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The Lost Art of Storytelling

by Lynne Meredith Golodner

You may think you know your story. You may even know details and dates that are important parts of it. But I’m willing to bet you don’t know the whole story, even though you’ve lived it.

In a way, we are better experts on other people’s lives, businesses and communities than we are on our own. That’s because the unbiased perspective without emotions entangled in the telling is what creates connections and encourages relationships that endure.

In my work and in my personal life, I have always told stories. I was a journalist for a long time and a book author and a teacher of writing. In 2007, I created Your People LLC, a Michigan company that provides public relations and marketing communications guidance to entrepreneurs, businesses and non-profits. This year, we are launching a number of workshops, seminars and conferences to guide entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders in storytelling to build business and community.

My well-known secret is that I don’t do business (or anything, really) according to other people’s expectations. I live outside the box. You might too since you’re an entrepreneur with a dream. Anybody who really thought about the potential outcomes or failures would never take a step toward their own exciting ventures, right?

When I got into business, I was led by a belief that everybody needs PR and not everybody should have to pay a fortune for it. Now that I’ve been in the PR biz for six years, I realize why it costs so much. If you have me do your public relations and marketing communications for you, I will spend a lot of  hours telling your story to the right people to build you the strategic relationships you need to grow your efforts.

So what if you could do all that yourself? Or at least some of it?

That’s the premise behind my upcoming DIY PR conference, Marketing, Messaging & Media: Storytelling to Build Your Business, Oct. 26-27th. What would it be worth to gain a few skills and tools that you could implement easily into the natural course of everyday work and build your reach organically, yourself?

That’s what will happen if you attend. And here’s the premise behind these new affordable programs that empower everyone toward doing at least some of their own PR.

The Premise: Everyone has a story worth telling. We may humbly think there’s nothing interesting about who we are or what we do, but we are sadly wrong. Because people do business with people, and because communities are built on compassionate and caring personalities coming together, understanding the value of your story is vital.

There’s a difference between content and storytelling. In a January Forbes article, writer Mark Evans makes this distinction: “Content is just a commodity without storytelling to give it a rock-solid foundation. Without storytelling, content is nondescript, uninspiring and, frankly, a waste of time and energy.”

So how do you discern your own story? How do you boil down all the dates and details to a quick, compelling narrative that draws people to you, and thus, to your brand?

Discerning Your Story

You began with a family and grew into adulthood. You were born with a personality so distinct, it directed you toward engagements and friendships and tussles and tasks. Your work path grew out of all of your life experiences, leading you to This Moment.

What, exactly, happened to bring you to where you stand today?

I used to tell the story that I was a writer who, when journalism started changing, needed to figure out a way to earn a living. I used to add in the quick detail that I decided to divorce my first husband when my three children were very young, creating that sense of urgency to find a steady source of income.

Well, I later learned that the story I was telling was only half of the real story. A mentor sat me down and asked me to start from the beginning.

I shifted in my seat. I started to sweat. What did he want to know, exactly? Why would any business audience care about my trivial childhood insecurities? I’m not the kind of person to play the woe-is-me card as a path toward business growth.

I sat still and played out the conversation. What I discovered was that a select few details from early in my life had, in fact, directed me toward this very moment. And that story was interesting.

Not only that…my story has universal truths to which other people can relate. And when that happens, we have a connection – which makes business easier and much more meaningful.

Your story is your open-door to making honest, heart-to-heart connections with the people who will patronize your business in a real and ongoing way. And using your story as a way to connect with customers toward mutual benefit is a whole lot easier than trying to do it stiffly, with only the professional viewpoint.

Here’s what I learned

For as long as I can remember, I was told that I was bossy and had a big mouth. Had my family told me that I was a leader and channeled that energy into a positive, rather than, let’s face it, bossy, direction, I might not be where I am today. But that bossy-big mouth billboard followed me like a wart that won’t go away. I was smart and attractive, but insecure as can be, always looking for love in the wrong places. Which led me to marry the wrong guy because I didn’t believe I could do any better.

Yes, I got three amazing children out of the deal, but I was in a miserable marriage that I knew, six weeks before the wedding, was a mistake. You know how when you’re not in alignment with yourself, everything seems to go wrong? Well, in the first year of my first marriage, I got strep throat three times. I was 29 and otherwise healthy, and my doctor said, “What’s a healthy woman like you doing getting strep throat so many times?”

I fully believe that my lack of a voice in my marriage was making me sick.

Finally, after the birth of my third child, I found the courage to leave. I came to the realization that I would rather spend my life alone than spend it in misery with a bad match. And so I filed for divorce and at the same time, started my company. I wanted my children to see one strong, healthy, independent parent successful in her life.

Without the heaviness of a bad situation over my head, I thrived. Clients arrived, I did great work, I poured my passion into using my strong voice and leadership skills to help others build business and brand awareness.

That story usually causes my audience to fall into absolute silence in rapt attention. I tell them how my business has grown, and how I finally found love, and how my marriage now, with four children (gained a step-daughter) and a blended family, is a dream. I tell them how my life started at 37, when I finally found the courage to embrace my strong personality and not feel bad about it, but rather channel it toward good use.

Everyone in my audiences can relate to some element of my story: a bad relationship, a bad choice, a mistake they wish they hadn’t made, the courage to start over, the daring to create a business. I tell enough to lay the foundation for true bonding between me and the people with whom I share my journey. The universal truths in my story become evident in the faces of my audience.

Here’s another universal truth: You’ve also got a valuable, compelling story. We all do. If you are honest and carefully choose the details you share, you will connect in ways you couldn’t have imagined, and grow your business also in ways well beyond your wildest dreams.

Choosing what to tell

There are many points along your path that are important to include in your professional story. Let’s start with three key questions to help you frame it:

1. Who are you, truly, at the core? What matters to you, personally?

2. Why do you do the work that you do?

3. How is what you do helping the world become a better place?

You’ll notice that none of these questions ask for the price of your services or products, and none of them require the address, day and time of an upcoming sale. That stuff is easy, and you can fill it in later. Before you can claim new customers into your product or service line, you have to win their hearts. Hit on the core story behind what you’re doing and what makes you unique before they will care about any of the other stuff.
In my workshops and retreats, and in my client work, I start here. I need and want to understand the person or people I’m working with, so I can help them pull out those gold nuggets of details that make all the difference in connecting authentically with their ideal audience and building relationships of mutual benefit.

You’re invited: If you like what you’re reading here, consider joining me and my team and a host of great storytellers who are also successful in business at Marketing, Messaging & Media: Storytelling to Build Your Business. It’s Oct. 26-27 in Troy, Michigan—a weekend that will change the way you work, and live, for the better. I hope you can join me. (Use this discount code for a great conference rate: BMN. And through September 30th, if you buy one ticket, you’ll get another free. Split the cost or gift the second ticket to a friend, colleague or potential client.)

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Lynne Meredith Golodner is an entrepreneur, author and owner of  Your People LLC (www.yourppl.com). She blogs daily at www.lynnegolodner.com. Her most recent book, The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, debuted in June and she is currently speaking around the country about how bread builds bridges between many faith communities and individuals.  


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