3 Lessons in Storytelling from Sir Patrick Stewart

 

Sir Patrick Stewart, aka Captain Jen-Luc Picard, was a special guest at Comicpalooza in Houston, Texas, last month. During a Q&A, audience member Heather Skye thanked him for his 2007 Amnesty talk on domestic violence. She then asked him, “besides acting, what are you most proud of that you’ve done in your life?”

There’s so much to praise in the content of Sir Patrick’s speech — especially his bold stand against male violence towards women. But as a writer, I’m fascinated by the storytelling genius that’s earned this video well over three million hits in just a few days.

What can we learn as writers and entrepreneurs from this gifted speaker?

In his speech, Patrick Stewart demonstrates three things we all need to do as storytellers, whether we’re using story in our writing or as entrepreneurs marketing our business:

  1. Connect with the audience.
  2. Inject exactly the right amount of story to create emotion.
  3. Lead (or persuade) by connecting the dots.

1. Connect with the audience.

Patrick-Stewart-DFreeStewart begins his response by acknowledging his questioner directly for making the connection between his work as an actor and as an activist. He says to her:

 

I think you have beautifully linked the important things together.

He stays continuously attuned to the audience, not just talking at people, but observing their reactions. At one point (6:40), he gives a nod to the men who are applauding him, praising their support against domestic violence.

As writers, we need to cultivate a continuous feedback loop, listening to our own words while imagining the perceptions and needs of our readers. What are they thinking and feeling? Do they need a beat of silence? More explanation? A fiery anecdote? Some cool facts?

 2. Use exactly the right amount of story to create emotion.

After introducing domestic violence as a social issue, Stewart humanizes it by telling us why he’s involved:

I do what I do in my mother’s name … because I couldn’t help her then…. Now I can.

With just these few words of (mostly implied) story, we immediately feel for his mother. He doesn’t go into detail; he knows he doesn’t need to. What he says is enough to draw us in.

Then, after leading us to believe this is a story about his mother, he takes a left turn: “Last year,” he says, “I learned things about my father that I didn’t know.” He tells how his father returned home from fighting in the Second World War with what was then dismissed as “shell shock.”

Now, unexpectedly, we feel for his father.

But before we settle into his father’s story, he expands our empathy exponentially. He connects his father’s plight with that of the many soldiers all over the world today who are returning home with what we now recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder.

 3. Lead (or persuade) by connecting the dots.

Stewart has now told us about his mother and connected the violence she suffered to the combat trauma his father experienced.

He has connected what was originally known as shell shock with what we now call PTSD, and the profound social damage it causes.

He has connected the universal social issues of violence against women and PTSD with his own personal history, then traced his family’s story back out to the big picture. He has connected the past with the present.

And he connects the men in the audience with the work that needs to be done.

In closing, he pulls it all together:

So, I work for [the organization] Refuge for my mother, and I work for Combat Stress for my father in equal measure.

He does all this in less than eight minutes. And, like all great storytellers, he makes it look easy.

4 Responses to “3 Lessons in Storytelling from Sir Patrick Stewart”

  1. Rosanna

    Your post reminds me that we can look for tips on how to write well not just from books on writing but from many other aspects of life. We do have a lot to learn from storytellers. A long time ago I bought a book on storytelling, but it has remained unread through the years. Now would be a good time to visit the pages of the book…:-)

    Reply
    • admin

      Thank you Sara. I absolutely love your website. I came across it many months back, when I was building my site and looking for inspiration. Love your bit about being “an unpopular web content writer.” Fresh and original.

      Reply
  2. Liam

    Great article! I loved the speech he gave. Such an interesting and inspirational man.

    Reply

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