Storytelling at Work
April 30, 2020
A Selection of My Storytelling Podcasts, Videos, and Articles

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Here ya go!

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April 29, 2020
The Art of Using Story as a Way to Communicate Big, Hairy Ideas


A priest, a penguin, and a newspaper reporter walk into a bar. The penguin orders a shot of Red Eye. The priest starts juggling three flaming chain saws. The newspaper reporter turns to the bartender, smiles and says: "I know there's a story here somewhere."

And yes, there is. There are stories everywhere. As the poet, Muriel Ruykeser once said, "The world is not made of atoms. The world is made of stories."

Almost everyone in business these days -- at least the people responsible for selling big, hairy ideas -- knows that the difference between success and failure often depends on what kind of story is told -- and how well. Content may be King. But it is Story that built the kingdom. Or as Steve Jobs once put it, "The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller."

The question, these days, isn't whether or not storytelling works. It does. It's worked for thousands of years. If you have any doubt, just ask your local neuroscientist. The question is how do you tell a really effective story -- one that not only informs and entertains, but gets results -- the kind of results that opens minds, influences behavior, and is remembered.

And this is precisely where the proverbial plot thickens. Why? Because most people don't think they know how to tell good story. At least, that's the story they keep telling themselves -- that they don't have the chops or experience to tell a good story. Spoiler alert! Not true.


Social scientists tell us that 65% of our conversations boil down to story -- narrative accounts with a beginning, middle, and end. Throw in a likable hero, a setting, some obstacles, a few juicy details, plot twists, and a resolution, and voila, you've got yourself a story!

Simply put, storytelling is "an unconscious competency" -- something human beings naturally do. The thing is -- we don't know how we do it. Like breathing, for example. Or thinking. Or riding a bicycle. But just because we can't explain how we do it, doesn't mean we're not good at it. Kapish?

You already know how to tell a story. You do. You've been telling stories ever since you were a child. In fact, you tell stories many times a day. On the job. Off the job. Hanging out with your friends. Wherever. Story is in your DNA. Indeed, neuroscientists like to say that the human brain is "wired for story." It's how we make sense of our lives. It's our communication default position. We are storytelling animals. And the more we practice, the better we get.

The simplest explanation of what story is? A narrative -- an account of what happened or what might happen. That account, of course, can be utterly boring ("I woke up. I picked up my dry cleaning. I returned home.") Or it can be utterly captivating -- what every movie you've ever seen or novel you've ever read has tried to accomplish. To capture your attention. To deliver a meaningful message. And to influence what you think, feel, and do.

For the moment, think of storytelling as a big, yummy pot of soup. It smells good. It looks good. And it tastes good. But at first glance, you can't tell what the ingredients are -- or the spices. Do you really need to know every single ingredient if you're being served a bowl of soup from a reliable source? Probably not. But if you're making the soup, you most definitely do. So let's sit down with our penguin, priest, and newspaper reporter for a few minutes and see if we can demystify what this whole mumbo gumbo story thing is all about.


First things first. If you want your story to pack a wallop, you've got to know your audience. If they're allergic to eggplant, don't put eggplant in the soup. If they're vegetarian, lose the chicken. And know your end game -- what it is you're attempting to communicate -- what you want your audience to think, feel, or do differently after listening to you. Whatever message you want to leave them with, be able to boil it down to 10 words or less.

Years ago, this would have been known as your "elevator speech". These days, if you can't deliver your message upon entering an elevator, you're screwed. Think about it. When Steve Jobs launched the iPod, he cut to the chase by distilling his message down to just five words: "1,000 songs in your pocket." That's what the iPod was. Technobabble? No. Overwhelming factoids and data? No. One clean soundbyte surrounded by a compelling beginning, middle, and end. When you think about the story you want to tell, be sure you can distill it down to a memorable meme -- what screenwriters do when they pitch their idea to a movie studio.

Just like the iPod has a shape, so does a story -- the beginning, the middle, and the end, as I've said before, but I'm saying again because I want you to remember just how important structure. It's the spine of your intended result.

The beginning is where you set things up -- the place where you hook the attention of your audience, the place where you set the scene and introduce your hero -- hopefully a likable one. Then you introduce the Big Bad Wolf -- the obstacle, the conflict that begets the drama -- which, in your case, if you are trying to sell a product or service -- might be the competition, a government regulation, or the cost of entering a new market. Get the picture? Someone or something exists and that someone or something wants to move forward towards an inspired goal, but his/her/its path is blocked. Time for nail biting and some popcorn. Hooray for adversity! Without it, there is no story. No Star Wars. No Rocky. No Three Little Pigs.

And the broth of the great story soup you are concocting? What might that be? Passion! Your passion. Your passion for the message you're communicating and your passion for the act of storytelling itself. No passion, no power. No passion, no presence. No passion, no purchase order. It's that simple.

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Bottom line, story is all about "emotional transportation" -- the journey you take people on from here to there, from known to unknown, from no can do to what's the next step?"

No matter how logical, linear, or analytical your audience might be, unless you can speak to their heart, you will never win their mind. Yes, of course, if you are making a business presentation, you will need to spice up your story with the fruits of your research, but only enough to keep the story moving, only enough to soothe the savage beast of the left brain. Data is the spice. It is not the main ingredient. If your audience isn't feeling what your saying, it doesn't matter how many statistics you throw their way. As Einstein said, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts."

It's Little Red Riding Hood on her way to Grandma's house we care about, not her shoe size or SAT scores.

Other things to be mindful of as your prepare your presentation? Keep your stories short. Speak in the language of the people, not the technologists. No one wants to hear an epic poem. What you're trying to do by telling a story is create an opening to drive the Mack truck of possibility through and maybe pick up a few hitchhikers along the way. You are building a bridge, not a shopping mall.

