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December 3, 2021

Master Storytellers Adam Davidson and JP King on Telling Your Story

Every week on the Disco Creator Series, we connect with some of the best minds in live course creation. No matter what you’re teaching or learning, you’ll get the best tips and insights to build your business, and in this case, tell your story. 


This week, we spoke with two incredible storytellers. Adam Davidson is an author, podcaster, and writer at the New Yorker. He created NPR’s Planet Money, worked on This American Life, and was a consultant on the Big Short. JP King is an exceptional educator and artist. They shared some great insights on storytelling and what their upcoming course is all about. 


About Masterful Storytelling: 

Masterful Storytelling is a brilliant, 4-week virtual live learning course to help founders, entrepreneurs, and revenue leaders transform the way they position and pitch their companies using tried and true storytelling methods. You can learn more about the live course here!


How did you go from being a writer, author, and story maker, to teaching the art of storytelling?

There's a quote that a professional writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. I always saw storytelling, writing, story-crafting, as a thing I was trying to do, and not a thing I knew how to do. I was always desperate to work with the best. I always looked for the best editors, the best people to work with, and always felt like I was racing to catch up. 


A lot of people are missing some fairly fundamental things that they just don't know, low-hanging fruit that could really help folks. 


When I wrote the book, the Passion Economy, I didn't plan for it to be a book about storytelling. It was a book about the economics of an age where, rather than like in the 20th century, the goal was to just fit a box—a career box or an industry box. Now, the economy really rewards your unique set of skills and abilities, and your ability to match those to the people who crave them the most. I started to realize that storytelling is essential to that. 


I didn't know I would create a course until I met JP, who really is a master course creator. We met through a different platform that we decided was not as good as Disco. And basically grabbed each other and ran and ended up joining Disco. The process of working with JP was just incredibly thrilling; his ability to both act as an educator and a graphic designer, to take these ideas and both structure them conceptually, but also visuals to make them really easy and digestible. 


Why have you chosen this new live learning format as the way you want to teach storytelling?

There's an incredible opportunity in online learning right now. We can gather people from all around the world, bring them together into a classroom, talk for a couple of moments as a full group, and then go into these really intimately scaled breakout rooms, where suddenly we're having deep vulnerable one-on-one storytelling sessions with one another. 


I might be telling stories to somebody in San Francisco and somebody else might be telling stories to somebody in Berlin. I think we've all been really astonished at how fast connections can be built in these zoom rooms. I know that at the beginning of the pandemic, everybody was talking about zoom fatigue, but I think what we're discovering with these online learning experiences is that the potential for connection and transformative experience is present, and moves surprisingly fast. Adam and I run these workshops and within 10 minutes, we've got people’s eyes lighting up. They're like, ‘Oh my god, I actually am telling a better story!’ That one simple trick that I just tried out is completely transformative.


JP and I are there with you. We limit the class size so that we all get to know each other and hold each other accountable. JP, and I talk all the time about how rich it is for us just how exciting it is for us to be like this in a live session. 


The difference is JP and I try not to talk all the time—we really engage the students. I highly recommend signing up for one of our free workshops, we get into the exercises right away. I do think you'll find there are some really simple things that you can use to up your game right away. Because we love stories as human beings, the process itself is a joy in and of itself. That's what I find, but that only works if you're doing it as a group.


What do people get in this course?

In this first week, ‘Minimum Viable Story,’ we have our students and participants run through story generation exercises. 


Central to Adam’s philosophy as a storyteller is the idea that you have to gather a large quantity of stories before you can really land on a good one. 


We start with a bunch of story fragments, little seedlings, and then we give you enough form and structure that we can nurture them to a place where they're growing. From there, you've got something that feels like a resonant and powerful story. 


In the second week, we go into fractal storytelling. One thing that you might notice when someone's telling a story is that there are actually all sorts of stories embedded within stories. We tend to run these kinds of summaries where we'll talk about the last year of our lives, but we fail to ever drop into an actual moment, or a time and place. In fractal storytelling, we get you to actually drop into that time and place, and then to begin to sequence those story elements together, and build them up into a larger arc or journey. Really, the third week that we lean into one of Adam's real strengths.


Storytelling is when you have a thought in your mind or a feeling in your chest and you want another person to either have that same feeling or thought, or at least understand it. But when you open your mouth, somehow the words that come out don't quite convey it. 


The simplest thing is that a story that should take place at a specific time in a specific place. 


A full story is made up of a bunch of those places and times that weave together into a fuller story. That's the part where you go from feeling, not in control of your storytelling, to feeling in control and having real skill is actually not that big of a leap.


In many ways, writing gets harder as you feel more command because you want more things. So we don’t promise that you'll be the perfect storyteller, but that there's a lot of low-hanging fruit that people like me, professional writers, just know, that can get you so much farther ahead.


Who shows up to Masterful Storytelling? 

What delighted and surprised me is that a significant percentage of people, the main audience for their story, at first, is themselves. When you can master your story for yourself, then it becomes this superpower—it allows you to apply for better jobs, find better people to work with, figure out what your next product is, what your next project is, etc. 

 

That story can have that transformative experience. It's not a one-and-done. Those techniques are eternal and you can use them as your life changes.


What do you do over these four weeks?

We help you piece together the different parts of your journey, and slot them into positions. Based on some of Adam's frameworks, we've created really clear templates that can allow you to basically anchor your story in this kind of narrative arc, or journey, that speaks to your unique position in the world. 


Our course is not just about personal narratives, but company narratives or product narratives. Adam’s specialty and background has been in business storytelling and economics. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make complex subjects and technical explanations accessible. That was one of the things in week three—we go into explanatory storytelling. We start to think about what the essential information that you need to get across in a story is so that somebody actually understands it.


What is the best lesson learned? 

The magic is in the doing. We keep stripping down the 'us' talking-at-you portion and increasing the working together portion. When you're listening to other people's stories, that's almost as important as when you're telling your own story, because what you're really building is that muscle memory of what does a story feels like when it's clicking, when it's working. Being a listener who's paying attention to what other people are doing is one of the best ways to get better at it yourself.


For Creators


What has been your biggest learning from running live courses? 

I quit a PhD in education right as the pandemic started, and almost simultaneously, somebody shared a link to Disco with me. When I saw the Disco site and started to dig into online learning, I began to realize that there was this possibility of an entirely new model. 


One of the things that Adam and I do is use a piece of software called Miro, that's like an online whiteboarding tool. We built these really beautiful visual structures for those story templates, and ask you really simple questions, get you to fill out post-it notes, and rearrange things. 


Online Learning offers something that no other form of brick-and-mortar learning has before. I really lean into the dynamism of the online environment. That allows us to create something that's really quite special, magical. 


My takeaway is that online learning is absolutely the future!