Monday, November 26, 2012

Wherein Hunky McSharing Learns When to Not Tell a Story

My thought this week: please think carefully before you speak the story in your head. With the current faddish approach to storytelling going on, I sometimes see people trying to “share their story” even if they really should not be sharing “that” story.

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.

Hunky continues to “tell the story” of a Thanksgiving when he was a boy. He talked about how the family had an unexpected guest for dinner. He then mentioned that his mother was not prepared for guests, but it was the family “policy” to welcome anyone at their table.

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.
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Photo courtesy of


  1. AAAHHHHHH!!!!! Not to be overly dramatic, but I love-LOVE this post! Well-said, Sean, and thanks for sharing!

    As a novice to storytelling, I am frequently amazed and enormously grateful for the kindness and welcoming nature of so many people in the community. The positive feedback and appreciations really do encourage and inspire and are critically important, especially helpful in overcoming nervousness. That said, I've certainly felt more than a little wary from time to time about the anything-goes attitude that I run into every now and then.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. The distinction between gossiping and storytelling is especially useful, as identifying and properly defining terminology clarifies ideas.

    1. Thanks very much for you thoughts. While wanting to say, "yes, this storytelling is accessible to everyone," I don't want to see people get sloppy about it and harm other people or their own integrity.

  2. "It’s not enough to have a story. Storytelling requires a balance between story, audience and teller."

    This is so crucial. The awareness of, and responsibility to, your audience is one of the most important, and in fact integral, aspects of storytelling. This is deep and wide.

    Thanks for writing this!

    1. It's that constant dance of storytelling. Storytelling is never done "at" an audience. That is what TV is for. ;-)

  3. Nice one Sean. I was asked a related question last week, "is there a time when you shouldn't tell a story." A couple of things popped to mind. Don't tell a story if the only one you can think of is one you tell all the time and these people probably heard it. Don't tell a story if you have just told a string of stories, back-to-back, and your audience has had enough. Or as my colleagues suggested, don't tell a story when you want what you are saying to utterly forgettable.

    I was just wondering what you would have said?