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3 Principles To Master Storytelling



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The ability to tell a story well can literally transform your life.

It can land you a job in a crowded applicant pool, make you stand out on a first

date, or be the difference between your business succeeding and failing.

Today, I have a very special breakdown on storytelling

not just because storytelling is so important to charisma into life but

because I am actually in the breakdown as the interviewer

and the person that I'm interviewing is, without exaggeration, one of the people that I most admire on this planet.

His name is Scott Harrison and as the founder of Charity: Water, he's helped raise

over 100 million dollars by telling stories for a good cause. In his own words...

We can't imagine 660 million anything or quantity of anything let alone people without clean water.

There's no connection so what we've been intentionally doing, over 11 years now,

is telling stories of individual people — one of the 663 million names, faces, hopes, dreams—

So in this video, you are going to learn three of the most important principles

that will help you to tell more engaging stories in any environment.

And I need to warn you beforehand, these stories that are told in this video are heavy and they contain really sad but important messages

which is necessary when you're talking about the truth of why Charity: Water exists.

I'm also going to let the clips run a bit longer so that you can hear a bigger part of the story uninterrupted

and then I'll comment later. Here we go.

As things had it, I happened to be in a five-dollar-a-night hotel room in Ethiopia,

I was with a few donors — a small group — I was sitting in the kitchen of this hotel

and the hotel owner walks out recognizes me because we've been doing work in this region for a while

and just sits down and, unprompted, starts telling me a story

about a woman who lived in his village in a remote area of about 3,000 people

and he said all the women used to walk for water

for eight hours a day and they would have these heavy clay pots that they would carry on their back and he said,

"One day, one of the women in my village named Letuc Eris," he had her named,

"walks back into the village and she slips and falls and she breaks her clay pots and all the water spills out into the dust,"

and he said, "she hung herself and she didn't go back for more water."

He said, "We found her body swinging from this tree in our village."

And then I remember he kind of paused to watch the story's effect on us

and he said, "The work you're doing is important. Keep it up," and he just disappeared back into the kitchen.

So obviously, this story is heartbreaking but there's more going on here than just that.

An important principle of storytelling is that when telling a story in the first person —

meaning you're talking about yourself — you want to take the listener on the same emotional journey that you experienced.

So Scott tells the story with this pause from the innkeeper at this moment

because that is what you need to absorb what he just said just as he did

in the moment when he heard it. As he continues, he also talks about his emotional

response and mentioned that he doubted the truth of this story just as the listener might.

There's a temptation though to jump ahead when you're telling stories —

to tell the listener what you learned by the end of the story as you're telling it; do not do that.

If you slow down and you take people on the same winding journey that you went on, stories connect much more. Just watch.

And I remember sitting there with a group of five people like, "What?"

You feel like you got hit with a ton of bricks and then you start doubting it,

"Is that story really true? Just tell the international donors a sad story; make us feel great about the work that we're doing?"

But I just couldn't really shake the idea, like, that picture of a woman who had slipped and fallen like all of us have done

and was in such despair in her living conditions that she tied a noose around her neck, climbed a tree, and then jumped.

So I sent our partners out to the village and I said, "Can you go to this village and tell me first of all if anyone named Letuc has actually lived there and if it's true."

And, I don't know, a couple weeks later, I got an email from one of our partners

saying, "Yeah, we went to the village and sadly, it's a true story. We saw a grave. We met the family."

So then I asked my wife, "Well, I want to go and live there for a week and—"

I want to pause here because there's another big storytelling point going on

which is that — every story needs a near-constant element of mystery to keep the listener engaged.

You need to constantly raise questions in the listeners mind

and every time you answer one, a new one needs to pop up if you're going to keep their attention.

Scott hits on a bit of mystery right before this by asking, "Was this story of Letuc Eris even true?"

And we just found out that it was solving that mystery but

he immediately raises another question in the listeners' mind, specifically — what happens when Scott goes to Ethiopia himself? So let's see how it unfolds.

