Lynne Meredith Golodner: Where is your story taking you?

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 …

Blue ladder against an adobe wallstories can be told many ways.

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.

What’s your story? How successful communities and businesses are built on storytelling

Storytellers hands for Lynne Meredith Golodner storyRegular readers know Lynne Meredith Golodner as 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. That’s why The Flavors of Faith contains both recipes and stories. Lynne also runs the public relations and media marketing company Your:People. Just look at her array of services! A glance at her website shows why we have invited Lynne to write occasional columns. She focuses today on the skill of storytelling, as valuable to individuals, congregations and nonprofits—as it is to Fortune 500 CEOs.
Here’s Lynne …

The Lost Art of Storytelling:
How successful communities & businesses
are built on storytelling

By LYNNE MEREDITH GOLODNER

Lynne Meredith Golodner YourPPL website backgroundYou 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.

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?

The Lost Art of Storytelling:
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 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 don’t want to play the sympathy card.

But I finally sat still and played out the conversation. And 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.

The Lost Art of Storytelling:
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 parents 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 as hail, 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 who is 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 then about 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 situation, 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. I don’t tell too much, but I tell enough to lay the foundation for true bonding between me and the people I am sharing my journey with. The universal truths in my story become evident in the responses I see in others.

And 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 to share with others, you will connect with people through your shared stories.

The Lost Art of Storytelling:
Carefully choosing what to tell

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

  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. But you have to hit on the core story behind what you’re doing and what makes you unique before any of the other stuff matters.

This is a good place to start. In my workshops and retreats, and in my client work, I start here. I need to understand the person or people I’m working with so that I can help them pull out those gold nuggets of details that will make all the difference in connecting authentically with their ideal audience and building relationships of mutual benefit that last. Start here with these three questions. I’d love to see what you come up with. And stay tuned for Part 2 in this Storytelling series for Read the Spirit—about what to do with your story once you have it and where/how to tell it.

More on Lynne Meredith Golodner & storytelling

Lynne Meredith Golodner Storytelling ConferenceIN MICHIGAN IN OCTOBER, Lynne invites you: If you like what you’re reading here, consider joining me and my team and a host of other great storytellers who are also successful in business at Marketing, Messaging & Media: Storytelling to Build Your Business. It’s Oct. 26-27 in southeast 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: YOUR PEOPLE.)

ANYWHERE IN THE U.S.: Throughout 2013 and 2014, Lynne will be crisscrossing the country, visiting a different metropolitan area each month. Note that Lynne Meredith Golodner’s workshops also can be tailored to congregations and nonprofits. You can contact Lynne directly through her Your:People contact page. Or, Read the Spirit readers always are welcome to email us directly at [email protected]especially since Lynne is now one of our authors and contributing columnists.

More on growing your congregation
through better communication

In 2013, Read the Spirit is responding to readers nationwide who love their congregations and are asking us to include more practical columns about growing healthy communities through a better use of media. One way we help is through our Bookstore, which offers dozens of books that are great for re-igniting your small group or congregation.

This summer, we also are adding occasional columns by nationally known congregational consultant Martin Davis. His first column reports on the demise of church newsletters—and practical steps you can take to turn them into powerful tools for outreach.