Alan Alda’s storytelling advice

Alan Alda at PopTech 2016 (photo by PopTech) Alan Alda at PopTech 2016 (photo by PopTech)

I’m here at PopTech in Camden, Maine, and this morning, the one, the only, Alan Alda spoke. I love him. So much humility and presence.

He did an exercise to illustrate the power of storytelling, and I want to share it with you.

Imagine a stage. On one side, a table with an empty glass. On the other, a table with a pitcher of water.

Alan asks PopTech co-host Carly Chaikin to carry the empty glass across the stage and put it on the other table. She does, easily.

Then he takes the pitcher and fills the glass up to the very top. “Now,” he says. “I want you to carry that glass back to the other table — and if a single drop of water spills, your entire village will die.

Carefully, carefully, Carly carries the glass across the stage. She puts it on the table. She hasn’t spilled a drop.

We all exhale. There is obviously no village, but still, we exhale.

Alan points out how much more compelling it was to watch the second trip across the stage.

“That’s storytelling,” he says. In other words: The best stories have stakes.

“So what’s your glass of water?”, he asks us.

“What’s your story?”

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