Lose the complicated back story. "The world doesn't want to hear about your labor pains, they want to see the baby," said Johnny Sain, an American right-handed pitcher for the Boston Braves, born in 1917, who was the runner up for the National League's Most Valuable Player Award in 1948 after leading the league in wins and compiling a lifetime ERA of 3.49 -- the last pitcher to face Babe Ruth). See what I mean? Your team may have put a lot of effort into the project. Months of work. That's great. That's nice. Show us the baby!

And please don't read from your PowerPoint slides. Not only is that boring, it's rude. Borderline, inhuman. There's no way in the world you can build rapport and "read the room" if you are staring at a screen. If you want your audience to look into the future, you've got to look into their eyes, not one boring slide after another.

Here's something to think about: If you really want to get the attention of your audience, "violate expectations." Like what Bill Gates did when, in the middle of a keynote presentation on malaria, he released a bunch of mosquitoes into the room. Talk about buzz! At the very least, infuse your presentation with some visual buzz -- analogies and metaphors that paint a picture for your listeners -- something they can see, not just hear about.

And when you want to crank things up, ask a compelling question or two. Then pause... and listen to the response. The more you listen, the more your audience will listen. Know that a good story is also a good performance. So, unhinge yourself from the dead zone -- the spot on the floor to which you have nailed both of your feet. Move around the room. Vary the lengths of your sentences and the volume of your voice. Gesture. Make facial expressions. Speak to one specific person at a time, not the generic "audience." But above all, trust yourself. If you don't trust yourself, no one else will.

Of course, you can only trust yourself, if you are prepared. So practice your ass off. Know your talking points. Write out a script. Understand the flow of what you want to say, the key milestones along the way and whatever anecdotes and facts you want to include. Then distill the whole thing down to few main points on note cards. Get the story in your bones. Then throw your note cards away. Or, if you absolutely need to hold onto your note cards, glance at them only occasionally. Otherwise, they will become a rectangular 3x5 PowerPoint show in your hand, yet another slow leak in the bucket of your storytelling brilliance.

Remember, there is no formula for telling a good story. Only guidelines. And there is no one right way to tell a story. There are thousands. Maybe millions. Or billions -- each one according to the style and personality of the teller. Your job is not to tell a story like Steve Jobs or Garrison Keillor or Winston Churchill. Your job is tell a story like YOU! And while it is perfectly fine (and often, useful) to read books on storytelling, study TED videos, and attend cool workshops, in the end, all you need to know is this...


You are sitting around the tribal fire with the elders. They want to hear from you. You've been on a big adventure for days, weeks, or even months. You've got important news to share with them, vital insights to reveal, memorable experiences to convey. The survival of the tribe depends it. You're not trying to get promoted. You're not worried about being cast out of the tribe. The only thing that matters is telling your story in a way that informs, inspires, and enlightens.

End of story.

Penguin Photo: Ira Meyer
Storytelling at Work
The Storytelling Workshop
Spark the innovation mindset with story
60 minute radio interview on storytelling at work

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April 28, 2020
The Story of the Oven Bird

Poet, storyteller, and all around cool guy, David Gonzalez is a maestro in the fine art of embodying a story. His performance of The Oven Bird was featured on the April 26th Music & Sound Healing webcast, produced by Evelyne Pouget, Gabriela Rojas, and Fran Linry in beautiful San Miguel de Allende. You are in for a treat! Thank you, David! And thank you, Evelyne, Gabby, and Fran for your vision, perseverance, and soulful service to the world so much in need of healing.

PS: Next up on this page: Steve Gorn's bansuri flute performance from the 4/26 Music & Sound Healing webcast.

Next Music & Sound Healing performance: May 3, 5:00 pm, CST

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April 27, 2020
The 18 Mile Lie


This is a story told by Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi:

"One day my father asked me to drive him to town for an all day conference, and I jumped at the chance. Since I was going to town, my mother gave me a list of groceries she needed and, since I had all day in town, my father asked me to take care of several pending chores, such as getting the car serviced.

When I dropped my father off that morning, he said, 'I will meet you here at 5:00 p.m. and we will go home together.'

After hurriedly completing my chores, I went straight to the nearest movie theater. I got so engrossed in a John Wayne double-feature that I forgot the time. It was 5:30 before I remembered. By the time I ran to the garage and got the car, and hurried to where my father was waiting for me, it was almost 6:00.

He anxiously asked me, 'Why were you late?'

I was so ashamed of telling him I was watching a John Wayne western movie that I said 'The car wasn't ready, so I had to wait,' not realizing that he had already called the garage.

When he caught me in the lie, he said, 'There's something wrong in the way I brought you up that did not give you the confidence to tell me the truth. In order to figure out where I went wrong with you, I'm going to walk home 18 miles and think about it.'

So, dressed in his suit and dress shoes, he began to walk home in the dark, on mostly unpaved, unlit roads.

I couldn't leave him, so for five and a half hours I drove behind him, watching my father go through this agony for a stupid lie that I uttered. I decided then and there that I was never going to lie again.

I often think about that episode and wonder, if he had punished me the way we punish our children, whether I would have learned a lesson at all. I don't think so. I would have suffered the punishment and gone on doing the same thing. But this single, non-violent action was so powerful that it is still as if it happened yesterday.

That is the power of non-violence."

Thanks to Kurt Krueger for sharing this story with me

Photo: Amir Benlakhlef, Unsplash
Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:13 AM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2020
Family in the Age of Coronavirus

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Welcome to my (new) world!

The lovely people in this photo are three members of the Pakistani family with whom I am living in Epping, Australia -- Huma (38, the mother), Aroush (7, the daughter) and Ali (31, the brother of Huma).

When I first moved in to their home on February 22, it was your basic AirBB situation. I was the "guest" who came and went with very little interaction with my hosts, me wanting to respect their privacy and they wanting to respect mine. We had a cordial relationship.