Long story short, I went to the village, I lived there for a week,

I wound up meeting the priest that gave her funeral, I saw the pile of rocks behind the church that was her grave, I met her mom,

I met her friend that walked with her that day, I wound up writing about it on Medium about the experience, and seeing the tree.

It's kind of this frail tree and I didn't know before I went into the village

that she was 13 so that was a huge shock for me.

I was expecting an old lady and I was kind of imagining this hunched 60-year-old

woman who had walked for water her entire life; it's a 13-year-old girl — a teenager.

And I remember — all these through translators — asking her best friend why she thought she actually did it and hang herself

and her best friend said, "She would have been overcome with shame because she broken the clay pot and she spilled the water."

So that is the main action of the story but it doesn't end here

because the best stories have lessons at the end.

Kind of like Aesop's fables, there's an overarching point which is shared explicitly in the last portion

so you need to know your purpose when sharing a story when you get to this point — what is the audience supposed to take away from your story?

Here's what Scott thinks that we should learn from Letuc Eris' story.

It says that this is an emergency like, "Not not on my watch," right?

Something has to be done where 13-year-oldgirls are not hanging themselves on

trees because they didn't have water and because they broke the clay pot.

The first time I heard Scott tell this story, the lessons stuck with me.

It inspired me to donate to Charity: Water and it's how I got connected with Scott in the first place.

Point being, at the end of your stories, don't just leave people hanging;

tell them why they just went on that journey with you and if there is some action that they might want to take, tell them.

Anyways, this last story is both emotionally moving and a fantastic model

for how to tell the story of a product or a business idea; is the storyof how Charity: Water came up with the idea of donating birthdays. Just listen.

We just stumbled upon this idea of asking people to donate their birthdays

and birthdays have become very commercial; a lot of companies profit

when a guy like you turns 30. There's probably a big dollar sign.

And now it's digital like iTunes and Amazon but before, it's wallets, ties, socks...

You still may just get a bunch of crap that you don't want or don't need, really.

Scott begins by setting the frame of the problem and if you're telling stories

for your business or for your product, this is where you must start.

Most people, when they're pitching, want to rush right into what their product does;

this is wrong because if there isn't a problem, we don't need a solution.

So start with the problem that your product solves and how the listener can relate to it; in this case, that people waste so much money on birthdays.

With the problem established, Scott will now continue on to his idea for the solution.

We said, "Look. Today, 660 million people don't have clean water. What if we could start a movement of birthdays

and instead of asking for gifts — when you're 30 or accepting and you're throwing a big party for yourself —

you would turn your birthday into a giving moment and your friends and your family would give your age in dollars?"

Now we have the solution — instead of getting a bunch of stuff you don't need for your birthday, give.

It sounds awesome but it is still missing something and that is the story of one

person because our brains are not wired to process numbers or abstract ideas

with the same emotional intensity that we process a single person's story.

This is where people are moved and I'm going to go at this next bit run on

uninterrupted to give the full effect of the story.

So I was in Seattle, another long crazy story, but there was a church

who had thrown a keg party for us; a young hipster pastor who was like,

"I want to show my town that we're not religious..." so he threw a big keg party one of which raising $500,000 from the town.

I went out to thank the church and speak on a Sunday and at the end, I asked

everybody, maybe a thousand people there, to donate their next birthday

and just say, "Look, guys. Skip it. Donate your next birthday to Charity: Water."

An eight-year-old girl, Rachel Beckwith, was in the audience

and she donates her ninth birthday which was just a few weeks later,

skips the gifts, skips the party, and asks for $9 from everyone she knew.

She only raises $220.

Now, her goal was $300 so she was bummed.

She told her mom that she was upset that she hadn't reached her goal and that she would try harder next year.

I was in the Central African Republic at the time deep in the jungle.

Basically, while I was there, she's killed in a terrible car crash.

There's a 20-car pileup on the interstate and a tractor-trailer had lost control; she was the only fatality.

