Storytelling for Your Family Business

Family businesses have had a critical role in the growth of the United States. As important as that role has been over the decades, many family businesses miss out on utilizing an important tool that could help them to grow faster and connect them to the community they serve. Like many things that can help us the most, this tool is simple and has been right in front of our faces (and in our hearts and minds). We just never thought of using it or knew how to use it. That tool is our story.

As the honored keynote speaker at Baylor University’s Institute for Family Business’ Fall Forum this year,  I helped connect the family business members in the audience to their story. While their family business story can be used for many purposes, perhaps the most beneficial is a part of their marketing plan. This is pointed out beautifully in an article by Arthur Levy (The RoArt Group, LLC), “Marketing Your Family Business Through Storytelling” http://www.leesburgchamber.com/marketing-your-family-business-through-storytelling/  . While Arthur makes many good points as to how a family business might benefit from telling their story, I believe the most important sentence in this article is, “Most consumers prefer to buy from a family business that shares their story and their core values.  They prefer to align themselves with like-minded people.”

As family business owners, if your story and core values are kept inside, you will miss out on valuable connections to future clients/customers and/or future employees. In addition, current clients/customers and/or employees will bond further to the association they already have with your business…just by knowing more about your story.

The lesson learned here is simple. To quote from the 2011 movie, Sarah’s Key, “When a story is told, it’s not forgotten. It becomes something else. The memory of who we were…and the hope of what we can become.” What is the hope of what you and your family business can become? Record your story to discover the answer.

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Who Is the Hero In the Story?

CBS Sunday Morning does it again. They never cease to amaze me with what wonderful stories they produce. This last Sunday’s story, “A veteran’s car, and a son’s keepsake”, was no exception.  While many of you might have watched it, watch it again and ask yourself the question, “Who is the hero in the story?” https://www.cbsnews.com/videos/a-veterans-car-and-a-sons-keepsake/ 

I believe the hero in this story is typical of many heroes…quiet about the service they provide to others. As you watch this story, look for Kyle Fox. He didn’t have to do what he did. He even seems a bit shy about it. But like most heroes, he puts the emphasis of the story on other people, places, anything but himself. Check out his organization, Follow the Flag http://followtheflag.org and you’ll see what I mean.

So I ask you, “What have you done to be a hero in a story?” I will strive to be the kind of hero that Kyle Fox is.

Tom Hanks and Typewriters?

This morning’s CBS Sunday Morning broadcast included a story of Tom Hanks and one of his favorite artifacts to collect…typewriters. Who knew? https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tom-hanks-uncommon-type/

As one of my favorite actors, Hanks has always played his characters on film as if he were really them. This is the first interview I’ve seen that brings out what I feel is the essence of who he is as a regular person. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Mementos and personal artifacts we’ve collected over the years are part of our stories. Hanks explains why he loves typewriters in an emotional way that involves your senses. He even ties this into the book he is about to release, Uncommon Type. His description of each typewriter, “Each typewriter has sort of a personality”, makes me see his personality in each machine. Each of us has an artifact, a memento in our lives that describe the essence of who we are. This interview makes me look around to find the memento in my home that describes me.
  2. He reveals a part of his childhood that I never knew. By the time he was ten years old, both his parents had been married three times and he lived in ten different houses. His attitude of that period of time: “I thought it was a cool adventure. I was confused a lot about why it happened…In some ways it’s like I’m going back and looking at those times, for me and my siblings, and trying to put context into the confusion.” How does that change a young boy? What effect does that have on his future? Hanks explains it with a sense of calm and curiosity.
  3. His comment at the end, “If I see enough stories that are around and start asking enough questions about where it would go, then, yea, I hope to write more.” He’s always looking for more. His next adventure in writing is unknown, but he keeps asking questions. I can relate.

As my first book is due to be published at the end of this month (stay tuned), I, too, hope to keep “asking enough questions” and to write more. Thank you, Tom Hanks. You and your typewriters are an inspiration.

Do You Need Another Reason to Listen?

I have respected Joe Zente with ZThree Performance Development http://www.zthree.com for many years now. In this article, Joe expresses more reasons why we should be better listeners http://tinyurl.com/y86wvb6h.

Most people don’t think about listening as a skill they can develop and improve upon. If taken seriously, using just a few simple tools to become a better listener will not only benefit you at work, as Joe points out, but will also improve your life at home. Think about it, when was the last time your spouse or loved one said to you, “You are a great listener”? If it has been a while since you’ve heard that (or never!), then read Joe’s article and put his suggestions into practice. You’ll be glad you did!

Think Poorly of Starbucks? Think Again.

