Show, don’t tell; A storyteller’s best friend.

“Tom’s fingers were trembling. His eyes followed my glare to his hands. He jerked them behind his back. Much better. After three tries the question finally came out: ‘Would you… Like, you know. Maybe, some time, have a drink somewhere. Like, with me, I’d be there too.’”

“He was very nervous, that was obvious. Asking me out was really scary to him.“

Let me introduce you: show vs. tell.

 

The principle “show, don’t tell” is a storyteller’s best friend. Well, at least one of them. Anyone who’s ever spent any time studying creative writing will be familiar with this technique. For anyone who hasn’t, let me explain. Show, don’t tell is a technique used to take the reader or listener by the hand and let them feel and experience everything the story has to offer. As if they are there themselves. In the first example, you really look at Tom the way the main character does. I don’t need to tell you that he’s nervous, you can see that for yourself. The second version is just dry information. At the end of the snippet, you know just as much as you do at the end of number 1. Yet, at the end of 1, you feel much more.

 

I don’t think I have to convince you of the importance of emotion. Storytelling is first and foremost about making people feel something. If they don’t feel anything, they’re not going to care about anything. For your audience to start feeling, you, as a storyteller, need to get close to them or get them close to you. Through show, don’t tell, you can get them close to you in your story. Have them walk around in it themselves, have them explore and make it their own.

 

So, how do we do this show don’t tell thing? A neat little exercise to practice showing is eliminating adjectives. If you can’t say “he is nervous”, you have to find another way of making it clear. I’m not saying adjectives are bad, they’re not! This is, however, a nice way to practice.
Another thing to do is keep asking yourself the question: what does that look like. Be specific, give me details. Zoom in on one specific telltale sign of what you are trying to convey.

 

Now, let’s put it into practice! In the comments make your own show, don’t tell of this little snippet:

“She was sad to see him leave. Yet, she did know it was better this way.”

Go nuts, add all you want, just take me through your story. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Help! All the creativity has left me!

Why did I choose a creative profession!? I’ve been staring at a blank document on my laptop for hours. Well, it’s intermittent staring. I’ve gotten up to make tea, to get cookies, to do laundry, to make more tea, to dance around in the living room, to eat lunch, to make tea, to hang the laundry, to stare at my screen from a different angle and to call my mom. But in the meantime, not a word. Not a single word of story has gotten into my brain, through my fingers onto the screen. Nada, zero, nothing. Why did I choose a creative profession?!

If you have a creative profession yourself or maybe even more so if you don’t, you’ll know the dull, lifeless, rag doll-like feeling of being uninspired. The creative block. It comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it comes up out of nowhere. You’re in the flow creating something beautiful and all of a sudden it stops. It’s almost like you’ve used it all up. That was it, you’ve now exhausted your last bit of creative ability.

Other times it’s like a dark cloud following you around. You have a vague memory of producing something at some point in the distant past but it was probably pretty shit anyway. Because you now know: you suck! Better go work at McDonald’s, hopefully, they don’t require a written application.

Let’s get a little insight into what creative block versus creative flow is. I love this talk by John Cleese. He talks about two different modes: the open mode and the closed mode. The closed mode is the one in which we cannot experience creativity. It’s active and somewhat anxious, it’s purposeful but there’s a lack of playfulness. The open mode, on the other hand, is signified by relaxation, humour and curiosity for the sake of curiosity.

The open mode is where our brain can wander freely to explore options and find solutions. However, we need to be in the closed mode in order to implement our ideas efficiently. Both modes are vital. It’s hard to be around people who are always in open mode just as much as people who are always in closed mode. For the openmoder, everything is always possible, including making me wait for 1,5 half before cancelling our appointment. For the closedmoder nothing is ever possible at all, certainly not storytelling in business.

Creativity is a fickle thing and we’ll never have full control over it, which is a big part of its beauty. We do, however, have figured out some tools to stimulate it. To get the juices flowing, so to say. For some reason, we are all created as individuals so not everything works for everyone. Let me discuss a few different techniques here, find out which ones work well for you. Please do let me know in the comments if you have some secret exercises you use to be able to create the magic you create.

  1. Just get the heck started

It’s idyllic to be the misunderstood, tortured soul when you never actually produce anything. Staring at a blank canvas/sheet of paper/Word doc/stage/fill in your own… Willing the brilliance to come to you and simply waiting for it to happen. NOT GONNA WORK! We’ll actually have to produce something to produce anything of value. Just do it. Allow it to be absolute garbage. Redo it. Grow, learn, evolve! When there’s no creativity, make something absolutely uninspired but just keep at it.

