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#MMCCon Keynote: Storytelling Skills Crucial in Uncertain Times

As association leaders navigate a world filled with uncertainties, getting across their message is more important than ever. Communications and branding expert Rakia Reynolds shares how leaders can use storytelling to craft a message that cuts through the noise.

There is a lot going on in the world right now: lingering COVID-19 concerns, the war in Ukraine, high inflation, and a host of other problems. That means association leaders must be strategic and focus on storytelling if they want their message to cut through all the noise and reach their intended audience, said Rakia Reynolds, founder and executive officer of Skai Blue Media and keynote speaker at ASAE’s upcoming Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference.

“The past few years has been tremendously difficult,” Reynolds said. “We have a health pandemic, climate crisis, a war, and a mental health pandemic, so our brains are at capacity. We’re not retaining information.”

With stakeholders, staff, and members are bombarded with the many crises of today, she said leaders must focus on two areas to ensure they’re crafting a message that is heard and retained.

“One, as leaders, we have to break things down so that they are bite-sized and snackable for folks to digest,” Reynolds said. “Two, our brains work and respond to the narrative of storytelling: beginning, middle, and end.”

Sometimes, leaders, in a bid for transparency, offer too much information. Leaders can answer questions when asked, but Reynolds suggests the initial message should be clear and lead with the most important information.

“It’s similar to sending out an email where you have a really good subject line,” Reynolds said. “When you’re addressing people, make sure you do have something at the very beginning that will address or stress the importance of or give an overview of the story you’re about to tell.”

Stories We Don’t Want to Tell

From the pandemic-related mandates that forced conferences to go virtual in 2020, to revenue losses, to staff attrition amidst the Great Resignation, leaders are often having to deliver less than great news.

“Sometimes, we have to tell stories we don’t want to tell,” Reynolds said.

In those situations, she said the story still has to be told, but figuring out the best way to share it involves some advanced work on the part of leaders.

“Up your ratio of listening before you have uncomfortable conversations,” Reynolds said. “The best way to do that is to start off with listening and understanding what the information is at hand before you have to present your story.”

Next, when leaders must these stories, it’s important that they focus on the tone and takeaway message they want to leave their audience with. Doing so will allow them to figure out the primary communication goal.

“When I’ve had to deliver for uncomfortable news or tell a story that I don’t like to tell, I’ve always started with figuring out the primary goal,” Reynolds said. “The goal may be to inform someone. The goal may be to educate someone.”

Finally, she noted that storytelling is important not just for leaders, but for everyone involved in the organization. The leader should be able to articulate the clear story of the organization, but so should everyone involved in the association.

“We always say that clear internal communication equals successful external communication,” Reynolds said. “If folks inside your organization are not able to tell the story, you will not have cohesive or great external communication. At all levels, storytelling is integral to the success of the organization.”

(Handout photo)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a senior editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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