We don’t always see clearly. Often, the things we miss are in plain site, waving their arms and shouting “HEY, OVER HERE!” and we just walk on by. I’ve been aware of, and even involved with, Special Olympics since 2006 when my friend Phil Ruggieri-now IDEAS CEO- asked if we would do a StoryJam for the organization. At that time, he was the Chairperson of Special Olympics Florida and they wanted to spruce up their brand and message. Phil felt like they were rich in story and were leaving too much untold. To say that he was right is a huge understatement. One of the things we do in StoryJam is create the tools and the environment within which anyone can begin to discover and tell their rich stories. That day, the stories came in a rich flood of heroic athletes, dedicated coaches, hopeful families and a potent brew of optimism mixed with the “good” kind of tears. We heard stories from athletes who excelled against all odds and did so with grace and poise and watched tough-minded law enforcement officers tear-up when they spoke of what their work with Special Olympics had done to enrich their lives.
I’ve never forgotten that day, and that’s why I was so delighted when my friend Amie asked if I would give a talk on storytelling at the Special Olympics North America (SONA) conference last week. This great gathering of all of the SONA organizations doesn’t happen often. This year, they are rolling out a revitalized new brand- a project that has been in the works for a couple of years. But, while the brand and positioning are fresh, the stories are as compelling as ever. I got to spend an hour and half with about 100 folks and share tales, probe what makes the Special Olympics Brand Story powerful and explore all of the kinds of story craft that can connect with athletes, donors and supporters around the world. I left wistful, knowing I was just someone passing through a wondrous city of heroes. That’s the way stories create community and communities create stories. Its a magic, sedimentary process laying down layer after layer of myth, legend and tall tales that become what we label “real”. Reality though can be subtle. You have to be able to stop, look deeply and see it sometimes in order to let it become part of your story.