People struggle with bringing in a personal element to their stories. Yet, with Connection stories, it’s important to reveal something about yourself because you are more likely to create a deeper bond with your audience. But not every personal story can be told. It’s often about finding the right story to tell the right audience to deliver the greatest impact.
Last week I was delivering a second Storytelling for Leaders workshop for a major arts organisation. As I’d met the leadership group before, and have been working closely with the CEO, I decided to take a risk. Instead of choosing a more professional Connection story, I told the group about a time when the wheels came off during my recent publishing journey.
The connection story I shared
I started the story by describing how an Australian premier publisher offered me a deal to publish my first novel The Pagoda Tree (yeah!) but that things didn’t go exactly to plan. In fact when they published the B-format – the mass-market version of a book, usually cheaper than the first imprint – there was a printing error and page 254 was missing. No big deal you might think. It just so happens page 254 was the climax of the novel (oh no!).
Thousands of copies had already been sent out to bookshops before the error was picked up. So while the publisher did everything they could, including a reprint, it affected sales of that edition. Some months later, the publishing house sent me an email advising me to buy the remaining copies because they wouldn’t be doing another print run. This sort of email is a death knell for an author. It basically means the book is going out of print.
I went on to tell the leadership group how hard this experience was for me as an author. After all, I’d worked on the novel for 4 years and had high expectations for it. Even though there were some big changes going on within the publishing house and these were events beyond my control, my artistic self took it very personally. Probably too personally.
Then I went on to say how Unbound in the UK, both a traditional publisher and a funding platform, took on The Pagoda Tree but that I had to crowdfund the money to get it published. While crowdfunding put me totally out of my comfort zone, it taught me so much about the value of community. All artists these days need a community to survive – and thrive.
So, why this story?
An effective Connection story requires four things:
- A personal element that reveals something about your character.
- Ideally an element of surprise. In this case, it was the fact that page 254 was the climax of the novel.
- To be appropriate for the audience.
- A point. Here, it was to take a risk and go outside your comfort zone to get the result that you desire.
I wouldn’t have used this story in a very corporate setting because it wouldn’t have resonated. With this group, however, who are all experts in the artistic field, it captured issues that artists are grappling with every day and the timing was also right as the organisation is shifting their focus to arts practitioners.
For me, though, telling this group required greater risk precisely because they are experts. After the workshop I felt quite vulnerable. That evening, I could feel some of my own self-doubt creeping back in. Should I have told that story, I wondered. What will people think of me?
Personal stories require risk – and they give great reward. But just how personal should you be? Mark Schenk likes to describe an ‘intimacy scale’ with stories. He says, ‘Some things you would never tell a client or an employee, just like there are other stories you would only tell your life partner. Even if a personal story makes a good business point, if it’s not appropriate, don’t use it.’
Great advice. Mark and I agree that you want to be in the middle of the intimacy scale in a professional setting. In fact now that a few days have passed, I feel ready to share this story with all of you.
So, when have you taken a risk with a personal story and has that given you a great reward?
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About Claire Scobie
Sydney based Claire is an award-winning author and business journalist who helps leaders discover their authentic voice and unlocks the human stories within ASX-listed companies, arts bodies and Indigenous agencies to foster unity and transform culture.