The Story of My Life

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I recently participated in a women’s leadership panel. I was honored to be among a group of esteemed women leaders who were committed to community service while in pursuit of various professional accomplishments. We were talking with a group of college students (all female) and we were asked to discuss what we studied in school and how that related (or not) to what we did professionally. In addition, we were asked to address our experience providing community service, both then and now.

I think it goes without saying that these kinds of experiences are often as educational for me as they are for the intended audience. Hearing the perspectives of so many people I admire, learning new things about each individual and collectively sharing our experiences and advice in that setting was stimulating and inspiring for me…and I hope for the college students as well.

And while this very bright group of students seemed eager to learn the secrets to success, I was struck by several recurring themes that serve as valuable reminders for people at any stage of their career.

With age comes wisdom.

I have officially entered middle age, which is not necessarily a fact that bothers me. Of course, I could do without the increasing aches and pains or laugh lines (sounds better than wrinkles) that accompany this current phase of life. But I now recognize that with age comes a wisdom that is hard to explain to the young. As the saying goes, hindsight really is 20/20. There are things I have learned as my life has been shaped by experience that I could never have understood when I was in college.

For example, I always knew I wanted a husband and family “someday,” but I had no idea how creating my family would alter almost everything about my younger self’s world view. How could I have understood the idea that the pursuit of professional dreams sometimes takes a backseat to the needs of your family? Or that life as a new mother – a time of balancing work and daycare and regulated schedules that I thought was stressful – seems vastly different from the worry I currently have raising pre-teen and teenage daughters.

I don’t know it all, but I do know that the phase of life I’m in now will ultimately be just another chapter in a story that is constantly being written and revised. If I can learn to pause and appreciate the now – a discipline that is very hard to develop – then I’m already doing better than my 20-something self.

It’s okay to change course.

I was not the one who made this point during the panel discussion, but boy, did it resonate strongly with me. The women in our audience were all high-achieving college students who, no doubt, strive for that next great grade; great internship; dream job. But what if they decide that the career path they set at 19 or 20 is not really everything they thought it would be? As I sat among women who had studied everything from business to sports management to architecture, only some of whom had found that line of study to be their ultimate calling; I felt so completely normal and validated that my own professional path was filled with twists, turns, and redirects.

Public relations sounded cool to me in college as I dreamed of working with high profile people negotiating national news stories. My actual professional experience – while still public relations – has been quite different. And when I encountered a boss who promised to convert me to health care, I simply thought he was crazy. That seemed too practical at the time. What did I know?

By stating – out loud – that there is nothing wrong with changing your mind or revising your dream, I hope the audience of college students felt some relief in the fact that no one is expecting them to have all the answers now. It’s okay to be unsure. That’s what makes life a great adventure. Trying to live without regret seems too lofty, but having permission to learn as you go is much easier to grasp.

Women really are the ultimate multitaskers.

So admittedly, this was a panel of women and we were talking to an audience of women. No matter what the career choice or volunteer commitments, as a group it was obvious that multitasking was a honed skill across the board. Life is not linear and the balancing act is real.

Multitasking is a skill that will translate well in life – from the Boardroom to the kitchen. Whether making time for family, travel, work priorities, community service, hobbies or passions, there will always be something else competing for your time, your talent, your resources. The need to control that ebb and flow will make you crazy (quick) if you aren’t able to prioritize and delegate based on what is most important right now. And once you think you’ve got it all figured out, life will present you with another curve ball…you can be sure of that.

It takes a village, and that’s okay.

Which leads to my final take away from this experience. In the pursuit of dreams, no one should feel like they have to do it alone. Having a support network is vital. You can find that in many different places – whether it comes from your family or friends, colleagues at work, advisors at school. You will need to develop relationships that can be tested and trusted.

Our life is our story. Some chapters are more interesting than others. But the storyline will continue to unfold, revealing more life lessons as we go. I was glad to be reminded through this experience that we’re all just at different stages of creating the ultimate work of art.

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The Story of My Life

Word of Mouth Marketing: Storytelling That Can Help or Hurt Any Business

Word of mouth marketing has long been seen as one of the most effective tools for any business. Studies routinely show that people trust those closest to them to offer advice and recommendations about everything from a good book to read, the best grocery store to use, and even the doctor they should see. At its core, word of mouth marketing is simply storytelling. We have a natural tendency to create narratives for events in our life. Most of us love to share these stories, when given the opportunity.

I was recently sitting at the car dealership as my vehicle was in for an oil change and state inspection. Prepared for the hour wait, I had my laptop open and was happily taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi. When two additional people sat down, they struck up a conversation about medical care. In the span of only minutes, I learned that both had knee replacement surgery; where they each had it done; how their recovery had gone. What’s more, I discovered that the both had spouses who had recent rotator cuff surgeries; where those were performed and how they each felt about the care that was provided.