Then, as the coronavirus situation heated up and my stay in Australia extended, the game changed. The four of us found ourselves in a new paradigm -- it becoming very evident that life (or Allah) had brought us together to be of support to each other. Whatever "walls" existed between us at the beginning (i.e. AirBB guest/host, Pakistani/American, Muslim/Jew etc.) disappeared quickly.

Now, we are a sweet little family. I shop for groceries. Huma cooks great Pakistani meals. Ali does home schooling with Aroush and prepares the tea. I teach all three of them how to juggle. We have storytelling time. They invite me to watch Pakistani soap operas in Urdu (help!). We watch some of Prem's Lockdown talks. I coach Huma and Ali on some projects of theirs. My fee? Two chocolate chip cookies.

Isn't it amazing the kind of unexpected twists and turns that take place in our lives? The plot keeps changing. The location and actors, too. But there are definitely recurring themes that weave their way through all the plays we find ourselves in: letting go... resilience... adaptability... kindness... humor... challenge... love... learning... and, in the end, realizing that no matter what our external differences may be, we are all the same on the inside.

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April 21, 2020
Ten Great Storytelling Quotes

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A Thousand Muslims and a Jew
The importance of family storytelling
Helping children understand the moral of story
Storytelling for the Revolution

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April 20, 2020
Time to Catch My Bubbles?

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One morning, 21 years ago, I found myself standing in my closet, madly searching for clean clothes in a last minute attempt to pack before yet another business trip, when I noticed my 4-year old son, Jesse, standing in the entrance. In one hand he held a small plastic wand, in the other, a plastic bottle of soapy water.

"Dada," he said, looking up at me. "Do you have time to catch my bubbles?"

Time? Whoa! It stopped. And so did I. At that moment, it made absolutely no difference whether or not I caught my plane; I could barely catch my breath. The only thing that was happening in that moment was my son and the soulful look of longing in his eyes.

For the next ten minutes, all we did was play -- him blowing bubbles, me catching. His need was completely satisfied -- his need for connection, his need for love, his need for knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his dada was THERE for him and everything was perfect just the way it was.

Jesse is 25 now, soon to buy his own house. He works at YouTube. His bubbles are digital. But his deepest needs -- and mine -- are very much the same: love, connection, and enjoyment of the moment.


SO WHAT? This just in: In these difficult days of the Coronavirus, it is clear to me, more than ever, that it is the small moments that count -- the subtle opportunities we have every day to really BE there for each other. The business of life is not a life of business. There is something going on beyond cash flow, getting back to work, and government stimulus packages that is worthy of our attention.

Like love, for example. Like kindness. Like caring, fun, deep listening, and being totally present with the people in our lives -- especially those who live under the same roof we are working so hard to make sure remains over their head.

Somehow, along the way, we have forgotten that earning a living is not the same thing as LIVING -- that the people counting on us for survival are more interested in our interest in them than they are the compounded interest we are trying to earn for them.

This is tricky business, especially at a time in our lives when it takes a whole lot more effort than ever to pay the bills.

On that memorable day in my closet, if you asked me what I was doing the moment before Jesse asked me to catch his bubbles, I would have given you a stock answer -- something like, "getting ready for a road trip" or "packing." If you'd pressed me, I might have said something like "building a house of bricks" for my family.

Jesse didn't want to play with bricks that day. He wanted to play with BUBBLES. Bubbles were not a part of his long-term strategy. They were, instead, a crystal clear invitation for me to stop doing what I was doing and BE PRESENT with him in the moment -- the moment he was joyfully living in and I was planning for.

NOW WHAT? Who has been blowing bubbles your way recently? Have you acknowledged them? Given them your attention? Responded? If not, pause for a moment and ask yourself what you might do differently to catch their bubbles.

Excepted from this book

Not excerpted from this book

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April 18, 2020
The Three Faces of God


When my mother and father, Sylvia and Barney, decided to sell their house on Long Island -- the one I grew up in -- and move to Florida, they invited my sister and me to take anything we wanted before they made their big move to West Palm Beach.

My sister, five years older and a mother of three, showed up with an 18-foot U-Haul truck. I showed up with a Volkswagen.

As I walked from room to room, exploring my choices, it soon became clear to me there was nothing I wanted. Not the blender. Not the toaster. Not the TV. Nothing. And so I spent the rest of the day, helping my sister carry out stuff to the truck.

I'm not exactly sure how long it took us to load it up, but by the time the last item was in -- a red, plastic silverware tray -- the sun was going down.

But I didn't leave empty-handed. I didn't. There was ONE thing my parents had that I wanted -- most definitely -- a wood carving they'd bought in Thailand on one of their rare vacations. It was hanging on the wall right behind the card table where my mother played canasta once a month with her four best friends -- Shirley, Blanche, Selma, and Ellie, each one of them a second mother to me.

Sprayed a nice shade of gold, the wood carving featured what spiritually-minded people from the East believed to be the three forms of God -- Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva -- the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer of all things. Brahma, on the left, was praying. Vishnu, in the middle was dancing. And Shiva, on the right, looked as if he was just about to kick somebody's ass.

I found it astounding that my parents, they of the bagel and lox school of Judaism, chose to hang this particular piece of art in such a featured place in their home. Neither of them had any interest, whatsoever, in Eastern cosmology. They read the Sunday New York Times, not the Bhagavad Gita. "Om" was a misspelling to them. And their favorite mantra for me? "As long as she's Jewish" -- referring, of course, to their wishes for me, as the only son and carrier of the family name, to never marry outside the religion. For my mother and father to have placed a wood carving of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva just above the canasta table made absolutely no sense to me. Zero. Zippo. Zilch. But there it was in all its ancient glory. Noble. Pristine. Powerful. And calling to me on this most auspicious day of downsizing.

"Hey, Ma," I said. "Can I have the woodcarving?" pointing to the wall.

"THAT?" she replied. "That's all you want? That?"

