Turning lemons into lemonade – how I experienced the power of storytelling first hand

October 28th, 2016

lemons-1432439_960_720Humans have been storytelling for thousands of years, however it was often confined to the minds of frustrated, penniless novelists and mothers trying to lull their children to sleep.

Not anymore. Big brands are using it to great effect. Take the current DFS advert. They’re not just telling you about the great sofas they have available, they’re showing you real people in the workshops with the skills and enthusiasm to ensure your sofa will arrive before Christmas.

And newspapers and journalists aren’t just delivering the facts, they’re telling us stories of unaccompanied child refugees making their way across Europe and families torn apart by the war in Syria.

I’m not telling you anything new, but it does take some skill to tell a really good story and to identify what one is in the first place. How confident are we as communicators that we can find the story at the heart of the corporate world?

I watched a fascinating presentation at the recent CIPR Inside conference by Curtis James who embarked on a project to tell the stories of ordinary people at work through interviews, video and photography. I won’t tell you too much, as it will ruin it if you ever have the privilege of seeing Curtis present, but the room was captivated.

And that’s what a good story should do. It should make you dread getting to the end because then it will be over. It should make you feel emotional because you could relate to it. It should make you feel inspired and feel a human connection.

I’d never thought of myself as having a story until November 2014 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 29. Until then my life had been pretty textbook, and in my more existential moments, I worried about the lack of story I had to tell. Fate clearly listened and decided to wallop me with one.

boobetteBut as the well-known saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So for the last year, I’ve been volunteering with the charity CoppaFeel! as a Boobette. This involves going into schools and businesses to tell my story and raise awareness of breast cancer in young women and men.

It can feel very vulnerable sometimes, talking about a time in my life when I was at my very lowest. But the response is incredible. I’ve seen people’s jaws drop when I tell them I had breast cancer and I’m their age. I’ve seen people double take at the statistic that 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. And I’ve been overwhelmed when teenagers come up to me after my presentation to tell me their own stories of their mums, aunts or grandmas who’ve had breast cancer. Or the women that tell me they’re going to start checking themselves and tell all their friends to do the same.

I’m not telling you this story to get a pat on the back. I’m partly telling you because I think you should all go check your boobs, but I’m also telling you because I have experienced the power of storytelling first hand.

People don’t want stories about princesses being saved by a white knight. They don’t want dry facts and statistics. They want a story they can relate to, learn from, be inspired by. And as communicators it’s our job to help that to happen.

It can be tempting sometimes in the corporate world to only showcase success stories, to demonstrate your brand values in practice and how perfectly they’re being applied. But that’s not realistic. And it’s not a story. Well, not a good one anyway. Good stories have obstacles that need to be overcome and learnt from, they often have unexpected twists, and real people at the heart of them.

I mentioned in my last blog that internal communicators need to be curious and visible. They need to be out there finding out first hand what’s going on in the business, spotting the stories other people might not see and bringing them to life.

That may seem a daunting task at first, but if you look at it another way, not many people go to work and get to tell real stories in a way that can change people’s lives, however big or small that change may be. It’s such a privileged position to be in that it almost sounds like a story in itself…


On 22 February, I’m running a Writing Masterclass, and as part of that we’ll be looking at stories – what makes one and how you tell them. It’s a small group of people, where you can share your experiences and maybe even fears of putting your work out there for all to see. You’ll learn skills that you can take back to the office and start using the very next day. You can book your place on the masterclass website.


If you’d like a Boobette to come along to your workplace or kid’s school, get in touch with the team at Boob HQ, who will be happy to help. 

Categories: Breast cancerCIPR insideCoppaFeel!Helen DeverellInternal communicationMasterclassStorytelling

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“Helen’s passion for her profession shines through very clearly and she manages to combine her deep knowledge of internal communications with a mix of pragmatism and fresh thinking. She is a delight to work with and has a high level of integrity.”

Richard Fitzmaurice, TMF Group