Tune up your story-gathering antenna

by Neil Everton

As a trainee newspaper reporter, I would routinely be despatched to some town or village to ‘dig up a story or two’.

Many years later, when I was training young journalists, I would assign them to visit a place they’d never been to before, to talk to people they didn’t know, and come back with a story.

This little trip down memory lane was prompted by a client who told me he wanted to include more stories in his presentations, “but didn’t know any”.

He looked surprised when I said his life was full of stories. His friends’ lives were packed with stories. Everyone he met had a great story to tell. There was a story behind every little card tacked up on the local store’s notice board.

It’s not that we don’t hear stories… it just that we don’t always recognise the universal truth behind a personal anecdote. And we don’t always have a system for capturing good potential stories.

Next time you hear something that makes you smile, or makes you reach out a supportive hand, don’t trust your memory to capture the story. Carry a note book for potential stories. Or tap a short version into your PDA. Or call your phone and leave yourself a message.

An old TV series always ended with the lines ‘There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them’. (Historical note – the line was taken from an earlier collection of semi-documentary photographs of New York).

Stories are vital for speakers and presenters. Stories make information manageable. Stories make facts memorable. Without stories your presentation is a mass of data – a bit like reading a phone book aloud.

So tune-up your story-gathering antenna. And make sure you have a good system for capturing stories that will add a little sizzle to future presentations.

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