Storytelling is vulnerable and personal. When someone shares a story about themselves, they share a little piece of themselves with you. When I first enter a coaching session, I know I must create a space for authenticity for myself and the storyteller. As a growing storytelling coach, that is a lot of pressure.
Anxiety and insecurity usually start to bubble up before meeting a storyteller for the first time. What if they don’t like me? What if they think I’m lame? Who am I to tell them how to tell their stories?
Before beginning a coaching session, I take the time to reconnect with myself intentionally so I can come into the session with intentional energy. I do this by drinking tea, walking, listening to music, and sometimes doing all three. And sometimes, I mix and match, but it depends on what I need to reset before a coaching session. This practice is essential to the coaching process because how I show up for storytellers matters; I want to meet them where they are, and that only happens if I come in with a clean slate and a clear mind.
With that clarity, I make it a habit to hop onto Zoom five minutes before the coaching session to review my mental checklist and check the meeting agenda. When the storyteller’s name pops up on the screen, all the stress, anxiety, and nervousness melt away as we get through an icebreaker. While doing the icebreaker with the storyteller, I mentally do a vibe check because I want to meet the storyteller where they are emotionally while honoring my authenticity.
I want storytellers to know they are valued not because they have a story I want to mine out of them but because they are human, and I am happy to connect with them and learn more about their experiences. As I’ve grown in this role, I’ve realized that the essence of coaching or mining a story is about creating a strong connection with the person in front of me so I can see them fully. I’ve learned that this is something that I not only could do but that I knew I was good at.
One such instance came when I supported a storyteller in honing their tale. I was coaching this storyteller on their story when I pushed them because I felt they hadn’t dug deep enough into what they learned from this experience. I had a feeling that there was more there. It was a risky push to make during our last coaching session, and while I didn’t want to make them think their story wasn’t up to par, I knew there was more to the “so what” moment. I saw the storyteller’s face fill with disappointment, and a pit formed in my stomach immediately. Did I just cause more harm than good by offering that feedback? Do they now feel hopeless because of me? Should I have just done that?
These were among the questions that flooded my mind. I reassured the storyteller they were doing great and asked them if they were okay. We ended the coaching session on a positive note, but something still lingered in my gut.
On the day of the Story Pop-Up, I remember introducing this storyteller and feeling nervous because of how our last coaching session ended. I sat on pins and needles as they went up to tell their story, and as they concluded, I felt my anxiety leave my body. I couldn’t help crying because I didn’t mess up the story or the storyteller, as they listened to my feedback, took my pushes, and killed the “so what” piece of the story. As I hugged the storyteller, it dawned on me that only the two of us knew the significance of that moment and how much work went into getting to this final piece.
The magic of the coaching process is how an intentional and beautiful exchange between two people can lead to deeper relationships and trust.
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