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February 2015

The key to storytelling is in the giving, not the getting

BookThe key to success with presentation—and storytelling in general—is to focus not on getting approval or a particular response from the audience, but on giving something meaningful to them. That is, it’s not about getting but about giving. Many years ago I was inspired by the approach to performance by the conductor Benjamin Zander. In his teachings, and in his book The Art of Possibilities, Zander encourages us to move the focus from ourselves —“Am I good enough? Will they like me?”—and instead to turn our attention to the audience and ask the question “How can I make a contribution?” Rather than thinking about success or failure, we shift focus to making a contribution for the audience. When you make that shift it’s liberating, you are no longer distracted and weighed down by self-doubt and insecurities. You can focus on something bigger. I came across this short film below by comedian Michael Jr. which reminded me of that spirit and the importance of finding your own way of creating a mind shift from "getting from" to "giving to."

The setup & the punchline
Michael Jr. talks about having a mind shift from wanting to get laughs from people to wanting to give the audience an opportunity to laugh. "Now I’m not looking to take,” Michael says. "I’m looking for an opportunity to give.” This simple shift in focus, says Michael Jr., changed everything. His engagement with his audiences improved, but his real lesson is that this approach is something that can impact your life far beyond the stage. Michael uses the analogy from comedy and storytelling of the setup and the punchline. Michael says that his career is really the setup, and his punchline is something much bigger than performing or professional success. “My punchline,” Michael says in the short film, “is to make laughter common in uncommon places.” To illustrate what he is talking about he tells of one particular encounter with a little boy who attended one of his performances. I won’t give it away here, but please watch the short film clip below.

"If we could just stop asking the question ‘What could I get for myself?’ and start asking the question, 'What could I give from myself?" I think people would learn that you don't have to be a comedian to deliver a punchline.” — Michael Jr.

Michael Jr. on Twitter
• Book: I like Giving (by Brad Formsma)