Learn What Makes Stories So Powerful—and Meet Three Powerful Story Tellers

March 1, 2019


Around the world and through the ages, we’ve told one another stories. We tell them face to face, and around campfires; through pictures drawn on cave walls and through song; to family and to strangers. Stories engage and influence us. Yet, we don’t give much thought to the power of stories or to the meaning, authenticity, and richness created by the storyteller.

We engage with stories every day, from those kitten or puppy videos on Facebook, to the ads on TV that evoke emotions; from the stories and self-disclosure we share in our relationships to the leaders and celebrities we look up to and seek to learn more about. 

Stories Have Always Been an Important Part of Human Communication Because:

  • Stories share our experiences and offer meaning. Our brains look for the story in experiences to make sense of them. Stories explain, and we learn from the experiences of others.

  • Imagined experiences are processed in the brain as though they were real experiences. Neurological research indicates that our brains produce the stress hormone cortisol during tense moments in a story; those cute animal videos we watch release oxytocin, the chemical that promotes connection and empathy; a happy ending triggers dopamine which evokes hope and optimism.

  • Telling stories is the best way to teach, persuade, and understand one another.  We remember and make connections more easily when information or experience is pinned to a story. At the beginning of most relationships, we use stories to disclose who we are and to build connection.

  • Stories connect us to one another and to our shared traditions, legends and universal truths.

  • Stories engage our emotions. We share enthusiasm, problems, sorrow and joy. They increase our understanding and empathy.

  • Stories provide structure and order. They make ideas and experiences familiar, predictable, and comforting.

  • Stories trigger our imaginations, tapping into creativity, discovery and exploration.

Storytelling may seem like an old-fashioned tool in this era of technology. But it is no less powerful. Information can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them. Data doesn’t provide shared meaning, experience or purpose. Because we learn best from stories that we related to emotionally, the most effective leaders…the most effective advertising…the most effective art…even, the most effective relationships embrace stories.

Meet These Three Storytellers

Sekou Andrews, Erica Dhawan and Ben Nimtin have little in common at first glance. A poet, a business strategist and a person who dropped out of school to travel. All three make their living now telling stories—bringing meaning and inspiration to listeners.  Each of them has told stories to Oprah. ALL of them believe strongly that we can live life on our own terms and in the power within each of us. Meet the three storytellers who will keynote the 2019 Administrative Professionals Conference!

Storyteller: Sekou Andrews
Sekou Andrews is, improbably, a full-time poet. A fifth-grade schoolteacher turned actor, musician, two-time national poetry slam champion, entrepreneur, and award-winning poetic voice, Sekou’s presentations can range from speaking at a leadership conference, helping a Fortune 500 company with messaging, to performing pieces for Barack Obama in Oprah’s backyard. He is the eldest of 2 sons and says he has “always been my mother's favorite child.” (with apologies to his little brother) He has a female cat named Dirk Diggler, and he believes pizza must be accompanied by root beer.

As much as Sekou loved the classroom, his heart was ultimately in his art. Having built a name for himself on the poetry scene, he joined the ranks of that rare breed of story teller who make their living as a poet. He was not, however, resigned to the touring life of a traditional performance poet. Sekou created a new style of inspirational speaking called Poetic Voice. Sekou has presented privately for Larry King, Quincy Jones, Hillary Clinton, Bono, Maya Angelou, and Norman Lear, and has shared the stage with music heavyweights Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, Maroon 5, Kendrick Lamar, and the Pasadena Pops Orchestra. Forbes calls Sekou “the de facto poet laureate of corporate America”.

Sekou travels the world doing TED talks, giving speeches at companies like Google and Nike, and occasionally rocking the stage at his goddaughter's elementary school poetry day. He has reluctantly given up his dream of being a ninja, but he enjoys being a “telekinetic” since he moves people with his mind. Sekou does more than inspire us with his story; he inspires us with our stories.

Storyteller: Erica Dhawan
Born into an achievement-oriented South Asian family, Erica Dhawan was supposed to be a doctor. But her career took a different path. Erica earned her MPA from Harvard Kennedy School, her MBA from MIT Sloan, and BS at UPENN’s Wharton School. (“I know I’m over-educated!” she says, “It’s in my blood to be nerdy.”) Her first job was at Lehman Brothers, a top Wall Street firm at the time. She joined Lehman Brothers at the peak of the financial boom and worked through its bankruptcy collapse. This experience taught her about the change needed in many large institutions and developed her belief that engaging young and diverse leaders will spark evolution in the workplace of the future.

After working at Lehman Brothers, Barclays Capital, and serving as a research fellow at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership, Erica founded Cotential, a global consultancy that helps organizations transform by delivering collaboration across teams, business units, customers and other stakeholders. Erica became a business strategist, motivational speaker and innovation expert.

For much of her twenties, Erica tried to “do it all.” She lived someone else’s vision of success, not her own, ignoring some of her greatest passions, like writing and dancing, until she burned out. It was when she took time off that the “dots started to connect” for her. She began to act on what she cared about rather than focus on what she thought she should do or say. She became immersed and an expert in Connectional Intelligence. Erica says: “In short, I began to own my life rather than letting it own me. I have never had this much fun or felt nearly as creative and productive as I feel now.”

Erica is the co-author of the bestselling book: Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence which was rated #1 on What Corporate America is Reading. Connectional Intelligence unlocks the 21st-century secret to getting "big things done," regardless of who you are, where you live, or what you do. Erica believes that hands-down the hardest thing for each of us is to become the person we are meant to be. She shows others how to combine their knowledge, ambition, and human capital to accelerate their careers with the power of connection.

Storyteller: Ben Nemtin
Now, you’d never guess that Ben Nemtin struggled with depression growing up and was forced to drop out of college. In his first year of college, life was great. He was at a top-tier school on an academic scholarship and his dream of making the U-19 Canadian Rugby Team had just become a reality. Then, out of the blue, he was hit with a crippling depression. His anxiety stopped him from going to school and from going to rugby. He dropped out of college and became a shut-in in his parent’s house, unable to leave.

Ben slowly realized that he had been living the life he wanted other people to see, not the life he really wanted. He made a list of '100 things to do before you die' with three friends. They decided that for every bucket list item they accomplished, they would help a complete stranger accomplish something on their list. Ben and his friends called their mission The Buried Life, after a 150-year-old poem which articulated their frustration – that their dreams felt buried.

They borrowed an RV, bought a second-hand camera and hit the road for a two-week road trip to tackle that list of impossible dreams and help others tackle theirs. What happened next was completely unexpected. Total strangers reached out to help them, and also shared their dreams, asking for help That two-week road trip lasted more than 10 years. And the items on the list that once seemed impossible have somehow been checked off.

From climbing a mountain and opening the evening news to playing basketball with President Obama and having a beer with Prince Harry, from raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity to placing a record-breaking bet on roulette; from swimming with sharks to driving across North America—Ben’s bucket list quest has inspired millions to believe that the impossible is possible. As a result, Ben truly believes that anyone can do anything. He has seen how this belief changes how you make decisions and, ultimately, how you live your life. His goal is to instill this belief in you and prove that you are capable of the impossible. Ben’s system of achieving impossible goals demystifies daunting tasks by turning ‘dreams’ into ‘projects’ and creating a digestible pathway from mediocrity to success.

The enthusiasm, optimism and inspiration of these three master storytellers made them the 2019 keynote speakers at the APC!

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