are those who create space for stories. They can sit with an uncomfortable story without minimizing it, interrupting, looking for the bright side, correcting the storyteller or running away. -Bird’s Eye View, pages 218-219.

February was my month of storytelling. I had the opportunity to deliver three storytelling workshops for families, patients and clinicians – two in Toronto and one in Vancouver. Each workshop looked different, depending on the events and the organizations’ needs – one I co-facilitated and another featured a family panel.

The workshops are a combination of book readings, videos, a swapping of favourite health care books & videos, writing prompts and small group work. Thinking outside the box, especially with a health care audience who don’t yet realize they are all creative beings, is great fun.

One of my key messages about crafting stories is to ‘know thy audience.’ Each of my workshops were tailored for different audiences for that very reason. Families with young children with disabilities might share stories for different reasons than clinicians do.

Folks who work in health care share patient stories for teaching or clinical reasons, but I’m interested in supporting health care staff to understand their own personal stories about their passion for health care. I call these origin stories. Reconnecting with why they chose health care is a powerful thing and essential for any reflective practice.

Why tell stories? Well, if you touch hearts, you can change minds.

I believe stories are beyond sharing an experience. An experience tends to be chronological (this happened, then this, then this). A story includes experience for context, but the crucial part of the story is the reflective piece. This happened, here is why it mattered to me and here is what I want you, as the audience or reader to take away. My brilliant book editor, Mish Phillips, taught me this.

The human aspect of stories means we all have more in common with our stories than we have differences. Crafting a story with impact has common elements. Here are the basics for storytelling distilled down into five points:

1. Understand your intention or your ‘why’

2. Know thy audience

3. Craft three key messages

4. Hone your approach

5. Identify what you want your audience to take away

Stories do not have to be limited to the written word or told behind a podium. Art is a clever way to tell a story – through photography, film, visual art, music, or poetry. Art can heal in any form it takes.

The topics for storytelling workshops are endless. You can chat about the nuts and bolts for writing a story (English 101); share public speaking tips; how to use humour in storytelling; talk about coaching storytellers and crafting hard stories for constructive feedback, advocacy & teaching purposes.

You can discuss the ethics of stories, including ‘how does your story change over time’ and ‘whose story is it?’ There is writing stories just for yourself and writing to get published or to speak in public – and how to find those opportunities. You can dig into organizations ‘using’ patient stories and how to mitigate against using stories to honour the storytellers. Examine the responsibility audiences have when they listen to stories. Then there is the whole art behind coaching folks to work with the media (top hint: don’t wear stripes on camera). Etc. etc. etc.

Phew. Please don’t get overwhelmed by all these elements of storytelling. Instead, think of stories as a way that you communicate about yourself and what has happened to you.

The most important thing about storytelling is simply to start. Don’t wait for the perfect time, for there is no such thing as a perfect time. Get your butt in the chair, as writer Anne Lamott says, pick up your pen (or paintbrush) and just begin.

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