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Once Upon a Time: This Solo PR Pro Shares Her Tips for Storytelling

We are all storytellers. 

Story strategist and fellow solo PR pro Lisa Gerber understands the power of a great story. As the owner of Big Leap Creative, she works with purpose-driven leaders who want to make the world a better place, helping them to articulate their ideas and get others on board. 

When she’s not pushing her clients to make change happen through effective storytelling, Lisa also hosts the podcast Breaking Trail, an exploration of outdoor adventure as a metaphor for life.

In this episode of That Solo Life: The Solo PR Pro Podcast, Lisa joined Karen and Michelle to discuss how story is a driving force in her work, how storytelling and emotions intertwine and how to handle the battle with time that we all fight everyday. 

Using storytelling and data together

Even prior to opening Big Leap, Lisa noticed a common theme among brands, especially those in the nonprofit world: many of them struggle to tell their stories. 

“They are working so hard to get people to care about their thing, whatever it may be,” she explains. “And although they have so much potential and they’re talking about something that matters greatly to them, they don’t understand why it’s not getting others on board.”

One of the fundamental components many of them are lacking is the ability to make that emotional connection, she says. Many organizations rely on statistics and data to explain why their cause is important, and that data is a valuable part of their PR toolkit. But by breathing life into those numbers through the art of storytelling, they can take their efforts to the next level and help make that connection with the public. 

Opting for a simpler approach to storytelling 

One of the biggest challenges Lisa encounters in her line of work is the overcomplication of the storytelling process. 

“I can hardly blame people for making it more complicated than it is, because a lot of what you read about brand storytelling is complex,” she says. “You might hear about the 12 steps and following the hero's journey; there are all these elements and components and this massive format that you feel you have to use.” 

When working with her clients, Lisa prefers to preach a much simpler approach, explaining that people use the true elements of story everyday when they’re talking to one another. 

“Everybody is a storyteller. And we’re not creating these literary masterpieces, we’re just referencing details,” she explains. 

Lisa emphasizes that the story itself is far more important than the way it’s told. The true work is finding the right story to tell — the one that people want to listen to. 

While many people can clearly see the importance of the narrative and how it moves people to action, PR pros often encounter clients who might not be comfortable telling their story or looking different from everyone else. 

Instead, they fall back on buzzwords they hear colleagues and competitors throwing around, losing sight of what the media and the audience cares about.

One of Lisa’s favorite exercises to do with her clients to overcome this barrier is simply asking questions, and then asking them again in a slightly different way, and then again until she gets to the heart of what they’re trying to say. 

“I actually just did a video on this. Say the person you're trying to get the story out of is using too much jargon, being overly technical or just not giving you what you want,” Lisa says. “I’ll push them to get into the feeling behind it, reframing the question to pull something more to the surface.”

When it comes to telling a great story, sometimes simpler is better. 

The battle with time

No matter what services you offer or type of work you do, most solo PR pros can agree the territory comes with a certain level of stress, whether it’s because work is too busy or perhaps not busy enough. 

Over the course of her 17-year career, Lisa has learned the importance of finding the right work-life balance. 

“You obviously can’t be living with stress all the time,” she says. “That’s not why we did this. That’s not why we struck out on our own.”

There was no clearer example of how key this self-awareness is than when Lisa’s father, who had been diagnosed with cancer, started to take a turn for the worse in early April 2020.

At the time, he was living in Florida and Lisa was in Idaho. Despite how much he tried to downplay it, she could tell his health was deteriorating and wanted to move him north to Boston to be with family.

“At the time, I had a lot going on and things were going really well with work,” she explains. “And it would have been so easy to say ‘I don’t have time for this.’ I had to make the call: was this serious enough for me to set my work aside and go down to Florida?”

She ultimately did decide to go to Florida and help with the road trip to bring him and his belongings north to Boston, in the middle of a pandemic no less.

After making the journey, Lisa — along with her brother and his family — got him settled in, and he was there for six weeks before passing away in May. 

“When I saw him, I knew I had made the right decision. It was essential that I be there,” she says. “And after I just left with a sense that I did what I needed to do.”

But she admits feeling that, like so many others do in these situations, setting aside work was a hard choice to make. “But if I had not done that, I don’t know how I could live with myself. I thank God I did not prioritize work, you know?” she says.

As a solo business owner, there is a desire to show up for your business and be good stewards of what you’ve created. Occasionally those feelings are accompanied by a little bit of fear of letting go. 

Lisa encourages solos to lean into fluidity and find balance. 

“You want to avoid building silos, with work in one box and life in another,” she says. “But instead understand that ‘I have a whole life, and work is a part of my life. It’s not my whole life, but it’s part of it.’”

How do you help your clients tell their story? Have you found ways to improve your work-life balance as a solopreneur? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social media using #solopr!