Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Developing YOUR Story - a few tips/tricks

My best friend got married this past Sunday and as her coordinator, I have been consumed with ALL things wedding related.  It was a GORGEOUS wedding, perfect in every way.  So....now I'm back to the real world and realize that a month has passed without a new entry to Defeat ALS.  My how time flies!

In the past, on a number of different occasions, I've mentioned "telling your story".  Generally it's been in the context of advocacy and involvement with changing public policy.  I believe you need to be able to tell your story, in a concise and compelling way so that you can inform and educate, whenever the opportunity presents itself.  With ALS, this is particularly difficult, but critical, since few people know much beyond how to spell ALS.  Each time I talk about developing a story, I get a blank look or the question "how do I do that?"  It's hard to tell someone else how to write their story....I don't have the same perspective, experience or voice.  And besides....it's not my story to tell!

A few months ago, a childhood friend referred on of her friends to me for support, following the loss of her father to ALS.  Today's post is my response, which includes my thoughts on how to develop and tell your story.  I hope you find it helpful as you document YOUR story.

Dear Denise...
It's taken me a couple of days to think about your question and to (hopefully! answer in a thoughtful way.  I'm thinking that the true goodness of Facebook is that we don't actually need to know each other - we can be brought together by a mutual friend.  Because we share a very special bond - I'm pleased to "meet" you!  First I'm so very sad that you lost your father to this s^%&ty disease.  While there is never a "good" time to lose someone you love, I'm sure that losing him just before you delivered your daughter was especially difficult.  I can't imagine that pregnancy hormones and the joy of a new baby mix very well with grief.  Thank you for your kind words regarding my husband.  This is an especially difficult time of the year for me, so I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness.
Congratulations on making the decision to participate in the Idaho Walk to Defeat ALS.  I found the walks a good way to channel my grief - I had something to focus on besides a broken heart.  The walks are also a good way to organize friends who want to help you.  Unfortunately I'm going to agree with your friends and tell you that telling your story is the best way to educate people about the disease and to work through your own grief.  You don't really have to go into anything long or drawn out.  the good news is that the story will get better and your delivery will get easier over time.  Interestingly, this was one of the Twitter messages in my inbox this very morning!
"@schwerdtfeger:  Speaking: Don't look for grandiose stories.  Tell stories about YOUR life.  The audience will connect with the emotions you describe."
Your ultimate goal is to educate people about the disease, share your experience, talk about what the ALS Association does to help people with the disease and then ask them to help you honor your father by supporting the good work done by the association.  I believe your focus on raising money to find a cure will ultimately help you speak.  Here are a couple of points to consider as you craft your own story.
When I share my story, I will generally start by asking someone if they are familiar with ALS.  Depending on the answer, I might add, "You may have heard it called Lou Gehrig's disease."  90% of people will recognize it then.  Lately I've added that we just celebrated the 70th (yes 70 years!) anniversary of the famous speech give by Lou when he retired from the Yankees in 1939 because he was too weak to play ball.  You may have heard the speech.  I call it the "luckiest man speech" and there are lots of versions out on YouTube or the Lou Gehrig Wikipedia page.  Major League Baseball did a pretty big push earlier this month, so folks may have seen some of the stories and advertising.

I talk briefly about the statistics.  In the US, 16 people will get an ALS diagnosis today and 16 others will die from ALS.  One person every 90 minutes.  Less than 10% of the cases are geneticly transmitted and veterans returning home from mid-East conflict duty are twice as likely as the general population to receive an ALS diagnosos.  ALS is truly non-discriminatory.  It strikes young (17), old (83) and everyone in between.  My husband was 49 years old when he was diagnosed.  Whenever somebody asks me "why?" to any of these questions, I am hones and say I don't know.  Scientists are working on it, but there's been little, significant progress.  And I'm getting pretty impatient!
Then I move into helping people understand the disease.  I recently came across a wonderful analogy that people "get" right away.  Talk about "...being on the beach with sand for miles around.  We've all seen the dads who allow their children to use their plastic pails and shovels to bury them in the sand.  When the children finish the project they are generally happy with their work and the dad looks indulgent.  You see the dad's head sticking out of the sand, he's fully aware of what has happened/is happening, but cannot move anything.  He cannot even get out of the sand by himself".  Then you can say...."imagine what that might feel like."  And then let that sit in the air for a couple of seconds.  Then you can quietly say, "that's what it was like for my dad."  I promise you, people will have a new understanding of ALS!

You can then share a quick story of what it was like for you as a caregiver and how hard it is for you that you lost your dad before he could even hold his first grandchild.  Your daughter will grow up with stories about her grandfather, but won't have his knee to climb up onto to share a story.  Carry tissues for a while, this part will be hard, but it really helps people connect with you and your loss.  Take a deep breath and settle yourself.
I would then talk about the walk and why you are asking for money, especially in these tough financial times.  I find that talking about honoring my husband's memory works pretty well.  I also talk about the support groups and regional care managers funded by the association.  If your dad benefited directly from the services offered by the chapter, PLEASE SHARE this information.  Talking about the good work done and how you/your family personally benefited, makes it real!  I will sometimes talk about how expensive the disease is, especially in the late stages, often running $225K annually for equipment and full-time skilled care.
Finally, I come back to Lou Gehrig.  I ask people to think about the diseases that have discovered, in the past 70 year...like AIDS, Breast and many other types of Cancer, Parkinson's, MS, Swine Flu and more.  In our lifetime, researchers and scientists have been able to find what causes these diseases, created tests for early detection, have found therapies to help patients manage symptoms and to extend life and/or live relatively normal lives.  None of this has happened for ALS.
I then ask them to walk with me or to go to the website and sponsor me.  I talk about the walk and joining Bill's Brigade.  If they can't walk, I ask for sponsorship.  I've taken checks for $25, $50 (and more!), but lately I am asking people to think about a regular monthly pledge of $10.  It's only $2.50 per week, less than a fancy coffee drink at Starbucks, but it really means a lot to the chapter to support their work.  Most people can find $10 a month in their budget and not miss anything important in their household.  But $120 annually to the chapter is significant!
I can also tell you that this is a very effective way to craft an email campaign.  Go to the Walk website, register a team to honor your dad, and then us the email tools provided by the chapter to send "your story" out to all of your friends/family via email.  When I use this method, I thank them for their support and ask them to pass the email on to their friends and family. SOMEONE else has been impacted by the disease and will want to help you out!

I sure hope this helps!!  You are in my thoughts and prayers and I appreciate your trust in reaching out to me.  Please give my best to Brenda.


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