In a previous life journey, I lived in Broken Hill, located in remote, regional Australia. My work with the Regional Writers’ Centre included various indigenous literacy programs. The national literacy levels of many of our indigenous Australians is low. The students themselves described their feelings towards writing exercises with incredible eloquence “shame, Miss shame“. It was heartbreaking and bloody frustrating because these same children were often, exceptional storytellers, from whom I learnt a great deal. When in an environment where they felt comfortable, they had me in stitches and absolute rapture through their exceptional storytelling skills. Here I reflect on some of the things I learned about supporting the development of your narrative from my time in the Hill.
Change the rules to suit you + your customers
I quickly discovered that my traditional learning experiences of mainstream, predominantly ‘white’ education was of little use when running sessions in locations such as Wilcannia. Students whom the previous afternoon had been whopping and laughing, proudly telling me stories of adventures from their weekend – ask them to do a ‘simple’ story writing exercise and their spark and vibrant personalities was replaced with shame. The expectation through curriculum standards was that it was a simple exercise but in application for these students, it wasn’t. They were aware of not meeting these expectations and it filled them with shame. Absolutely heartbreaking for me; the last thing I wanted was to be caught in a system that made them feel bad.
So we changed the rules. Looked at ways to bring different storytelling strategies into developing a personal narrative that these students could be proud of. Built on the incredible storytelling skills that were already innately present. We looked at ways to reinstate pride and replace shame into the learning experience.
This thinking should be applied when developing communication strategies for communicating you purpose and vision. Don’t just stick with the status quo. Look at the drivers of the messages that you want share as well as the key people with whom you want to share them with, what is the unique characteristics? What are the potential barriers? Don’t try and force the implementation of a strategy that you think should work because it does elsewhere and for someone else, tailor one that directly suits you and your customers.
SLAM – Spoken word poetry
If you have never experienced SLAM or spoken word poetry, do yourself a favour, go out and get amongst it. As a way of developing storytelling and communications skills, this is an incredibly fun, empowering and enjoyable experience.
Over a number of years we ran SLAM competitions in Broken Hill, for which we had students travelling from as far away as Menindee which is over 100 km’s! People young and old participated in the liberating process of being on stage, delivering two minutes of their personal narrative. They came in many different styles and forms, were each vastly different and most importantly, incredibly unique to each and every person who spoke.
If you’re struggling to articulate your inner unique, the purpose and vision that you’d like to share with your community; stop pushing the same processes and try a different approach. Maybe the reason that you’re struggling to find the words is that you haven’t yet given them the right voice. Maybe to identify your narrative, you need to try verbalising them through a different medium.
Present your story in a way that’s true to you
We often hear the words ‘genuine’ and ‘authentic’ in marketing talk for driving connection with your community. Whilst I shy away from over-use of these words, their fundamental definitions are absolutely spot on. If you want to create connection then you need to be open and honest about what you stand for, what is your purpose and what you will deliver. If you want your customer to place their trust with you, then you need to ensure that you are genuine in your promises.
Trying to force a traditional mainstream style of education did not work in Broken Hill. It was only when we looked at how to enable our students to present themselves and their stories in ways that felt true to themselves, that it worked. And when it worked it was truly magical. To see these bright young students replace a feeling of shame with a sense of achievement and self-respect, was an incredibly profound experience for me. Discovering the way to genuinely communicate your narrative is incredibly powerful.
I love to talk about my experiences and lessons learned from my time living in regional Australia, if you’d like to know more, you can email me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org