Real Stories: the impact of storytelling

One of the first forms of human communication was verbal storytelling, which was used to pass on traditions, learnings and history. Today, stories are still at the centre of all that we do and say. But when we think of stories, we often think of childhood fairy tales, the latest thriller from Stephen King, or the rags-to-riches story of a world-class company figurehead. We don’t think deeply about the ability of stories to provide meaning, create context, and instil a sense of purpose in us.

Nonetheless, storytelling has emerged as a powerful communications tool – one that is integral in business. The fact that stories create impact is well evidenced by the recent success of TedX, Humans of New York, and Kickstarter. Stories can make presentations more memorable, make ideas and concepts stick, inspire us, motivate us and make us realise that we are not alone; more often than not, someone else is experiencing something similar to ourselves. However, in the era of presentation slides and status updates, many of us have forgotten how to tell a good story.

We are surrounded by stories every day. In fact, over half of the world’s human conversations consists of storytelling. It is common knowledge we are receptive to stories than we are to data or hard facts. This is because stories help us relate, they allow us to empathise, and they allow our brains to process information in a form that is more digestible and memorable.

At the Women in Focus Conference earlier this year, we were privileged to hear some very personal stories from our community members, about their business journeys. And what we came to realise was that ‘real stories’ aren’t always about success, bravery, break-through or resilience.

Sometimes, often even, they’re about failure, fear, heartache and adversity – but with a clear message of strength, tenacity and turnaround.

Following the Conference, we received resounding feedback from our attendees about the positive impact of this sort of storytelling – and we responded. We created a new event series for our community members called ‘Real Stories’, with a focus on truth-telling and business learnings being shared with our community.

We reached out to our community for expressions of interest to share their story on stage at one of our three events held in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. We had an overwhelming response, which made the task of selecting just seven presenters for each event very challenging – the stories were so inspiring!

Many of the women who we invited to present had no previous experience with speaking on stage. Some of them had never before shared their story in public. To help them feel more comfortable, we provided them with specialised speaker training from a professional coach, together with lots of laughs and encouragement to overcome nerves and fears, stand tall and tell their story on stage.

Our Real Stories events were held over a two-week period in late November and were a resounding success, with a standing ovation from the audience in Melbourne. The stories shared were as diverse as the women telling them. By way of example, we heard from:

  • Pearl Chan, who was a rising star in the world of finance when she realised that she was going deaf – and no doctor could explain why. With her trading career over, she Pearl moved to Melbourne where she started her own business developing and selling 100% natural, ethically-produced cleaning products. The business is currently distributing to more than seven countries. Pearl’s business workforce now also includes several hearing impaired employees.

  • In Sydney, we heard the emotional story of how Kate Farrell turned her obstacles into opportunities when, at the height of her career, she was hospitalised suddenly with MS. As she deteriorated further, she became bed-ridden with not much hope of ever walking again. But despite all odds, she overcame the challenge and resolved to live her life as normally as possible. She is now an MS Ambassador and is a professional coach, psychologist and trainer helping women with life-changing health challenges.

  • No one will forget the incredible story Christine Moody shared, in Brisbane. Christine lost her family home to someone who manipulated her into signing over the title deeds. But she has risen like a Phoenix from the ashes, with a degree in law, several successful businesses, an amazing attitude to life and a belief that one day she will be able to win back what is rightfully hers. Christine’s take-away has been to focus on what makes us happy and what we really want in life, and to let the negative stuff fall away.


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