The Importance of Storytelling

People love stories, but more than that, we need them. English novelist Phillip Pullman said as much when he wrote, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

This is especially true in funeral service. Funeral directors need to be extraordinary storytellers for two reasons.

First, client families need to be educated on the value of the services their funeral home provides (and what better way than through real-life stories?). Second, they need to help them deepen their connection with the deceased.

And without a doubt, both tasks involve good storytelling.

First, let’s look at what makes a good story. Then, we’ll explore the two ways a funeral director can become a better storyteller.

Paul Jarvis pinpointed what makes a good story in “The 5 Common Elements of Good Storytelling”. A good story is easy to understand, and brings emotions to the foreground in listeners. It’s truthful and real. Lastly, he notes, a good story is valid.

“Regardless of the audience size, a good story works for any audience. One to one-million. It isn’t concerned with how many people can hear it, just that someone, somewhere is listening to it.”

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There’s another quality of a good story: according to Paul J. Zak, author of the Harvard Business Review online article “Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling,” a story has got to hold the listener’s attention by creating dramatic tension.

If you, the storytelling funeral director can do that, “…it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters.” (Source)

To review, a good story:

  • Is easy to understand
  • Makes an emotional connection with the listener
  • Is truthful and real
  • Creates tension which holds the listener’s attention

That sounds like a big job, doesn’t it? Not so for funeral directors: we’ve got truthful, real stories to share, with an audience already experiencing some degree of emotional connection with the deceased.

Basically, we’re two steps ahead! The remaining qualities of a good story: ease of comprehension and audience attentiveness come from putting focused attention on  story construction.

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These Two Things Will Make You a Better Storyteller

All funeral directors have to do, according to Sims Wyeth, author of “4 Steps to Become Better at Storytelling”, is to get comfortable with the basic 3-part template of a story: the set-up, the development, and the resolution.

You do that by reading – not just your favorite authors, either. Branch out: become a member of Good Reads to find new writers. And then make reading a habit. The second thing a funeral director can do to become a better storyteller is to become a certified celebrant.

No doubt you’re already aware of celebrants and the role they play in funerals, weddings, and other life events. And you’ve probably got an opinion about bringing celebrants into your funeral home. But according to some funeral directors, like Jeff Staab, owner of Cremation Solutions, celebrants are the future of funeral service.

He shared his views in the post “Celebrants Will Save the American Funeral” where he urges funeral directors to “invite the deceased back to the funeral, hire a celebrant!”

Better yet, become one. Here’s the thing: in taking celebrant training, you’ll become a better storyteller. If you’re interested, check out the Celebrant Foundation & Institute, where Jeff got his training.

And if you plan on attending this year’s NFDA convention in Boston, you can take Certified Celebrant Training, a two-day pre-convention seminar led by Glenda Stansbury and Doug Manning, of the InSight Institute. For more information, check out the Preconvention Seminars page of the NFDA convention website.)

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Why Train as a Storyteller?

Funerals, memorial services and celebrations-of-life put funeral directors center stage. Learning to become a better storyteller can make all the difference in the funeral experience–for both the attendees and the funeral director.

Perhaps Erin Morgenstern captured the amazing, life-changing potential of storytelling when she wrote, “You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” (Source)

In short, good storytelling changes people in profound ways. Also, becoming a good storyteller will bring more client families to your funeral home to experience what your firm offers. As the character of Walt Disney, in the film Saving Mr. Banks said, storytellers “restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again.” (Source)

By becoming better storytellers, funeral directors can restore a sense of order, help participants rediscover the meaning of life, and renew hope in the hearts of grieving family and friends.

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