From time to time I hear people speaking negatively about Starbucks. The national brands will always get some negative press which causes some folks to jump on the band wagon and begin to pour on the hate (pun intended). While I have a favorite local coffee shop where I like to hang out and work, I am always pleased with the service when I visit a Starbucks. But when I saw this story, I am even more impressed with the big coffee company: http://tinyurl.com/ybfbla38.

I never served in the U.S. military. But I am grateful to all the men and women who have and continue to defend our nation through their military service. I have been honored to record many stories of veterans of World War II and those who have served since. How we treat those who serve and their families speaks volumes as to who we are and what we stand for. Kudos to Starbucks for setting a high standard for the rest of us and proving their hearts are not just in the quality of their products and service, but also in how they honor and treat the military community.

Enjoy the article and when you get a chance, go to your nearest Starbucks and simply say to the person behind the counter, “Thank you!”

What I Learned From Robin Williams

Robin-Williams-Quotes-Good-Will-Hunting-1

I just finished watching Robin Williams Remembered – A Pioneers of Television Special (PBS). After watching this wonderful PBS special, not only do I miss him more than before, but I feel I have learned new things about him that might help me and, hopefully, you as well. What new things did I learn from Robin Williams? Here they are:

  1. When you have talents that you are keenly aware of, be open to improving your craft by watching, listening and asking for help from others. Robin did this best with his friends whom he looked up to; guys like Richard Pryor and his mentor, Jonathan Winters.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail. Most of us only remember him for his successes, his award-winning performances on television, stand-up comedy and film. What we don’t remember is that he failed from time to time. Mork & Mindy was cancelled after only its fourth season. The movie Popeye bombed at the box office. Not all of his stand up nights were a success.
  3. He listened and was open to taking direction from trusted friends and colleagues. Of his Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting, he spoke of doubting himself after shooting a scene and wondering if he was getting it right. Robin said of Director Gus Van Sant, “With Gus Van Sant in Good Will Hunting, … at the end he said, ‘Just have the conversation. Just talk.’ So you’re not acting per se, but, eventually, things start to happen.”
  4. He went with what felt right, what was true to himself, and let it come together if, and when, it was supposed to come together. He hadn’t know if it would all come together. But eventually, he found a way to combine his genius in stand-up comedy, serious Juilliard-trained method acting, and film roles into a unique style that set him apart from all others.

I am a bit weird. I have talents that are not conventional or normal. I love listening to people’s stories, I immediately have questions pop into my mind that encourage more of their story to reveal itself, and I continue to want to know more with sincere interest and genuine curiosity. That’s what happens in my mind. I can’t begin to wonder what happened in Robin Williams’ mind, but I know it was strange to most people. From his example, however, I have learned to continue to believe in what I do, and, hopefully, one day soon, the talents will be recognized and appreciated by a larger audience.

“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good times you weren’t paying attention to.” – from Good Will Hunting

Thank you, Robin Williams, for teaching me these valuable lessons. May you rest in peace. I miss you!

The Life Story Not Recorded

“I wish I would have known you (x number of) years ago when my grandmother (or grandfather) was still alive. She had the best stories and once she got going telling those stories, you couldn’t get her to stop!” My next comment is typically, “Did you record those stories while she was still alive?” Invariably, the answer is, “No.”

Mother-daughter photo

What is lost by not recording the stories? Only you can answer the emotional response to that question. But based on over a decade of recording the life stories of many individuals, couples and siblings for their families, I can give you the logical main reasons. Lost are:

  1. Many stories you’ve never heard before.
  2. The audible sound of their voice.
  3. The physical movements and body language as they expressed themselves in many scenarios.
  4. The facts that connect you to this loved one. Facts that you never knew or ever dreamed existed.

I could list many more, but I think you get the picture.

The next question is, “Why weren’t the stories ever recorded?” Whether you consider the answer that question reasons or excuses makes no difference. The answers are so varied…and so sad.

The good news is that you now have the opportunity to not make that same mistake again. You have the opportunity to record the life stories of a friend or loved one now. This article is written as a guide to help you do just that. I will post helpful hints on how to record those stories in future blog posts.

These blog posts will combine some of the training that I received in the 1990s preparing to interview Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (now the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education) with the practical experience I’ve enjoyed interviewing hundreds of people since starting LifeStories Alive in 2005.

My hope is that the posts serve as a guide that gives you the basics to take the plunge and capture the life stories of someone you love. Even though you may have never interviewed someone before in anything that resembles this method or reason, you will not regret it. Why? I know that you will feel, as I do every time I finish a LifeStories Alive interview, that goose bump-causing rush when they finish answering the last question you ask them, and they sigh that familiar sigh knowing that their stories are now recorded for generations to come. You, then, can feel the satisfaction of knowing that you were the one, not anyone else, who gave their lives more meaning and helped them fulfill the goal of passing along their legacy.

Enjoy the process. Have fun. And thanks for keeping those life stories alive!