The Power of Storytelling

admin Featured News

By Greg Hill, J.D., CDA Executive Director
From the Winter 2017 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association

I have always enjoyed telling a good story. As I approached my 40th birthday a half decade ago, I wrote a series of blog posts titled “Forty Stories I Love to Tell,” in which I recounted some of my favorite stories I inevitably wind up telling at social settings or among friends. To celebrate the 140th Anniversary of the Kansas Dental Association, I co-authored a book titled “140 Years, 140 Stories,” in which we told the stories of 140 different Kansas dentists and what made them unique as individuals in the dental profession.

To me a story can be powerful and if told the right way, can help ignite change or bolster support for something you believe in. While working for the Kansas Dental Association, part of my job was to tell the story of the Kansas Mission of Mercy—the stories of patients, the stories of donors and the stories of volunteers—and I would tell these stories to civic organizations, local foundations, newspapers and television and radio stations.

I have been a Rotarian since 2001. I joined because I recognized the value of community service and what a group of 1.2 million people could do to change the world. But what I get from the Rotary is not just the opportunity to network with other business professionals or the chance to work on a service project; it is the opportunity to hear stories told by the many speakers who come to our club each week. Some have been incredibly powerful and meaningful and I will often return to the office looking to share that story with one of our staff members.

Right before the holidays, I had an opportunity to work on a local rotary project called Santa Clothes, where our Rotary Club and Kohl’s partnered to provide a shopping trip for some students from a local high school. Many of these young adults had never gone shopping for new clothes and others hadn’t received a holiday gift for years because their parents simply couldn’t afford it. It was inspiring and the young man I helped shop for was excited and thankful for the clothes we were able to provide him. I felt good for my community service and hoped that in some small way, I gave something to this young man he would never forget.

A few days later, our club sent an email to all of our members with a story. One of our volunteer members had learned that the student she was helping shop for, a female high school senior, was homeless. She awoke every morning at 4:30 a.m. in a homeless shelter, took multiple buses to arrive at school at 7:30 a.m. and then would return to the shelter at night. Upon learning this, my fellow Rotarian went to the school, spoke to the school counselors, and then went to the homeless shelter. That night, the very student who had awoken that morning homeless, was now packing her bags. She now lives not just in a new home, but in a place where she is loved and cared for like a daughter.

I was deeply touched by the story and shared it with our CDA staff. We talked about stories and the power they bring. We discussed telling stories of individual members and what is important to them, not just in their professional lives, but in their personal lives—things that can create value to our members. We talked about the power of telling the stories of patients and how our legislative advocacy has helped them receive dental care through the adult Medicaid program. We talked about how stories can connect with others in ways that information and data cannot. It’s that personal touch that can inspire and offer the opportunity for people to engage.

We are embarking on a new strategic plan for the CDA. It’s a plan we believe is more than a list of things we can check off each year. It’s intended to be a fundamental change in how we, as an organization, connect with our members and build a larger and stronger membership base. It’s designed to help us create leadership for our future throughout the organization and allow us to be nimble, efficient and able to respond to challenges quickly. And it’s about ensuring we have a system that provides the highest quality of dental care for all Coloradans.

One of the many ways we will advance this plan is through the power of stories. Social media, video, and now our new website, are powerful mediums to tell stories of our members. We know that you probably aren’t going drop us an email or pick up the phone and tell us what makes you such an interesting person; because most of you are too humble to do so. I completely understand. But I am hoping your colleagues will tell us your story, and you’ll tell us their stories.

You know a dentist who has a story to be told. Maybe it is something they have done in their professional life, but maybe not. Maybe it’s something admirable they have done at another point in their career. Maybe it’s a passion they have for a hobby or a particular activity in their community. We believe these stories create a sense of value and purpose, and we, as your professional organization, are in a unique position to share your stories and achievements.

So back to our young lady who was given the gift of a home. Following Santa Clothes, Dr. Karen Foster, CDA 1st vice president, and I traveled together to Salida to meet with our new Intermountain Dental Society trustee. During our drive, I told her the story of what we had done that morning at Kohl’s, not knowing yet the wonderful conclusion. A few days later, I spoke with Dr. Foster again and told her what had happened.

The young lady needed some medical care, including both eyeglasses and dental care. An optometrist in our club has donated his services. I asked Dr. Foster if she would be willing to see this patient and assess her needs. With goosebumps, she gladly agreed. I told the staff we would tell this story as a beautiful and inspiring message during the Holiday Season. We are happy to tell it and thankful for Dr. Foster who was inspired to help this young woman.

Stories are powerful and inspiring. If told the right way, they can ignite change. I can’t wait to hear your story.

Have a Story to Share?

Contact CDA Executive Director Greg Hill at greg@cdaonline.org or 303-996-2846.