Friday 23 October 2015

A Shameless Sales Pitch

                                  'To be a person is to have a story to tell.' - Isak Dinesen

Today, found me waiting at a bus stop, at the top of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, bag of chips in hand, looking suitably classy.

It was about 8pm and I had just attended a workshop on the' Power of Story Telling' run by the Health and Social Care Academy. I was unashamedly  interested to see the way in which someone else went about teaching on this subject, as it is a significant part of the training I give to communicators when teaching them how to speak so that people will listen.

The speaker was a woman called Marie Ennis-O'Connor. She had entered the world of storytelling via a blog after recovering from breast cancer and finding all that she had experienced something that she needed to process.

          'Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories &         compassion.' - Barry Lopez

I found the audience who were gathered to hear her, fascinating. Most of them were there because they worked in the health service and spent much of their working lives telling people's stories in order that they may receive better health care. I was especially intrigued by one woman from whom I got the impression worked with people who lived on some of the toughest estates in Glasgow. She spoke of how - for these people - on hearing stories and statistics of their mortality expectations and their poverty in the media felt exceptionally dis-empowered and discouraged by the reporting of their lives - their stories. They didn't want to live the story being told about them.

They wanted to be told a new story.
They wanted their stories to be told in a new way.
They wanted to tell their stories.

As someone who has spent much of her working life telling the stories of other people's lives, I found these words thought-provoking.

                                                         'Stories are just data with a soul.' - Brene Brown

I was deeply moved by the words of another woman who was obviously struggling under the weight of her own story. She spoke of how she was writing her story of medical misdiagnosis into a book that was "actually quite funny". The way though, that she was telling her story, made it clear to those of us listening that her experiences had been far from funny.

The room seemed to hold the tension of many unspoken stories within an audience who - if there had been time and space - would have begun to share candidly and vulnerably about their work, their passions and their story.

The speaker was good. I felt reassured by her training as quote after quote that she used came from the books and people who had helped me to form my storytelling journey. I was encouraged to hear her talk about the importance of vulnerability; being prepared to share your own story as well as hearing her extol the fact that story telling is actually in our DNA, it is the medium to which our brains are biologically tuned to respond. Stories help us to create connections with others and stories stir our emotions (and the chemicals in our brains) in such a way that those listening will want to step into the stories we are telling. Basically, stories stir a listener into action if we are telling our stories well.

For charities, for those in leadership positions wishing to inspire staff and for those with a product to sell, this is a really important piece of information.

                                            'Stories put all the key facts into an emotional context.' - Robert Rosen

As the workshop came to a close the speaker apologised for what must have been the fourth or fifth time for the fact that her Powerpoint presentation hadn't worked well.

She didn't need to apologise.
Often it is better not to apologise.
 It makes your audience uncomfortable.

I wanted to reassure her that we had heard what she wanted to say and so I spoke out into the room about the fact that what people respond to, when faced with an authentic speaker is the fact that they have discovered that they believe what the speaker believes (Simon Sinek talks about this as their 'Why'). The speaker had shared extremely vulnerably about her story of breast cancer, chemotherapy and her resulting infertility. She told us that she had always wanted to be a mother and of how cancer had taken that potential story from her and so she had determined to write a new story. As an audience we warmed to her and we believed her when she talked of the power of story because we had been inspired by her story and had seen in her an authenticity and integrity that was compelling.

    'The power of WHY is not opinion, it's biology...people don't buy WHAY you do, they buy WHY you do it.' - Simon Sinek

I shouldn't have spoken out into that room this evening though. For some reason, I qualified my comment about people connecting to the speaker's beliefs with the information that I worked with charities helping them to train their communicators! I explained that the use of story was key to my training. It sounded like I was making a sales pitch! The last thing that I had wanted to do was to tout my wares at a workshop that had generously been put on for free with a speaker of high calibre, who was gracious enough to thank me for my unwarranted comment!! I may have slightly overused exclamation marks in this paragraph!

And so, after beating a hasty exit at the end of the workshop in order to assure that my touting for business was unintentional (!), I decided that a bag of chips was in order to restore my equilibrium. I feel Brene Brown would have approved. There is something about the great British chip that makes one rise again - strong! And arming my self with the vocabulary of the said Brene Brown, I now make a 'shameless' sales pitch:

                                            'The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.' - John F Kennedy

On the 18th and 19th November I am holding a two day speaker training course: 'How to Speak so that People will Listen.' This is a one off course. One off - in the sense - that it is heavily discounted as I would like to have just a small group of people involved who I can use as a sort of 'focus' group in regards to giving me feedback and quotes for future courses that I will be running. Normally a two day course would cost £300. This course will be just £175 and all refreshments, lunch and resources will be provided.

 The first day of training will look at:

1. What would be considered a 'perfect' presentation?
2. Authenticity and Vulnerability: presenting yourself in order to effectively engage your audience.
3. Always start with WHY when wanting to inspire.
4. The Campfire - the importance of our personal stories.
5. Story as biology - part of our DNA.
6. How to create a good story.
7. Understanding & developing your key messages.
8.. How to construct a story-based presentation.
9. Inviting people to 'step into the story' - making an 'ask'.

The second day of training will involve each person taking on board the training of day one and presenting a twenty minute talk that represents the organisation, church or charity that they work or volunteer for.

I have 3 spaces still available on this course. If you think that you might be interested - please get in touch and I will send you the full programme and more information. The delegates signed up so far for the course are people involved in the area of social justice. My email address is I look forward to hearing from you!

(You might like to know that people have said some nice things about my training. With these quotes, I hereby end my plug of the shameless variety)

        'We were so inspired...never been so moved and enthused.  You gave us so much help' -                                                                                                                                                         Healthlink 360

      'Jen, was in the words of Bill and Ted, most excellent.' Volunteer Speaker for Tearfund Wales

                 'That was an absolute master class.' - Volunteer Speaker for Tearfund Wales



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