What Spinach Can Tell Us About Storytelling

April 4, 2024

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Spinach is good for you!

This leafy green vegetable is full of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber.

According to the Popeye cartoons of my youth, it will also make you strong, providing superhuman strength so you can knock out adversaries with your gigantic biceps.

So, how can we take the strength of spinach and use it as an analogy for storytelling?


I’ve written similarly about other vegetables (Are You the Office Cauliflower?) and fiber-rich legumes (Be the Kidney Bean in a Can Full of Chick Peas). Now I’ll add spinach to my vault (pantry? refrigerator? cold-storage locker?) of food-themed posts.

According to SciTech Daily, spinach is one of the top 5 most nutrient-dense vegetables, delivering vitamins A, C, and K, along with iron, folate, potassium, and fiber.

Similarly, a story should contain a valuable delivery of tools to your audience such as knowledge, motivation, inspiration, or a call to action. 

And, like spinach, your story needs to be delivered in a way that is both palatable and digestible.

Remember Popeye, sucking down spinach from a can to build those big muscles?

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I liked Popeye as a kid. But I hated canned spinach which seemed to be the only way it was offered.

Now, as an adult, I can appreciate the numerous crave-worthy ways spinach can be prepared: sauteed with olive oil and garlic, mixed into a dip with artichokes and Greek yogurt, as a base for a green salad with crumbled feta, cranberries, and walnuts…

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How might you deliver your story in a way that it is gobbled up by your audience, making them want to come back for seconds? (OK, I admit this is a stretch, but you see what I’m serving up here…)

The key to spinach is how it is prepared. Serve it raw and some people can’t digest it. Overcook it and it is mushy.

How are you preparing your speech or message so that it delivers the punch and tang necessary, while keeping the audience “full” long after with the benefits provided?

Have you ever cooked spinach and discovered how much more compact it becomes?

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A bag of leafy greens overflows your sautée pan. After a few stirs, it starts to shrink.

And shrink.

And shrink.

By the time you are done, a mere minute or two later, your giant bag of leafy greens is a mere handful, at most.

Where did it go? What happened to it?

This process – wilting the spinach – changes its appearance but not its value. Essentially, you’ve condensed the goodness of that giant bag into a few nutritional powerhouse bites.

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Who wants to eat – or has time to eat – 8 cups of roughage when you can get the same benefit from a single cooked cup?

Livestrong.com notes that spinach is nutrient-dense whether you eat it raw or cooked. Some cooking methods such as steaming limit the nutrients that can be lost during other cooking methods, such as boiling. (Again, who likes boiled spinach?)

Just like spinach, a message should be boiled down to its essential elements, but in a way that doesn’t dilute the meaning. Make it clear, concise, compact, and complete. While you’re at it, make sure it’s also convincing and compelling. Don’t overload your audience with too large of a serving or complicated side dishes (extraneous stories).

Cooked spinach, prepared thoughtfully, is compact and delicious, meaning the eater will be more likely to eat it and retain its benefits.

A story, prepared thoughtfully, can be similarly comact and effective, meaning the audience will be more likely to receive it and retain its benefits.

And maybe even come back for seconds.

Valerie gordon your story matters web what spinach can tell us about storytelling

Valerie Gordon is a 10x Emmy-winning television producer, an author, and the founder of The Storytelling Strategist. She speaks at conferences and works with corporations to help high-achievers capitalize on the power of story to build successful brands, lead with confidence, and build strong, equitable teams. Follow her on LinkedIn.

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