  1. Nature is pretty darn magical

I, personally, only really discovered the intense effects of nature at 26 years old. I am what they call a city gal. I understand cities, drop me in any city and I’ll manage. Plants, on the other hand, seem extremely unpredictable to me. Last April, however, I decided to broaden my horizon. I went on an 800 km hike. This took me 7 weeks and much of it was through nature. Fields, mountains, forests. I will never forget the surge of inspiration I got from touching a horse’s nose for the first time. Exhilarating! Later I heard that most people just venture out into nature for an hour or two. Get in touch with nature, touch a horse’s nose if, like me, you’ve never done that. Maybe it will help you find the inspiration to write a blog post about inspiration!

  1. Marvelling at others’ creativity

For me, this can honestly go both ways. Sometimes, when I’m admiring the product of someone else’s creative process, I feel like a complete and an utter failure. I will never be able to produce something like that, why even try!? At other times, art in any form can lift me up. Makes me want to create, do, become better. It doesn’t only inspire me, it also motivates me. Some of my personal favourites: Hamilton the musical (haven’t actually seen it but know the lyrics by heart), I’ve fallen in love with Botero’s art here in Colombia and books ranging from Harry Potter to 1984.

 

Reading back this article I see it’s dripping with arrogance and insecurity. Two things I, apparently, very much associate with my creative process. When it’s flowing, I feel on top of the world. I feel like nothing can stop me and I will create magic. When it isn’t going I feel miserable and worthless. This brings me to my last point: try to disconnect your creative process from your sense of self-worth. When you can do that, it can be OK to be blocked. You can just walk away from it all, do something else and come back to it later. I still have enough work to do in that respect, I can’t always do it. But just every now and then I can keep believing that I have good ideas and produce valuable work even though it’s not coming right now.

And if all this fails, we can always change professions.

Eliminate these 5 words/phrases from your speech to be taken seriously.

I’m from a country where everything is “-tje”. Biertje, schooltje, dingetje. This popular extension of Dutch words means little. Therefore, that the words above mean: little beer, little school and little thing. Except for they don’t. When your friend invites you to go out for a biertje, this certainly doesn’t mean that he wants to have shot-sized beers with you. Most of the time, -tje is simply used to make something sound less harsh. However, what it really does in many cases is undermine the speaker. This is why so many Dutch people are campaigning to ban the word “bedrijfje” (little company) from everyone’s vocabulary. Saying that you have a bedrijfje, feels like you’re not taking your business seriously. And although the English language does not have similar, obstinate word extension, there are many speech patterns that have the same effect. So, here are 5 things you should stop saying if you want to be taken seriously.

  1. Like

A few months ago I joined a tourist tour in my own city, Amsterdam. Also joining this tour was a young American girl. Valey girl inflection and all I had such a hard time following her. Mainly because every second word in her sentences was like. “Like, it was like so I was like. Really? Like what was that like?” People are not supposed to talk like that. I know, it’s all very hip and trendy but it’s just terribly difficult to take someone who speaks like that seriously.

Whenever you use the word like you’re actually saying that you’re not willing to commit to what comes after it. “It’s like a really nice website.” No! It’s a really nice website, period.

In case it really is “like” something and not exactly it, try playing around with words such as (see how I avoided like here): similar to.

  1. Kind of / sort of

These two words are basically the same as like. There’s not used as frequently and not as out of context as like is but still, avoid them! Commit to what you’re saying!

  1. Just

This is a very apologetic word. “I just want to say.” You’re saying that you’re sorry you are speaking up, sorry you’re taking up the audience’s time and that what you’re saying isn’t nearly as important as all the other things your audience could be doing with their time. Stop it!

  1. Disqualifying yourself

“I am really nervous.” “I’m not good at this.” “I’m no expert but…”

With sentences like these, the audience will start looking for proof that what you’re saying is true. So if the first thing after saying this comes out as a stammer they have their proof and enough reason to stop listening. If you don’t say this and you stammer, it was just a stammer. Which we all do from time to time. Never give them a reason to look for your faults in this way. Never!

  1. Telling them you’re not worth their time

“I’ll only be up here a minute.” “I won’t bother you for too long.” “I quickly want to say.”

