Dash of the Dachshund
“Where are you going with your walking gear, Baba?
Have you finished taking your rounds?” asked Ankura, my elder daughter.
It was a wonderful Sunday morning in February as she whizzed past me on her just-gleamed pink cycle during my morning routine. As I started moving out of my housing society precincts, I quipped “attempting to make my feet happy”. I was intending to walk towards the Happy Streets event taking place in the vicinity, and she eagerly rushed to join me for the walk.
As we stepped on the road, we noticed a couple of large stray dogs barking vociferously towards the other side. Inquisitively we turned our sight towards the other side of the road to see who they were barking at. It was a pet Dachshund on a leash, being led by his master. Now, dachshunds are cute little guys (also called as the sausage dogs – that’s how their elongated torso looks, with short legs). Looking at that little dog, I was sure that this pet dog would jump into his master’s arms in panic. I was, however, mistaken!
This little one started barking loudly and was attempting to jump towards those stray dogs. Had the master not held onto the leash strongly, the dachshund would have surely jumped on to his stray brethren. And as I witnessed this scene, I was reminded of a quote by Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the USA; he had said “what matters is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog”.
I have narrated this incident often in different situations to drive various messages. A preceding story (incident/experience/example) embellishes the message and creates an emotional connect with the listener. Of course, the skill to seamlessly bridge the story to the message is essential to ensure that the story is not seen out of place.
In a recent program on public speaking with a highly intelligent group of mid-level post-doctoral professionals, I noticed a huge resistance to the idea of using stories. Data is all that they believed in and argued that only data is required to convince one’s audience. While I am a strong believer in the power of evidence, what I witnessed was ‘death-by-data’ in their presentations. As a presenter, when I throw volumes of data through scores of slides one after the other, the audience is unable to lap it up and is often dis-engaged. Back to this intelligent group of public speakers, the moment they noticed that stories are not what need to be picked up from books or movies alone, but are day-to-day occurrences that each one of us experience, they realised the power of stories – to show the big picture during their talks.
Carmine Gallo, a communication coach, mentioned in one of his posts on TED Talks, “Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire. Our brains are wired to respond to story and yet, in business, we tell very few of them. The most successful TED speakers—business professionals included—tell stories and they tell lots of them.”
In 2007, I was conducting a series of training sessions for front line police officers. During the conclusion of one such session, the Principal of this centre – another top-cop – requested me to address a group of to-be-constables who were going through their own rigorous training grind on that campus. The Principal wanted to take advantage of my presence and invited me to spend around 30 minutes talking to this other group after my main session was over. By then, I was adept at addressing various groups of trainees, thanks to my profession; the group size would normally be 20-30 participants. And then I was told that this group is over 900 strong team. With just a 15 minute slot available to sift through and garner my thoughts, I decided on a couple of messages to focus on. However, to make the talk engaging and expansive, I wove in a few incidents from my life as a prelude and brought out those messages seamlessly thereafter. These narratives left the audience in an exalted state – simple tales that left a mark.
Sumita Chakrabarty, a friend, blogged recently that stories have an inherent, visceral power in them to move people to accomplish giant tasks. Storytelling, as an organisational culture, can be both inspiring and engaging. However, to become a culture, organisations should create an ecosystem to encourage many a storyteller to go beyond the bullets of a scripted presentation.
I was reading a blog piece by Elizabeth Svoboda and I quote:
“For thousands of years, we’ve known intuitively that stories alter our thinking and, in turn, the way we engage with the world. Using modern technology, scientists are tackling an age-old question: How might a story-inspired perspective translate into behavioural change?”
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