"Yup. That's all I want."

My mother shrugged and mumbled something in Yiddish as I reached up and removed the piece from the wall, then positioned it carefully, in my suitcase, in between my pajamas and favorite t-shirt.

When I got back to Denver, the first thing I did was hang it in my living room just above my record player. Every time I left my bedroom and headed towards the kitchen, it was the first thing I would see.

A month later, I got word that a fundraising campaign had been launched to help my teacher, Prem Rawat, get his message of peace out into the world -- an effort I very much wanted to be part of. The only problem? Unemployed, I had no money to give. That's when I began cruising my apartment in search of "items of worth" to sell.

The first thing that caught my eye was my record collection which, I reasoned, might fetch about $200. Bye bye Otis Redding! Bye bye Rolling Stones! Bye bye Dave Brubeck! But I wanted to give more than that, so I kept on cruising. That's when it dawned on me that my most valuable possession was my newly acquired woodcarving. Clearly, it was time to let it go, so I reached up, removed it from the wall, and made my way to the finest antiques shop in town where I hoped to sell it on consignment. The owner, a nice Jewish man, loved it, and told me it would fetch a "pretty penny". Yes, he would get his commission, but I would get the rest -- probably, I figured, $500 at least. Hooray! Yippee! Yahoo! Let's hear it for Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva! Let's hear it for Sylvia and Barney!

A week passed. Then a second. Then a third. And a fourth. Every time I called the owner of the antiques shop he gave me the same response. No one was interested in buying my woodcarving. Did they admire it? Yes. But no one wanted to buy it. No one, he explained, even tried to bargain. Apparently, there wasn't a single person in the Mile High City of Denver who had room for Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in their living room -- so I returned to the antiques store and drove it back to my apartment, hanging it, once again, over my record player (though, now, my albums, were gone.)

Part of me was glad it didn't sell. Part of me was sad. And part of me felt bad -- aware that my deep-seated need to GIVE SOMETHING of value to my Master did not bear fruit.

It was precisely at this moment that I had a revelation. "Why not give it to Prem? Why not give it to the one has given me everything? Nobody ELSE liked it. Maybe HE will!"

So I asked a carpenter friend of mine to make a box for it, asked another friend to gift wrap it, and gave it to a third friend, a gardener at Prem's residence, to hand-deliver it later that day.

A week passed. Then another. And another. And another, yet. I got no response. Absolutely none. It felt like the antiques consignment store saga all over again. Unwanted. No one wanted what I had to offer. Not even my own Guru.

And then, in the fifth week of this outtake from my own Mahabharata, I got a call from the gardener friend of mine who'd hand-delivered the woodcarving a few weeks ago. Prem, he explained, after a month in Denver, had traveled back to his home in Malibu. A few days later he called the Denver residence and requested that someone ship him the woodcarving immediately. Which they did.

As the story was told to me, he hung it in a place of honor in his living room.
Prem photo: Courtesy of TimelessToday

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:25 AM | Comments (1)

April 17, 2020
On Reading an Audience


Astrologers read stars. Meteorologists read weather. Palm readers read palms. And storytellers? They read people. At least, good storytellers do. No matter how many times they have told a story, the way they tell it depends on the subtle cues they are picking up (or not) from their audience. Attuned to the signals their listeners are putting out, good storytellers adapt and adjust their delivery accordingly.

Simply put, storytelling is a lot like dancing. It is alive and dynamic. It is not a static art form, not a canned speech, not the repetition of memorized words. Rather, it is an in-the-moment expression designed to move people. And while it is true that, just like dancing, there are steps, patterns, and structures to be mindful of, the difference between a good story and a great story is often a function of the storyteller's ability to improvise.

How does this spontaneity happen? What is the responsive storyteller paying attention to in order to make the kind of subtle adjustments needed to ensure their story truly has impact?

In a phrase, the in-the-moment feedback being communicated by their listeners -- the subtle cues and signals their audience sends, whether it is one person across a kitchen table or a thousand people in an auditorium. The more the storyteller is able to sense this feedback and adapt, the more successful their storytelling becomes.


What kind of feedback are we talking about? Primarily, two kinds: facial expressions and body language -- the unspoken signals people put out that express their responsiveness (or lack thereof) to what they are seeing, hearing, and feeling.

Like head nods, for example. Like smiles and frowns. Like the way a person looks or doesn't look... or where they look... like the way a person leans forward or backward in their chair... or folds their arms.. or rolls their eyes... or grunts... or sneaks a glance at their cell phone.

All of it matters. All of it communicates its own story to the storyteller.

The more storytellers are able to pick up on these cues, the more they are able to adjust the dynamics of their delivery: How fast to talk, or how slow. Whether to pause, or not, and when. How dramatic to make their voice. When to move. When to be still. When to elaborate on a detail that has caught the audience's fancy. When to dig deeper into a specific plot point. And when to move on.

If you, as a storyteller, are nervous, self-absorbed, seeking approval, or impatient for the whole thing to be over, it will be very difficult to pick up on the signals coming your way. You won't truly be with your audience. While you may be physically inhabiting the same space, metaphysically you will be somewhere else -- off in your own world. Will real communication have taken place? Will the depth of the message you were hoping to convey have landed? Highly doubtful.

Words may have been spoken. Characters may have been introduced. Points may have been made. But the real story will have gone untold.

Excerpted from this book
Photo: Antenna on Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:16 AM | Comments (0)

April 15, 2020
There Is No Storytelling Without Story Listening


When small children speak their first words, the reaction of their parents is fairly predictable. It begins with lavish praise, high fives, hugs all around, and the ritual calling of Grandma and Grandpa. Everyone is thrilled. The baby has spoken! But the first time the child listens? No response at all. Indeed, it's a rare set of parents who even notice when their child listens for the first time.

