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Getting Passionate with Strangers Using Storytelling

Great stories hinge on powerful obsessions, high drama, and devotion to a person or cause. And you can bring this into your small-talk life, even on a relatively uneventful Tuesday.

Generally, we think of it as rude to talk about ourselves too much in public.

We fear we'll over disclose. We’ll be boring. We’ll inspire awkward silences. Or worse, we’ll come off as self-absorbed and uncurious. Which is just the worst.

As collaborators, we are always looking for new ideas, exiting opportunities and smart strategies. Our successes are based on meeting people and sharing enough about ourselves to inspire curiosity and learning enough about them to be able to imagine partnering.

Storytelling can help.

The secret is talking about your passion. Great stories hinge on powerful obsessions, high drama, and devotion to a person or cause. And you can bring this into your small-talk life, even on a relatively uneventful Tuesday.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1:

When we meet people, it’s important to help them understand what we do as a verb, not as a job title or a category of work. We are often embarrassed to admit that we don’t know what a person does when they give us their title. We don’t want to seem unsophisticated, so this can keep us from asking deeper questions.

Instead, we do our new conversation partners a favor when we explain a bit about what we do: “I made videos that focus on telling socially sharable, inspirational stories about interspecies animal friendships like dogs and dolphins or turtles and kittens,” is more revealing than “I’m a documentarian.”

But the real magic is in...

Step 2:

If we start the next sentence with the words: “I’m passionate about it because…” we can make our listener perk up, lean in and become instantly curious.

By explaining our passion for our work, we add excitement to the conversation. We are desperate to learn about what other people’s interests. We can’t get enough of people’s fire, their zeal, their verve.

Life is terrifyingly short. None of us need to spend one more minute talking about the weather!

And, once we talk about our passions, it invites our conversation partner to talk about his or her own. This is conversational magic. Because once we know a person’s passions, we can set the scene for much deeper collaboration.

Big Insight in Step 2:

When identifying our passion in front of a stranger seems daunting, it helps to ask: “What value does my work let me live out?” OR “How does my work enable me to bring the world into greater alignment with how I think it should be?”

Most of us are passionate about our work because it lets us change the world in some key way, or it lets us live according to our most deeply held beliefs.

For example: “I’m really passionate about interspecies friendships because I grew up in a house in which my family’s giraffe, wallaby and labradoodle were raised alongside me as siblings. It was really affirming.”

Well, that makes for pretty compelling small talk.

Step 3:

We can wrap up strongly by making our passions relevant to our listener by explaining how our work benefits them. This often takes a little guesswork, and maybe a little generalizing. But it always works. Just don’t put too fine a line on it. People will appreciate the gesture.

“When I’m good at my job, I can brighten people’s days, and maybe make them reconsider the roles animals play in their lives.”

Using these tips, you can spark curiosity, talk about passion and set the stage for powerful collaboration – all in under a minute.


About Megan Finnerty

Megan is a journalist and storytelling consultant. Essentially, she’s a professional listener, who likes to talk. It’s complicated. She’s the director of the Storytellers Brand Studio, which curates and hosts live storytelling events for brands and nonprofits. And she’s the founder and director of the Storytellers Project, a nationwide series of live storytelling events from the USA TODAY Network. She’s coached thousands of people to share true, first-person stories. She graduated from Purdue University, and was a news features reporter at The Arizona Republic for 14 years. She feels strongly about feminism, cocktails, and NPR, and prefers a bold lip to a smoky eye.

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