Last week I was moderating an event for the economic board of Amsterdam. About 300 people had come to hear three star creative entrepreneurs of Amsterdam, Ben van Berkel, Renny Ramakers and Duncan Stutterheim. As a moderator I did something that intriguingly enough led to quite a bit of discussion afterwards at the bar. The main question seemed to be, why did it work? I now think I have the answer and it is a story. But let me first explain what happened…
The evening started with two introductory speakers and then the interviews with our guests were about to start, with Ben van Berkel being first up. Just before I introduced him, I told the audience that you get much more out of listening if you have a clear intent so I invited them all to share their intent for this evening with the strangers behind them or in front of them. What then happened led to what has always been one of my favourite noises in the world: the noise of a large group of people in little buzzgroups sharing. Because people straight away turned around in their chairs or leant forward and started talking to the strangers around them.
Over the rest of the evening I got them back into their buzzgroups two more times. And afterwards when we were in self-forming buzzgroups at the bar quite a few people asked me about that. Some of them wondered why it had worked, why 300 people had actually complied with my request. Because the sound indicated to everyone that it worked throughout the whole hall. Was it because they were Dutch or because most of them were in the creative industry or because they really wanted to hear the speakers?
I think the answer is, as so often, a combination of things. But the main thing within that combination is, in my view, something you perhaps wouldn’t expect. It was starting with a story. Now this is of course going to sound self-serving as I train storytelling and see the world through that lens but bear with me. I started the evening with a story of when I was showing some latin american filmmakers around Amsterdam and we visited this peaceful courtyard in the middle of a busy christmas shopping street and amazingly for exactly that one minute we were in the courtyard it snowed. When we stepped out into the shopping street it immediately stopped again. The Mexican looked me in the eye and said Amsterdam has magic. I linked this story to the evening by saying we were here to talk about the magic of Amsterdam.
What telling a story does is create a special connection between speaker and audience. They know me a little, I have given them something and there has been time spent on creating a link. Our brains know stories so well, therefore the mode of listening to a story is quite innate to us and the linkage that goes with that is maybe even reminiscent of sitting around a campfire many centuries ago. Stop me if I go too far:)
Now it is my belief that because of that connection, the audience was more willing to act on a suggestion of mine than they would have been otherwise. Of course I had to do the other things right as well, ask in the right way, give them a reason, really expect them to comply etcetera, but the key in this case was the connection. And that was the reward of telling a story.