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

Regular 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


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.

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

IN 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.

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