The Storyteller’s Garbe – interview with Linda Garbe (22 April 2008)

Introduction

In the last edition of my newsletter, I again asked if any storytellers would like to be interviewed. I received a few requests and one of them is Linda Garbe. As I did the research for the interview, I was indeed fascinated by her references to all sorts of things. For instance, she talks about something called ‘Wasabi Tsunami’. I shall not tell you what she’s said but will invite you to read the interview proper. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you, Linda Garbe …


Aneeta: Linda, thank you for writing in and asking to be interviewed.

Linda: The interviews you have done illustrate the wide world of storytelling and the many approaches to using story. I thought my work in corporate America might be of interest to your audience.

Aneeta: Tell me a little about yourself. Where were you born, where did you grow up, what do you do for a living and anything else you’d like to share with my readers?

Linda: I was born in Paris, Illinois, and lived on a farm surrounded by generations my family. My education began at Plum Grove, the same one-room county school my Grandmother attended. When I was six years old, we moved from the farm to the big city—Skokie, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. By the time I began high school, we had moved to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, and there I have been through high school, college, and a 38-year career with State Farm Insurance.

My entire career focused on communication. I began as a graphic designer, became a writer, and eventually led creative groups. When I retired as Assistant Vice President of Creative Services, I was responsible for designers, writers, producers, directors, photographers and technical experts who developed communications solutions for nearly 70,000 employees, 16,000 agents, and millions of customers.

All of these experiences led me to my current adventure – The Garbe Creative Group. I work with companies and individuals to help them understand and use the tremendous power of storytelling.

Aneeta: How did you first become interested in storytelling?

Linda: It seems I have always been interested in storytelling. Facts never interested me as much as the context or the story used to explain the facts. I always preferred to be around people who gave me the background story not just the facts. It may have been being surrounded by generations of my family growing up listening to them talk about their lives that sparked my interest in storytelling. Eventually, I came to understand that feelings hijack facts. Somehow we are led to believe having the facts will get results. During my years in a Fortune 500 Company I learned facts are important and you have to know your stuff, however, facts alone are not enough. You have to be able to connect with people and facts generally don’t help you do that. Your ability to mix content (facts) and context (story) will determine the results you get and how successful you are.

I think my understanding of communication and the power of storytelling is a result of my experience as a graphic designer, writer, and leader of creative groups. No matter what the delivery format: speeches, videos, multimedia, print, events, or one-on-one conversations, you have to find the perfect combination of fact and story to produce the results you need.

Aneeta: On your website, http://www.lindagarbe.comm, under the Tab ‘Your Story’, you have listed ‘In Pursuit of Perfection’, ‘Secret Weapon’ and ‘Unique Unqualified’. I really enjoyed reading these. For the benefit of my readers, can you please explain these?

Linda: These are all ways to tell visitors to the site why they should invest time in learning how to tell stories.

In Pursuit of Perfection encourages perfect communicators viewing my site to move on to a game site. However, those who have problems to solve and communicating to do are encouraged to hang around and learn how the ability to solve problems hinges on the ability to mix content (facts) and context (story) to create a compelling and memorable message.

Secret Weapon informs viewers storytelling is as powerful as Dick Tracy or Superman.

These heroes needed their secret weapons. You need your stories. Without your stories you are invisible.

Unique Unqualified explains the great value of your unique view of the world. Why use someone else’s story when you have stories no one else could tell?

Aneeta: Again, under the ‘Story Power’ Tab, you’ve got these fabulous sub-headings. I’ll not ask you to explain them all. But, I am exceedingly fascinated with Wasabi Tsunami. Can you please describe this?

Linda: Wasabi Tsunami is about the power of each word we use. I have seen the difference one word can make. Use the wrong word and you lose your audience. Wrong words are ones that cause your audience to stop listening to you. You can have the audience in the palm of your hand and suddenly use a word that causes them to stop hearing you and begin thinking about something else. The word has another meaning for them.

A 1997 article in a business publication stated: “There is a tsunami of disdain for the insurance industry.” Working in that industry, I was not pleased to read this. However, as a communicator I appreciated how clearly the phrase conveyed the author’s point. I began using the phrase to describe things I did not like.