You’re worth listening to. Make that clear. You’re not up there wasting their time, you’re providing your audience with valuable insights. If not, work on becoming a better storyteller rather than excusing yourself for everything you say.

 

Most of these words have found their way into our subconscious speech patterns which makes it difficult to get rid of. First of all, make sure that they are not in the written version of your speech. Know your speech inside out, this will definitely help. Secondly, practice pausing rather than using filler words. Pausing is awesome! It gives you time to gather your thoughts while looking really intelligent. The audience will feel like you’re building tension.

Asking a friend to help you eliminate these words from your everyday speech will also be very helpful. Because like most things: what helps you become a better speaker on stage, will help you in daily life too.

Off to an interesting start; don’t kill your chances with a boring opening line.

“I spent 4,5 hours trying to figure out the perfect opening line and I haven’t gotten any further than ‘Welcome. My name is John and today I will teach you all about bitcoin.’ ”
I seldom have to spend any time convincing people of the importance of a good opening line; your opening will determine how your audience is listening to your message. The more difficult thing for most people to understand is how easy an opening can be. It’s safe to say that 4,5 hours is definitely overthinking it!

Yes, it does matter

When you kick off your presentation with a catchy opening, your audience will listen with their entertainment ears. They’ll be relaxed, expecting it to be fun and captivating. It is easy for them to believe what you say and to bond with you as a speaker and person. In other words, your audience is in the perfect mode for you to influence them.

However, start off with a sentence like John’s and they will be listening with their fact checking ears. Your listeners have their rational brain turned on and ready to think critically. This is a good mode for them to be in to learn new facts but they will also be more likely to question what you say.

The opening question

Many people who are trying to escape John’s opening, resort to the opening question. “Who here has ever stood in line for more than 15 minutes?” “Who here owns a car?”

You know what, opening with a question is not bad! It really has its perks: it can help you calm down when you’re nervous by making it feel more like a conversation than a presentation and it will get your audience to be more active rather than passive.

The downside to it, in my opinion, is that it’s done so often. Yes, cliches are cliches for a reason and all that but if you can build up the courage, go for something else next time.

The any-old-conversation-opening

We tell stories all the time. We might not be aware of it and granted, some are better at it than others, but we do! You tell your wife about this weird dude in the office. She tells you about that awkward moment she at Starbucks. Honestly, presentations are not that different. It’s just a conversation in which it’s unacceptable to interrupt you. Perfect! So start off your story in a way you would start off any old conversation. “You won’t believe what my boss said today!” “Last weekend I was talking to my brother about parenthood.” “Let me tell you what happened yesterday when I was doing my laundry!”

These types of sentences are a promise of a story so your audience’s entertainment ears will be wide open.

The catchy phrase

And then there are the catchy phrases. Something the audience doesn’t expect to hear. Often a bold statement that amuses them, intrigues them or even upsets them. You could make a statement that contradicts the general opinion: “Donald Trump is the best president the US has seen in over 100 years.” (He’s not… really not.) You could use a powerful quote or even an absurd statement: “I know we all believe cucumbers to be an inferior produce.” Your audience will certainly want the explanation for this and their entertainment ears will be on!

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that it is bad when your audience is listening through their fact checking ears. Especially when your audience exists of peers, people who can talk about your subject on the same level as you do, you want them to listen in a critical manner. Nonetheless, it is really effective to ease them into your presentation with an entertaining opening to help them connect with you as a speaker. The facts come later. The facts always come later.

Suffering from Impostor Syndrome; What if they find out I don’t really know what I’m doing?

Public speaking is scary. For the vast majority of the human race this is the case. Even the lucky few who can’t wait to get on stage and expose themselves to an audience of staring eyes, will agree that there is a certain thrill to it. Unsurprisingly, the fear of public speaking is rooted in our own insecurities. Some people feel uncomfortable in their own body when they’re on stage, others are afraid of rejection from the audience. An insecurity I come across often is the so-called Impostor Syndrome, the fear of being found out as a fraud. The feeling that you don’t actually know what you’re doing, you’ve just been lucky so far. Let this fear have the upper hand and you will never be the best speaker you can be.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Study shows that 70% of people are familiar with the feeling of being an impostor. A fraud who will be exposed any minute now.

Although it was first recorded with women and many articles about this phenomenon highlight high achieving women, it is certainly not just a female problem. Nobody is safe from this burden. People of whom we are all sure they are on top of the talent and skill list, such as Maya Angelou and John Steinbeck, also felt they would be “found out” sooner or later.

