Be The Storyteller: Making Words Your Stock and Trade

Dear Stylelifers,

I was flipping channels late one night and came across one of the most useful movies you can watch to improve your storytelling skills. And not just that, this classic old movie will help you realize that so many of the qualities you used to hide are actually the traits you should emphasize. Those traits will establish you as “the exception” in your social circle. And, as we all know, the goal is to always be the exception.

F is for Fake shows up on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and other classic movies channels from time to time. The film focuses on the career of professional art forger Elmyr de Hory which is an interesting enough story. He certainly had plenty of demonstration of higher value spikes to pepper his conversations.

Be warned, the film is a bit odd. But you should watch it simply to observe Orson Welles’ performance.  Depending on your age, you might remember Welles best for his gig in the late seventies when he appeared in advertisements for Paul Masson Wines and uttered the famous line “We will sell no wine before its time.” But prior to that, Orson Welles was one of the most important filmmakers in the history of Hollywood.

In F is for Fake, watch the way he speaks, especially in a group. Welles expounds with authority, demonstrating a great command of the language, deep intelligence, and undeniable gravitas.

Even when he’s talking in nonsense and half-formed riddles that make sense only to him, people still hang on his every word. They don’t want to interrupt. They just want to be around him and hear him speak.

And the authority with which he speaks conveys his value. Even if you didn’t know who this character was, you would undeniably know he is a man of high value. Despite the fact that he’s not terribly good looking or well-groomed.

He chooses his words carefully, searching for the proper and sometimes unusual word. He doesn’t rely on slang and linguistic shortcuts. Instead, he demonstrates his command of the English language without being a show-off. He provides specific details that hook the listener. He uses strong verb choice that conveys action and energy. He employs an ebb and flow to his conversation to keep people interested. These are all techniques you should use in your own life.

After you observe Welles’ performance and see how you can improve your own storytelling skills, think about how many of his positive attributes are things that you may have tried to hide at one time or another.

As children, so many of us cowered in classrooms, afraid to show our intelligence lest we be teased or labeled a geek. Maybe you didn’t speak up to answer that specific vocabulary question. Maybe you kept quiet instead of showing your natural leadership skills. But chances are that many of you were once afraid to show these traits.

Now, however, the world is different for you. As aspiring social artists, you don’t have to hide your vocabulary or your intelligence. These are qualities that enable you to be the exception, regardless of your social circle. Don’t be afraid to proudly exhibit these qualities, even if you think they may make you not fit in amongst your crowd. That’s the whole point: to stand out.

It doesn’t matter where you live or what you do for a job. Whether you’re an oil rigger, a lumberjack, an athlete, or a Neanderthal man, ineloquence is not attractive. You should use your vocabulary to be different. Use your intelligence to be the exception.

Intellect shines through in other ways than just your vocabulary and diction. You can use your smarts to be the exception with the routines and conversation topics.

For example, one of my favorite things to do is to ask girls, in a fun and non-judgmental way, what they would do for money. I sometimes ask a lady if she would have sex with Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies. I generally start with an offer of $1 million. When she declines, I increase the amount. “What about for $10 million? Just one time? That’s all you have to do.” And I keep increasing the amount as she continually declines. It’s not unusual to end up with figures that would start to reach banking bailout proportions. “What about a billion dollars? Would you do it then?”

You can learn a lot about a woman by her responses to this line of conversation. What’s affecting her decision here is social pressure, approval, and judgment.

But more importantly, you’re showing that you can hold philosophical conversations. This line of questioning goes far beyond mundane queries about jobs or about the football game last night. While fun and amusing, the question of “what someone would do for money” generates numerous serious discussion topics. It touches upon our sense of self, our value, our ethics, and many more topics with substance.

Delivered in a fun way, so that she enjoys the conversation and doesn’t feel like it’s a philosophy class, this little topic illustrates your intelligence and firmly establishes you as the exception.

And as an aside, there’s a second part to this routine. You can follow up with a hypothetical situation that becomes a matter of life or death. Here’s the question I like to ask after the routine is over. Sometimes we’ll move on to another topic, and then I’ll suddenly ask, as if I just thought of it.

“Okay, how about this then. If someone had a gun to your head and they said, ‘You either have sex with Fat Bastard or die.’ Which would you choose.”

“I’d try to escape,” she’ll say.

“Hey now, this is a hypothetical question. You don’t have other options. You either have to sleep with Fat Bastard or die. What do you do?

Then she’ll either reply that she would take the plunge or that she would accept death. This is a really interesting question. It’s actually surprising how many women would rather die than sleep with a fat, ugly slob. It’s also amazing how many guys would be willing to sleep with Fat Bastard when faced with the alternative to death. If there are guys in the group, go ahead and ask them this question.

It’s fun. And it’s smart.

And it’s exceptional.

Remember to proudly display your intellect and speaking skills. Hold interesting conversations and pose intriguing questions. And you’ll be the exception as well.

Best,

Neil Strauss

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