As a species, speaking is far more highly regarded than listening. The ability to express... to makes one's case... to be heard is primary. Listening, it seems, is the booby prize -- only suitable for people who have nothing to say or nothing better to do than be on the receiving end of someone else's monologue.

In high school, you will find debate clubs, but no listening clubs. On the political circuit, "stump speeches" rule. It's the rare politician who goes out on a listening tour.

Bottom line, the people who make their case the strongest are the ones who rule the roost. And the people who are listening? Well, more often than not, they aren't. Yes, they may be hearing, but hearing is very different than listening. "Conversational endurance" is what mostly happens -- people striking the appearance of listening, but are merely waiting impatiently to get their turn to speak.

You know the expression "if a tree falls in a forest and there's no one around to hear, did it really make a sound?" The same holds true with storytelling. If a story is told, but no one is listening, is it really a story? I don't think so. Words may be uttered and words may be heard, but the actual story falls on deaf ears.


Simply put, story-listening (or any kind of listening, for that matter) is in short supply these days. The reasons are many, but perhaps the biggest of them all is the exponential growth of technology and the undeniable fact that human attention, these days, is more fragmented than ever before. Besieged by an ever increasing amount input (emails, texts, tweets, robocalls, alerts, and advertising), most homo sapiens live in a state of total distraction.

Here's the only related factoid you need to know: Goldfish have a longer attention span than humans beings. The average goldfish can focus on something for nine seconds. The average human being? Eight seconds -- one second less than a goldfish.

Is there anything aspiring an aspiring storyteller can do to change the game? Most definitely. Here are five simple ways to increase the odds of the stories you tell actually being listened to.

1. Choose the time and place wisely: Instead of blurting out your story on-the-fly, be attentive to the readiness of your audience to listen. If the people you want to tell your story to are multi-tracking, distracted, or on-the-run, do not begin. Not only will your story fall on deaf ears, you will likely end up feeling diminished. Choose a different time and place. And if, in your intoxication to share your story, you notice your listeners are flaking out, say something like, "It seems this might not be a good time to share my story. Might there be a better time and place?"

2. Get permission: Instead of robotically launching into your story, ask for permission. "Mind if I share a two-minute story with you that relates to what we've just been talking about?" Once the person you want to tell a story to gives you permission, the odds of being listened to increase dramatically.

3. Preview your story: Before launching into your narrative, provide the listener with some context, a preview of what's to come. "This little story happened to me five years ago on a plane", you might say. Or "what I'm just about to share with you changed my life in just three minutes."

4. Stay connected to your audience: Sometimes, storytellers, intoxicated by their own narratives, end up in "air guitar" mode. Enamored by the sound of their own voice, they lose all connection to time and space. Fun for them, perhaps, but not for the listener. Stay connected to your audience! Tune in! Make eye contact. Notice their body language. Adapt and adjust your storytelling to the subtle cues and feedback you are getting.

5. Go beyond the words: Communication experts tell us that there are three elements to any communication: Body language, voice dynamics, and words. Of these three elements, body language is the most important. It accounts for 55% of the impact of what's said. Voice dynamics is the second most important aspect of communication and accounts for 38% of the impact. The words? Only 7%.

And so, if you want to increase the odds of people actually listening to your stories, be mindful of your body language and voice dynamics. Move around the room as you speak. Be animated. Make hand gestures. Modulate the sound of your voice.

Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:03 AM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2020
The Importance of Family Storytelling During the Difficult Daze of the Coronavirus


"It has been said that next to hunger and thirst our most basic human need is for storytelling." -- Kahlil Gibran

While it's true that the Coronavirus has brought some dark clouds into the lives of millions people, each of those dark clouds also has a silver lining. And one of those silver linings is the undeniable fact that families now have more time to be together.

For some families, however, this extra time is good news/bad news. Theoretically speaking, having more time to be together sounds great. But practically speaking, it doesn't always turn out that way. Confined to a small space, with few breaks from each other, and the stresses that come from all the unknowns, it's not uncommon for family members to get impatient with each other, cranky, or simply space out on TV and video games.

Is there an antidote to this phenomenon? Yes, there is -- and it's thousands of years old: storytelling!

If you are a parent, one of your main responsibilities is to protect your children from harm. In many ways, of course, you are already doing this. (Hand sanitizers! Social distancing! Masks!) But physical health is only part of your job. The other part is to protect your children's metaphysical health -- their state of mind.

MIMI and Mitchie2.JPG

That's where storytelling comes in.
Family storytelling (AKA Wisdom Circles) has many benefits: it strengthens relationships, provides comfort, defuses anxiety, entertains, imparts values, builds trust, transmits wisdom, and gives everyone in your family a voice -- especially the children.

That's why I'm inviting you to create some special "storytelling time" with your family this week. But instead of merely reading stories from a book, I'm inviting you and your family to tell stories from your own lives. Memorable moments of truth. Obstacles overcomes. Life lessons. Revealing episodes. Cool experiences. You know, the good stuff.

Simply put, a Family Wisdom Circle is a chance for you and your loved ones to unplug from the world and simply BE together -- no news, no Netflix, no TV, no internet, no bills, no dishes, no worries, and no problems -- just some sacred time, in each other's company, to share from the heart.

Here's what Tanya Kubitza, a Whittlesea resident, had to say about a Family Wisdom Circle she hosted in her home.

Interested? If so, here are ten guidelines to make sure your family Wisdom Circle is as meaningful as possible:

1. Create a cozy space to meet, ideally in a circle.
2. Light some candles to create the meeting-around-the-fire feeling
3. Decide on who plays the role of "facilitator."
4. Let everyone know that storytelling is voluntary. No pressure!
5. Each storyteller gets five minutes to tell their story
6. When people aren't telling a story, their task is to listen
7. Turn off the TV, all cell phones, and devices
8. At the end of each story, have a conversation -- unpack it
9. Cookies! Popcorn! Tea! Juice! Marshmellows!
10. At the end of the circle, ask your children how it can be improved.

