Stories SHEROES Tell: Traits of A Compulsive Storyteller

Despite all the stories I tell, I sometimes find it difficult to speak to people!

There…that’s the biggest confession of the year! But please don’t judge me…yet! You see, the truth is that I have spent so much time behind the lens that I rather ask, than say. I enjoy listening than speaking! And so in that way my voracious appetite for stories remains intact.

So would I then describe myself as a compulsive storyteller? I mean having an appetite for stories is quite different from a being compulsive teller, right?

The road to good storytelling begins with being a good listener and observer. You have to have the knack for patient listening, one that is not disruptive in any way. Sometimes you may be bursting with a comment or a story of your own, but if you want to really be a teller who has many stories to tell, and by that I mean, not just your own, then you have to listen!

It was quite apt that the SHEROES event in Delhi ended with Natasha Badhwar sharing her entrepreneurial story. Anu Singh Chowdhury, the lovely host of the event described her as a close friend a compulsive storyteller. Storyteller, yes…compulsive…yes yes!

Natasha Badhwar

Natasha’s story as we all heard it is a story of reinvention, of how she went from being a media person, to trainer and then a creative entrepreneur. Natasha’s story is here for everyone to see.

Natasha, as she told us had goosebumps before her talk. Why me? She asked herself. Sairee said, why not? Go and tell your story! Everyone has a story to tell and like I said in my earlier piece, the first step in storytelling is to believe that your story can inspire someone. So as she spoke to all of us, she gave out some very genteel lessons in storytelling that every entrepreneur must follow.

Know Your Audience

In a summit for working women, women at work and entrepreneurs, emotions, passions, aspirations and dreams are rife. As a highly successful working woman who has reinvented her career several times to turn a creative entrepreneur, Natasha carefully picked the moments and emotions that would touch her audience. She spoke of her very successful career in television, motherhood, a difficult pregnancy, her foray into training and consulting and the very interesting tussle over her heart’s desire to turn entrepreneur and her mind’s censure of what the world would think of her! We didn’t have a Q&A session post her talk, but if I were to ask the audience how many of her stories found resonance in the audience, I am certain several hands up would have flown up!

Find Your Story

Your entrepreneurial story doesn’t begin with your company. It begins with you! If you want to tell your story, then bring in all the colour, the experiences, the moments, the emotions and people who made you. Natasha began from the top; right from the beginning of her career in NDTV. The audience wanted to hear about Ochre Sky, so why bother about how she went from being India’s first female videojournalist and a star in the camera team at NDTV, to a video editor who was crying in the corner of an editing suite? Does the past hold a cue to someone’s present? It always does and it certainly did in Natasha’s case. Natasha wasn’t presenting a business plan, but she was still telling her business story, and that began with her story.

Speak from the Heart

Natasha was speaking to a room-full of people, mostly unknown. Her parents sat in the back row watching with pride. But then they knew her story already. To connect to the remaining 50 or so, she had to show them a Natasha that her parents were so proud of. If you are telling your story, speak from the heart. Speak with honesty. Speak with all earnestness. “Everyone was feeling sorry for me, and so was I,” she says and with that one statement she bared her life open.

Acceptance of the Highs and Lows 

A story is never unidirectional. It has its highs and low, the bows and troughs, the crest and fall. So every time you decide to tell your story, look for the highs and the lows. At another point Natasha says, “Happiness and sadness will always go together. Boundaries are not water tight.” If you are looking for good stories to tell, tell all kinds, the good and the bad. Show your audience how good you felt in one moment and totally lost in another. Also tell them how you pulled yourself together. Chances are that there is someone in the audience who is looking for a pull up herself!

Reveal Your Fears

I loved Natasha’s analogy of fear, of where she compares it with street dog that threatens but doesn’t go away. (I will certainly use Natasha’s story in a future presentation somewhere!) If you are telling a story and want to be complete honest with your audience, reveal your fears. Show your weakness and the discoveries you make about yourself. As she was toying with entrepreneurship she battled with questions over being labeled and judged. “Mere activist dost kya kahenge? Yeh to capitalist ban gayi!” The fear of being judged is never an easy one to battle and for anyone who has had to deal with stereotypes and expectations, this one story never fails to inspire.

