Story: It’s on Every Wish List

In May 2014, Barkada Circle held its third Storytelling Jam Session at Street-Level Youth Media. The intimate studio space at Street-Level was the perfect venue for people from
different neighborhoods across Chicagoland to gather. In a darkened room and under one spotlight, six storytellers–filmmaker, writer, realtor, soldier, retiree, educator–seemed to offer up themselves to what became a sacred space that evening. The audience circle,
the presenters, the mic: we had transformed the studio into our own campfire.

When the lights came on at the end of the program, our retiree Frank walked up to me and asked if he could donate money to Barkada Circle. “We’re not a nonprofit,” I said, “but you can support Street-Level in their mission to educate Chicago’s urban youth in media arts for self-expression and social change.”

I thanked Frank for coming to speak at our jam session. “I was looking forward to getting to know you and your volunteer work for suicide prevention,” I said. What I didn’t expect was learning how much it meant to him being able to stand in front of an audience to tell his story. He made it his goal to take every opportunity to share something about himself with others as an important part of his process for healing. This made me realize that the
experience we had that evening was about generosity coming full circle.

Story is a gift that connects giver and receiver in meaningful ways, more memorable and deeper than anything that is just store bought. Story is an experience that fuels our
humanity because it requires us to give something of ourselves in the moment, either as listener or storyteller. The beauty that was revealed to me by Frank’s experience taught me how, as storytellers, we can be both giver and receiver at the same time. This is what
transforms us and makes us fully human.

This holiday season, I encourage you to give the gift of story. And watch it give back to you in ways you’ve never imagined.

Giving the Gift of Story

When you tell someone your story, you give something meaningful of yourself.
Sharing your experiences and your emotions gives value to your life at that
very moment and the listener has something valuable to learn from it.

Storytelling gives a whole new meaning to the word “present” because in order for that person to receive your gift of story, they have to be fully present in the moment.

Listen to two storytellers who believe in the ability of story to give infinitely.

Shonda Rhimes, Dave Isay

Story Helps Leaders Get Everyone in the Groove

In spring 2017, the Association Forum invited Barkada Circle® to conduct a CEO Exchange about organizational storytelling and its role in leading transformative change.
Participants shared how they engage members to tell their own stories and, on the flip side, what challenges they have in explaining their mission to a new audience.

The discussion revealed the following common questions:

  • How do I tell a story that encapsulates everything
    that the association does for its members?
  • How do I communicate my vision in a way that
    prospective members can understand?
  • How do I navigate change with everyone on the same page?

To meet these objectives, a leader must first connect with people on a personal level. Story is an emergent form of communication that taps into people’s unique experiences and into their emotions which hold the triggers for their actions. Story helps people realize their shared experiences and become open to dialogue.

Satisfy a basic human need for connection.

Harvard Business School published an interview with screenwriting coach Robert McKee in 2003 where he describes how leaders can use a storytelling framework to motivate team members to work toward common goals. Why does it make a world of difference to go
beyond rhetoric and present your case in a story? According to McKee:

“A story expresses how and why life changes. You want
to display the struggle between expectation and reality
in all its nastiness. It demands vivid insight and
storytelling skill to present an idea that packs enough
emotional power to be memorable.”

Whether they are aware of it or not, CEOs, directors and managers tell stories every
day–either to others or to themselves. They talk to staff about values, objectives and
procedures. They create scenarios in their minds to help in decision making.
Their biggest challenge is in leading people from different backgrounds and with
different belief systems toward mutual understanding and cohesive action.

Cultivate shared vulnerability.

Brene Brown–author, scholar and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work–has spent more than ten years studying human connection. During her TED Talk in June 2010 about vulnerability, she concluded by saying:

“Ultimately, by accepting that we don’t always
know and we don’t always have, we start
gaining the courage to take risks and make
truly meaningful connections.”

A great leader tells stories that convey her own personal journey–that she is only one
person, in need of many–to fulfill the mission. Knowing why it matters to one helps
to build understanding for why it matters to many. By embracing vulnerability, a leader
can provide a safe place where story sharing inspires collaboration, builds trust and
empowers individuals to band together and meet the challenge ahead.

Dance with change.

British philosopher Alan Wilson Watts, author of The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, said it best:

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge
into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

Treat change like a moving target. Develop the habit of rewriting the organization’s story every now and then. Pooling together the collective imagination of the members, volunteers, staff, board and community partners shapes an environment that allows creativity to thrive and encourages innovation. It’s a culture shift where change seizes to be the enemy and becomes music with a new rhythm. Are you ready to lead everyone in the dance?