Storytelling for the Revolution


PHOTO #1: Pablo Merchan Montes, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:12 AM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2020
Neuroscience and Storytelling

Shortest distance2.jpg

Good article from NPR on the neuroscience behind storytelling, why storytelling is such a powerful communication tool, and how it connects and influences people.

Big thanks to Peter Blum for the heads up

Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:14 PM | Comments (0)

April 09, 2020
A Good Story, Like Perfume...


A good story, like perfume, is evocative. Listening to it calls forth a response that moves a person from one state of mind to another, not just for the moment, but for all time -- because a story, well-told, is long remembered. And what it is that moves inside us is not just the plot, or the characters, or even the message, but the space of discovery that the story opens up.

Music is a perfect example of this phenomenon. A good piece of music is composed of pauses as well as notes. Indeed, it is the spaces between the notes that is often responsible for evoking the feeling, allowing the listener to more deeply experience what is being heard.

Amateur composers tend to do too much. They clutter their compositions with themselves, making the music more about their own proficiency than the depth of what's possible to evoke in others -- a phenomenon that led jazz-great, Dizzy Gillespie, to once confess, "It took me my entire life to learn what not to play."

The same holds true with story. Skillful storytellers don't say too much, don't clutter the tale with their telling. Instead, they provide just enough nuance for the listener to enter their world and participate. That's the goal of any work of art -- to create a space for something meaningful to be explored.

Ultimately, the storyteller's task is a simple one -- to create the stage upon which the human heart can dance -- what hearing a cello in the distance evokes at dusk or how you might feel just before opening a love letter.

"Creating a stage upon which the heart can dance" -- Prem Rawat
Excerpted from this book
Not excerpted from this book
Photo: Drew Collins, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)

April 07, 2020
Write a New Story For Yourself with the Help of an Online Genie


If your life, livelihood, family, community, or health have been negatively affected by the Coronavirus calamity, I invite you to try my online Free the Genie tool. It's a simple, fun way to originate bold new ideas, possibilities, and solutions -- some of which may be the key to you navigating your way forward during these difficult times.

And it's free.

When you subscribe, you will get a 10-year free trial. And when your trial is over (2030), it's over. No fine print. No payments due. No obligations.

My company, Idea Champions, used to sell subscriptions to Free the Genie, but we have now waived all fees in response to the global pandemic and the need so many people have to think up powerful, new ways to adapt, create, and thrive.

100 quotes on what it really takes to innovate

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:43 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2020
Quarantining My Mind


The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit, at anchor, for 40 days before landing. This word for this phenomenon harkens back to two Italian words, "quaranta giorni", which translate as "40 days".

OK. I get it. Quarantining makes sense. When someone or something is infected and contagious we remove it from society. We protect the whole, by isolating the parts.

But the body is not the only part of us that gets infected. So does our mind -- what the dictionary defines as "the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences -- the faculty of consciousness and thought."

On a good, uninfected day, our mind is a capable of many glorious things: wonder, imagination, gratitude, focus, clarity, creativity, compassion, appreciation, and wisdom, just to name a few. But when it gets infected, watch out, my friends, watch out. The game changes quickly. All hell breaks loose.


The symptoms of the body's contagion are relatively easy to recognize, especially these days with all the coverage Covid-19 is getting: fever, chills, sneezing, coughing, body aches, and fatigue.

The symptoms of the mind's contagion? Not quite as easy to detect. Why not? Because, like pollution and hidden bank charges, we've become so accustomed to them, we barely notice anymore. But just because we don't, it doesn't mean the contagion isn't wreaking havoc. It most definitely is.

The symptoms of an infected mind? Take your pick: worry, doubt, fear, stress, anger, blame, confusion, panic, powerlessness, loneliness, hopelessness, irritation, frustration, hypochondria, lethargy, and overwhelm -- and that's just for starters.

Simply put our body gets physically infected and our mind gets metaphysically infected. And when it does, its contagion begins spreading exponentially. Other people are affected -- our families, our friends, and our communities.

These days, I have never been more aware of my mind's infection.

Living in semi-isolation as I am, 10,000 miles from home, more time on my frequently washed hands than usual, I am acutely aware of the condition I have. I've caught something. I have something. But the thing that I've caught and have doesn't need to catch and have me. It doesn't. Nope. No way. I'm in charge. Not it.

That's where choice enters the picture -- to quarantine the infected part of my mind before it gets out of hand.

What does this so-called quarantining look like? For me, it begins with a kind of peeing around my soul's territory and then choosing not to engage, not to react, not to fight back, and not to take a single bite from the seeming infinite supply of poisoned cookies my mind tosses my way.

Instead, I take a breath, return to the place of peace inside me, and send the feral monkeys of my mind back to their room for a long time out. And if they refuse my directive, as they often do, I simply turn and walk away, their nervous chattering now fading background noise in the soaring symphony of my life.

Does it always work? No. But sometimes it does. And the more I practice quarantining my mind, the flatter the curve.

Covid-19 is just a dress rehearsal, folks, an opportunity for each and every one of us to see through the illusory nature of the world and all we've constructed -- our identities, personas, possessions, accomplishments, systems, institutions, civilizations, and distractions. None of them are real. All of them come and go in the blink of an eye.

What remains when they skedaddle out of town? Now that's the 279 trillion dollar question, isn't it? What remains?

For now, let's keep it real simple. You and I and the other 7.7 billion people on planet Earth have a choice -- the choice to choose life over death, light over dark, love over hate, now over later, and presence over absence. And, perhaps above all else, the choice to pay attention to that which is truly worthy of our attention. You know what it is. I know you do. No matter what name you call it or how you invoke it, I invite you to pay more attention to that during these crazy Coronavirus days of change.

