We are custodians of hundreds of stories. It is in awakening, exploring and uncovering them, then learning to tell them that we embed our purpose and principles.

These Changing Stories have the capacity to forge connections, build relationships and our business, and create community that together contribute to the changes we most wish to see for others and our planet.

We’re all waiting to be told a story

‘As a business or an organisation, if you take a hard look at your online presence you might note that you’re neither found by those you want to find you, or particularly interesting to those that do.’

Extracted from a blog I wrote in 2010, this was when my business was called Why You Must Blog, which taught people how to blog effectively to find and engage their best clients.

Much since then has changed about how we deliver content, not so much has changed about how well we do it.

It seems to me that folk either shout louder, longer and more often than others (like the Internet Marketers of last decade) or they’re scrabbling about trying to find a way to stand out, which is likely to be transient.

Is there another way to be online, delivering quality content, being read, heard and engaged with?

I believe our content can be more like a warm breeze on a balmy evening, then a torrent, or parade.

It can be persuasive while being gentle, courteous and mindful. It can still be power-packed without being abrasive, divisive or grandstanding.

And it should include story.   Why?  Because story works and always has.  It’s why reading to a child is such a time-honored delight.  At heart, we’re all waiting to be told a story.  That much has not changed.

Don’t wait to be told a story any longer.  Learn to tell them yourself as one of the most powerful components of your communication toolkit.  Join me in a Why Your Stories Matter Workshop.  To find out more details email me at sandy@sandymcdonald.com

 

Five keys to powerful storytelling

When there isn’t powerful storytelling, what is there?

A while back I heard about a seminar for pregnant women on how an unborn foetus might be affected by a women’s mental wellness. I was keen to learn about this to help a pregnant friend going through a tough time. The expectation in the room suggested a high level of interest in this emerging and valuable topic. We seem more aware, but not necessarily more knowledgeable, of how much can affect growing babies from conception to birth.

Two keynote speakers took the stage; one an eminent professor of paediatrics from a leading maternity hospital, the other credentialed too, but as we were to discover, driven more by passion than academic rigour.

Death by PowerPoint

The professor who spoke first, put up her PowerPoint display. It came up in tiny type, with her whole address, page, after page, after page. For most of her presentation she stood with her back to the audience and read it. Delivered from that position, her speech was mostly incoherent for her audience.

We were a room of amateurs, not aspiring paedatricians, so we couldn’t understand the jargon, acronyms, and other slide-borne presentation mysteries.

She had misread her audience.  It was a missed opportunity, as she did not elicit any emotional response in her audience, either for the unborn or its mother.

Stories build trust and empathy

The second speaker took the stage. For 40 minutes he held us captivated. He enrolled us in story after story about pregnancy, unborns, mothers, depression, and anxiety, which evoked in his audience concern for the foetus and compassion for its mothers.

He demonstrated the science behind his stories, tying everything back to the central topic of the mother’s mental wellness during pregnancy. This was good communication and it was riveting.

In today’s fast and information-overloaded spaces, purpose driven storytelling is a vital skill, we’d all benefit from, both as presenter and audience.

Here are some simple keys to turn a sleep-inducing, dull, and possibly, insulting presentation (you can read blog or proposal here) into one that leaves your audience leaning in, wanting to know more, using powerful storytelling.

5 keys to powerful storytelling

  • Know your purpose, your audience and your intention.  What is your purpose? Dow is your presentation delivering on it? Who is in the room. Your words are much more likely to land if your message is addressed to their problems, issues, or interests. What do you want them to think act or do as a result of your presentation?
  • One topic, three key messages. You have a wealth of information and value to impart. To often, presenters make the mistake of including everything, cramming it all in, at speed, or in minute type on a slide presentation. Your audiences will catch nothing, not even the one vital point you are so qualified to make
  • Become a story teller. Stories that are emotionally charged and character-driven engage and reduce the gap between you and your audience, creating intimacy and trust. We are all designed to learn from them. The science proves that key messages will fall on receptive ears when carried by a tale.
  • Think about cadence. The rhythm of language and its delivery can move people to think entirely differently about what they’ve heard. It’s no surprise that Shakespeare continues to influence people with his poetic prose centuries after it was written.
  • Become a critic. You’ll enhance your communications if you learn to listen carefully to others. What moves you, what doesn’t? Why does one speaker engage you and another not? Why do you remember a lot about one presentation and recall little or nothing from another? When do people tell stories and how does it work for you?

If you’d like to embrace powerful storytelling, it’s my pleasure to invite you to the next PowerPacked Stories training day.

What if you are having a bad hair day?

Do you feel it too? The capriciousness of an ever-changing business landscape debunking ‘must do’s’ at the speed of a bullet train?

Changing algorithms. Meaningful interactions. Categorised content.

Our ever-decreasing attention span is apparently relegating long form posts like this to the museum of once cherished, business practices in favour of talking head videos. Oh no! Really?

We are constantly confronted by the urgency of the latest best practice, because when it takes hold, the babble about it is pervasive.

This doesn’t always equate to rigorous debate of how appropriate whatever ‘it’ is as a necessary tactic for business. Still, it does seem that as soon as ‘it’ arrives, there’s a flurry of early adopters, leaving many of us to wearily accept that ‘it’ must be pursued.

What to do with bad hair days then?

What if you’re happy to don your professional garb, lippy up and manipulate your crowning glory into something that can be seen in public on the days you actively engage out there, coaching, training, speaking?

What if for the rest of the time, you happily live the solopreneur dream, slopping around in track pants with a bird’s nest on your head?

Until a blink of an eye ago, this may well have been when you were at your most creative, writing, posting, and engaging, protected by your sometimes, several years’ old avatar.

Now, to conform to these changing algorithms, the need for meaningful interactions and to bridge the gap created by a decreasing attention span, we must front up, and be seen and heard, not just read.

Stories to the rescue

We know that attention is scarce. Most of us also know that reading stories transports our minds to new places.

Paul Zak, renowned for his work on the science of narrative, says this transportation is a remarkable neural feat. We read a story we know to be fictional, but ‘the evolutionary old parts of our brain simulate the emotions we intuit the characters are feeling and we feel those emotions too’.

The question then is how can we effectively use story to keep our audience entranced, engaged and emotionally involved, so that our content is categorized as high value, signals meaningful interaction, and satisfies the changed algorithms? And still have bad hair days!

Four story telling principles

You start with principles that make stories so compelling they transport your reader.

Purpose and principles – stories told from clarity of purpose and principles – spark a passion that can literally change the world. (Tell your story. Save a life).

Context – for what purpose do you tell stories, to whom and for what intention? What is the significant value you bring to your stories that can make a difference?

Unearth your value – within your bodies of knowledge sits your unique value. This value shared intelligently with others through stories, enlightens your listeners and can change their lives.

Empathy and recall – tell stories that are character-driven and emotional-charged, and you affect the brain activity of your reader, creating empathy, a sense of safety, belonging, inclusion, trust and a willingness to co-operate.

Idea worth sharing

Yes, you can do all of this in a video. Most people aren’t. They are imparting advice, not telling stories. Therein lies a huge opportunity for you, bad hair or not.

Telling stories that sell the sausage. And sizzle.

 

We sat in the back of a small city fringe café buried in a conversation about telling stories.

Swee Mak, Innovation Professor at Melbourne’s RMIT University, relayed a dilemma faced by leaders too often focused on a narrative selling an idea rather than reality. He pondered if storytelling had dissolved into marketing.

‘We live in two separate worlds’, he said, ‘one in which you must mean what you say and the other where you put ideas out without bringing them to life. {Some] consultants and philosophers, do a lot of communicating without being accountable.’

Leaders sell the sizzle without the sausage

As a professional engaged in helping people tell their stories for the right purpose and best intention, I find it challenging to reflect on how story is used this way. When I consider the current spate of world leaders selling the sizzle with no sausage in sight, Professor Mak’s observation multiplies in impact.

He emphasised the primacy of marketing when supporting a credible product or service offering, but queried its legitimacy when it promoted a narrative without substance.

‘This is the problem for thought leaders’ he said. ‘They must straddle the spectrum, to excite people, but then deliver on that excitement.’

In a world of research, Swee is constantly exposed to stories of new ideas selling people on what is possible. However, he argues such innovations must only be based on sound principles and an established track record.

‘There is no point going into the nuts and bolts if people are not inspired and energised to move. But a lot of leaders cannot span that spectrum. They are either nuts and bolts leaders or dreamers whose ideas come and go.’

Two forms of communication

Swee explained that these two types of leaders offer two forms of communication: one disseminates instructional information, and the other influences and excites.

In an operational world, the instructions (how) often come without the reason (why), and in an ideas world the reason (why) often has no instructions (how).

Instructional communication is often top down, stifling innovation, and influential narrative is too often lacking in mechanics.

Either way, one part is missing or incomplete and as Swee said, the stories people tell around either are rarely well crafted.

Therein lies the real opportunity.  Leaders need to learn to tell purpose-fit stories for maximum effect on their audience.

If you would like to find out how to polish your stories – the sausage, not the sizzle – join me at the next PowerPacked Stories workshop. You can find out the details here.

Micro stories with macro potential

 

It’s a funny thing. A person can be consumed with the passion about what they do, resolved about the niche in which they work and invested in their brand.

While they can talk up a storm about the gems in their offer, their human story disappears, the micro stories, all gems too, left untold.

A passionate environmentalist, determined to educate people in understanding the impact of their footprint, discovered micro-fiber cleaning systems. After a great deal of research, she put together a plan to create a chemical-free cleaning company.

As a person she sparkled. She carried with her all the freshness of the dappled forests she wished to save. In her hands, micro fibres gleamed with saintly goodness.

She launched her business with enough knowledge, and dedication to her cause to fill a book.

But when it came to communicating it, she couldn’t tell the many hundreds of micro stories that would bring the magic of her enthusiasm – so much greater than a cleaning company –to life.  She was stuck at the features and benefits of her offer. It was as if the mere thought of being in front of an audience, on and offline, suffocated her creativity.

The power of micro stories

There was no end to the micro stories she could tell about saving our environment starting with the story of the heros in her saga—her, the planet, and the brilliant technology behind micro-fibers, and the villain, the dangers of chemical cleaners.

She could tell dozens of them about how chemicals in the house affect us all and what we should know about their residual effects; how they affect people with allergies or conditions such as asthma and eczema.

What about the stories of the people for whom her chemical-free cleaning services were making a difference?

This constant flow of stories told authentically in her voice, would reach, connect and engage with householders keen to make a difference in their footprint, and for those who were dealing with health issues that would literally change lives.

With consistent storytelling, she had all the right attributes to launch a community, excited by her and her dedication – keen to join in her cause to reduce humanity’s footprint while living in a chemically-free home.

What micro stories are you not telling about you, your passion, knowledge and expertise that could build your business and community and change your part of the world?

To find out how to unearth your micro stories and learn how to tell them to build business, join me in an intimate Why Your Stories Matter Workshop on Monday May 28 in Melbourne.  You can book here.

 You can also contact me by email sandy@sandymcdonald.com, or on 0408 935 905.

A story told is worth a thousand speeches wasted

a coutnry festival

An hour later it was heaving!

Recently, we attended a country festival. It was a perfectly still, sunny day. We sat in the cool shade of an enormous oak tree, listened to some excellent folk music, and watched the local folk buzz with excitement as they worked and celebrated their district’s biggest day of the year.

The festival showcased the pride of local wineries, cheese makers, olive and honey farmers. The careful work of the regional crafters glowed in their stalls.

We tasted some delicious wine including a spectacular sparkling Shiraz and a buttery Chardonnay, while listening to the wine maker’s stories.

Life on the land

As city folk, we’re intrigued by the serendipity of life on the land – the vagaries of the weather, willy willies tearing up newly laid bird netting, the perversity of cockatoos who’ll strip a vineyard of its grapes for the hell of it, and not eat a single grape.

Later I amused myself drawing analogies between these tales and running a business. I’ve experienced a few willy willy and cockatoo-like clients over the decades.

Where were the stories?

At the appointed time, a regional dignitary came to the stage to open the festival and thank everyone involved.

There was no doubting her pride in, and enthusiasm for the event. But still the words rolled on – the hard work, the unification of the community, the importance of the day to the town and the region . . . until my attention wandered.  Attention is after all, a scarce commodity in our brains today.

Hard work is hard work. We all do hard work. In that hard work would have been dozens of personal stories, about the people who had ideas and implemented them, hardship and hurdles overcome, arguments patched up, real collaboration, even life changes.

We all belong to communities, but what was it about this festival day that really bound the locals together? What were the stories that spoke of their humanity, courage, adversity and joy?

It’s in telling these tales that she and others had the opportunity to stamp and solidify the energy of the day into the identity of the region, in both the local, and the visitors’ minds.

We recall character-driven stories invested in emotion months even years later. There was no reason for anyone to remember what was said beyond the moment. We don’t want to hear, nor do we remember political platitudes.

How many million such speeches stifle us everyday. How many speakers miss the opportunity to tell the stories that could impact on people’s attention, perception, and actions for years to come?

If you are a dignitary and you’d like some help, before you make your next speech, to unearth your stories as the most powerful tool in your communication arsenal, let’s talk.

Reaching my blogging destination

My blogging journey began in 2008 when I started a charity called Knit-a-square.  It launched a movement now numbering scores of thousands of compassionate people worldwide, and in its tenth year, they are responsible for sending over 1.5 million knitted squares to my aunt in South Africa, to make blankets for orphaned children.  The story is told in a TEDx talk.

I fell in love with blogging, reaching out, telling stories, getting responses, and driving activity.  It was wonderful.  In 2010, I started a blog, Why You Must Blog for obvious reasons!  It didn’t get quite the same reaction as Knit-a-square.

Fortune intervened and a wonderful woman called Tea Silvestre reached out worldwide and asked bloggers if they would join her in what she called The Word Carnival.  Every month for more than three years, we blogged on a common business theme.  It was heaven.  Folk read, shared, tweeted and commented on our blogs.

As happens in life, things changed.  For some years, I sat on my blog, which I had come to love dearly even though it no longer served its purpose.  My professional life was transforming and now it was about stories rather than blogging.  I kept the blog, but changed it to Why Your Stories Matter. 

Now my business has further evolved.  It covers coaching, training, story telling, and speaking. Still the principles remain the same across all of them, clarity, curiosity, coherence, and culture.

I decided that these various offers needed to be housed in one website rather than four, but initially planned to keep my blog on Why Your Stories Matter.  Within weeks, I could see that didn’t make any sense from a professional perspective.  After all part of the role of a blog, is to bring people into your website to see what else you may have to offer.  Why take you elsewhere but here?

Stories matter in all the work that I do.  If you are inclined, you can find my old musings here or in the list to the right of my favorite blogs.

Otherwise I look forward to sharing stories, ideas and general world musings with you in the years to come, right here.

Sandy