Setting the Table

Quickly connecting with your audience in order to get to the deeper stories

Your ability as a story teller to Set the Table will be the difference between finding an ok story and finding a great story.

What do we mean by Setting the Table? Well, in short, it’s as if you’re hosting a dinner party. That party ain’t ready until the table’s set, kids. Such is the way with finding stories. You’re not ready to start digging until you’ve done the work to prepare and create the proper atmosphere.

There are 2 ways to Set the Table. One is to be incredibly charming and quick witted (like we so often are) and another, more likely way, is to create a strategy around meeting new people and making them feel comfortable…and then to practice. We’ve developed a strategy and a set of exercises that, while they may not make us more likable (any more than we already are, anyways), they do help us break through natural barriers and create comfort quickly, to allow us to get to the real story beneath the surface.

What’s involved in Setting the Table?

The act of setting the table will vary for you and your context, but we break it down into 3 primary tools:

Bringing Gifts — This is super critical and it defines the first few minutes of meeting someone. Bring along something to help break the ice, we recommend coffee, lunch, swag, or just a general surprise.

Providing Comfort — What’s the environment you’re chatting in? Are the seats comfortable? Is there water and/or natural light? How about privacy?

Asking the Right Questions — Don’t ever dive right into it. Ask questions about the person as though they’re just as critical as the questions regarding the story, often times they are. And don’t end the personal questions and say “ok, let’s get started.” You’re giving up all of the connection making magic that the personal questions provide.

A story from the field

The Linemen

When we first started working with DTE, we didn’t realize the challenge we were facing with a field crew that had been there upwards of 25 years and had seen “video crews” come and go. The answers were stiff, they were hesitant, and they were not very compelling.

Determined to create a deeper sense of rapport, we showed up on Day 2 with a new approach. “Can we bring lunch?” We spent an hour of our time having lunch and just chatting. The investment in getting to know them was worth the cost of the turkey sandwich as we turned the cameras on and already had a feel for their lives, their families, and their passions. They began sharing things they never would have shared before. At the end of the project, one lineman approached us and said “I like having you guys out here. We’ve had other camera crews out and they railroad us. They spend 20 minutes telling us what to say and then they take off. You guys listen to us and get our good stories — we appreciate that.”


Now, it’s your turn

Use this guide to help you set the table before your next interview, client meeting, or presentation: