The Power of a StoryFest!

I went to a fabulous retreat over the weekend with 22 other business women. The
‘Journey to Success Retreat’ was hosted by Company of Women, a truly unique and caring organization for women entrepreneurs and The Clarity Group, an inspirational powerhouse of health and wellness.

We could not have had a better backdrop. We were in Niagara on the Lake sharing thfriends talking2e beauty of the fall colours and their unbelievable town flower arrangements. The hotel was stunning and provided every comfort you could imagine. Except the hot tub which was under construction. We were a little grumpy about that but it was hard to maintain when presented with at least 5 different chocolate and caramel laden desserts at every lunch and dinnertime buffet table. Continual dessert choice, very nice wine and the ability to assuage my food overabundance guilt with yoga and meditation the following morning made it an ideal weekend!

However, my favourite part of the retreat was the storytelling. In fact, it was a StoryFest!

Women entrepreneurs shared their business stories. Where they are at. What they had been doing. What they hope to achieve in the future.

We shared our personal stories. What our values are. What we like to do. Where we have been in the world.

Money stories were shared. We talked about what our relationship with money is like. Where it came from. How we value or de-value ourselves through our pricing and sales conversations.

Stories were used by outstanding facilitators to help us understand a point of view. Consider a new way of thinking. Hear about other people’s experiences. Emphasise a learning.

We made each other laugh and we made each other cry.

Stories connected us as a group and to each other individually. They created much craved commonality. They unearthed sometimes uncomfortable yet intriguing differences. Stories were the thread that weaved our group together. And kept it bound even when we wanted to cut ourselves off from hard truths discovered or our need to process new ways of thinking about ourselves.

We created a memory. A new story. To tell others. Just as I am telling you now. But we also created a new story for ourselves that we will to carry forward into our businesses and personal lives.

It is fascinating how the telling of stories can create so much possibility in just a couple of days!

As I was driving home it struck me that this really is the way forward for business. Connection. Collaboration. Sharing. Productivity. For we were nothing but productive with our time this weekend. Even when eating a multitude of desserts…

It also struck me that it is nothing new. Not rocket science. Not even difficult. We’ve been doing this for thousands and thousands of years. But maybe we just forgot for a little while how important stories are beyond the mandatory bedtime read to our kids.

People organize through stories. They may have suffered similar losses, health issues or difficulties. They share the stories of their experience and they join together to deal with it.

People disorganize through stories. Employees share their bad experiences, their tales of performance management gone wrong and the difficult/rude/abusive/stupid things their bosses do. They collectively wait impatiently for their work day or week to end. TGIF!

People learn through stories. The professor or course leader tells us something and they back it up with a vignette from their personal life and we remember.  When we attend training, we learn from other people’s stories of what has worked well and what hasn’t.

Stories connect us. They inform. They inspire. They bind. They create a vibration of intimacy and understanding where none existed before.

When was the last time you participated in a StoryFest? If you haven’t done so for awhile, I highly recommend you find an opportunity to do so. Being listened to and being reminded that we are not alone contribute significantly to the development and maintenance of a healthy internal narrative and helps to create community.

Stories really are that powerful.

But don’t forget the desserts…

When Words Don’t Work

In February, my Grandma died after a long and valiant internal battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. She was my best friend, my adventure buddy and my safe place while growing up. We would chat happily for hours while playing cards, watching the Blue Jays, and going for walks during the weeks when I would visit. But, in the last year of her life I found it extremely difficult to communicate with her. A self-defined ‘engagement expert’, I struggled to know what to say. And, apart from occasional glimpses of ‘my’ Grandma, I didn’t know if she could even understand the random small talk I did come up with when visiting. It was frustrating. And sad. And heartbreaking.

‘Music and Memory – iPod Project’ – Alzheimer Society of Toronto

This month is World Alzheimer’s Month. I want to tell you about a project I wish I had known about sooner. A project that is taking engagement to the next level.  It’s called ‘Music and Memory – iPod Project’. And it has been launched by the Alzheimer Society of Toronto. It’s big. And it’s brave. And it works.

How It Works

People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and their families or carers are given an iPSenior with ipodod and support to create playlists. The idea is that the playlists contain music that brings forth memories for the person with Alzheimer’s. Music may be related to particular moments in their life or particular eras. This video Can Music Heal? by the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, demonstrates the transformation that takes place for individuals with dementia and the people around them when the iPod is being used.

Connection is created, shared experiences are generated and happiness governs the interaction. A commonality exists between people where there was little before. And I Happy familyimagine that there are so many more ‘good’ moments. These are great moments for us as family members as we experience the fleeting presence of our loved one. We cherish these moments even more as they slowly disappear in quantity and quality as the disease progresses. Sharing music and memory enables the kind of engagement that family members crave but are often at a loss to generate through conversation. The iPod Project is creating a space that moves beyond talk and uncomfortable silence. It’s helping people with Alzheimer’s and family members share heart space.

At the risk of completely sabotaging my business proposition at The Write Word, I will leave you with this. The iPod Project demonstrates that engagement starts with the heart and that there are many more ways to communicate with each other beyond words. Connection can be created through caring, music, shared memories and happy ‘now’ moments. And, we must value these moments wherever possible as we do not know how many we have in our lifetime. As I write this, it strikes me that although it was difficult to know what to say to my Grandma near the end, my heart was very much available to her. I think she may have understood that. Even though I had no words.

Show Your Support at the Movies Tonight!

Tonight is a special showing of ‘Alive Inside’, the documentary that inspired the ‘Music and Memory – iPod Project’ at Alzheimer Society of Toronto. It is at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Doors open at 6.15pm.

Alive Inside follows Dan Cohen, a social worker who tries to bring personalized music to nursing homes after discovering its ability to awaken deeply-locked memories in people with dementia. A Q&A session with film director Michael Rossato-Bennett hosted by Cynthia Mulligan, anchor and reporter at CityNews, will follow the screening.

Donations of used iPods and additional contributions will be accepted at the theatre. All proceeds go to the Alzheimer Society of Toronto. For more information, please contact Kimberlee Waymann at 416-640-6327 or by email at kwaymann@alzheimertoronto.org.

If you are unable to make it to the screening and want to support this incredible project OR you want to find out more about the movie, visit www.alzheimertoronto.org

Help create MORE happy memories for people living with Alzheimer’s and their families.

Are you getting Engaged?

Are you interested in a long term relationship? Have you made a commitment to give first and receive later? Are you showing some love?

Before you click away because I am getting a little personal please allow me to clarify. I am referring to your relationship with your customers or donors. Engagement is the new way of doing business and it is important that we know what this means in order to dNo more hard sell!o it well. It used to be the case that we would beat the heck out of a person with sales tactic after sales tactic until they relinquished their money. And soliciting donations was not very different. Charities shared sad story after sad story to get people to donate. These approaches worked for a long time. But both the hard sell and the sadfest are now over. These days people want to be drawn into a business or cause. They want to be engaged with positivity and impact.

But how do we move from where we were to where we need to be to bring in new customers and maintain their loyalty? I think we need to relax a little bit. Be ourselves. Show our authenticity and caring about ourselves, our consumers and the world. People want to do business or donate to organizations they trust. And they cannot trust us if they don’t even know us. And they certainly cannot trust us if they think we are  going to constantly ask them for something.  We need to tell them more about ourselves. What do we believe in? What do we have to offer? How are we changing lives? As businesses and charities, we need to share more. We can do that virtually through a great website. We can do that through our marketing. We can also do that by equipping our staff, donors and partners with great stories to share within their networks.

And, like in any good partnership here’s what else we have to do – get to know them.

The world is not as simple as it used to be in selling terms. It is much harder to stereotype consumers by age, role, class or even socio economic status these days. For example, we used to think that only the very rich would donate but people of all salary levels are now donating monthly and helping charities significantly with consistent cash flow. The increased availability of credit means that anyone can pretty much purchase anything at anytime in their life cycle. They don’t have to wait and save up. We must be careful about making assumptions about people. For when we do, we will miss the mark entirely in our marketing efforts.

But how can we get to know our consumers? This is a big question right now and a lot of businesses are struggling with it. But really it can be very simple.  Talk to them. Ask them what they want. Create ways of having conversation that enable you to get to know them a bit better. Staff on your front line can ask friendly questions. The leadership of your business can create a blog that invites others to contribute to discussions about the company and whatever industry it is serving. People love mingling with the CEO! And, having conversations with potential customers is a smart way for leaders to find out what the gaps are in their sector in addition to what people think of their company.

Social media is also a key area for getting to know our consumers but too many of us are still using a ‘push’ mentality with regards to getting our information out there. Social media is about pull. It’s about drawing people in to have conversations and sharing commonalities. It’s about being part of a community of people who are interested in similar things and want to engaged restaurantshare. Think about social media as your ongoing night out in a lovely restaurant with friends. You would not think of dropping your business card on the table every 5 minutes in the midst of great conversation would you? We don’t want to be ‘that guy’.  Instead, we pay attention to the flow. We contribute when we have something to say. We listen when others are speaking. And when we want to engage others in a subject we think will interest them, we tell a good story.

Engagement is a wonderful thing. But, just like any other long term relationship, effort and a meeting of minds and hearts is required.  Most of us would not get engaged to another person after just one date. We want to spend some time getting to know each other and making sure we really click before we commit. It’s an exciting time for business and charities. And’ it’s a time of nervous anticipation as we try to figure out how to ‘pop the question’ without pushing too hard. Sometimes we will get it wrong and that’s okay. We can try again tomorrow. And keep trying. Until they say ‘YES’!

 

The Story of You – Case Study Stories

It can be really difficult to tell or write a story about ourselves. We are constantly aware of the other person or the potential reader and wonder what they will think about us. We worry that we are bragging too much or that we aren’t bragging enough. We wonder what others want us to say and focus our attention on that rather than what we want to say. When we write we may use too many exclamation marks and come across as false or write too formally as we try to sound like we know what we are doing.

Often, when we tell a story about ourselves it fails to resonate with others.

Therefore, we sometimes need someone else to tell our stories for us. Other people dofriends-talking not get blocked by insecurity. They don’t wonder what the reaction will be. They just tell it like they see it. There may be a little bit of worry about what you will think about what they are saying but if you invite honesty, you are likely to get it.

And here’s the thing. People almost always say good things when they are invited to tell us what they think about us. People LOVE to give their opinion and they take it seriously when you ask for it. They will use adjectives that we would never even consider applying to ourselves because we are too humble or worried about showing off. They have insights about us that we have no awareness of because its extremely difficult to be objective about ourselves.

I suggest you give it a go. Ask a friend or a colleague to tell you a story about you. It may be an anecdote about something you did that stuck with them or it may be a description of your qualities. Whatever it is, sit back and listen. And you will find out more about you. As others see you. And you will find there are all sorts of great stories about you that you had no idea even existed.

Now let’s think about this with regard to business. We have the very same tendencies when it comes to writing or talking about our organizations. It’s not easy to find the place between underplaying ourselves and being arrogant when it comes to utilising our communication tools. When businesses tell us that they are the ‘best’ at something it goes right past us as it does not ring true. It never does when we say it about ourselves.  However, happy customer 2when someone else says it about a business we listen. And, often, we act based on this recommendation.

So it is also important for businesses to ask their friends to share their stories. Your loyal customers and partners have a lot to say if they keep coming back to you. You can ask for testimonials but you will get a lot more from people who really like you through ‘Case Study Stories’. Ask them for a story about how your business, product or service helped them. Ask them to tell you how you improved their lives, helped them overcome a challenge or changed the way they think about the world. A Case Study Story is a very powerful business tool. But it must be authentic and it must demonstrate results. So do be careful how you ask. Treat your customer or client like your friend and ask them to tell you a great story. About you. Then, put this story on your website, in your newsletter, on your Facebook page and share it with staff, friends and family. They will no doubt have other great stories to add as well.Woman on phone

You and your business are important to others. Let them help by sharing their best story about you with you. And the rest of the world…

 

‘Follow the Intern’ – A game of risk and chance!

