My husband crept into bed at 3:00 am on a Wednesday morning four years ago. I was half asleep and vaguely aware of the movement of the mattress and the creaks in the bed. “Don’t wake up,” he whispered in a dark, quiet voice. My eyes flew open.
Staying up all night during a general election is something in which many UK voters indulge. Ask the question “Were you still up for Portillo?” and a fair percentage of UK citizens will know exactly what election you are referring to.* My British husband had many years of experience staying up until the wee hours to watch election results. The 2016 US Presidential election was another race to watch. I had to catch an EasyJet flight to Copenhagen the next day. I had gone to bed at 9:00 pm.
Six hours later my husband’s tone of voice snapped me out of my dozy slumber, and I reached for my phone. “Don’t…” came a last-minute plea from the other side of the bed. It was too late. I opened Facebook and Twitter and saw the news. Donald Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton and had been declared the de facto winner of the 2016 US Presidential Election. I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. It was a physical hurt – deep and wounding. I don’t care what your politics are. A women with the depth and breath and years of experience that Secretary Clinton had and she was defeated by (in the words of Gail Collins in this week’s New York Times) “…one of the most awful candidates in American history.”
As a woman, it was as if the school bully had kicked us all in the gut and laughed in our faces as we lay doubled over in the school yard. Only to be told by those in charge, ‘What did you expect? This yard belongs to men and you had the audacity to walk across it. You have only yourselves to blame.’
I was due to give a speech on the ‘History of payments and their role in FinTech’ at the launch of the Copenhagen FinTech Lab the following day. I called the organiser of the event and said ‘Rasmus, I’m sorry. I need to change my speech. I need to say something different’.’ He knew exactly why, and without asking for any more details responded: ‘Of course.’
Over the course of the day (after a tense exchange with an EasyJet employee on whether my purse was a separate bag), using a series of napkins and hotel stationery, I wrote a new speech. I was the only English speaker during the launch of the Scandi-style startup incubator in Denmark four years ago. And the following is what I said.
‘Good afternoon. I’m Liz Lumley, Managing Director of Ecosystem Development at Startupbootcamp FinTech. I was supposed to give you all a talk about the history of payments using data from our SBC accelerator programmes. However, I woke up yesterday and thought, ‘Nope, I need to say something else.’
‘A few years ago, I interviewed Ruth Goodwin-Groen, MD, Better Than Cash Alliance after she spoke at the Citi Digital Symposium. She told a story about a woman in Malawi in Africa. This woman was a mother of three and had recently lost her husband to the AIDS virus. She owned her own home and had a bit of money. Her local bank had recently introduced a current account that could be accessed in the branch with a fingerprint identification system.’
‘Now, in Malawi it was the practice, but not the law, that money and property is passed down to the male members of the family. It was no surprise that this woman’s brother-in-law showed up to demand any money this widow and mother had.’
‘She looked at her brother-in-law and said: ‘My money is the bank. If you want it, go get it.’
‘So, this total piece of shit walked down to the local bank and demanded the balance from the account. The teller then asked him to place his finger on the identification reader for security. As you can probably guess – his fingerprint did not match the prints on file for this account. The bank teller responded with: ‘I’m sorry, your fingerprint does not match. This is not your money. We cannot help you.’
‘The next morning, the manager arrived at the branch of this Malawi bank to open for the day. He was greeted by 20 women from this widow’s village waiting outside requesting to open one of those ‘fingerprint identification’ accounts.’
‘Access to secure, regulated bank accounts are a cornerstone of civilisation. Having control over your money gives you power and a voice. Millions of people around the world are denied access to tools to control their own money. Most of that group are the poor and a large percentage of that poor are women.’
‘That evil brother-in-law in Malawi sought to steal power and a voice from a woman.’
‘And a bank and FinTech stopped that from happening.’
‘Hopefully, there will be numerous FinTech companies who will find their start and received nurturing in a place like the Copenhagen FinTech Lab. But this is more than just a place where the Nordics will find their next payments app. It is a place where, someday, someone will build a company and develop a product that makes the world a better place – even if it is only one widow in Africa at a time.’
Why am I retelling this story four years later? Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that the US – my home country – is once again looking at an election with Donald Trump on the ballot. A man who has shown time and time again that he does not find any value in women having power and a voice (unless that voice is used to feed his ego and supplement his power). However, this story is also about persuasion, about how, by using storytelling, you make your point and employ the age-old writer’s advice: It is always better to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’.
I never mentioned Trump’s name once during my time on stage in Copenhagen four years ago. You could argue that my use of English, and my obvious American accent, along with the phrase ‘I woke up yesterday and thought ‘Nope, …’ made my intention clear to everyone in the room. But why, as an American living in London, was I telling the story of a widow in Africa using, what must be an outdated piece of technology to protect her bank account, at the launch of a startup lab in Denmark? That ‘why’ was clear to everyone listening.
Thomas Krogh Jensen, co-founder and CEO of the Copenhagen FinTech Lab called my talk ‘very personal’ on LinkedIn. I have never been to Malawi, nor am I a widow, nor have I ever had any of my brothers-in-law’s try and steal money from me. What was personal to me was that the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party in the country where I was born and of which I am still a citizen – lost to a man that I and many others considered not only unfit for the job, but a monster.
I conveyed how personal the election of 2016 was to me, not by ‘telling’ the audience, but by ‘showing’ them.
There are lots of tricks and AI and courses on how to take advantage of ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ (SEO) in order to get your blog post clicked on and your witty headline pushed to top of a Google algorithm. All those tricks and applications are valid. Managing the fickle nature of Google is something that cannot be ignored. But those tools are only part of a content strategy. Content that does not understand narrative structure, and the seemingly simple skill of ‘knowing how to tell a story’ will find it hard to gain an audience. A point of view or an opinion that fails to touch the reader, to make them actually ‘care’ about the content, will fall short on engagement. It will fail to resonate with an audience.
Taking advantage of buzzwords, well-known names and click-bait-y headlines are tools we have all used to send our content to the top of the web search page. But without depth those search results will float away like confetti the morning after a party.
Content with a respect for storytelling, and a focus on showing, not telling the reader why they should care will have a longer shelf life on social sharing and website searching. Luring an audience to ‘click’ on your content is a simple and easy exercise. Getting an audience to read, respond and engage with your content is a skill that is, far too often, dismissed, and undervalued.
Content is not a tool. It is your voice, your message, and your story to show.
*For those from other countries, it was 1997 when the Labour Party won a majority in the Houses of Parliament installing Tony Blair as the new Prime Minister. The ‘question’ referred to former Conservative MP and cabinet minister Michael Portillo who lost his seat to his Labour challenger at around 3:00 in the morning.