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“Strength Vision” for Storytellers?




Calling all storytellers: Put on your strength-vision goggles, please!

I was a sophomore in college, listening to the teacher speak about how poorly a student had done on an assignment.

Suddenly I thought, “I get it!”

I had already realized that the atmosphere at this school was very critical. It was both draining and isolating. But at that moment, I realized the implicit understanding of the teacher’s role, as practiced in that university:

The teacher’s job is to hold up a hoop for the students. If they succeed in jumping through it, then the teacher holds the hoop up higher. When each student has missed the hoop and fallen on the ground, then class is over for that day.

Giving challenges to students, of course, is useful and important. But in that school the challenges were more antagonistic than encouraging. And there was rarely a word of appreciation. We heard only what we had done wrong.

Meanwhile, in the Basement…

photo of Elliott Coleman

Elliott Coleman as I remember him (I wish you could see his caring, blue eyes)

Then one day I heard that there was a professor named Elliot Coleman who taught something called the Writing Seminars. In one windowless room in the basement, he practiced a different form of teaching.

The problem was that to enroll for his class I first had to show him my poems in person and be accepted. At this point, I wasn’t sure that I could bear to subject my personal poems to possible rejection.

I got up my nerve. I made an appointment. I handed him my poems – and to my amazement, he told me what he liked about them. I was speechless.

I joined the class. When I read aloud one of my poems, he would speak of it in a way that made me feel he was in touch with my innermost intention in writing the poem. Whenever he had a suggestion, therefore, I eagerly looked for a way to implement it.

One day I was lingering in the classroom after class, savoring the halo of encouragement. Two graduate students from the class remained in the room, too, talking intently to each other. Since I was an undergraduate, I was invisible. So I eavesdropped.

They were talking about a poem that one of them had written. Instead of speaking like Elliot Coleman, though, the other student was listing the poem’s deficiencies. After a time, the poem’s author seemed to be running out of defenses. He said desperately, “Well, Elliot Coleman likes this poem.”

The critical student arched for the kill: “But Elliot Coleman likes everything!”

At that moment I understood two things. I understood what the critic meant, of course: if you like everything, it’s the same as liking nothing.

But I also understood that liking everything indiscriminately was not what Elliot Coleman did. Neither did he pretend to like anything. I understood his great gift: to FIND WHAT THERE WAS TO LIKE in everything.

An Indispensable Ability for Storytellers

The ability to find the likable in a story, even when it is not obvious, allows you to grow the seed of a story into a seedling, and a seedling into a tree. It prevents you from throwing away stories and story ideas prematurely. It helps you focus on your strengths – which are the key to your success.

It also helps you help others. As a result, it helps your storytelling communities grow, becoming circles of artists who develop their unique strengths and support each other to do the same.

Two Ways to Develop…

How do you develop the skill of finding the strengths in a fledgling story – of finding what there is to like about it?

First, study the coaching of those who have this “x-ray vision,” who can see strengths even when they are partially concealed beneath layers of unsolved problems. Be coached by coaches with this ability. Watch others be coached, in person or via recordings.

Second, and even more importantly, practice viewing stories positively. At the very moment that you think to yourself, “Boy, this story has a terrible ending,” go on to ask, “And what about this story is strong, funny, clever, or beautiful? What artistic impulses are evident in this story?” Only when you have identified the story’s existing successes, are you capable of helping the story become even more successful.

This kind of “strength vision” can be cultivated, even in a society devoted to “hoop jumping.” If you learn it well, it will help your own storytelling, the storytelling of those around you, and eventually the growth of the storytelling movement.


Logo for the Message Telling course,

Message Telling: Leading Your Listeners to Meaning, Through Storytelling

Just ask for an application for the upcoming Message Telling course, and you’ll lock in the $500 Early Bird discount.

If you need to communicate clear meanings through stories, this course is the only full treatment of the tools you need – tools that will help your communication for the rest of your life.

This course includes 9 lessons, 9 coaching calls, individual responses to your online assignments, and much more. It takes you through the complete array of Message Telling techniques.

Dr. Charles Martin is a successful dentist, a trainer of other dentists, and an executive coach. Here’s what he said about his experience with Message Telling:

“I learned how to work with a story to give it a specific meaning, a specific message. But the big revelation for me was this: it’s a lot of fun! Working within the constraints is enjoyable, once I understand what you’ve taught me. Bravo!”

How much does the course cost? Normal price: $1097; your price: $597. If money is tight right now, use the payment plan option: $97 now and $97 a month.

please check out the full story:

To request an application, either use my contact form at:

Or use the link on this page:

The $500 discount is only valid if you request an application by April 5, 2011.

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