“ Stories are people. I’m a story, you’re a story…your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, our stories join into one, and for a while, we’re less alone.” ~ Alvin Bender, Beautiful Ruins
As you glug your third Sustaining Brew of the morning and fight the foggy befuddlement misting your brow with best-friend familiarity, you stare at the screen and decide.
They’re always on about story. Finding your voice.
vulnerability, authenticity, honesty.
These are the catechisms of modern marketing. So you decide to be brave. This newsletter. This blog post. That networking thing you’re dreading tomorrow: it’ll be different. They’ll notice. I’ll tell a story.
But somehow your inner voice is feeling a bit antsy this morning. And that other voice, the one playing like an endless Rick Astley loop nightmare, is at you again.
Who are you to talk about your story?
Why should they care?
You’ll embarrass yourself. You’re deluded. You’re not a pro.
You’ve absolutely no idea what you are doing. Go back to bed. Read the next chapter of that novel, written by a REAL STORYTELLER. Have a little smackerel of something. An epiphanic bout of filing. An urgent bit of plumbing. Another biscuit. A tantrum.
Because consider this. On the outside, all those people who do tell stories – evocative, real, lumpy-throat ones – are not one jot different from you and I. Not a bit.
They just had another gulp of Sustaining Brew Number Four and got on with it. Despite their loudest inner protests, their most cunning plots to self-sabotage. Somehow they muddled through.
Why? Well, here’s why:
They got to the point where NOT to tell their stories would feel like breaking a promise.
what’s the promise?
They don’t know exactly. It’s to do with that strange vital-frail human need to connect, to empathise, to be on the same page as another human heart. It’s the best way they’ve found to paint a picture others can comprehend.
When you receive an insight through a story, it’s as if you’ve been battling a face-down jigsaw which has suddenly been flipped. Suddenly you see the whole picture. Suddenly you recognise something.
Usually, you recognise yourself.
it’s a myth.
It’s a myth that stories need to be Significant. It’s a myth that Great Sorrow and Heartbreak are the only players on the stage. What makes you smile? What lifts your spirits? What is it that you read in a magazine, on the Tube, on the back of a smoothie, on an email newsletter, that gently jolts you into a compassionate a-ha, as if you’d caught yourself in an unexpected mirror?
Stories can be small. Stories can be funny. Stories can be imaginary. Stories can be sad. When you offer up a story, no matter how tiny or trivial, you’re writing a letter to another human heart, and you know what? Who are you to second guess how your story will resonate with those who are out there, radar-ears swivelling, waiting for that story to touch them.
Who am I to tell you a story? Well, I’m just as well qualified as you. I used to make up new Mr Men stories when I was eight. Then when I was bigger and had done lots of science instead of story writing, I somehow fell into writing stories about wheelie bins and Coffee Of the Week for a small town newspaper. I thought it was hilarious that they never found out that I was not the real deal. Perhaps they didn’t care.
Perhaps, after all, it doesn’t matter. I’m imagining we’re sitting over corners of toast in our Clothes Which Might Be Pyjamas as we talk about this, you and I.
Write as if you are sitting down with just one person. When you’re at that dreaded networking thing in the morning, try listening with reckless abandon. Listen and talk to each person as if that person is the only one in the world. You’ll be surprised how stories bubble up all on their own, how the flickers of delight and recognition register profoundly. How your stories, even your tiniest ones, can be just what somebody is listening for.
Perhaps it’s not so much about finding your voice as simply using the one you already have.
ready to find your voice?
Why not test it out in a safe and supportive space with other entrepreneurs who understand how terrifying this can all be!?
Join us for Simplicity, the 10-week business accelerator that will give you the confidence you need to get out there and talk about you business.
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Jo Bradshaw is an author, creative director and illustrator. She writes about marketing and how to get yourself out there (even when you’re as easily distracted as her) and is most comfortable in her pyjamas surrounded by books and crayons.
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Linda Anderson says
Inspiring post, as ever, Jo.
I’m loving the flipped-over-jigsaw analogy. And your creative, playful-yet-serious and totally unique voice.
Off to fetch Sustaining Brew No.4 now and see what’s cooking 🙂
Jo Bradshaw says
Linda – Ooh, tell us what’s cooking! I love the stories you’ve been weaving in your own delightfully engaging way. It’s amazing how feeling seen can impact a reader or listener. What’s been your experience?
Lisa McLoughlin says
Love, love this and I find we are all a rich tapestry of interesting stuff ;))
Jo Bradshaw says
Isn’t it funny how we somehow think we should hide or try not to talk about the rich and interesting (and sometimes quite unexpected or difficult) things, when instead to share those stories would be so much more generous 🙂
Lesley Pyne says
Great blog, very inspiring Jo.
You’re so right, it’s easy to think that others have a more (important/interesting/relevant etc) story to tell than we do when it’s not the case.
I love the idea of listening with reckless abandon – I shall try that at the next networking event I go to & see what happens.
Jo Bradshaw says
I’ll be thinking of you doing that Lesley…let us know how it goes! So often I catch myself ‘pretend listening’ or thinking I’ve understood the point the person is making so going off listening duty, or thinking up what to say next! It’s quite a thing, real listening.
Susan Hagan says
I have found that just doing what I want to do has attracted attention. Somehow NOT being focused on what others think, like, agree with, gives a freedom to actually attract people who are interested in what I am doing.
And what I am doing is what makes me happy and fulfilled.
Seems easy to me.
Great piece Jo – stories are so important in engagement when trying to promote a cause or when fundraising.
But its always important to make sure that they are authentic – I personally want a face up, no sweetener story as too often many come across as “guilt-trip” ridden. And worse, tainted in the battle to out sweeten each other.
Every point under “its a myth” above holds true, and when I look for a story to tell – its as simple as a snapshot in time that the viewer can associate with at some level.
Love the Facedown Jigsaw!
But one thing about telling of stories is to remember that the call to action is influenced both by pre and post help stories – and it is the post help stories that I think, with the proliferation of social media and hundreds of calls to action, really can influence people into supporting your cause.
” …. because of your support …” is both effective as a thank you message to current supporters and a subtle ” see what you could be doing” message to potential supporters.
The post-help story is also a verifying message that quantifies where that money/time/effort is going to make the difference – especially in the era of mega charities where there is scepticism of how much of our donations are actually going to causes on the ground.
Look forward to more!
Danielle Anderson says
Thank you all for you wonderful comments, and again to Jo for engaging with all of you here.
I asked Jo to do this piece for me because so often I hear people tell me that they don’t know how to tell their story. They’re afraid to get it wrong. They don’t think anyone will care. There is a story within each of us and I find that the more open and honest we are with others, the more warmly we are received.
You can read a bit more of my story on the “about” page above. 🙂
Jo Bradshaw says
Great point Ranjit. I too have worked closely with non profits for many years, and can vouch for the power of a post-help personal story rather than a generic benefit-led or inauthentic campaign.
As readers/potential givers our brains can handle the micro far more easily than the big picture (although a single story or snapshot needs to belong to a bigger picture or be part of a solution). We desire resolution, too; how irresponsible it would be as a charity, for example, to share a real story of one person’s need without then following up with donors as to what’s actually happened and whether any difference has been made.
The little details couch any piece in a context, making us, as readers, say ‘ah – this is a real person, like me’ and thus being able to empathise. A great exercise is to read the opening paragraphs of well-written magazine features and notice how the writer creates connection, empathy and arouses curiosity.
Jo Bradshaw says
Great point Su – I guess it’s like dating! Being really present and wholly enjoying what you do makes you really attractive to others 😉 Being needy is a bit of a turn-off!