Photo: Courtesy of TimelessToday
The Two Wolves
Ending Violence with Chopsticks
Is That So?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:14 AM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2020
The Wordless Sermon


As the story goes, 2,500 years ago, Buddha gave a wordless sermon to his disciples. All he did was hold up a single white flower -- a lotus. That's it. No words. Just a flower. All his disciples were mystified, except, that is, Mahakasyapa, a young monk who immediately smiled, signifying the direct transmission of wisdom from Master to student -- a moment referred to in Buddhist literature as "tathagata", the ineffable nature of suchness.

Something within Mahakasyapa instantly understood the non-verbal essence of what Buddha was communicating. He got it in a flash. No thought was necessary, no analysis, no intellectualization. It was, as if, a veil had lifted and he got to experience something profound that was previously inaccessible to him.

For want of a better phrase, let's call the young monk's recognition a "moment of truth".

The good news for the rest of us is that we don't need to be a monk in order to experience a moment of truth. Nor do all moments of truth need to be "spiritual", historically significant, or worthy of inclusion in future scriptures. Moments of truth are not only for everyone, but they come in all varieties -- small, medium, and large -- spontaneously occurring, unplanned happenings that have, embedded within them, the potential for great learning, insight, and wisdom. Simply put, a kind of Red Sea parts and a meaningful lesson is learned, even if no teacher is present. We all have them, though, like dreams, they are easy to forget, dismiss, or undervalue.

The catalyst for a moment of truth can be anything. For the young monk, it was a flower. For you, who knows? A chocolate bar? A glance from a beggar? Missing a train? A divorce? Getting lost? Being rescued? Almost dying? A blues song you hear on the radio? It really doesn't matter what it is, as long as it sparks an inner shift that moves you beyond old assumptions, habits of mind, and outdated beliefs so you can experience the magic of life in a fresh, new way.

If you deconstruct the stories we tell, you'll discover that most of them turn out to be our attempts to give shape to these moments of truth -- our verbal deciphering of a moment, in time (or outside of time) that had great significance for us, even if that moment was invisible to others.

Unspoken, these moments of truth remain hidden, buried inside us like treasure or unopened love letters. Expressed, especially in the form of STORY, they uplift, inspire, and empower, pollinating great fields of wisdom -- in yourself, the people you share them with, and the people they share them with. On and on and on it goes, countless moments of truth circulating the planet at the same time, opening minds, opening hearts, and helping awaken all of us to a richer, fuller, more enlightened life.

Storytelling for the Revolution
Photo: Eric Prouzet, Unsplash
Big thanks to Gammadian Freeman for picking up the typo!

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:53 AM | Comments (0)

ONCE UPON A TIME: An Invitation to the Families of Whittlesea


Dear Moms and Dads of the City of Whittlesea:

Hello! My name is Mitch Ditkoff and I am working, these days, with Al Siraat College in Epping. Part of my work here includes storytelling -- or, more specifically, Wisdom Circles (a form of storytelling). I am also an author of two books on the power of storytelling (this one and that one) and a long-time researcher in the field.

The reason why I'm reaching out to you now is a simple one -- to share with you about the value of storytelling, in your own home and how it is likely to be a great resource to your family, especially during these stressful days of the Coronavirus.

As a parent, one of your biggest responsibilities is to protect your children and to make sure they have the best chance to thrive and grow. In many ways, or course, you are already doing this. Protecting your children's physical health is part of the process. It is also important, however, to protect your children's "metaphysical health" -- their state of mind -- by doing everything possible to lower their stress and anxiety.


One of the simplest ways to do this is via storytelling.

Storytelling has many positive benefits: it helps families bond, strengthens relationships, relaxes the mind, provides comfort, entertains, imparts values, builds trust, transmits wisdom, and gives children a voice -- allowing them to express themselves in healthy ways. And that includes the opportunity to air out their worries, concerns, and fears.

And so, I'm inviting you to create some special "storytelling time" with your family. But instead of just reading stories from a book, I'm inviting everyone in your family to take turns telling stories from their own lives -- personally meaningful, life-affirming experiences. Lessons learned. Challenges met. Breakthroughs. The good stuff.

The stories your family members tell do not need to be profound. They can be very simple -- whatever the storytellers think would be of interest to the others in the Wisdom Circle.

If you are the Mom or Dad, maybe you begin by telling a story from your own childhood. Or maybe you tell a story about a parent or grandparent. Or maybe you talk about a challenge you overcame... an act of kindness you experienced... a risk you took... a remarkable moment... or even something silly your kids might like to hear about.

"Gee, Mum, I never knew that about you!" your child might say. Or, "Hey, Dad, that was so cool! Do you have any other stories like that you can share with us?"

Of course, you also want to give your children a chance to share their own stories. And to help them do so, you can give them some topics to choose from:

-- My most memorable moment
-- The best gift I ever received, and why
-- A risk I took
-- An experience that changed my life
-- A moment of kindness
-- A funny thing that happened when I was smaller
-- The coolest surprise of my life
-- My biggest success
-- Something that scared me, but doesn't scare me anymore

Here are other topics you might want to consider.

Simply put, a Family Wisdom Circle is an opportunity to unplug from the world and simply be together -- no news, no video games, no TV, no internet, no bills, no dishes, no worries, no problems -- just some sacred time, in each other's company, to share from the heart.

Here's what Tanya Kubitza, a Whittlesea resident and employee of Al Sirat, had to say about a Family Wisdom Circle she recently had in her home.

Into it? If so, here are ten guidelines to increase the odds of your Family Wisdom Circle being as good as it can be:

1. Create a cozy space to meet, ideally in a circle.
2. Light some candles to create the meeting-around-the-fire feeling
3. Decide on who plays the role of "facilitator."
4. Let everyone know that storytelling is voluntary. No pressure!
5. Each storyteller gets five minutes to tell their story
6. When people aren't telling a story, their task is to listen
7. Turn off all cell phones and devices
8. At the end of each story, have a conversation -- unpack it
9. Cookies! Popcorn! Tea! Juice! Marshmellows!
10. At the end of the circle, ask your kids how it can be improved.

