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Why Don’t More Storytellers Succeed?

Five years ago, I coached a storyteller I’ll call Rita. She’s a terrific teller who deserves to be heard more widely.

When I told her that, she said, “Well, I have trouble doing marketing.”

I said, “You’re not alone! What kind of storytelling jobs would you most like to have more of?”

She thought for a minute, then said, “I want more school residencies focusing on diversity education.”

That was a well-formed and achievable goal. So, over a couple coaching sessions, I helped her come up with a five-part plan to achieve her goal:

1. Establish herself as a local expert in diversity education;
2. Develop an ongoing list of people in a position to hire her for residencies, who have an interest in diversity education;
3. Give the people on her list easy ways to get to know her and her work;
4. Build and maintain mutually-beneficial relationships with any people on her list who show an interest in her work;
5. Make an ongoing series of offers that will be catalysts for these people – offers that will make it convenient and attractive for them to hire her for residencies.

As it happened, I moved from Massachusetts to Oklahoma soon after coaching Rita. We fell out of touch about her progress.

Five Years Later…

Recently, having moved back to Massachusetts, I had a chance to check in with her. I said, “Hey, how is your marketing plan going?”

Rita admitted, “I haven’t really done any of it.” When I asked why, she said, “It was the part about becoming known as an expert. Do you remember, I thought I’d write a series of articles in a regional teacher newsletter about my ideas?”

As it happened, I did remember. It had been Rita’s idea in response to my questions, and it had seemed perfect.

“Well, I wrote one article, but I never sent it in. I had a lot of ideas, but getting them on paper was a struggle. I meant to revise the article and submit it, but I never did. After that, I guess I just lost interest in the plan.”

Rita’s plan was a sound one, but her story helps identify three reasons why many of us storytellers fail to get more work:

1. Not matching the method with her energies;
2. Not getting enough help – and the right kind of help;
3. Not changing the plan when needed.

We can all learn from those reasons, and prevent them from wasting years of our own progress.

An Energy Obstacle

I had approved of Rita’s article-writing plan, in part because of her excitement about it. What I didn’t know was that her excitement was more about coming up with ideas than about actually writing and publishing them.

Is this Rita’s fault? No! We all have tasks that energize us and others that drain us. The problem was that Rita and I didn’t notice that writing was a “drainer” for her.

After our coaching sessions, flushed with excitement about her new plan, she had created a rough draft of an article. But the coaching “boost” wasn’t able to propel her to actually complete this task, given how much energy it would have required from her.

The idea of becoming known as a diversity expert was sound. But the method (writing) turned out to be more difficult than expected.

Change the Method?

How could this method have been changed to match her energies better?

Perhaps instead of writing articles about her good ideas, she could have offered telephone seminars or free workshops in which she’d explain her ideas to a small group. Then she could record those sessions and make the recordings available; she might advertise them in that same teacher newsletter, or even get interviewed about them for it.

Or she might have created workshops containing her ideas to present at teacher conferences. In any case, to stay with the overall plan, Rita could have replaced the writing method with one that energized her.

Getting the Help You Need

What if Rita didn’t want to change the method? It’s possible to use a method that drains you, if you get others to do the draining tasks – or at least to help you with them.

For example, Rita could have found an editor for her articles who could take her first drafts and put them into printable form.

Or she might have asked someone to interview her about her ideas, record the interviews, and then transcribe them into first drafts – or even turn the interviews themselves into articles.

Her plan might also have succeeded if she had sought direct help with her writing difficulty. A good coach could have helped her solve the problem, one way or another.

Changing the Plan

Making a marketing plan is a daunting task. It involves thinking simultaneously about our goals, our abilities, our energies, and the needs and situations of those who might hire us.

As a result, once we have made a plan we often avoid rethinking it, even when unforeseen obstacles arise.

As it turns out, no complex plan ever works without a hitch. Do you remember Apollo 13 – how the method for getting oxygen to the astronauts had to be completely changed, on the fly and with improvised materials?

The “perfect” plan isn’t one that succeds 100% as envisioned. Rather, it is one that directs our energies toward a goal – and then lets us learn from our efforts and change course as needed.

Now that Rita and I are back in touch, I look forward to helping her use one or more strategies to make her plan succeed.

How About You?

Have you made plans for your storytelling – whether in marketing, or in learning new stories, or in sharing your ideas and stories with others – that haven’t worked out so far?

If so, ask yourself about each plan:

1. Does this plan really match my energies?
2. Could I get help with the parts that have turned out to be challenging?
3. Can I change the plan based on the information I’ve gotten so far in response to my efforts?

When you tell stories, you use flexibility and creativity to match the story and your strengths with the audience’s needs.

To allow the world to benefit from your unique strengths, apply that same flexibility and creativity to your own plans for success!

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