Storytelling ROI

The Value of the Characters

Storyteller Kelly Swanson uses characters to relate to her audiencesA good speaker isn’t really about the message, but the message as it applies to that speaker’s life experiences. Each speaker brings a different set of perspectives and a different set of life stories seen from where they sit. A meeting planner’s task is to find the best fit for the audience, the perfect blend of something new and something to relate to my audiences. I think my cast of characters widens my scope of audiences I can connect with.

If it’s just about me and my story, then it’s about being a mom, being a wife, running a business, dieting, spending life on the road, being the picked on kid growing up. You may connect, you may not. You might connect more to the guy who grew up in poverty and built a million dollar business. Just as in music we don’t all like the same songs, we won’t all like the same speakers either. I think the worst thing you can do as a speaker is to hide your individuality and personality to water yourself down to appeal to the masses. Then you’re in the chorus line. And nobody remembers the people in the chorus line.

So I won’t appeal to everybody. But the cool thing about my town is that if you don’t connect to me, you might connect to one of my characters instead. These people in Prides Hollow allow me to connect with people who wouldn’t otherwise connect with me. Let me give you an example of how this plays out.

I spoke to a National Guard group in Louisiana. I was brought in for a three-day conference. I was not brought in to deliver training. I was brought in to motivate, entertain, inspire, and help them deal with stress and change.  I wrote a one-woman show in three acts delivered over the course of three days. I was sitting in a spot in Prides Hollow, waiting for a parade, and talked about all the people who passed. Sometimes I would tell them more about me (my personal stories) and sometimes I would go into some teaching points along the lines of my See, Believe, Do method of getting unstuck, and then the other times I spent on sharing more stories of the people in Prides Hollow. They loved it. People couldn’t wait for the next act. One lady was supposed to leave and didn’t because she didn’t want to miss it when the parade finally arrived.

When the event was over and the client was “debriefing” with me.  He told me that the storytelling did what they could not. It brought people from different regions together, who didn’t know each other. It made them a family. It opened them up for the training that followed. It primed the pump. He said even the most gruff soldier who didn’t want to be there, ended up with arms lowered, laughing harder than the rest. He said that when I couldn’t connect to them, one of my characters did. He said he was going to tell everybody he could about me.

One gentleman from that audience came up to me later when everyone else had left. He was about two heads taller than me, with silver hair and a thick aura of authority. I don’t remember his rank, but he was one of the top dogs of the group. He apologized for having left during the story of Mamma being painted on black velvet. With tears in his eyes, he said that I brought his mother to life, and he had never mourned her passing. It was so real and so raw to him, that he had to leave so he could process it.

That is the power of a story.