Tag Archives: storytelling

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.

Teacher. Student. And how story connects them.

At Barkada Circle, we use storytelling as the catalyst for sparking conversations between the people of a community so they can inspire each other and work together to make change happen.

For the past few months, my team has been immersed in Chicago’s education community. From coaching early childhood educators in a nursery school so they can engage the parents of the children on a deeper human level to speaking to a group of development professionals for community colleges about the value of storytelling in their work.  From training teachers to be leaders in their own communities to engaging the board members of a museum in outreach and promoting their mission.

Barkada Circle’s goal for 2015 is to highlight the value of storytelling as a transformative agent for education: why storytelling is the foundation for how children learn and how adults find common ground around the issues of education, why each one of us must engage in making sure everyone has access to education regardless of their socio-economic status in the community.

Recently we gathered parents, youth, educators and nonprofit leaders around a table in Evanston, Illinois to share their experiences and perspectives on education. Participating in this conversation provided them opportunities for:

  • Meeting other equally invested neighbors who share similar visions for Evanston
  • Deepening their understanding of the community’s needs, programs, challenges and successes
  • Planting the seeds for future interactions, collaborations and resource sharing

This was our first step in supporting people’s efforts to make the necessary change for education in Evanston. As we facilitate more conversations, we continue the journey of addressing education as the cornerstone of our democracy and, presently, a tangled web of direction, intention and contention. Once we reach the place where we find our common truth and identity, only then can we change our story that weaves together reconciliation, courage and hopefulness.

Rita Pierson, Christopher Emdin and Linda Cliatt-Wayman
Rita Pierson, Christopher Emdin and Linda Cliatt-Wayman


Listen to these three storytellers talk about having the courage to break down barriers to reconcile their passion for education with the needs of underserved students so that they can hope to succeed in life.

Night of Convergent Voices

pic_jam2013OCTPeople never cease to impress upon me how storytelling is, not only an artistic form of self-expression, but also an intrinsic part of our humanity. Once again, it happened at our recent storytelling Jam Session: What’s Your Read.

Filmmaker John Grod and Frank Tumino, Director of Little City Foundation’s Center for the Arts, kicked off the jam by giving us an inside look at what sparked the creation of their compelling documentary Share My Kingdom. It’s a story rich in visual textures and layered truths about our visceral need for art as human beings.

From the author of a children’s e-book to a motivational speaker’s journey, the evening was, in the words of a participant, “more than expected.” Diana Durkes wrote Henry’s Chair, a story of her family’s house cat, the first of an upcoming series. Diana revealed her whimsical illustrations and her vision for engaging both child and parent in a love for reading. Mary Nerburn, Certified DreamBuilder Coach, shared her inspiration for helping people see their potential for personal transformation.

pic2_jam2013OCT

Through vocal variety, Dawn Marie Galtieri, Executive Director of Voice of the City, embodied the characters in her story who emerged from their inter-disciplinary arts programs. CJE SeniorLife grant writer Magdalyn Guzzo suspended a moment in time by painting a day-in-the-life portrait of the people at the center. Maribeth Joy, Executive Director of CircEsteem, informed and entertained while seamlessly weaving organizational and personal stories together.

The creativity of the evening was amplified by the energy that radiated from the surroundings. Thank you to Lillstreet Loft on Ravenswood for hosting us in their amazing space.

View and share the photos. Hope you can make the next jam in Spring 2014!

Mission: On The Air

party934I’d like to invite you to be a guest on my radio program and tell the story of your nonprofit’s mission. Barkada Circle broadcasts live every Monday at 10am Central on Party934.com which is a project of the Free Form Radio Initiative, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide diverse and innovative online broadcasting that reflects the interests and concerns of the community.

You can tune in on Monday during my next live broadcast or listen to recordings of recently aired programs on http://party934.com/BarkadaCircle. Here’s the podcast of the interview we did in April with local artist Lindsay Obermeyer who tells her story about using her art form and collaborating with nonprofit organizations in a number of cities in the midwest to create a stronger sense of community for the people in these areas. Send an email to pon@barkadacreative.com and we can schedule your story for a future program.

Who is Your Social Media Hero?

slideshare_socialmediaHere’s a clear and user-friendly presentation on Slideshare that will get you thinking about how best to delegate social media within your organization.

Then, after you’ve thought about it, consider attending our upcoming panel discussion on May 16 entitled “Who is the Face (and Voice) of Your Mission?” Learn how some local nonprofits are strategically using social media, not only to tell their stories with clarity, but also to make it easy for their advocates to share their stories and move others to act.

Click here for more info about the May event.