How Stories Get the Job Done

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Storytelling came naturally to author and consultant Kindra Hall, who will be a featured Thought Leader at PCMA Convening Leaders 2018 in Nashville on Jan. 7–10. “From a very young age, I told stories — at school, at church, on the speech team, at storytelling festivals,” Hall, a national storytelling champion and recipient of a 2014 Storytelling World Award, said in a recent interview with Convene. “If ever I wanted to hold someone’s attention or communicate the value of my idea, it was my natural inclination to use a story to get the job done.”

Hall earned a master’s degree in organizational communication and management, conducting original research that examined the role of storytelling in organizations. When she entered the business world, “I was surprised that my colleagues and bosses didn’t default to stories to make sales pitches or create marketing material,” Hall said. “It seemed so obvious to me.” An author and consultant, Hall will talk to Convening Leaders attendees about the strategic power of storytelling.

How do you define story? What are its essential elements?
The most important element of a story is a specific moment — a moment when there’s a happening. The thing that happens could be a realization, or a lesson learned, or an interaction. It could be an activity or a decision. But the moment is the start of the story. However, the moment alone isn’t enough. For a story to really be a story, and not just a moment, you have to build around the moment. Set the scene and lay out the stakes. What were the emotions or the backstory that makes the moment matter?

The marketplace is crowded with stories. Is there a danger that we can be overwhelmed with stories?
I’ve certainly felt overwhelmed by the news stories over the past few months. However, in business, I wouldn’t call it a danger but rather a reason to be telling stories that really connect with your audience, so you can rise above the rest of the noise.

Given your experience as a keynote speaker at many conferences, are there ways in which conferences do a very good job of telling the story of who you are?
I think the best way conferences can tell my story — or any speaker’s story — is to do it with video in advance. But not just the standard “I’ll see you on Jan. 9 in Nashville” video, but rather where the speaker tells a story that is relevant to the audience and also illustrates what the audience can look forward to. 

Here’s a story about this: I spoke at a real-estate conference a while ago — it was one of those agendas where there were a lot of sessions running simultaneously, and so each speaker video was essentially a micromarketing piece for the speaker. The planners encouraged us to be engaging in our videos, so I told a story about how “story” helped me get the house I live in. It was a story, about story, in real estate. And in just 90 seconds, the audience knew what they would get from me. I’m happy to say my session was standing room only. I wish I could take the credit, but it was really the story we told in advance that made the difference.

What motivates you to help others learn how to tell their stories?
I have two motivations. First, stories are such an effective form of communication, so for those who develop this skill, put it into practice, and use stories to deliver their messages, they see results. It’s really exciting for me to receive emails from people who tell me their stories about using stories. Their excitement about it is motivation enough.

But there’s another reason and a greater message. Because, although I am teaching people how to use their stories, they are also realizing that their stories matter, that their life experiences have value, and that they should share their stories. I didn’t expect this response to teaching storytelling, but there is an empowerment undertone to the message that people need now more than ever. 

What are the two or three things that you would most like for people to know about stories?
The most important thing: Often companies or brands focus on finding the story — the Big Story. But companies, brands, and events are built on many small stories. Don’t overlook the smaller moments and stories that illustrate the essence of the brand or event on a real level.

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