21 posts categorized "author-Thaler Pekar"

Story Knows No Gender

May 10, 2010

(Consultant Thaler Pekar helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that can rally critical support. Thaler's other posts in this series can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Gender_differences At both my recent communication and story seminar in New York City and at the Smithsonian Institution Conference on Organizational Storytelling, my partner Svend-Erik Engh and I were asked the question, "Should you tell a story differently based on whether your listener is a woman or man?"

Svend-Erik believes that women like more detail in their stories. In support of his claim, a participant said she "flowers it up" when speaking with women. And a thoroughly unscientific poll of friends and colleagues seems to indicate that women share more stories, especially personal stories, with other women. (The most frequently cited reason for women refraining from sharing personal stories with men was a fear of appearing to be sexually flirtatious.)

There are many books and articles on gender differences in communication styles and they tend to focus on the different ways in which women and men deliver information. Most of these observed differences can be attributed to societal and cultural influences, as well as stereotypical expectations. Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics and author of the seminal book on gender communication differences You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, boils down the observed differences to "hierarchy and connection": men seek status in conversation while women seek acceptance.

There are also a number of books and articles on the differences in cognition between women and men, many of which cite research showing slight differences in the brain structure of women and men. At the same time, scientific findings on gender differences in the way adults process language are disparate and inconsistent.

I’m not that interested in behavioral patterns; I’m interested in whether stories, in order to be effective (as in eliciting a desired emotion and action in your listener), should be told differently to men and women. In other words, do women and men process the same verbal communication in different ways, resulting in different outcomes?

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What, Why, and How Story Matters

March 03, 2010

(Consultant Thaler Pekar helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that can rally critical support. Her previous posts in this series can be found here, here, here, and here.)

Listening I fear the term "story" is being used so broadly as to render it meaningless.

Messages are not stories. Statements of belief and opinions are not stories. And, most of the time, answers to direct questions are not stories.

Many well-intentioned professionals are rushing out and thinking they are asking for stories, when they are not. What gets shared as a result of their efforts is often called story, even when it is not.

Allow me to define the term simply. "Story" implies a series of unfolding events. Something happens to someone or something. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Understanding and recognizing a real story matters for three reasons: First, stories provide rich insight into complex emotions and situations, and competing, or even seemingly contradictory, values. They bridge the rational and the emotional. And stories provide context, enabling us to create meaning out of complexity and confusion. Flannery O'Connor observed, "A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way." It follows that by listening to stories, you will hear things you wouldn't ordinarily hear.

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Don't Be Afraid to Share Your Stories

November 18, 2009

(Consultant Thaler Pekar helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that can rally critical support. Her previous posts in this series can be found here, here, and here.)

Megaphone Too many foundations are confounded by storytelling.

Paralyzed by the need to tell the one perfect story that embodies their brand, acknowledges all their stakeholders, AND helps to advance their goals, foundations often refrain from telling any stories at all. As a result, potentially transformative knowledge fails to reach hungry audiences and voices vital to innovation within the philanthropic sector go unheard.

Or foundations will only tell stories about their grantees, failing to realize that their own stories -- about leadership, challenges, and successes -- often resonate powerfully with key audiences.

Today, we know that the audiences with whom foundations should and most often do communicate -- current and potential grantees, donors, policy makers -- are eager to hear about the work of and people within foundations. Indeed, the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative has reported that 88 percent of "informed Americans" want foundations to share the lessons they have learned.

So imagine the benefits, not to mention goodwill, that would accrue if foundation staff were encouraged to share their stories with board members, grantees, policy makers, and their peers in other organizations. Imagine what might happen if foundation staff shared authentic stories about what they were seeing in their areas of expertise, what was important to them, and what was impacting their work.

The unique value of any foundation lies in the knowledge it brings to the important work of finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems and in its ability to learn from, share, and apply that knowledge to other problems. Such expertise is best shared by the people most responsible for developing and nurturing it. And that's why foundation staff -- leadership and program officers, in particular -- should be encouraged to share stories that effectively articulate and illustrate the foundation's core values.

