“Once upon a time.” Have there ever been four words, when placed side by side, that were more enticing or more intriguing?
We grew up on stories, and years later we’re still drawn to them as a source of illustrative and entertaining enlightenment. The utility and desire for stories, of course, predates any of us, harkening to drawings on cave walls, often arranged into patterns that conveyed actions or instructions.
Effective modern-day communicators also know that story is a proven way to deliver their messages in compelling and memorable ways. That’s because stories hit you in the heart with emotional impact. As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
An exceptional story is at the heart of many of the best-known and successful companies.
In 1907, a teenager named Jim Casey persuaded a handful of Seattle department stores that his fledgling company, which he and a partner had started with a $100 loan, could deliver their packages to customers more efficiently and affordably than they could on their own. Soon, young boys riding bicycles and the city’s iconic streetcars were making deliveries on behalf of the American Messenger Company. In 2021, the company that we know today as UPS delivered an average of 36 million packages a day and had revenues of more than $97 billion.
That’s a story that UPS’s 540,000 employees around the world proudly tell every day on the company’s website, in speeches, in meetings, at the annual Founders’ Day event and in new employee orientation sessions.
Those of us in the golf business know the story of how in 1932 Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts founded the Augusta National Golf Club on the 365-acre site of a former nursery called Fruitland. And how Bandon Dunes began in a tiny town on the Oregon coastline as the ambitious brainchild of a wannabe golf course developer and Scottish golf course architect.
The need for stories — ones that can inspire a team of employees or enrich a corporate culture — is part of every organization, golf course and club, not only the largest and best known, but also the smallest and least known. There are also rags-to-riches stories (Paul DeJoria, once homeless, took a $700 investment and built the $900 million Paul Mitchell hair care enterprise); rebirth stories (Harley-Davidson had fallen on hard times before new management returned the company to its iconic status); quest stories (James Dyson went through some 5,000 prototypes before he found the secret to a bagless vacuum cleaner); and David-and-Goliath stories (Erin Brockovich, an inexperienced legal clerk and single mother, took on PG&E and won a huge civil suit after her firm proved the energy giant’s practices were endangering people’s lives).
Exceptional stories also age well as they are handed down from old hands to the next generation of managers and staff. Stories about esprit de corps (“Remember the ice storm of 2014, when we lost power and a bunch of us raided the pro shop for sweaters and jackets to stay warm because we couldn’t get home?”) and overcoming odds (“We had exactly a year to get ready for a major tournament — we really needed three — and we pulled it off.”) are ones that stand the test of time.
How do you find the stories at your club and within your organization? You talk to the folks who have been there the longest, you listen to what your members and guests are talking about. At most places, there are also natural storytellers, folks who can weave a relevant story from even mundane events. Ask those folks to tell you one of their favorite stories, and then see if you can relate it to a current communication need.
Tell your stories wherever and whenever it makes sense to do so. For example, at the start of a meeting when budget cuts are to be discussed, you could tell a story about the creativity your team showed when developing new irrigation patterns that saved thousands of gallons of water and thousands of dollars. The story of how your course got its start and how it developed the character for which it’s known is a proven way to infuse personality into your operation and excite potential employees. The story of what the course is doing to improve environmental sustainability is a relevant subject for a talk to a local civic organization.
So, what’s your story?