So she was in the back of a car, her mom was in the front, her sister was

in the front as well and the tractor-trailer just came into the back of the car

and crushed her so I remember landing in New York, turning on my phone,

getting serviced again and getting a text from her pastor and her mom

talking about this tragedy and the family wanted to reopen the campaign.

And just give people a chance to honor Rachael's last wish and donate nine dollars.

So you can imagine a story like this begins to spread through the church community

and people begin to give nine dollars then it starts spreading around the Seattle

community, starts spreading across the country, across Europe, down into Africa,

people in Africa started donating nine dollars hearing about a little girl in Seattle

who wanted people in Africa to have clean water more than

whatever birthday gifts that she should be expected.

Long story short, about 60,000 complete strangers give $9 or more and

Rachel, after passing, winds up going from $220 that she saw to 1.3 million dollars

impacting over 35,000 people's lives.

My wife and I got to take Rachel's family — her mom, her grandparents,

and her pastor — on the one-year anniversary of her death.

So exactly a year later to Ethiopia to go village to village to village to village

to see all the people that had actually gotten in clean water so this went from

just the intangible to the real and I'll never forget that trip.

Cool thing is now — this happened five years ago — so many of the people

that donated nine dollars to Rachael's campaign not only gave money

but were inspired to donate their own birthday; they have now raised

over two million dollars so Rachel went from a $200-campaign to now she's

raised over three million dollars impacting over a hundred thousand lives.

So from eight people with clean water to a hundred thousand lives—

And then of course, Scott ends with the lesson — how do we make sense of this? What do we take from it?

And I think that's the power of just the story; her story which, again, speaks to values.

Values of it being the purity of heart of a nine-year-old girl to consider

others more important to not succumb to the apathy that so many adults...

It's easy, right? We see the water crisis like, "What can we do about that?"

People don't have water. I mean, a nine-year-old girl— That's not okay.

Why are kids drinking from swamps if I can do something about it with my birthday?

So remember those three points when you tell stories because like I mentioned,

these stories told in this way had a huge impact on me personally

and they've literally shaped where I've spent a good portion of my time, energy, and money.

Now, I happen to have a very special day coming up personally

and I have one more message for you about that.

...special day that is coming up for me is my birthday and it's in just a few days on

Thursday and I'm turning 30 which, yes, I know I'm extremely old and I'm dealing

with that internally but I'm actually also very excited for this birthday because

it's a special one because I get to donate it to Charity: Water.

It's the first time I've ever done this, I've been excited about it for months and

months, and I feel like it is the perfect one to do it because $30 happens to be

the amount of money that gets one person clean water for years and years.

So I'm trying to raise $30,000; that would get 1,000 people clean water

which would be like the greatest birthday present for me ever but also

just something really awesome to do so if you want to donate, there's a link in

the description below for my birthday. Ben's birthday was in August; we both

turned 30 and it's all coming together but would really, really appreciate it

and just be so quite frankly humbled and honored if you guys would join us in

this fundraiser — any amount that you can give is super appreciated not just by us

but by the people who are actually receiving the clean water who don't have it.

Also something that I should share with you which is awesome is that we have

a link below if you want to donate your birthday.

This is super cool because even if your birthday isn't coming up in the next week

or so, you can go to that link below, drop your name, drop your email

and your birthday which might be, say, next June

and they will send you an email them being Charity: Water

so that you can do the same thing and the average person raises $1,000 from 15

of their closest friends and family which is incredible

and the feeling that I have even before starting this campaign is better

than any birthday that I've had so I hope that you guys decide to join us in this fundraiser.

Regardless, I'm so appreciative of the fact that I'm turning 30

and I have this platform and my life is sharing the things that I'm learning,

the ways in which I am growing, and it's just kind of evolving with you guys.

It's amazing and I'm at a loss for words which is not something that is normal for me especially when I'm on camera

so I just want to say thank you guys so much for watching the channel.

I hope that you decide to join us in the fundraiser and of course

I will see you in the next video and I'll be 30.