Remember: The point is not to fuss over stories until they have a perfect narrative arc or seamlessly fit the thematic constraints of the annual report. The goal, instead, should be to tap the passion, knowledge, and expertise of staff members; to demonstrate your foundation's unique value; and to share your stories as widely and as often as possible with audiences eager to listen to, engage with, and pass them on.

-- Thaler Pekar

The Benefits and Limits of Storybanking, Part 2

October 23, 2009

(Consultant Thaler Pekar helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that can rally critical support. Her first post in this series, Stories Are a Vital Source of Knowledge, appeared in September.)

Story-narrative My previous post on the Benefits and Limits of Storybanking generated this offline comment from a professor at Rutgers University: "Thaler -- a very informative and thought provoking post. My question -- do you limit your storybank contents to a select number of stories that can be used by members of an organization so people remain 'on point'? And who approves the stories to be told? Or is that approach too authoritative, too top down?"

My response: If your storybank is established to support advocacy on a specific issue (for instance, to get more farmers markets to utilize food stamps or to pass an increase in your state's minimum wage), then the organizers of your effort may wish to limit the stories used to those focused on the specific message. Ideally, you would also have stories that are personally relevant to each messenger and audience segment.

If your storybank is focused on programmatic outcomes and organizational successes, there should be no quantitative limit to its contents. In fact, I would urge you to listen for narratives and anecdotes that illustrate the values, failures, challenges, and problem-solving capacity of your organization.

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The Benefits, and Limits, of Storybanking

October 02, 2009

(Thaler Pekar, a consultant specializing in persuasive message development, helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that can rally critical support.)

Gold-bars As I noted in my previous post, stories are a critical vehicle for sharing knowledge within organizations and a vital means for organizations to nurture understanding, make sense of complexity, and embrace change. And, as communications consultant Andy Goodman notes, a storybank -- a central repository of stories about an organization and the work it does -- can be a powerful tool for organizations.

Indeed, David Beckwith of the Needmor Fund, which recently produced 50 Years, 50 Stories, a fine written collection of stories about the foundation, talks often about the critical importance of "collecting, codifying, and passing on" stories within an organization, while David DeLong, noted knowledge management expert and author of Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce, notes that the nonprofit sector overall possesses tremendous "passion and energy" for sharing knowledge.

That said, most storybanks tend to be collections of narratives from and about the organization's clients, donors, founders, and staff. The stories themselves are most often about the impact of the organization and only occasionally about the unmet need that the organization seeks to address.

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Stories Are a Vital Source of Knowledge

September 11, 2009

(Thaler Pekar, a consultant specializing in persuasive message development, helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that rally critical support. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Storytelling Imagine asking every one of your staff members: "Tell me about the time you felt most connected to the mission of our organization." Ask your program officers, your CFO, your facilities staff. Imagine the range of responses. Imagine the passion you will unleash, and the information you will glean.

Most of the stories you hear in response to that question will not be "diamonds," perfectly encapsulating the mission and brand of your organization. The stories and anecdotes you hear will be more like pebbles and sea glass -- small, colorful glimpses into the meaning of your organization and its work in the daily lives of the people it affects. They will teach you much about the depth and breadth of your organization's impact.

Yet most efforts to find and collect stories for mission-driven organizations myopically focus on using stories for marketing and fundraising purposes. The stories that are collected and sometimes publicized are usually about the direct impact of the organization, or about the unmet need the organization seeks to address. In most organizations, too few people understand that the value of stories extends far beyond marketing and fundraising.

There is much to be gained by creating a true culture of story sharing within our organizations, especially those that function as hubs of entrepreneurship and innovation, and especially at this uncertain moment. Now is the time, says Steven Denning, the leadership and knowledge management expert, to emphasize "connection over collection."

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Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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