In 2004, when an earthquake in the Indian Ocean created a devastating tsunami, I stopped using the phrase. Suddenly, people all around the world knew the real meaning of “tsunami.” Had I continued to use the phrase “tsunami of disdain” people would have stopped listening to me because the word “tsunami” would have reminded them of the recent disaster.

Time and place have a huge impact on people’s reactions to words. By 1980, avacado-colored appliances, which had been cutting edge in 1960, had come to signify tacky and out of date. In 1980, people did not purchase products described as “avocado green.” They did, however, believe themselves to be cutting edge when purchasing a product described as “wasabi green.”

In order to predict color trends, researchers show people color swatches and ask them to describe the color. In 1980, when researchers showed people an avocado colored swatch from the1960s, people used the word “wasabi” to describe the color. The green reminded them of the wasabi being used by restaurants particularly on sushi. Eating sushi was trendy; owning an avocado refrigerator was not.

You have to know your audience to have a chance of knowing what the wrong word might be. A word may work for one audience and not another. A word may work in one part of the country and not another. A word may work this year and not the next. Each word is important.

Aneeta: I understand that you provide a whole host of services. Can you please describe what it is you offer and how my readers may contact you?

My services include: speaking, training, coaching, and custom workshops and retreats.

You can find more information at www.lindagarbe.com Select “Linda’s Story” tab on the home page and then select “Services For Sale.”

Listening to your story is where I start. I’d love to hear from you.
Linda Garbe
President – The Garbe Creative Group
15 Bent Tree Lane
Towanda, Illinois  61776
309 728-2236 Home
309 728-2037 Office
309 824-9236 Cell
ltgarbe@frontiernet.net
www.lindagarbe.com

Aneeta: Linda, as you know, this website caters for storytellers. What advice would you give those who would like to venture into storytelling??

Linda: Whether you want to be a performance teller or to understand the power of storytelling in the workplace, it is important to realize you already are a storyteller. Everything you do or say tells others about you.

I do an exercise in my seminars where a person speaks for five minutes about someone who has been very important in their life. I then ask the listeners to write down what they can conclude about the speaker. I am not asking about the person the speaker talked about; I am asking about the person who was speaking. It is amazing how much people can conclude from listening for only five minutes to someone they have never met. People are able to make statements about what the speaker values and what they would be like to work with. When I share the assessments with the speaker’s co-workers or family, they attest to how on target the assessments are.

People rarely understand they tell people who they are every time they talk. In performance telling and to succeed at work, you must know what you want to communicate. As Doug Lipman says, “What is the ‘MIT’ – most important thing?” Next you must know your audience so you can determine the best way to deliver the story.

These sound very obvious, but years of observations tells me many people tell stories without knowing the MIT or understanding the audience. It takes time and substantial work to figure this out. Spend the time.

Aneeta: Linda, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Linda: I’d like to share my favourite quotes about the power of storytelling.

The Power of Story

Influence does not flow between cubicles filled with strangers who don’t trust each other, don’t respect their boss, and are living out stories of apathy, resentment, or both. Influence comes from paying attention to those you wish to influence, their stories, the stories you are telling yourself about them, the stories they tell themselves about you and the story not yet told that speaks to both of future collaboration and mutual respect.

Annette Simmons
The Story Factor

*****

Leaders lead through stories. Who am I as a leader? Who are we as a group, unit, department, or organization? Where are we going? Wrap your teachable point of view in a narrative that excites people not a power point presentation.

Noel Tichy
Professor
University of Michigan Business School

*****

“Thou shalt not” is soon forgotten, but “Once upon a time” lasts forever.

Philip Pullman
1996 Carnegie Medal acceptance speech

*****

The ability to tell the right story at the right time is emerging as an essential leadership skill to cope with, and get business results in, the turbulent world of the 21st century. It’s also a critical capacity for personal interaction and happiness with family and friends.

Stephen Denning
The Springboard Story

*****

One can’t make a new heaven and earth with “facts.”

Henry Miller
Author

Aneeta: Linda, thank you very much for sharing all your experiences and stories.

Linda: Thank you for the chance to share my passion for storytelling.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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