Storytelling Secret Sauce—Via Maya Angelou

Flickr: Zennie AbrahamWhen I heard that Maya Angelou had passed away this week, I was saddened, humbled and hugely appreciative.

Unlike most writers (especially poets and memoirists) or activists, Dr. Angelou made herself and her perspective accessible and relevant to all. She did so by shaping her writing around the same sensations and feelings each one of us experiences, bridging the gap between her life and point of view, and ours:

Human beings should understand how other humans feel no matter where they are, no matter what their language or culture is, no matter their age, and no matter the age in which they live. If you develop the art of seeing us as more alike than we are unalike, then all stories are understandable. (via Harvard Business Review)

There’s so much I learned from Angelou, so many ways and times she inspired me. Today, I want to share her storytelling secret sauce with you…

 I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Dr. Angelou was a masterful communicator. And although few of us can claim this kind of relevance rules communications finesse right now, she showed us it can be done.

I’ve shared this quote countless times in trainings and keynotes, and everyone always gets it immediately! I hope Dr. Angelou’s words guide and inspire you to tell better stories about your organization, cause and impact. As Angelou cautioned, “there is no greater burden than carrying an untold story.”

How has Maya Angelou guided and inspired you? Please share your memories and favorite writings here.

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Nancy Schwartz on May 29, 2014 in storytelling | 2 comments
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  • Sally Hartman

    A friend’s son who heads the public library in Fayetteville, Ark., received this lovely letter from Maya Angelou last month when she had to cancel her talk there. It is one of the best letters I’ve ever read:

    “Dear Fayetteville Public Library, Arkansas Family and Friends,

    I am profoundly saddened that I am unable to be with you on Friday, April 11, 2014. I long to come to the state of Arkansas, in general, and I long to be in Fayetteville, in particular. I learned in Arkansas at a very young age from my grandmother who taught me, ‘when you learn, teach and when you get, give’.

    “In Arkansas I also learned not to complain. I was taught that there are people all over the world who have less than I have and who would give anything for a portion of my possessions. They went to sleep last night as I went to sleep and they never awakened. Their beds have become their cooling boards and their blankets have become their winding sheets and they would give anything and everything for what I was complaining about.

    “In Arkansas, I learned to trust love, not the romance of it, but the heart of it. In Arkansas I learned to have respect for friendship, to honor it, to trust it and to build it.

    “An unexpected ailment put me into the hospital. I will be getting better and the time will come when I can receive another invitation from my state and you will recognize me for I shall be the tall Black lady smiling.

    “I ask you to please keep me in your thoughts, in your conversation and in your prayers.

    I am,
    Maya Angelou”

  • Laura Toller Gardner

    From “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (paraphrasing):
    When someone shows you their true nature, believe them.

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