I have a friend who can get you to listen attentively to stories about his family vacations. He leads you in with just the right setup. His voice is sonorous and authoritative, but he yelps with re-lived frustration at a bad turn of luck. He pauses, letting you twist with expectation, before resolving a climatic event. And, of course, his story has a conclusion. You know when you are at the end.

My friend is a storyteller. 

But not according to Stefan Sagmeister. By Sagmeister's definition, he would have to earn his living at telling stories to be a storyteller.



Sagmeister, in the clip linked above, complains that too many people now are calling themselves storytellers. That only professional storytellers such as novelists and filmmakers deserve that title.

I disagree. You don't have to make your living telling stories to be a storyteller. Storytelling is a valuable skill for many professionals, especially now that so many of us work with ideas, not things.

I'm afraid that Sag is playing the contrarian hipster here. Yes, we hear more and more people calling themselves storytellers. And if everyone else is doing it, I guess it's time to stop. 

But what's wrong with storytelling? There are plenty of articles about why being able to tell stories is valuable. Being a good storyteller will make you better at your job, because storytelling improves communication.

Maybe it is a fad, this storytelling craze, but maybe that is not all bad. They say more of us are working in the "knowledge economy" now. In my profession I work collaboratively with many others to understand an issue and to create new ideas. Later we take these abstract ideas and spread them throughout an organization. In both cases effective storytelling is neccessary to be effective.

Here is what a storyteller is: that uncle that could tell a good joke, my friend who can turn his family camping trip into an epic story, anyone who can make a presentation more engaging by beginning with something we all care about.