Tell A Yarn


Photo credit: Noritta Morseu-Diop

The word yarn or yarning has taken on a whole new meaning since returning from Australia this week.

I’ve spent the last few weeks surrounded by story-tellers telling a yarn. I’ve listened to men stand and speak in their native tongue of Te Reo Māori to address New Zealand Government. I’ve experienced extraordinary, strong and daring women stand-up and bear their souls to a room full of strangers through yarning. And travelled across the Tasman to Brisbane, Australia to be with First Nations elders, leaders and youth to share my yarn on “Building movements, not empires”.

Yarning, story-telling, oratory, public speaking and whaikorero (formal speech making and is normally performed by men in traditional and social Māori gatherings) is art. As indigenous people we have practiced story-telling for centuries. For the first time I experienced the art of Yarning in Brisbane, an informal conversation that is culturally friendly and recognised by Aboriginal people as meaning to talk about something, someone or provide and receive information.

So why is yarning and story-telling important today? People learn and communicate best through stories and will remember your name if it is connected to a yarn. It’s really all about connection. We see ourselves in other people’s stories. We can connect to a complete stranger if their story connects with our past experiences. A great story-teller brings their full authentic self into the yarn. They can take you on a journey into the future and inspire you to dream bigger, be more and achieve the impossible. Take Michelle Obama’s Democratic speech earlier this year. Now that woman needs to be our next female President after Hillary Clinton “When they go low, we go high” so memorable!

Some of my favorite story-tellers are Maya Angelou, Malala Yousafzai and Brené Brown. Locally I enjoy reading the yarns of women like Moana Maniapoto, Lizzie Marvelly, Nadine Millar and have recently heard powerful yarn’s from Sam Johnson, Jacinda Ardern and my courageous friendMelissa Clark-Reynolds.

As women, I believe we all have a story to tell. It may be the story of your ancestors, your culture, your future, your idea, your pain. Stories can be healing for both the speaker and the audience. By listening to others share their story it can connect you to areas in your life that trigger emotion, reflection and action.

Your story can be the inspiration a young girl, mother or neighbor needed to read or hear at that moment in her life. If I had a dollar for every time a woman said “I don’t know why anyone would want to hear my story” or “I have no idea what I am going to say” I’d have a few hundred dollars stashed away for a rainy day. What holds you back from telling your story?

As far back as I can remember I have been surrounded by story-tellers and orators. I see speaking as part of my job, identity and culture. How can we use our voice for good? To shift perspectives and mindsets. My dad has always given whaikorero and speeches at birthday’s, celebrations and occasions that require a spokesman. I thought all dad’s did this as I was growing up. And although today I find public speaking more natural it was a process of engaging in professional training, hours of practice and continuous re-invention of my story to different audiences.

My genealogy and history has traditionally been passed down through story-telling. As a young woman growing up in Auckland I vividly remember being at Mangatangi Pa, my dad’s marae, the focal point of Māori communities, a place to stand and belong. My grandmother, Merenuitana Taka would stand on our marae to address Kaumatua and Kuia (elders) at Poukai, an annual circuit of visits by the Māori king in the Waikato-Tainui region which includes remembrance, feasting, whaikorero and cultural performances.

You would have to lean in to hear my grandmother as she spoke with a quiet humility and confident compassion. In comparison, my grandmother (Shirley Ngatono Marshall) on my mother’s side had a voice you would recognise anywhere. Her voice was commanding and as grandchildren who often spent school holidays south of the Bombay Hills, we knew the tone of her voice dictated whether we were in trouble or not.  I have great memories of both my grandmother’s and take their stories and learnings with me around the world.

In Brisbane last week I had an opportunity to share my story with Aboriginal elders. As a group of women we travelled from Auckland, Wellington and Melbourne to participate in the World First Nations Knowledge Conference. This conference was organised by Noritta Morseu-Diop and it was an uplifting experience thanks to her dedication and commitment to uphold the traditions of the Aboriginal culture.  The stories told were powerful.  The connections and networks made were transformational. Women and men joined us from Canada, Norway, USA and many of the elders from the Aboriginal communities of Australia. It was an honor to listen to the many speakers and share my story.

Here are my top 10 tips for creating your story and yarn:

  1. Understand your key message first and focus your story around that message
  2. Your yarn must have a beginning, middle and end, take your audience on a journey
  3. Your intro needs to engage your audience, be relatable, be the expert, be yourself
  4. Use different modes of modality VAK as coaches call it – Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic
  5. Invest in a public speaking coach, or access free online content to master the art of yarning
  6. Clearly communicate the problem and the solution, pain and pleasure, conflict and resolution
  7. Record yourself, Get feedforward, Practice until it looks and sounds natural
  8. Understand your audience, dress appropriately, research other speakers
  9. Remember it’s about your audience, what do you want them to take-away, how do you want them to feel, what action do you want them to take?
  10. Story-telling and yarning is: 55% body language and appearance, 38% tone of voice, 7% what you say

Stories connect us. Connections create movements. RISE coaching and leadership programme for 100,000 indigenous women by 2025 is a global movement. Will you join our #risemovement? You can find out more here or  Follow us on social via @rachelpetero & @rise2025 or drop me an email at we’d love to have a yarn.



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