I was a tiny three-year-old girl in a children's ward, surrounded by other beds. My parents had to leave me there at that tender age for one of my many cleft palate surgeries. They bought me two new books: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and a book about a boy having a tonsillectomy. I don't remember being scared about staying in the hospital alone. All I remember is my two new books. This is my earliest memory.
After reading this newsletter, I'll bet you'll remember my hospital story. My clients--both past and present--know this about me:
I always ask them if they can start with a story.
The best speeches, articles, sermons, and blog posts begin with a story. As students of fiction writing know, the writer should "show and not tell." That's what stories do. Here are three reasons why you should always start with a story:
When you open with a story, you immediately capture your audience's attention. We are on information overload. The average person is exposed to 2,500 ads each day, or 150 ads per hour. If you don't grab your readers' attention in the beginning, you'll lose them. If you tell a compelling anecdote that is relevant to your topic, you'll draw them in.
Your audience is more likely to remember what you say later. Humans' brains are uniquely wired for story, distinguishing us from even our closest evolved primates. Think about the movie or novel plots crystal clear in your mind. Corporate fundraisers know that people are much more likely to give money when they hear a single story of one impoverished person struggling to feed her family rather than when they are bombarded with statistics of hunger and poverty. Stories make the facts stick.
Stories humanize you, especially important when you're talking or writing something persuasive or expository. For example, I was recently helping a client prepare for a presentation where she would be pitching her skills for a project. I strongly suggested that she start out with a story so her audience could get to know her. She came up with a wonderful story that demonstrated the way she works and what she values. At the same time she was grabbing her audience's attention and appealing to their brain's desire for story.
You can even use stories when you are writing a proposal or cover letter...once when I was helping a team prepare a presentation for design of a park with ball fields, we had each of the presenters talk about their childhood memories of playing sports. No matter the mode of communication, you can find a way to tell a story to cement your message.
Please pass this newsletter or individual articles along to anyone who might find them useful! Drop me a line to let me know what you think or if you have suggested topics.
Following my love of storytelling, I started a podcast in early July. I have been having such a marvelous time hearing these stories of grit, resilience, and connection. Most of the conversations cover vulnerable topics like racism, poverty, prejudice, family dysfunction, and discrimination. I'm fascinated to hear how people survive difficult childhoods and inspire themselves to reach forward and keep going.
You can listen to my podcast wherever you get your podcasts, or you can listen online. These are the most recent episodes:
Dennett Edwards is paying it forward, driven by her passion to help people. Dennett's parents divorced when she was young, and she didn't have access to a lot of resources. She ended up dropping out of high school, earning her GED by age 16, and then going on to earn nearly three master's degrees. When COVID-19 hit, she fired up her creativity and began a free online professional network: Corona Daze Professional Development. Read more about Dennett, and listen to the conversation here.
Dr. Daivati Bharadvaj overcame bullying in her teen years to reclaim her power and her Indian heritage. Daivati’s parents left India and arrived in the United States with $24 and four-year-old Daivati. At the tender age of 13, Daivati experienced bullying, name calling, and a racist attack by a gang of boys. It made her feel embarrassed of her family, brown skin, and Indian heritage. Somehow Daivati found the grit and strength to sign up for her school talent show and perform an Indian dance. She reclaimed her Indian identity and became proud of her heritage. We spoke about racism and xenophobia, COVID-19 as a health care provider, her inspirational parents, and being pregnant during a pandemic. Read more about Daivati, and listen to the conversation here.
Rabbi Debra Kolodny is a spiritual badass who has been fighting for all sorts of social justice causes since 1981. As executive director of Portland United Against Hate, they've been on the streets for the Portland #BlackLivesMatter movement too. Born in New York, Rabbi Debra Kolodny (they/them) is a veteran of social justice movements, bringing a spiritual perspective and an activist’s passion to racial and economic justice, women’s, environmental, peace, and LGBTQIA+ causes since 1981. We spoke about social justice, the current protests on the Portland streets, their calling to become a rabbi, how we can stamp out hate in public spaces, and what they find inspiring in their own life. Read about Rabbi Debra, and listen to the conversation here.
Ruben Garcia is a Mexican-American man who grew up working in a migrant labor camp and became the father he never had himself. Ruben was born in Texas to a Mexican family with ten children, an abusive and alcoholic father, and an inattentive and dysfunctional mother. When he was nine, his family moved from New Mexico to a migrant labor camp in Oregon, where he had to work from sunup to sundown picking produce. We talked about racism and prejudice, how he used his own traumatic experiences to help other children affected by trauma, and how he overcame his shame and lack of family or societal support to build a positive life for himself and his own family. Read about Ruben here and listen to the podcast here.
Charles Jackson II is a Black man from Florida who is a true leader and connector. I met Charles on LinkedIn, when he asked if he could interview me about my article, "The Weapons of White Women's Tears." That was just the beginning of a whole series of conversations I've had about race and other vulnerable topics. I will always be grateful to Charles for inspiring me to launch my own podcast. Charles and I had a wonderful conversation about his life, racism and George Floyd, parenting, fathers and sons, leadership, basketball, reading and watching, and grit and resilience. Read about Charles here and listen to the podcast here.
I still get a slight thrill when I tackle a piece of verbose prose and distill it down to narrative that is engaging, concise, and pithy.
Working with engineers, architects, and planners for most of my life, I’ve found that many in these professions seem to believe their writing is more effective or impressive if they use more words to say what they mean.
Curious about what's happening on the streets of my hometown Portland?
Watch this compelling and inspiring Zoom panel discussion, "Sacred Stories from the Streets," with local clergy and faith leaders, including Rabbi Debra Kolodny, who I interviewed on my podcast. You'll hear first-hand stories of what's really going on and some suggestions for what we can do to fix things. Pastor Lenny Duncan, who wrote Dear Church: A Letter to the Whitest Church in America, TOOK US TO CHURCH. He was on fire. The panel was hosted by the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice.
You might also like this deeply powerful Tisha B'Av service led by Rabbi Debra in front of Portland City Hall, in which they chanted a Black Lives Matter Eicha/Lamentation. You can hear the #BlackLivesMatter protests starting up in the background, along with a car rally in support.
How to Answer “What You Are Most Proud Of?” in a Job Interview
I was recently featured in an article on Upjourney.com, responding to the question "How to Answer What You Are Most Proud of in a Job Interview." This is one of my favorite questions to ask, so I always have an answer at the ready. You can read the article and my response here. What are you most proud of in your life and career?
In my professional life, the answer is all the people I have helped along the way...and that's why I continue to do the kind of work I do...to help people discover what makes them special and help them to share that with the world!
Fertile Ground Communications LLC is a certified women-owned business enterprise, disadvantaged business enterprise, and emerging small business.With over 30 years of experience in the environmental consulting industry, I am passionate about sustainability and corporate citizenship, equity & inclusion, businesses that use their power for good, and doing everything I can to create a kinder, more sustainable, and just world.