As I was watching the morning news on Thanksgiving Day (the U.S. holiday), the three jovial morning hosts had a few moments to kill. With that, the young man sitting at the desk, I think his name was Hunky McSharing, said, “Oh, okay, I guess I have a story.”
Now, right at that moment the problem was revealed. He said, “I guess.” I shuddered. Storytelling is always an intentional process. You plan to tell a story and you plan the story to tell. Anytime you start with “I guess” before telling means you are moving into gossip and not storytelling.
Here, for just a moment, I thought, “Oh, Sean, always so crabby about the rules of storytelling. Young Mr. Hunky is telling a story about his mother’s kindness and not just gossiping. Shame on me.”
I thought this until McSharing said the next sentence of his story. He mentioned that the man was “kinda heavyset” and that the chair that the dinner guest sat collapsed beneath him. This chair disaster happened twice. Hilarious stuff, isn’t it? Mr. McSharing was clearly entertained by how the large house guest kept breaking chairs at Thanksgiving. You have so many warm and funny memories, Hunky. Just the type you might share at the Frat house.
The two female anchors sitting with Hunky knew better than to laugh at this story. While Hunky was laughing and giggling, his co-hosts sat stoned-face. One of them said, “I don’t think I can laugh at that.” The other host just stared at McSharing as he realized this story was one that should not have been spoken as hundreds of thousands of viewers now watched him mock fat people. A long-for-television silence took place between all three of them.
I know that you keep hearing, “Storytelling is everywhere.” “Everyone is a storyteller.” While everyone has a story to tell, learn what the professionals know: Not every story is to be shared in every situation. Learn to self-edit. The gossip shared among friends is not the storytelling you share in front of crowds. It is better not to tell a story at all than to speak a story that is offensive and damaging to your integrity or to the lives of others.
Please do not fall into the trap of thinking that communication is all about the story. It’s not enough to have a story. Storytelling requires a balance between story, audience and teller. We need to think before we speak. Gossip is not storytelling. Sometimes, we should stop storytelling before we start.