Storytelling: why I’m all ears

“In order to win a man to your cause, you must first reach his heart, the great high road to his reason.” ­– Abraham Lincoln

Last week work were kind enough to send me to ‘Being the Story‘: an event celebrating the power of storytelling. I’d been inspired by a talk from Steve Nestor at the NHF comms conference, where he introduced us to the greatest short story of all time, by Ernest Hemingway. And it’s just 33 characters long. Eat your heart out, Twitter:


Isn’t it incredible? Inspired by Hemingway, Steve taught me that we should talk less, and say more. He highlighted the importance of using personal stories to empower change. So when I found out about Being the Story, I jumped at the chance to find out more about storytelling: the very oldest art form.

I knew I was in for a good day as I shook the rain from my brolly, grabbed a seat and looked up:


See it? The organisers of this event must’ve been super chuffed to find this venue. It’s like it was meant to be. And as the day I progressed, with its connotations of authenticity, self-awareness and individuality, this Shakespeare quote became more and more relevant.

It was a roller coaster of emotions. We opened up with a fun, energetic boxing session from Richard (and Richard) from Dwaynamics: an organisation founded in memory of the late Dwayne Simpson, who lost his life to knife crime. His mother Lorraine spoke eloquently about her work supporting vulnerable people in her community and how she turned pain into power after Dwayne’s death, harnessing her grief to continue the work he’d started with young people. You could have heard a pin drop.

All the stories we heard moved me in some way. The theme was finding strength and creating change through adversity. Mandy Thomas shared her harrowing story of domestic abuse (“The police just drove me back to the hell I couldn’t escape from”) and explained how she’s become a voice for fellow victims. Sequinned songstress Brigitte Aphrodite challenged the stigma of mental health through poetry and song (“There’ll be sunshine after the rain. It will rain again, but I’ll be wearing a raincoat”). And Naveed and Samiya Parvez explained how they turned anger into innovation and developed a revolutionary new medical product, in conjunction with families (“Empathy creates radical disruption”). It was an honour and a privilege to be in the same room as these wonderful, inspirational people.

So what did I learn from Being the Story? Well, apart from the fact I should definitely take tissues with me next time (and I hope there’ll be a next time), here’s what I took away:

  • Listen more. People have such wonderful stories to tell, if we’d just find more time to hear them. Person to person is best. Stories are only powerful if people listen.
  • Look for new angles to find solutions. The Parvez family explained how anger doesn’t always have to be a negative emotion. It often reveals solutions to problems and gives you the power to make a difference.
  • Label jars, not people. People are amazing and everyone’s capable of achieving wonderful things, regardless of their circumstances
  • Challenge the status quo. Be brave. Be a disruptor. If you’ve got an idea, believe in it and don’t give up. As Giles Duley explained,”Each one of us can create ripples of change”
  • Develop your empathy skills. Seeing things through someone else’s eyes can change your own perception of the world. Check out the Empathy Museum for a wonderful, creative example of this.

Working at not-for-profit organisations for most of my life, I’ve seen first-hand how vital emotional connections can be to great storytelling. The flicker of recognition on a dog’s face as he’s reunited with his owners at Battersea after years apart. The words of a customer as she explains how RHP‘s employment experts helped her get a job and the confidence to pursue new challenges after doubting herself for six years. Real stories are powerful, memorable and tangible and far more powerful than anything I could ever create myself.

This week is #HousingWeek, where RHP will be joining with other housing associations on social media to demonstrate how we’re leading through change. But more than that, we’ll be highlighting our customers’ stories because as Steve Nestor explained, we’re just the supporting actors. The stage. The set. It’s our customers who are the main characters. And as well as telling these stories, I’ll be listening to what other HAs are doing, because to create lasting change and come up with solutions, we need to listen to people with experience, and learn from it.

Why not give listening a go? You’ll be surprised at what you can hear.

For more on #BeingTheStory check out Madeleine Sugden’s post here.

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