The gymnast, Simone Biles, has often been called the GOAT (greatest of all time). Her accomplishments have been well-documented and deserved. On Thursday, to the shock of many, she pulled out of the Olympic 2020 competition to focus on her mental well-being simone-biles-withdraws-olympics-gymnastics.
How will her story unfold?
As a speech coach and communication strategist I often talk to my clients about the power of storytelling. All good communicators know that stories illuminate and engage. We know: Information + Emotion = Memory. Information alone will not draw your audience in and ensure they retain what you’ve discussed. We remember and process information better when we hear or read a story because narratives reach deep into our psyche and provide a deeper understanding of concepts, thoughts, and ideas.
One story technique I like to highlight is what is known as the “hero’s journey.” You may be familiar with this narrative arc which was described recently in Margaret Atwood’s (Handmaids-Tale-Margaret-Atwood/) Master Class. “A lonely hero is trying to find himself. A sudden and unexpected journey, promising adventure, and peril occur. There is a test of character, strength, and skill. An ultimate battle that tests the hero’s resolve. Finally, a triumphant return home. This exact narrative template has inspired countless stories from ancient myths to modern television shows and movies.”
The Olympics are a never-ending treasure chest of content for the Hero’s Journey. Every day as you tune in you see victories, defeats, struggles, triumphs, and lessons learned. As I watched the coverage of both Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka (the gold medal favorite who was unexpectedly eliminated in the third round of competition naomi-osaka-knocked-olympics-upset) I thought about their journey forward. What is the story they will tell?
For them, the heart of the story this time is not tied to a traditional victory but rather what they’ve learned through defeat. While we are not all Olympians, we do face our own personal versions of the hero’s journey. Perhaps, it is captured in the challenges of taking on a new job; becoming a first-time parent; going through a divorce; or overcoming an illness. Our job as communicators is telling the story, with all its trials and tribulations, and then sharing with our audiences what we learned so that they can benefit from our experience and perhaps avoid our mistakes. As Donald Miller says in his book Building a Story Brand, think of yourself as Yoda and your listener or customer as Luke Skywalker. In other words, you are using your experience to help and guide others.
All communicators, all presenters, are well served to remember that when you communicate, you are in essence, telling a story. Think about the business point you want to make. Step back and ask yourself whether there is anything in your background or experience in which you faced a challenge, overcame it, and are ready to share what you learned. Chances are if you are wanting to highlight the importance of teamwork, pushing past hurdles and obstacles, being resilient after a crushing blow – there is a hero’s journey that would match that call to action. And if you can’t identify it immediately – keep your eye on Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka – they will surely have a lot to share as they move through their next chapter, and if we keep our ears and eyes open, we’ll learn from them.