Rewind, Introspect, Reinvent

The journey of every personal story begins with memory. It is always about how much of our lives we choose to rewind, how we introspect and how we learn from our own experiences. Natasha in her telling did just that. As she took her audience through the highs and lows of her own career, she displayed how she had always reinvented her career. So why was she allowing her fear to take over now?

“I had no problem carrying a camera but I had a problem with being seen with a measuring tape!” she says. I can’t help but weave in the role Sairee and the rest of the people in SHEROES had in helping her step up her journey. Wasn’t it Sairee who told Natasha, “People don’t buy clothes, people buy stories!”

Natasha and the story of Ochre Sky aren’t different. “Ochre Sky garments are all about details, colour, threads, hints, whispers, elegance and inner beauty. We love small details. The poetry in things. We are here to make really honest clothes,” says the website.

Stories never hurt. They always heal, encourage, motivate and inspire. A compulsive storyteller has many stories in her bag, just like Natasha did. She knew how and where to use them.

So tell your story…you never know who needs it!

This post was originally written for SHEROES


Stories SHEROES Tell: What Is Your Business Story?

What makes a brand? Do products sell? Or services? Do balance sheets and revenues sell? What makes an investor pump his money in your venture? And what makes likeable persons jump onto the bandwagon as partners? What makes a buyer buy your product; the product or the super glitzy marketing around it?

I asked myself these questions, as I watched an awesome bunch of enterprising business women make brave presentations before a panel. The panel comprising of Prajakt Raut, Swati Bhargava and Ankur Warikoo was a robust team, all being people who had enough experience in saying what sells and how! The trick was of course to convince them that your business sense, well, actually makes sense!

Really…the business of doing business is never easy! It’s like an ever complex algorithm that keeps evolving over a period of time. But what if I told you that there lay a clue hidden in a small, simple word?

Let’s make it really easy now – “What is Your Business Story?” 

Try answering the above complex questions with a story now. But wait! WHY tell a business story in the first place? That can be a pretty complex answer in itself, so let’s clip it really short. The truth is that everyone likes a good story. In truth stories affect the heart and mind, making action subtle and natural. Stories have the power to move and initiate action; just the right action that your heart desires.

If you were asking me, I’d say, every business has innumerable stories tucked in its heart. And if you want to do effective business, you have to know that people don’t buy products, they buy stories!

You want to flesh out your business ideas? TELL A STORY!

Want to sell your product? FIGURE OUT YOUR BRAND STORY!

Want to market your product? WHAT’S YOUR SUCCESS STORY?

Want funds for your venture? WHAT’S YOUR DREAM STORY?

Want new partners or like-minded associates? ASK FOR THEIR STORY!

 The SHEROES event in Delhi this year, gave women a brilliant platform to share their business plans. The number crunchers did a fantastic job of drawing up complex data and showing what running a business meant, some others fuelled by their ambition and dream struggled to communicate their business needs, some others missed the ‘Why Us’ stop completely, while no one elaborated on the ‘brand story’. For some it was the first time someone asked them to present a business plan…so momentous was the task that it became a complex exercise of making sure that everything went according to definition. In all these presentations I couldn’t help but notice that no one stopped to tell a story…well, maybe one…but it was the wrong story to tell!

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Telling a story is not rocket-science. Actually everyone can tell a story. Telling the right story, however, can get a little tricky! Here is what you can try, the next time you have to talk about your business.

1) Trigger Story 

Every story has a beginning and every business has a birth story of its own!

Businesses could have various triggers – personal, societal, environmental, incidental and situational. Sometimes born out of an opportunity, or a specific need, a talent, a niche, or expertise in a specific domain, most women start businesses with a specific trigger. For some it could be the absence of a particular product or service, a business could also be the beginning of using one’s experience and talent professionally instead of vending it out as a freebie for friends and family. Look closely at what you are doing. What made you turn into an entrepreneur? When, why and how did you decide to get into business? Even if you have inherited a family business, trace your roots to the beginning of the story – how did your great grandfather start this business?

Antiquity and nostalgia are very novel elements of storytelling. Remember how the phrase, Once Upon A Time…makes you feel? Well, think of yourself as the lead character of your own story. And then tell us how this character went on to reinvent the wheel and start a business!

2) You Are A SHERO!

 Well, I would say that you are the Hero of your story…but since I am writing this after a SHEROES event, it is just appropriate I call you a SHERO! The truth is that no matter what I call you, you are really the lead character of your own story. Believe your story. Love your story. Be truthful to your story and most importantly, own your story!