If you have any questions about Wisdom Circles, email me and I will respond. If you actually have a Wisdom Circle in your home (and enjoy the experience), feel free to let me know about the value of it and I will post your comments on my blog for other families to read. ( PS: Good news travels fast!

Here are some articles about storytelling you might find useful:

Storytelling builds attachment
Telling stories calms anxieties
The power of simply listening
You are a universe of stories
Dadda, do you have time to catch my bubbles?


Who am I?
Storytelling for the Revolution
First photo: Jude Beck, Unsplash
Fourth photo: Muhammed Ruq, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2020
Another Lifetime


One thing that is cool about telling a story is that almost anything in the world can spark it -- a glance, a kiss, a word, a chance meeting on the street, almost dying, a dream, an argument or, with respect to what follows, a past life regression. Speaking of which, it is not at all unlikely that you, upon reading the phrase "past life regression" may already be telling yourself a story about the value of reading the still-unread narrative below.

"Flaky," you might be thinking. "New Age mumbo jumbo." "Man overboard."

And that, of course, is not only your right, but also your meaning-making machine in action. Moment by moment, second by second, each and everyone of us are coming up with conclusions about everything we see, hear, feel, and touch. That's just the way it is. We are story makers, connecting the dots of our lives in our own, unique way, and then using the lines we have drawn BETWEEN those dots as a kind of subjective map of the world -- OUR world and THE world -- both of which tend to be the same. Thus Paul Simon's fabulous line, "One man's ceiling is another man's floor."

You have a story4.jpg

The story that follows is a story I have told to only five people in the 44 years since it happened. I know that it's a risk to tell this story because I set myself up for ridicule and judgment -- my hesitation to tell it nothing more than my own chicken-shittedness in response to my projection of other people poking fun at my already thinning persona. So be it. C'est le vie. I guess that's the risk we all take every day upon getting out of bed. Our words and our actions... our silence and our non-action are all subject to the opinion of just about everyone we meet, save for a few Bodhisattvas, children, and people too absorbed in their own thoughts to even notice.

Be that as it may, here goes:

One day, a friend of mine, in the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado, asked me if I wanted him to guide me through a past life regression -- an ability he had recently developed that very few people knew about. While I was wary of the rapidly emerging "New Age" scene at the time, with it's questionable promises of instant access to the great mysteries of life, there was something in the way my friend presented his offer that disarmed me. There was no visible ego to his invitation. Nothing superficial. Nothing phony. To me, it felt totally pure of heart.

"Sure," I replied, "Why not?"

Twenty eight years old at the time, newly divorced, and standing at yet another major crossroads of my life, the time felt right to take a fresh look at things -- even if that look took me back several centuries. And so, we dove in.

Either my friend was a master regressionist, or I was super-suggestive, or BOTH, because in just a few minutes I found myself experiencing a deeply felt panoramic re-living of eight past lives of mine -- almost as if I was watching a movie that had been masterfully made, but stored in some dusty back room.

Can I prove it? Was it real what I saw? Hallucinated? I have no idea.

Suffice it to say, that what follows -- the recounting of a past life memory of mine -- is just a STORY. However flawed, filtered, falsely remembered, or conjured it might be, on the deepest level it doesn't really matter -- because, in the end, all of our communications (to ourselves and each other) are just that -- stories... the personal way we stitch together the flora and fauna of our lives into a tellable tale -- the curious way we make sense of things.

My hope? That my story, newly told, will spark an opening for you... an insight... some kind of recognition... a glance into the mirror of your own life so you can more clearly see something that is begging to be seen.

Here goes:

I am a yogi, in India, living deep in the forest, alone. I have been there for a long time, silent, content, free of desire, and without a care in the world. One day, I see a radiant man with a full head of white hair walking towards me. It is Shri Yukteshwar, Yoganananda's Guru, a man of great purpose and power. He continues walking towards me, in silence, and places his hand on top of my head. Suddenly, everything turns to light. White light. There is nothing else happening other than this light. Nothing else exists. Nothing.

When I open my eyes, the radiant man with the white head of hair is gone. In his place is a woman, someone I surmise to be my wife. She is doing things. She is busy. Preparing food. Cleaning things. Many things. Making order, all in silence. Every action is purposeful. There seems to be some kind of sequence to her tasks, like she has something in mind and knows what she's doing, though I am not exactly sure what it is.

Years pass. We have a child. A son. When he turns 17, he decides to move away. And so he does. Then there are just two of us in the forest -- my wife and I. Then she decides to move away, which she does, leaving me, in the forest, alone again. More time passes. Then I decide to move away. Why not? Why should I be the only one who stays? As I exit the forest, I am bitten, on the ankle, by a poisonous snake. Falling to the ground, I begin sucking the poison out of my wound, spitting the poison out of my mouth as fast as I can. I do that for a minute or so. Then I lose consciousness and die.

Is this past life memory of mine real? Is it imagined -- the fevered attempt of my psyche to make meaning out of various unconnected dots in my life? God only knows. For now, all I am asking you to do is think of my past life memory as just a story. Nothing wrong with that, right?

In this lifetime, the Mitchell Lewis Ditkoff lifetime, there was a period of 2-3 years, in my early 20's, when I used to frequently spit for no reason. My friends would notice and ask me why I spit so much and if I was alright. I don't remember what story I made up to explain this strange behavior of mine. But after my past life regression in the mile high city of Denver, Colorado, my story changed.

In the end, YOU get to decide what to make of my story. YOU decide what meaningful memories of yours, if any, my story sparks and IF it makes sense for you to pay any attention to them. Choice. Your choice. Always your choice.

Storytelling for the Revolution
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:58 AM | Comments (1)


Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
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"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
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