Most businesses play ‘Follow the Leader’ when it comes to decision making about messaging.

Except when it comes to website content. Instead, too many businesses and non profits INtern overloadedplay ‘Follow the Intern’ or ‘Follow the Co-op Student’. Many Leaders think ‘Oh, he’s young and he knows about that stuff’ and delegate the responsibility for writing website content to the most inexperienced, most temporary and most overloaded member of the staff team.

It is a decision often driven by lack of knowledge or fear of technology within the leadership. It is a major gamble where the odds of success are not good. Getting the summer Intern to write website content is like asking them to stand up at the AGM and give the review of the business year.

After they have been there one day…

As someone who has advocated for years for youth to have better placements and opportunities, I am not saying that they should not be given responsibility. I am just not a fan of giving learning youth tasks that set them and the organisation up for failure.

Crafting and controlling the messaging for the organisation starts with the leadership. Current and potential customers or donors, partners, suppliers and the general public all have access to the website. Often, leaders put a lot of hard work into creating print materials, training staff on how to sell their business or products, creating an elevator pitch, developing a great phone message, etc and then neglect their most utilised business communications tool.

If you are struggling with your website content, the great news is you have options! You can hire a great writer or Engagement Consultant (apologies for this but – Hint! Hint!) or you can find the talent that lies in your current team. Hold an internal writing contest for your staff to see who can create the best home page. Find out who on your team loves writing and has been desperate to get hold of your WordPress admin credentials. Find experienced and qualified volunteers who have experience in marketing. Have a go yourself and bring out your inner MadMan or MadWoman!

You can evintern coffeeen give it to the Intern AFTER they have received full training in your company mission and mandate, have spent at least 3 months in your organization AND have proven themselves to be a great writer. Then, if they do a great job, make them a coffee.

They’ve earned it!

Now let’s talk about your social media strategy…

 

Be the Prince not the Frog! Create a great impact story

Your organization has been around for 50 years? So What?

You have a fun and vibrant workplace? So What?

You’ve won awards for your innovative products? So What?

I am not trying to be rude here but your potential customers don’t care about these things. Yet.

The thing they most care about and are asking themselves when they first come across your business is: ‘What will you do for me?’

And if you are a Non Profit, your potential donors are asking: ‘What will you do for others?’

They want to hear your impact story. And they want to hear a good one.

The good news is you already know how to create one. An impact story looks like a fairy tale. Please note that I did not say that it IS a fairy tale. That is a whole other blog for another day.

We have all grown up with fairy tales. Here is the formula: Princess is in trouble of some sort. She may be sleepy or have hair that is too long or she has to do too many chores. A handsome Prince comes along. They have some sort of issue to overcome (a dragon, a wicked witch or a lost shoe maybe) and when they do, they live happily ever after. Now as someone who is committed to fairy tale equality I don’t love the gender stuff going on here but there is a reason these stories are so popular. We love to see people overcome a problem and be happy for evermore!

Your impact story is like a fairy tale. It’s the same formula. Your customers are the Princess and they are in need of a rescue. You are the Prince who rides in on your white horse to save the day. But you need to do a little more than just turn up. Snow White and Prince

Creating an effective impact story requires the same finesse as the fairy tale. People want more than just the bare facts. They want context, some detail and to like your characters. This is where your history, your added value and your culture help to convince them to let you be their Prince. And let’s be very clear. They choose you. These days, it is more of a mutually beneficial, consensual rescue type situation rather than a ‘put a potato sack on their head and throw them over your shoulder’ deal when it comes to fairy tales or marketing.

And then, when they are convinced by your powerful ‘So What?’ story and fall in love with the rest of your charms, you overcome the problem together and ride off into the sunset.

And live happily ever after…

Now, isn’t that a beautiful story?