I’ve had years of experience delivering presentations and workshops for my business, but nothing prepared me for the moment the story in me decided that it needed to be told and the world needed to hear it.
In 2018, I was flown to Menlo Park in California to meet with 114 other community leaders from around the world. I’ll be honest – I was overwhelmed. I had been selected by Facebook from thousands of community leaders as the pinnacle of community leadership – and I felt a fraud.
Would they find me out? Were my experiences and my vision worthy of this opportunity? And who was I to be there?
Something inside quietly reminded me that my intense emotional response was because my community, my mission and my commitment to serve mattered so deeply to me, and I had a duty to all 3,000 (at the time) parents in my community who believed in me and Parenting Mental Health and were willing me on from around the world.
And I decided then I’d take every opportunity I was offered and volunteer, put my hand up, say yes. This was a chance to accelerate the change I wanted to see in the world. And so on the second day at Facebook, I was given my first of many opportunities and it really started my speaking ‘career’.
What you read next may not seem too groundbreaking or ‘out there’, but it supercharged the way I saw stories and gave me a confidence and purpose to ensure my voice was heard, for good.
We were asked to pair up and share the reasons we had for starting our communities. I was matched with Mel Bound of This Mum Runs and within moments, we were both reaching for the tissues as we explored our very personal, emotional, meaningful stories. And despite trying to hide in plain sight for the past 24 hours, I felt my arm shoot up as we were asked if anyone wanted to share.
Standing up and sharing the most intimate and devastating details of your life in front of 150 people you’ve never met is intimidating to say the least. But every word gave me strength; it was for my community, and for Issy.
As I sat down, having shared some of the most difficult experiences of the past few years, the room responded with clapping and whoops and so many hugs – and a queue of people keen to share their experiences of mental illness formed. I realised in that moment that whilst I had stood up for those I knew – me, my daughter, my community – I was speaking for everyone who has ever had a mental illness or loved or cared for someone with one.
Since 2018, I have spoken at a wide range of events – from mental health conferences, wellness workshops, and leadership summits to the Women’s Institute where I was honoured to connect with a woman whose son had died by suicide 50 years before who told me that I had given her an understanding she had been waiting half a century for, to Facebook’s internal conference for their staff across EMEA, with around 5,000 people in the audience ( 90% of whom I am reliably informed cried when I shared stories of my daughter) and everything in between.
But it’s not just about sharing stories of emotion, it’s about sharing stories of change, of overcoming adversity and success outside of the lines. I have an interesting past, that includes quite some challenge – including my own mental health issues and sleeping rough – and I love to share the power of our potential, whatever our age or background. For me, sharing stories means everyone can get involved. The listener can learn something new from what I speak about – mental health, parenting, community leadership or storytelling – but also reflect on their own experiences and learn something about themselves.
By telling our personal stories of challenges we have faced, choices we have made, and what we learned from the outcomes we can inspire others and share our own wisdom. Because stories allow us to express our values not as abstract principles, but as lived experience, they have the power to move others.
Professor Marshall Ganz.
I am also so excited about the power of stories to connect and motivate us and others to act in pursuit of a common shared purpose. As a community leader and entrepreneur, I find using Personal Narrative and Professor Marshall Ganz’s framework takes what can be perceived as too personal to share and turns it into the most powerful galvanising force that drives change and collective action.
“You are a highly skilled storyteller, Suzanne” Marshall Ganz in 2019 on a conference call ( shared without permission!)
I also facilitate panel talks and discussions, including research and speaker liaison. The best thing for me is hearing people’s stories as they reflect on the talk so I like to hang around after my talk if possible and answer any questions and chat to attendees – if we ever manage to do in-person events again 🙁
Please contact my speaking agent, Alexandra Davison here.