The daunting task of telling a compelling organizational story is a common feeling among association CEOs and directors. Let Barkada Circle® help you harness the power of story to lead with courage and compassion. Send us an email or call us at (773) 852-3522.

Leadership and Story: Let emotions be your guide

Value is intrinsic to the culture of an organization, and it is the role of a leader to help its members find meaning in their values. A great leader articulates the organization’s vision in ways that create clarity in carrying out the mission every day.

Story is the best vehicle for illustrating and stewarding this vision so that people can forge deeper meaning in their work by connecting the task to their humanity. Leaders who promote a culture of storytelling help team members form a deeper emotional relationship with the mission and with each other.

What makes a great leader? Listen to three change makers share their stories about how they discovered the true meaning of leadership.

Simon Sinek, Fields Wicker-Miurin, Julian Treasure

Connection, Conversation and Hot Chocolate

Our storytelling theme for this month is on honing and delivering your elevator pitch to
engage a potential donor. The main components for accomplishing these are, essentially,
the same components in effective communication. Be prepared with a personally
compelling message. Be present in the moment. Be interested in what the other person
is saying. Listen.

I invite you to listen to three voices with deep experiences in verbal communication and making connections. One of them even has a way to make your voice feel rich and warm like hot chocolate.

Celeste Headlee, Julian Treasure, Kare Anderson

You can also read my latest blog entry The best elevator pitch is about you.
It forms a good pairing with this podcast. Enjoy!

The best elevator pitch is about you.

The door opens, you both step into the car and she pushes the button for the lobby.
It’s a few floors down so you decide to strike up a conversation about the event that you just attended. She then asks: “What do you do?”

Surely, you’ve had several opportunities to deliver your elevator pitch without having
to actually be inside an elevator. However, knowing a definitive cutoff for the encounter
demands brevity and a stunning ability to leave a lasting impression on the other person. How do you make the best use of this moment?

One can argue that you can never be ready for a chance encounter that could lead to a
potentially large gain for your nonprofit. Granted that each time is unique, you can still have a game plan that will help you to begin from a point of clarity and confidence.

Stick with the basics.
Your pitch must be grounded by answering three questions:

  1. Who is served by your mission?
  2. How do they benefit?
  3. Why does it matter to you?

The first two can be lifted directly from your website. The third should be centered
around YOU.

Come from a genuine place.
A dear friend and mentor once told me, “More important than your message is your
relationship with your message.”
At that particular moment, the person talking to you
is interested in you. Information that reveals who you are will do a better job holding
his attention during the short ride. Therefore, by all means, make it personal.

“Our mission matters so much to me because…”
“Working in this nonprofit gives my life meaning and purpose because…”

Your pitch is not a list.
Too often, I hear nonprofit staff rattle off their programs while the other person’s gaze starts to wander. Once you lose eye contact with the other person, they have a great excuse to disengage. Your audience will remain captive with a conversation, not a set of bullet points.

Be an opportunity maker.
Now that you have her undivided attention, she may want to spend a few more minutes with you even after you’ve both left the elevator. This is your chance to switch the focus and make it about the other person. What can she gain from this brief encounter? Can she learn about recent critical developments in your field? Can he benefit from meeting someone on your board? At this point, be an active listener.

Seth Godin said, “The best elevator pitch is true, stunning, brief and it leaves the listener
eager (no, desperate) to hear the rest of it.” 

Your pitch scales your mission down to a human level for the other person to grasp.
By making it personal and meaningful for yourself, your passion for the cause will easily come across in an authentic manner. This is what resonates with your listeners. It will make them want to continue the conversation and find their own meaning in your mission.

If you’re interested in how Barkada Circle can guide you in honing your elevator pitch, send us an email or call us at (773) 852-3522.

Story – It’s Your Secret Sauce

If you’re a foodie like me, you probably have a secret recipe for every occasion that gets people talking. For summer, my grilling ritual is never without a special marinade. Any meat or vegetable gets soaked overnight to absorb the herbs and spices for a tender and savory finish. Works every time!

I wrapped up my summer with a speaking engagement at Forefront HQ where they hosted the 2017 cohort of the YNPN Chicago Leadership Institute. I touched on the importance of integrating storytelling with finance. Prior to my talk, Forefront’s Chief Operating Officer Andreason L. Brown gave a presentation that clarified the difference between financial management and financial leadership. His final talking point provided the perfect setup for my opening:  Are organizational decision making and finance integrated in your nonprofit?

Effective leadership uses a strategic approach to coordinating the decision making process across all managements functions. It requires seeing the organization through a wider lens and understanding more deeply how mission guides every single activity.

