I was talking with a woman named Mary after my dramatization of Sally Field’s memoir this past May. As she looked around the room, she bemoaned the fact that their beloved organization was having trouble recruiting new members.
Mary’s not alone. Last year I heard from businesses struggling to convert new prospects, churches seeking to expand their membership, non-profits trying to stay afloat, and people of all ages interviewing for jobs trying to stand out from the crowd.
It’s a challenge, for sure. But there is a solution.
A little lesson from Toy Story 4 helps to illustrate the point.
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My husband and I saw Toy Story 4 in D.C. this past July right toward the end of that streak of sweltering 100+ degree days they had. I was doing a two-day strategic storytelling training for a non-profit headquartered there. I worked while Bill saw the sights.
On day three we headed to the movies to cool off and see the latest Toy Story installment. It was a little bittersweet because up until Toy Story 4, we’d always enjoyed Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the gang with our three kids.
Now it was just the two of us, reclining side by side in our big leather Barkaloungers.
As I hugged my sweater tighter around my neck trying to keep warm in the deep freeze of the movie theater, I couldn’t help but view the movie through the lens of a storyteller. I can’t help myself. I’m always looking for stories in action.
And wouldn’t you know it, about three fourths of the way through the film, I found one. Or rather, the absence of one.
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Without giving too much of the movie away, the nemesis in the story is a doll named Gabby who’s been living in an antique shop for 50 years desperately waiting for a child to choose her and take her home.
The problem? Gabby’s a beautiful pullstring doll, but her voice box is damaged so her voice comes out all gravelly and unintelligible.
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Spoiler alert: she gets a new voice box. (Can you imagine from whom???)
But after all the shenanigans to get her “Hi, I’m Gabby” pre-programmed voice working again, when the granddaughter of the owner of the antique store actually picks up Gabby, pulls the string, and hears “Hi, I’m Gabby” in beautiful dulcet tones, the little girl simply drops her on the ground and runs off to find something else. Cruel, I know.
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I might be taking this power of storytelling thing too far—it’s an animated movie after all—but how often do we have a prospect right in front of us and we miss an opportunity to capture their attention and persuade them to buy/join/donate because we give the same old pre-programmed, boring, pull-string pitch instead of telling them the STORIES of what makes us and our organizations unique and valuable.
I don’t remember anything else Gabby said after “Hi, I’m Gabby,” although I know she said something. But I do remember every story I heard on day 2 of the training—all 17 of them.
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If you want to capture people’s attention with messages that feel authentic and engaging and that inspire people to act, tell your stories. Stories are the things that will make you and your organization irresistible.
So Yee-haw! and Giddy-up, partners! We got to get this wagon train a-movin’!
Thanks for being here.