Once upon a time: How compelling stories communicate success

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Sit back and relax my blog friends, because it’s story time. I believe storytelling is the single most reliable way to spread the word about what’s going on in our communities.

Telling powerful stories is an art. And when done well, it will not only grab the attention of your audience — it will keep them engaged for the long haul.

Here’s an illustration of a compelling story. It began when I took my bike to the local bike store for a repair. The fellow who helped me was new, and told me this was his first time working in a bike store. He was an architect and had previously owned his own business. This was during the recession when building projects had slowed down or stopped all together, and he talked about how hard he tried to keep the business afloat.  But it simply was not sustainable. He spoke of his love for biking and for architecture.  Then without hesitation, he smiled and said that what was once his passion (biking) was now his job. And what was once his job (being an architect) had become his passion.

I walked away impressed. This guy knew how to turn obstacles into opportunities, and he really knew how to tell his story!

In a previous blog on measurement, we talked about the challenges of measuring what you cannot see and touch. This is where storytelling comes into play. And when done well, it can become a powerful way to measure success.

Here are some tips to telling compelling stories:

  • Make sure your story has a solid point or result. There’s a big difference between “Acme Systems enjoyed connecting with fellow entrepreneurs at our recent event,” and “Acme Systems connected with three potential partners at our recent event.” Stories like this take more time and research, but they’re worth the effort.  They also provide an opportunity to follow-up and find out what happened with those potential partners. And then tell that story. Your community is looking for action, so use your most results-oriented stories first. They will grab attention and put you on your way towards becoming a trusted source for information.
  • Be inclusive and stretch your boundaries. Too often we hear the same stories about the same people or companies over and over again. Take the time to find out what’s going on deep inside your community. Yes, technology, driverless cars, beer and health science seem like the sexy industries, but you never know what cool story is inside the construction or food processing company down the street.
  • Be bright, be brief and be gone.  A favorite quote of our president, Dan Wyant, says it all: Your audience just wants the CliffsNotes — no need to give them an entire novel.
  • Learn to tell warm and fuzzy stories. Once your community views you as a trusted source, you can begin telling your warm and fuzzy stories. These stories need not be about cats or other fuzzy creatures. Rather, they address culture — the glue that keeps your community together, but is challenging to measure. They come straight from your audience and sound like this: “I cannot imagine living anywhere else. There is an energy here that just keeps getting better. I feel like I belong, I know where to find help or a good listener, and there is always something to do outdoors.” Wow! Sign me up to live there. Oh wait, I do live there. It’s called Grand Rapids, Michigan. 🙂
  • Learn to tell at least three compelling stories. I call this the airplane test. If you’re sitting on an airplane, and someone says, “What’s happening where you live?” you’ve got your stories ready. You are your community’s best ambassador, so the more you know, the better. But start out with at least three, keeping one results oriented, one inclusive and one fuzzy. Meow.

The best part of telling stories is that we’re in charge. We’re not relying on others to give us a voice. And we can figure out our own timing and delivery method (blogs, social media, websites, email blasts, newsletters, speeches, intros to speeches —  and cocktail, coffee and airplane conversations). If the press picks them up, cool.  If they don’t, that’s OK too, because once your stories are out there, they become viral.

Telling compelling stories is an art anyone can learn.  And it is the single most powerful way to we have to communicate success and to rally the troops to greater heights. After all, how else can we make sure they all live happily ever after?

The end.

Copyright © 2017 by Edward Lowe Foundation

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Penny Lewandowski
Senior consultant on external relations
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A thought leader in entrepreneurship and building an entrepreneurial culture, Penny Lewandowski is senior consultant of external relations at the Edward Lowe Foundation. She is a frequent speaker on new ways to think about economic development – especially how a grow-from-within strategy leads to thriving and sustainable economies.