It is common practice to start with developing a strategy. Barkada Circle® takes one extra step up. We begin by marinating stakeholders in story.

Immersive Storytelling: Prepping for Strategy

Having participated in several nonprofit board and staff meetings, I’ve observed how many come to the table and advocate for their own agenda. The plan tends to be a watered down list of actions that hopes to appease everyone without getting to a real solution.

At Barkada Circle®, we realize that an organization’s goals and objectives have to be rooted in its identity which is best defined through the foundational narrative. This comes to life during a comprehensive visioning process where stakeholders share their stories that make their personal connections to the mission become vivid for each other. They begin to see their common experiences, aspirations and hopes for the cause.

What began as individual agendas eventually converge into one agenda–ready for effective strategic planning with everyone on the same page.

Sustaining What Works

When we share stories within our organization on a regular basis, we begin to see patterns that tell us what’s working. We also discover gaps that need to be addressed and solved. Storytelling is intrinsic in every organizational function. In finance, particularly, story gives context and meaning to the numbers. Only then will data become valuable for decision making.

Storytelling sparks essential conversations that we otherwise wouldn’t have with our staff, manager, co-worker and volunteers. Engaging in real dialogue that changes the way we see other people and ourselves can create opportunities for taking the human dynamics to a whole new level.

What is transformational is also what sustains us.

Storytelling to Build our Tribe and Preserve our Culture

Since the beginning of human history, stories have shaped culture and people’s way of life. It’s where their identity is deeply rooted. It’s how families, tribes and communities keep their legacies alive.

Listen to three storytellers, each with a compelling case inviting us, as individuals, to seek the truth about cultures outside of our own. For it is through listening to the personal stories of others that we can fully understand the world around us, realize what truly matters, and get clarity on how to preserve our own humanity.

Elizabeth Lindsey, Chimamanda Adichie, Dalia Mogahed

Transcripts:
Elizabeth Lindsey
Chimamanda Adichie
Dalia Mogahed

Storytelling Begins with Listening

As a child growing up in the Philippines, I enjoyed listening to the adults in my family tell stories. I recall one afternoon when relatives came to visit. My cousins were outside playing while I was sprawled on the floor of the living room drawing pictures on sheets of paper that Dad brought home from work. He and Mom sat with my aunts and uncles around the table to enjoy a light merienda of rice cakes and fruit juice. I remember trying hard to stay still and quiet while listening in awe to stories about their lives in the rural provinces. Having been raised in urban Manila, I was transfixed by new images conjured from the imagination of a young mind. At the same time, I was transported to a new place.

Listening to a live storyteller is like opening a human book. Not only do you get the words, but you also get the actual emotions from their voices and facial expressions. The Human Library Organization is a global movement that uses the power of personal storytelling to foster dialogue about social issues. Founded in 2000 and headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, the organization secures spaces in libraries, educational institutions and conferences for people to engage in transformative storytelling.

Barkada’s goal for storytelling is three-fold: to spark conversation, to change people’s perceptions, and to influence their behavior. We have to transport them to a different place where they gain a new consciousness and a new way of seeing–a new human perspective.

Listening to those who can affect change is the first step to engaging them. It opens the door for them to be heard which in turn opens a window for them to listen.

Story begets story. It’s an emergent form of communication that naturally sparks conversation. The more stories are shared, the more learning happens to change people’s worldview.

Learning forges relationships. In time, a level of trust is formed between the people who now share a common perspective. When we build community around a shared narrative, we are able to find meaning in our actions for creating change.

Begin with the willingness to listen first. It sets you on a course to rediscover your young mind, set it free, and let your imagination transport you to a new place. Then invite others to share your vision and work with you to realize this place for all who need it.

America, Americana, and the price we pay to be free

In Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, we’ve got cool summer weather perfect for enjoying the outdoors and some great grilling. The 4th of July was a time to celebrate our victories as a nation, to celebrate our freedom, and to express our patriotism. But what does this all mean? What is freedom in today’s context?

What does it mean to be an American, to value our liberties and recognize that others share that same freedom with us? I invite you to listen to stories that reveal the truth about the men and women who fight for our country’s freedom – not romanticized, not idealized. It’s what most of us don’t see, don’t know about, or sometimes, even choose to ignore.

I would also like to introduce you to Rolfe Neigenfind who describes his music as embodying the spirit of Americana with roots in the Blues. A native of North Carolina, Rolfe made his home in Rogers Park once. He now lives in Nashville. I’ll be playing songs from his latest album Chicago available on iTunes.

Listen. Reflect. Celebrate

Wes Moore, Rolfe Neigenfind, Sebastian Junger