The Impact of Storytelling

book open with candle lit

When I was a pre-teen my friends and I had a favorite thing to do at sleepovers. No, it wasn’t pillow fights. It was playing ‘Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board’. Who remembers that game?! It was the popular thing to do at girl’s sleepover parties when I was a kid and the outcomes became somewhat urban legend. For those who didn’t have the pleasure of playing that game and being scared silly by it, I’ll explain.

The game usually required at least six people. One was the brave person who chose to lie down on their back on the floor, while four people kneeled on either side of them, and lastly, the ‘headmaster’ kneeled and cradled the person’s head and neck. The lights were usually turned down low, maybe a candle was lit, the TV was turned off, and the creepy mood was set.

Each person kneeling around the girl laying down placed two fingers from each hand, palm up, under the girl’s back and legs. Only the fingers contacted the girl’s body, not the palm. Everyone was instructed to close their eyes, stay silent, and concentrate. Some began to get nervous.

Now here is where the headmaster came in. The headmaster’s job was not only to cradle the head, but to tell the story that immersed the crowd into the moment. The intention of the story was to paint a vivid image that puts everyone in almost a meditative state, blocking out all other distractions and centering focus on one thing. The story had one requirement–it was to tell the fictional tale of how the person laying down might die. Morbid, I know. The headmaster would tell the story of how the person died, speaking to the girl laying down, and describing what happened in a low and monotone voice. At the end of the story in which the person has died, the headmaster said the magic words, “. . . and now you feel light as a feather, stiff as a board,” and in turn, each person surrounding would start to join in and chant those words. The girl lying down was to imagine her body feeling light as a feather, yet stiff as a board. And remember, everyone has their eyes squeezed shut. Let me tell you, it had quite the effect on impressionable young minds–it got real creepy, real fast.

When the chant had gone on for a bit the headmaster said, “Now, rise,” and everyone began to lift the person with just four of their fingers. The person started to rise up off the floor in a way that seemed impossible. Thoughts that went through our heads sounded like: But we are only using four fingers each! No way, it’s working! What’s happening? Is this magic? Oh my God, she’s levitating!

The person would be lifted until they were so high that everyone had stood up and we were sometimes holding the person nearly over our heads. Then, inevitably, someone would break the ‘spell’ and gasp, or laugh, and we all would break, and would bring the person back down–sometimes in a very clumsy fashion, with the girl hitting the floor a little hard, although it was usually lined with pillows and blankets. Then we would dissolve into laughter, or depending on the group sometimes we were stunned into silence, thinking we had just witnessed something unexplained.

Of course, we didn’t realize then that even just a few fingers lifting someone means that it will happen easily when you have enough people spaced out, all around the body. The weight is distributed evenly and the lift is consistent all together, and no one person has a heavy burden. It’s the same principle around walking with bare feet on nails.

But what was also important to the game that I actually did understand then, was the story that was told. My friends usually asked me to be the headmaster. They said I told really good stories that made everyone transport themselves into the scene. I think I acted like it was somewhat of a burden, but I secretly loved it and always wanted to tell the story. Each time I would think up an entirely new story to tell, and would really go into vivid detail to make it seem very real, and very scary. The story was what infiltrated the game player’s minds. It invested them in the game. It made them believe.

Stories can be powerful.

And stories can be very powerful for your company and for your brand. Your product or service is floating in the vast sea of the competition. What makes it stand out? Simply saying you are selling it, and it’s great, doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t mean anything to your potential customers. But when you tell your story behind it, then you add meaning. Tell the story behind your idea, your passion, and your chosen materials/ingredients/business model. But unlike the game I described above, storytelling for your brand should not mean falsifying. It doesn’t mean making something up so that your product sounds great. That will eventually come around to bite you. Be genuine. Be authentic. Your story is more interesting and compelling than you realize. Your potential customers want to know how and why you do what you do, the deeper meaning behind it, and the potential positive impact it will have on them, and maybe the community or the environment as well.

Your company’s story is within you. Do you need help getting it down in writing? I can do that, let’s talk. (And I promise I won’t talk about dying.)

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