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Lessons from St. Patrick: The Importance of Storytelling

St. Patrick’s Day looks different this year with the necessity of COVID precautions. There won’t be parade routes lined with green beads or crowded Irish pubs. As you sip a frosty mug of green beer at home, it’s the perfect time for a little contemplation of the man we honor each March 17. Beyond the fun and frivolity, is there something more we can take from the life of St. Patrick?

Underneath the layers of lore, very little is known about the life of St. Patrick. He was born in Britain in the fifth century. As a teenager he was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave. After a number of years in servitude, he escaped and was reunited with his family in Britain. He later chose to return to minister to Ireland. Patrick often used the shamrocks plentiful in Ireland to explain the concept of the Trinity—one God in three persons. He was a dynamic communicator who knew the importance of images and storytelling in breaking down complex topics. It’s a lesson that is as applicable today in the conference room as it was in the fields of Ireland in A.D. 460. In addition to transmitting information to your audience, you also need to connect emotionally with them. That’s where storytelling comes in. Forbes magazine has called storytelling, “the new strategic imperative of business.” Look at TED Talks: they are now a nationally recognized brand that has gained traction through telling compelling stories.

If you’re not a natural storyteller, fear not. There are simple steps you can take to fill out your communication skills. We have a few resources to recommend.

1. Consider picking up a copy of Jonathan Gottschall’s book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Gottschall breaks down how humans are wired for storytelling.

2. Pull up a chair at The Moth. Your community may not be holding an in-person story slam, but you can tune in virtually. The Moth invites participants to tell stories from their lives—live—without notes. Observe the storytellers and note what makes a compelling presentation. Maybe you’ll even want to throw your own name in the hat to share a story of your own! Check out the book written by one of their Story Slam champions. Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You'll Ever Need by Margot Leitman breaks storytelling down with finesse.

3. If a structured academic experience is more up your alley, we’d suggest taking an online course from Creative Nonfiction Magazine. The folks at Creative Nonfiction are institutions in the now-burgeoning field of creative non-fiction (which is, after all, what storytelling is). They offer an array of courses that will hone your skills of structure and description.

As you see shamrocks pop up everywhere this week, spend some time considering the lasting impact of a life lived with passion.