When one woman mentioned the name of her husband’s surgery, my ears perked up and I couldn’t help but join the conversation. This is because my husband recently had knee surgery with the same orthopedic surgeon. I was able to chime in about his experience. Fortunately, all was positive and for anyone else sitting in the room, this surgeon received a ringing endorsement.

What would someone else overhearing the (now three way) conversation take away from this exchange? This particular surgeon was associated with a great personality; low pain levels after surgery; easy recovery, even immediately following surgery. And the hospital where the surgery took place also received high marks for having staff that are friendly, good food and a lot of expertise.

Businesses need to think about what they want their narrative to be. While it is not practical to script that story for every client/customer/patient; the power of that narrative should not be underestimated. Positive stories are great, but negative stories can be just as powerful too. In fact, the negative stories are far more likely to be shared widely.

The work you do; the services you provide; the relationships you develop (whether over years or in minutes while waiting on car service) – they all contribute the stories that are unfolding all around us.

How will you create the kind of story that drives your business?

For more information about how VanInk can help you tell your story, contact kim@vanink.ink.

 

Word of Mouth Marketing: Storytelling That Can Help or Hurt Any Business

Stories can Illustrate, Teach and Keep us on Point

Whether helping my kids with homework or coaching a client on an upcoming speech, I am constantly reminded of the many applications for the art of storytelling.

My middle schooler began her U.S. History curriculum this year with a unit on the events that lead up to and have followed the September 11 attacks. Once complete, the class will go back in history and progress chronologically for the remainder of the year. So why start with 9/11?

While current seventh graders were not born at the time of 9/11, this event was so significant to the people surrounding those kids – parents, grandparents, older siblings, etc. – who all have a relatively vivid recollection of that time. Like so many sentinel life events, people can easily recall where they were, how they responded and the many milestones that have passed as a result.  Kids today, whether they were born and directly remember or not, continue to be impacted by the events of 9/11.

One of the class assignments involved interviewing people about their 9/11 experience. My daughter and I talked at length about the different people impacted and developed a long list of people with truly compelling stories to tell. Some narrowly missed the attack; some were so impacted it changed the course of their career into one of military service; some were present in New York City as the day’s events unfolded – bearing witness to unspeakable horror and true heroism. These individuals all have stories that are all the more powerful when told in the first person. I have to believe this seventh grade U.S. History teacher understood that when issuing this assignment.

How is this relevant as a business application?

Whether conveying data and analytics or trying to train a group of employees, creating a narrative can transform ‘information’ into a ‘memorable moment’ that applies to just about any professional setting.

Asking yourself why you are in business will help you nail down the desired result. The course you take to get accomplish your objectives may take many forms, but engaging through stories provides the kind of context that allows your audience to develop more of a connection to the message. Use the data and the business information to support the elements of your story that will draw a more emotional reaction.

I’m not suggesting that you need to make stories emotional. Examples from real life, humor, personal reflection, comparisons: they all represent different styles that can used to develop your story, and when done well, work across a variety of professional settings.

In addition, when you create a story you are more likely to stay on message. Memorizing points on a slide or a written speech is a challenge for the most polished presenters. Giving someone a story to tell will always have a more natural feel and flow and makes the presenter more comfortable.

One example: A tale of woe

Talking about customer service and sharing a list of tips for improvement can be helpful and informative, but wrapping those same elements into a narrative that illustrates an example of really good or really bad customer service can better demonstrate the real world application of customer service tips.

Telling employees to never be rude (ever) when face-to-face with customers seems like an elementary tip. Most of the audience is going to think, “Of course I would never be rude to the customer.”

Insert story here: If I retell my weekend experience from a favorite restaurant that let me down and why, then the audience can better grasp what I mean when I label something rude. In this case, I had a reservation discrepancy (I arrived before 7:00 p.m. believing that to be my scheduled reservation and they had me down for 7:30 p.m.). Honest mistakes happen and no one is perfect, so I accepted some culpability and was willing to patiently wait out the 30 minutes.

However – this being a small restaurant – I was able to see not one, but four open tables that would have accommodated my party of four. After 15 minutes of waiting, I asked the hostess about the open tables. I fully expected a logical explanation about why they were being held open. But what I received was a sigh and an answer that went something like, “I have your reservation for 7:30, so according to my watch we’re still ahead of schedule.” She did not seat my party early and all open tables remained so well past my recorded reservation time.

I’m not a squeaky wheel and I try in most cases to be as patient and understanding as possible, but I was prepared to (and eventually did) spend over $400 on this one meal. Food was excellent and our servers were attentive and helpful throughout the meal. That said, I will not be returning and I did let the management know of my experience in a letter that followed our visit.

What’s more is that I’m sure the hostess would not have interpreted her own behavior as rude, based on her belief that she was right and I was sat by 7:30 p.m. But if you build you business on going above and beyond for your customers (as this restaurant claims), then my experience represents a complete fail. Stories can help demonstrate some of these nuisances in a way that simple instructive lists cannot.

How can your business use storytelling to be more successful? I’d love to hear your story…

Stories can Illustrate, Teach and Keep us on Point