Lynne Meredith Golodner is the author of The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads. (Enjoy our author interview or visit her book page.) Lynne’s talents are rooted in her ability to connect people through stories. In late October, 2013, she is hosting a two-day professional conference called Marketing, Message and Media about the importance of storytelling. But Lynne’s vocational calling extends far beyond the realm of business. You’ll see her larger calling in her earlier column, The Lost Art of Storytelling. Then, today, she takes the storytelling discipline even further …
You know the old joke: Three people in a room (usually a religion is inserted as a descriptor) are asked about the same event—and you get four different stories.
Well even that story could be told better! But it’s true. We all come to a situation or event with different lenses through which to see the details. Some of us digest stories through words. Others prefer visuals to truly understand what’s going on. Still others need to chew a few bites a time—little, tight nuggets—in order to take in the entire story.
Let’s translate that to the tools we have before us today. Most of us grew up in a world where our phones didn’t follow us through our days and nights. We had moments (sometimes hours) of silence. I remember playing outdoors after school and fully immersing in the songs of birds and the screams of crickets until night fell and the voices of neighborhood mothers drew us back to our homes. The freedom, the fresh air, the camaraderie and the sunshine infused all of us with a sense of right and wrong and what was most meaningful in life.
That’s hard to find nowadays, when we are so bombarded by constant messaging from social media sites, texting, phone calls, buzzing smart phones late in the night and more. How do we ever find silence?
Imagine trying to communicate your message amid all this noise.
‘THE LANDSCAPE UNDER OUR FEET’
This summer, I was lucky to be able to travel a lot, most of it with my family. I took the kids hiking through waterfalls in Hamilton, Ontario. We had the joy of discovering a new city (and country!) by traversing the streets, gathering with patriots on Canada Day to learn about our neighboring nation’s history and tasting unfamiliar foods popular among locals (poutine…interesting).
We gathered with extended family in northern Michigan and tossed among the waves of Lake Michigan. My children laughed with their cousins on the back porch late into the night, while we adults listened from inside, warmed by their connection and awakened by the fact that our children are growing up into their own perspectives and thoughts.
Later, I spent time in business meetings and with my daughter in San Diego, in a different kind of surf, with new foods once again, walking streets and hiking trails to learn a different terrain.
What does this have to do with storytelling for business and community-building?
Everything. Until we understand the landscape under our own two feet, we cannot begin to understand a culture foreign to our own—even if it’s the next town over. And this intimate learning of the sights, sounds, scents and flavors others delight in is crucial to building a lasting and meaningful connection.
When I was a child, I often felt no one really listened to me. I felt things deeply, which many people laughed away as “too sensitive.” I loved learning about how people found meaning in the mundane, how others worshiped and prayed, the rituals and routines that directed people’s lives.
At some point, I may have turned off my own listening, as I felt that no one was listening to me. Recently, I’ve had the joy to turn it back on and I am finding that by listening to others, I am enriching the potential connection between us and finding common ground on which to build a fruitful relationship.
That is key for us as individuals—and it certainly is true for any business or non-profit.
FINDING A GREATER PURPOSE IN OUR STORIES
I’ll give you an example. The other day, I met a guy for coffee to discuss the possibility of working together. This is a video producer who has called me many times over the last few years to inquire about my services – and yet, he had never signed on. Finally, we were at the point of registering him for my upcoming PR Bootcamp, and I felt it was high time to sit down face to face and really hear what each of has to say.
It was the best hour I’d spent in a while.
We sipped our iced coffees and I listened more than I talked, every so often reflecting back to him what I was hearing. First there was the surface layer of conversation, all strident and muscled, where he insisted that the kind of work he needs is corporate video production because that pays the bills.
His voice grew softer as he explained how little support he has, how everything falls on his shoulders. The corners of his words softened, too, when he started to describe the pro bono work he does for people with special needs.
Then, somehow, we got to talking about faith. He is a Christian in a relationship with a Jewish woman, and they are trying to find their mutual ground in a congregation somewhere, talking to various clergy. He described his church to me, and his eyes began to glow.
“What I would really like to do one day,” he said, his voice as soft as I’d heard it, “is create some sort of interfaith ministry so that people like us can find a place where we both feel at home.” His cheeks were red. He almost had tears in his eyes.
“You are so sweet when you talk about this,” I said, knowing we were well beyond a work meeting. This was where two souls connected, where we could really begin to know each other, making any future work so much more meaningful.
And then I confided in him what few people know: I’m doing all this work in public relations and marketing communications and what I really want to do one day is be an interfaith minister.
Does such a position or pulpit exist? Or am I set to create it?
In fact, much of my PR work is leading me in this direction. A majority of my clients are faith-based companies or nonprofits and those that are not at first glance, are led by entrepreneurs with a distinctly faithful perspective and drive. Much of our “work” conversations focus on higher meaning, greater purpose and the Divine.
Plus, my recent book, The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, is pretty much its own interfaith ministry. (I am booking speaking engagements across the country as we speak!)
So what does this have to do with storytelling?
Everything and then some.
‘WHEN THERE IS TOO MUCH NOISE AND CLUTTER’
Who we are and what we believe is so much more important than the work we do. And if we separate the two, one will inevitably fall short or be hurt in the process.
Imagine doing work that was divorced from the core of who you are and how you live. How could you possibly be excited to get up every morning? And do you think anyone would be excited to connect with you?
That’s why the core story you’re telling about your business or organization must include some deeply personal elements of who you are and why you do what you do.
In this world of bombardment by media and technology, we have an even harder time getting clear on who we are and why we do what we do. That’s why it is essential to get silent and go deep inside to reconnect with the Self every single day. In my workshops, we include an element of meditation or prayer so that people can find their story in the stillness.
It’s a universal truth: When there is too much noise and clutter, it is impossible to be clear on what you’re doing or where you’re going.
Let’s find your story so that it not only builds business and connects you with the people you need to know to move forward—but also so you can reconnect with your purpose and let it drive everything you do.
It’s OK to check email only once or twice a day and leave your smart phone on the kitchen counter when you retire for the night. I remember reading in the 1990s how the telephone was created to be a convenience for you—not for the caller. You don’t have to answer it during family dinner. And you certainly don’t have to be a slave to it today.
While the world is a smaller place and we are more connected than ever, the humanness of what we’re doing on this earth has not changed. We may connect more but it’s in a distant manner, which means we are hungry for real human fellowship much of the time.
There’s no reason you shouldn’t include that in the stories we weave about what we’re doing. In fact, I think it’s the smartest thing we could do if we want to see real growth.
Lynne Meredith Golodner is an entrepreneur, author and owner of Your People LLC, a southeast Michigan public relations and marketing communications firm. Join her this fall for a transformative two-day workshop, Marketing, Messaging & Media: Storytelling to Build Your Business, Oct. 26-27th. (Special two for one ticket opportunity through Sept. 15th!!) You can learn more about her book The Flavors of Faith and read samples in our bookstore. She lives in Southfield, Michigan with her husband and four children.