What family histories can teach us about storytelling

I come from a family of passionate storytellers and fastidious record keepers.

My dad in particular has a talent for telling stories, weaving tales about his time as a lineman on the B.C. railway in his youth. He tells stories of boulders blocking tracks, Portuguese dynamite specialists and dark train tunnels.

My mom has a bookcase stuffed with photo albums we've spent hours leafing through. Her jewelry box once held our baby teeth, our birth certificates and our immunization records. She held on to her notes from her university classes and I often inspected her round, tidy writing.  

I kept lengthy, detailed diaries as a teenager, although I can't read any of the moody missives today without cringing or laughing. 

Even though we hadn't yet been born, all three children in my family can recite the story of my granddad, shovel in hand, chasing after my mom's beloved golden retriever Hogan, who loved to dig up the family garden. 

I've learned that as we add members to our family, they remember the stories we tell over and over until they can recite them on their own. They learn and connect with our family mythology. Eventually, they make their own appearances in family stories, cementing their place in our evolving mythology. 

As families grow, love, fracture and heal, they build their own stories that speak to who they are and where they come from.  

Companies and organizations are no different.

They can link big and small moments to create a narrative that rises and falls. In doing so, they make themselves accessible and human rather than sterile and corporate. 

We don't always tell happy stories, because that wouldn't be real. Your family mythology might clearly mark where you started, where you broke apart and how — or if — you came back together. It's not always pretty but it's authentic, a vital aspect of effective storytelling. You're much more likely to connect with your audience if your stories are real and reflect your journey. 

I often hear from people who tell me they don’t have any stories. They think their company histories are bland. They're afraid of revealing their challenges and failures, and only want to showcase their strengths. 

If you're new to the concept of storytelling, I encourage you to get comfortable with it by looking at your family mythology:

  • If you're fortunate enough to have living parents, ask them about the day you were born.
  • Grab a pen and paper — not a computer — and write down a story about yourself that you'd like to someday share with your son or daughter.
  • Recall your clearest childhood memory and record yourself talking about it. 

Everyone has stories. Sometimes we just need helping finding them and telling them. Don't hesitate to reach out