I wanna tell you a story

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Every picture tells a story, this blog is about storytelling. Some people don’t like stories, they think they’re tricky – like the photo.

But good stories surprise you because they make you see things in a different way, they help you to think more deeply – to understand – to get on top of things.

Stories are the way we make sense of complicated things.

When the Norse wanted to square up to the malevolence of their cold dark world they invented Beowulf, Hamlet is Shakespeare’s way of making sense of his relationship with his son.

When a great communicator like Alvin Hall wants to explain a difficult idea, he uses a story, about a friend, a work colleague , about a situation he finds himself in. Every story has its parallels in the experiences of his listeners so they remember the point with reference to the story.

This is called engagement and it is what a storyteller does. Last night Alvin, I and a few friends had dinner. We talked about the great club table at the Garrick where members are called upon to tell a story and are listened to , over the steak pie, by up to 30 diners who have come to listen.

When I first heard Alvin speak, I counted ten stories in his 20 minutes on stage, I asked him if I was right.

“That was a ten story speech”

Alvin confirmed.

There was a kid at school, Jules Perry, adept at telling stories. We used to tease him when we found he wrote them down and practiced them.  Another great story teller, Rodney Bewes, has a satchel of stories which he rehearses on friends to ensure they are ready for the big occasions (he is one of the Garrick Storytellers).

These guys don’t get good by accident.

I don’t know whether in the FCA’s COB there is a section on stories. I rather hope there is but suspect that apocryphal anecdotes aren’t welcome in our evidenced based world.

And because the fictional aspects of storytelling are technically un compliant , these stories do not make it into the marketing of financial services.

But I was brought up to explain things with stories- the Widow’s Tale, the day I delivered a cheque from a critical illness pay-out, the story of the man who waited too long to sign his life assurance application.

These were poor tales that I’m ashamed of now but they were effective.

Alvin told us that sometimes when he’s speaking, he’s writing, recording the questions, even the reactions of the people he’s speaking to. When he’s finished , he send people the story of the seminar- reminding them of little incidents when people were touched (engaged) with what was said.

This process is a feedback that is fictional- it’s made up in Alvin’s mind- it his interpretation. If is open to challenge and were it not – it would not be a story. It would simply be a fact.

So the next time you’ve got to do some speaking, why don’t you organise it, like Alvin does, around some stories.

I’m doing a speech on Thursday, I have ten slides and ten stories. Each story is based on a fact but is made up- it will be my interpretation, my story.

Which is why people want me to talk and not just send them the slides.

I have said in a recent blog, that I don’t believe that when you are fully engaged with someone else, you can help advising them- since in your engagement you are expressing  your feelings with preternatural intensity.

In our stories, and the skill we have in telling them, we are tapping into a tradition that predates Hamlet and Beowulf and takes us right back to the roots of the talking tree.

Which is why I read English and not Maths – at college.



About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
This entry was posted in accountants, advice gap, alvin hall, life insurance, pensions, Personality, poetry and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to I wanna tell you a story

  1. Andy Heath says:

    Henry, English is why you’re such an atypical actuary, and none of the classic ‘actuary’ jokes apply to you. Actuaries do not come out with comments about scotching snakes. And ‘preternatural’ – excellent!

  2. Christopher Lean says:

    Wasn’t the Widow’s tale an old Allied Dunbar video? Seem to remember seeing it in the late 1980s.

  3. henry tapper says:

    It was

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