It was just a few days before my business trip. My first time to Madrid, Spain. I was prepared and excited to speak at this conference, my first time speaking to a large audience in Europe.
I had it all planned out, the only thing missing was a local story. You see, I always like to find some local story gem so that I can make my audience comfortable and also show an effort to understand local culture.
I was surfing my usual sites for folktales and fairytales. There were so many stories but I knew I needed to find one that I connected with. After quite some time I fell upon a little story that was quirky; a story about a specific landmark in Madrid that seemed perfect. I liked the story because it mixed fact, history and a little naughtiness – this was no ordinary landmark.
I was in the process of preparing the story when I though about one of my clients. She had been living in Spain for many years, and though not originally Spanish has a keen understand of the culture. I decided to reach out to her.
We connected through skype and I told her the story. I saw her eyes widened and a horrified look come over her….
Oh Lisa, you really can’t tell that. People don’t talk openly about these kinds of things – you shouldn’t, it would be very risky.
I thanked her and immediately an enormous sense of relief took over. What if I had offended 200 people without even realizing, that would have been a disaster. It taught me a huge lesson.
That learning has helped me create a practice that I want to share with you today, to help you prepare before you go to speak, teach, connect or meet people:
Always know your audience.
Especially if you are speaking or connecting in a culture, language or location that you are new to.
Especially if it’s your first time.
Take the time to research before you decide on your approach.
Read up about the location, language, customs and culture.
Speak to people who live there.
Ask your host as many questions as you can.
Understand their interests and their needs
What do they know, what do they need to know.
What keeps them up at night
What politics or sensitivities might be at play
Understand their fears
What keeps them up at night.
Figure out what would serve them best
What do they dream of achieving
How can you serve and support them?
Once you’ve figured this out, you are in the perfect position to have positive impact. Remember, one innocent story could have created a terrible mess, made people incredibly uncomfortable and damaged my credibility. And I may never have known.
Yet with a little preparation, taking inspired action to know your audience, you can transform the opportunity and have the kind of impact that we all dream of.
What preparations do you make when you prepare to tell a story?
Will you share them here?