I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “ – Maya Angelou

It may seem contradictory, but in many cases, sufferers also experience moments of overconfidence. I, myself, recognise both sides of the coin. Right after a successful workshop to a happy crowd I feel on top of the world. “God, do I know much about storytelling!” This feeling can completely change right before I have to tell a potential client what my service will cost them. “What do I really know about anything?”

“I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.” – John Steinbeck

Dunning Kruger effect

A phenomenon closely related to the Impostor Syndrome is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Simply put the Dunning-Kruger effect says that incompetent people overestimate their abilities and competent people underestimate them. The main reason for this is that the more we know, the more we understand how much we don’t know. People who are just mastering simple additions and subtractions have no idea about the vast world of mathematics. They’re good at additions and subtractions so they figure they’re good at math. Also, when you’re just starting out learning something, you lack the knowledge that is necessary to recognise your own mistakes. You don’t see how bad you’re doing.

On the other hand, people with moderate to expert competence, have enough knowledge to see how much they haven’t mastered yet. Additionally, experts see that they do have an extensive knowledge but they assume everyone else does too.

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” – Bertrand Russell

The effect on stage

These two phenomena can have a serious effect on you as a speaker. Or even on you as a conversationalist, especially when you’re trying to sell yourself and your business. I have worked with people who had an important sales pitch coming up and kept feeling like they were just boasting, rather than confidently telling people about the value they bring. Basically, they were playing themselves down and undermining their own story.

I have a standard introduction template that I teach my clients where I ask them to come up with an expertise. One of my clients, who owns two successful language schools, did not feel they had proven themselves enough to “claim” any teaching or language expertise.

Well, if you don’t believe it yourself, why should anyone else?
Where humility and vulnerability, when used right, can definitely work in your advantage as a speaker, insecurity and anxiety will only harm your story.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis

What to do about it

For me, the fact that these are recognised phenomena, already helped a lot. I just remind myself of that whenever I experience a fit of Impostor Syndrome.

Another this to know is that by practicing confident body language, we can not only fool our audience but also our own minds. With the right posture (shoulders back, head held high, feet apart) we can make ourselves believe that we are much more certain of ourselves than we actually are. “Fake it until you become it”, Amy Cuddy said in her Ted Talk.

My advice: embrace your impostordom when it comes to your confidence and fool yourself until you can finally really believe what everyone else has already seen.  

Remote work.90

Remote work

There is this wonderful trend going of people realising there is more than one way to organise their work and private life. The people who follow this trend do not want to go to the same office to work with the same people on the same things every day, week after week, month after month and year after year. Neither do they want to go home to the same house in the same neighbourhood in the same country every day. These people are addicted to the unknown and allergic to the conventional. These people are called digital nomads and they work remotely or location independently. I am one of these people.

Rooftop office, Medellin

The world is an incredible place. And thanks to our growing globalisation most of this world is readily accessible to us. For a few hundred euros we can fly to the other side of the world within a day’s time. Digital nomads have made it into an art to take advantage of this possibility. We have designed our businesses in such a way that all we require of a place is a steady internet connection. True, this can be a struggle sometimes but thanks to our active online community we know exactly what we can expect from each corner of the earth.

There are numerous different options when it comes to remote work. Many of my travelling colleagues work in web development, copywriting, graphic design or online marketing. In this sense I am somewhat the odd one out. I am a storyteller, consultant, trainer and speaker. I offer online courses and work with people one-on-one. And whoever said that couldn’t be done online, I’d like to prove you wrong.

So what does my life look like? I work Monday to Friday and a little more often than not on Saturdays and Sundays too, just like any entrepreneur. The thing that makes me different is that I do it from wherever I darn well please. Currently, that seems to be Medellin, Colombia. What sets me apart from a normal backpacker? I do not have the time and energy to move from place to place every few days but I do have all the time in the world to stay somewhere a little longer because my funds are not running out. I like to stay in one place for a month or longer. This gives me the opportunity to explore the place in my free time, find my favourite cafe or co-working space to work from and build more sustainable relationships on the way.

 

Guatapé, Colombia

So no, I’m not just on holiday and I’m not going to cancel on our appointment because I feel like surfing. My company and my clients are my number one priority, as it should be. I just really don’t want to know what my view will be in a week, a month or a year from now.

Do you want to get inspired by the nomad lifestyle and even find out how you can become one? Check out the Digital Nomad Network Facebook page.