Category Archives: communication

Innovation (and great storytelling) happens at the intersections

When I took Barkada Circle® through a rebranding process in 2017, my biggest challenge was being able to create a clear pitch with a simple narrative behind it. Yup! There I was, storytelling consultant to nonprofits, trying to write my own story, and not knowing where to begin. The problem was not a lack of vantage points. It was quite the opposite; I had too many. Eventually, I was able to buckle down and figure out my story about storytelling.

My challenge stemmed from multiple interests I’ve accumulated through the years.
In my 20s, I was an undergrad with academic pursuits in art, engineering and design.
In my 30s, I was a full time graphic artist for a global manufacturer of dental products
and building a freelance business with clients from various industries. When I turned 40,
I launched Barkada as a birthday gift to myself (What normal person does that?).
Storyteller, designer, illustrator, writer, industrial engineer, public speaker, workshop
sherpa⏤you get the picture.

According to Emilie Wapnick, author of How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who
(Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up
, folks like me are called
“multipotentialites⏤those of us with many interests, many jobs over a lifetime, and many interlocking potentials.” A multipotentialite herself, Wapnick has been a musician/songwriter, a web designer, filmmaker, writer, law student and entrepreneur. As a career and life coach, she helps other people with wide and varied interests understand and appreciate who they are in a society that asks us to pick a lane and stay in it.

In her TED talk, Wapnick points out three multipotentialite super powers. I’ve realized
that these qualities enhance my abilities as a storyteller, or they’re probably the reason
I am one:

Idea Synthesis⏤Combine two or more fields and create something new at the intersection. Innovation happens when seemingly unrelated concepts converge. It’s where we can spark new ideasjust like in the movieswhere two opposing characters meet to spark tension, intrigue and an interesting journey that changes them forever.

Rapid Learning⏤We’re less afraid of trying new things and stepping out of our comfort zone. Helping clients to become better storytellers requires me to approach them with
curiosity. Listening to their stories while keeping an open mind means that I have to be willing to move aside my preconceptions, absorb new information like a sponge and,
in some cases, even relearn what I thought I knew.

Adaptability⏤In today’s world, change is fierce and it comes fast. Shared stories can hold members of an organization in a common personal bond. A culture rich with storytelling helps to anchor them to the mission so together they can weather the storm and thrive.

We have a stack of complex, layered problems in the world, and we need creative,
unconventional thinkers to tackle them. Multipotentialites make great connectors and
collaborators. Armed with their breadth of skills, knowledge and vocabulary, they can speak multiple languages across various fields. They can translate information into stories that can be understood and acted upon by others to get the work done.

Wapnick closes with this message of encouragement: “Embrace your many passions.
Follow your curiosity down those rabbit holes. Explore your intersections. Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life. And perhaps more importantly
⏤multipotentialites, the world needs us.”

This multipotentialite storyteller is ready to help you find the intersection where a new
story can spark your next innovation. Fill out our contact form or call 773.852.3522 today.

Keeping It Simple Keeps It Real.

Folks have asked me how best to tell their mission story if its core is a highly
sensitive subject. And who should tell the story?

One subject that deeply resonates with me is mental health.
I’ve been a volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide
Prevention
for the past four years, helping people register at the Out of the Darkness Walk of AFSP’s Illinois Chapter.  I’ve always been inspired by the outpour of love and support at this annual event.

With support from The Jed Foundation, the Ad Council and numerous donors and
volunteers, AFSP recently launched a national campaign, “Seize the Awkward.”
The goal of this campaign is to empower teens and young adults to reach out and
help a friend who may be struggling with their mental health.

AFSP

“Seize the Awkward” provides information and tips for starting that essential conversation with a friend. It does so in a light tone without diminishing the seriousness and urgency of the situation. It works because it’s simple, honest and touches on what teens and young adults–and even what the rest of us–experience every day.

And, they feature actual stories from a few who “know how it feels.”

Was this useful or relevant to what you’re doing? Check it out and let me know.

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.