Maryland

The Art of Storytelling in a Social Media World

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(Photo: Stephanie Samuel)

Americans check their social media accounts an average of 17 times a day. But how much do they really know about the people they follow and “friend” there?

It’s a question I’ve often thought about as a social media lover. I admit I fit that statistic. I also identify with studies that show American adults spend nearly a quarter of their day staring at a screen. I’ve practically made a career of staring into screens.

I’ll also admit that I struggle with interpersonal communication off the screen.

The idea of meeting people I don’t know is terrifying, let alone telling them about myself. What would I even tell?

So I was definitely outside of my comfort zone when a coworker set me up to attend a Toastmasters area conference.

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Russell Drake, international director of Region 7, leading a workshop.                    (Photo: Stephanie Samuel)

What I didn’t know is how eye-opening an experience it would be.

Sitting in an Annapolis hotel, I listened as men and women I didn’t know spoke about their personal experiences. Some of their stories were funny; others were serious. All of them were delivered with such confidence.

On social media, we share and we share: pictures of our surroundings, pictures of our meals, details about our activities. And still the full story is unknown.

But when those Toastmasters spoke, I identified with their experiences and connected with them. I felt I knew where they were coming from.

Toastmasters International, a social speaking club that dates back to 1905, offers members training to become better leaders and speech-givers. But more than that, regional director Russel Drake says Toastmasters also teaches individuals how to find and tell their stories.

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Keynote speaker Tim Gard showing off his rigged suitcase. It’s one of the stories he tells as a corporate trainer. (Photo: Stephanie Samuel)

“Everyone has a million stories but in the beginning, they don’t realize it. In the beginning it’s like well what am I going to talk about and [they are] a little afraid and they’re going to be a little bit embarrassed.”

Drake says Toastmasters trains newcomers how to mine through a mountain of experiences and find their own narratives.

Tim Gard, a speaker at the conference, told stories from his travels as a fraud investigator. Over the years he has collected funny anecdotes and pranks including the rubber chickens in his carry-on and the MasterGard credit card he uses to make somber work trips a bit more fun.

“You check into a hotel. They say, what’s your name, do you have a reservation and do you have a what,” he asked the audience as they shouted back the answer. “So I had these made up. On the front it says ‘This is a major credit card.’ My last name is Gard so it’s a MasterGard card.”

Gard’s antics are now part of the speeches he gives as a motivational speaker and corporate trainer.

“Tim’s stories, the reason that they’re so dynamic is that they’re his stories and one else can tell that story,” explained Drake.

Storytelling also draws brings people together.

That was true at the conference where over 100 people gathered indoors for over 11 hours on a perfectly sunny Saturday in Annapolis, the perfect tourist trap. They were there to compete and hone their public speaking skills, but it was obvious during every break that plenty of friendships and networks were forged that day.

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Participants in the Toastmasters Table Topics Contest. (Photo: Stephanie Samuel)

“We have an environment that’s pretty friendly. If a person is kind of struggling, you’ll see folks kind of leaning forward just trying to help them along.  If you think about it, our environment is one that if you’re going to make a mistake, we’re not here to judge you, we’re here to give you feedback to make you better.” says Drake.

By the closing ceremony, I realized something.

In the world of social media everyone is connected.

But watching the toastmasters relate to their audience with tales of first dates, marital relationships, and work place slip-ups made me realize though social media really is an amazing tool, technological advances can never replace the art of storytelling.

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