Most of us fail to do just that. We don’t look at ourselves as storytellers. We don’t look at ourselves having stories worth telling. And we certainly look at ourselves as the ‘Sheroes’ of our own stories! No matter which story you choose to tell, your own belief in your story is what matters the most! Your story is yours and there are more than any credible reasons to feel proud of it. So stand tall and show that you own your story.

3) Why You Do What You Do?

 Why were you compelled to design comfortable, affordable shape wear? Or why do you have a fetish for celebration? Why are you obsessed with eco-friendly products for children? Why do you want to transform the life of the average karigar with your jewellery line?

There is always a WHY in every business and there is always a story behind it!

Every business is in the business to earn profits. But that is really the end of the story. The ‘why’ to your story shows what makes you different from competition! Why should I believe you when you say that you are the best in town? Or why you are there anyway?

This is not about your success story rather it is the story of people who were living without your business. How was the market before you started your business? What were the typical complaints that people had with existing products? Jog your memory, trace your experience and identify the anecdotes that answer these simple questions and there you have the story for your WHY!

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4) Show & Tell

While I have retained my storytelling genes from television, what I miss about the visual medium is that there was always something to show every time we told a story on air. The power of the visual is all pervasive but that is no reason why we cannot ‘show’ while we are telling! Don’t show facts and figures on PowerPoint presentations. Don’t show statistics on how your products are faring. Don’t show pictures of your designs and talk about how they are revolutionary!

Show them!

Let your audience touch, feel and experience your products. Give them a real slice of your life. And tell them the story of what has gone into making that product. Every product has a story of its own. If it is a customized piece of office stationery, or a masterpiece crafted for a special baby shower – there ought to be a story behind how your client wanted something special and how you went about creating it for your client.

This is the beginning of your ‘Brand Story’. Your audience must want to buy your product. Your investor must believe that you are building a brand. So ‘Show & Tell’ your story.

5)   Tell Me Your Dreams

 I always believe that memories and dreams make the greatest stories. The former is reflective and deductive, the latter is aspirational, challenging and motivating. As a business owner, everyone has a dream, a plan and a vision. When you tell your business story, spell it out. How do you see the world, where do you want to take your business, who do you see there with you? This is the operative part of the business plan, like Prajakt said. Where do you want to be in the next 5 years, how would you scale up your business? What sort of revenues are you looking at?

To the business owner in you, I won’t say, “Dare to Dream Big”, rather I’d say, “Dare To Tell”. Show the future with pride and optimism. Most importantly, share the story of how it matters to you the most.

So you want to make your product a global brand? Do you dream of diversifying your range of services to include new clientele? Are you a baker who dreams of having a bakery show of her own? Or do you want this business to be the beginning of an enterprise?

My dream is to instil a love of storytelling in everyone – from a child, to adults, to businesses and corporates. I want everyone to nurture the storyteller in them and tell compelling stories that lets them communicate and share their ideas and lives effectively. And so I want to take storytelling to schools, business owners, corporates and individuals – anyone who wants to know how to tell her / his own story!

Like me, your dreams are in your heart, so tell your story.

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6) The Bump / Speed Breaker

 If you have told your story (ies) so far, then chances are that you have already won your audience. By now, they want to know what you need. Every business needs something. Mine needs clients who believe in the power of storytelling and want to invest in it!

You may need funds. You may need partners. You may need expert advice. You may need a sounding board.

Whatever be your need, tell your ‘Bump Story’ with conviction. Is there an incident / situation / story that you can share about a moment where you couldn’t achieve your dream? When were you compelled to ask for help? When did you feel short on resources to scale your business? Yes, there is a story of failure somewhere. So tell it…chances are that someone in the audience will have an earnest

Were Ankur, Prajakt and Swati looking for stories? I can’t answer that for them. But if anyone would have shared their business story instead of a plan, I think they would have curled up for it willingly!

The Judges & The Chronicler

The Judges (L-R) – Prajakt Raut, Swati Bhargava & Ankur Warikoo. I am there somewhere in the background penning my observations furiously! 🙂

Do you have to tell so many stories? Always? Every single time? The answer to that is not a simple one again. All you need is ‘your story bag’, your magical set of stories, little gems that you pull out every time you have talk about your business. What goes into ‘your story bag’, well that’s another story!

This post was originally written for SHEROES</em>