30th Anniversary Preview: A Q&A with Keynote Ben Tanzer

By Randy Ford, ACN Member
First Story Strategies

ACN is celebrating 30 years with a special celebration at its May 30 annual meeting. (Get early bird registration rates now!)

Storyteller, author and nonprofit consultant Ben Tanzer (http://tanzerben.com/) is the keynote speaker. He talked with ACN about why we are drawn to mission-driven work, the power of stories and how consultants can put their own stories to better use.

ACN: Why have you dedicated so much time working with nonprofits?

Ben: I was always drawn to nonprofit work, so for years I had day jobs there, and I was at one nonprofit for many years. I have no problems with for-profits, by any means, but I’ve always wanted to work with organizations that have a positive impact on people’s lives – making a significant policy change, directing the flow of funding to a community.

The older I get, I’m also more driven by where the interesting things are happening. I want every day to be really interesting.

ACN: Why is storytelling important for mission-driven organizations?

Ben: One, I really believe it helps organizations understand what they’re actually trying to accomplish. It helps when you understand the personal stories of what’s driving your work and why you show up every day. I used to travel the country, and I saw that even when organizations were doing really good work, sometimes they’d forgotten the narrative of what they were doing.

Two, we want to be able to sell what we’re doing and connect with the right people, and people connect to personal stories. You have to give a story and a big idea, and then you back it up with data.

Third, you want people to understand why you care about anything at all, and it helps when you can show that more than tell it.

ACN: How about in professional development? What can consultants do to incorporate more stories?

Ben: Look at your resume, look at your website, look at your LinkedIn, and ask, “Do I have a story that backs up everything I’m saying?” If you meet somebody at a cocktail party, the first thing they’re going to do when they get home is look at your LinkedIn. So does it match your story?

I want to take that back a step and say, “Do you have a story that matches your LinkedIn? It doesn’t have to only be stories about your day-to-day work life. It can be about books you’ve read, movies that have had an impact on you, or your family.

ACN: Give us a sneak peek of what we’ll hear at the 30th Anniversary.

Ben: My real goal is to push everyone to question their self-awareness about their own story. Do they even think about how they describe themselves? And I’ll have some exercises we can do.

I hope people will step back and say, “Do I even know myself as much as I think?” Since I’ve been consulting full-time, I’m doing that all the time. I think it’s important as a consultant. Can you own your own story? Do you even know what it is? Can you articulate it?

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