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Ordering Your Emotions

Guest Post: Scott Miller

Hearing a master storyteller talk about how to tell a story is inspiring and intimidating. It is a bit like watching Julia Child whip up a TV meal. It is tempting to mutter, “Easy for you to say,” which is masking a sinking, “I am not worthy” feeling.

In his opening remarks here at the annual Communications Network Conference, Sherman Alexie was clearly a master at work. He exemplified the adage from writing 101…”show, don’t tell.”  And then he told us what he was doing, while he was doing it. He talked about using your emotions to tell a story…all of them. “Narrow the gap between your public and private lives,” he advised us. And then he reminded us of the range of his own emotions in his speech. He was funny. He was vulnerable. And, by the end, he was pissed. All good. All powerful. All human.

I am a strategic communications consultant. My firm, Resource Media, works largely with NGOs and foundations in the environment and public health arena. We counsel our clients that stories, not facts, are the way to reach your audience. Facts might lodge in the brain, whereas stories definitely lodge in the heart, where decisions are really made.

Sherman Alexie’s presentation made me think…from my heart. By the time he owned his rage, about the yawning income and opportunity gap in America, I was transfixed, emotional and ready to go re-occupy Wall Street.

How would I feel if Alexie had led with his rage?

Our first reaction to anger can be to tune out…if we don’t know the people who are angry. Family arguments conducted in public, irate customers chewing out a hapless food server or retail clerk, a complete stranger getting in our face…they all make us feel uncomfortable.

By the time Sherman Alexie got angry, though, we knew him. He had a family, struggled at times with his son’s behavior. He was self-conscious about his appearance. He had a ratty old car and personality quirks that he himself labeled obsessive.

In our work, so many of us our charged with helping people communicate about topics worthy of outrage. Poverty. Inequality. Environmental degradation. The question resonating with me right now is…How do we use communications strategy and stories to establish the common ground, the sense of shared experience, that give us the standing to deliver our punch line? It took Alexie most of his talk. And he is a master.

Scott Miller is the president of Resource Media 


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