How I used storytelling to liven up a daunting international trade project


International Trade Project

International Trade Project“You will have to do it.”

This might sound familiar if you’ve ever brought a great idea into the office and heard, “Excellent idea! But there is no one in the office to do it.”

Suddenly your moment of great inspiration has turned into a lot of extra work you had not anticipated.

Stepping up to help other businesses

This is exactly what happened to me a few weeks ago. My organization (World Trade Centre Winnipeg) had been working for months on securing an international trade project to deliver some education modules on behalf of a government organization. The project concept continued to evolve from the time it was initialized to its final stages.

The end product was a two-day workshop for a group of Canadian small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) specializing in the IT sector.

Companies, it turns out, that were in different stages of seeking Research & Development project partnerships in the European Union (EU), and with widely diverse levels of international experience.

To make matters more complex, what had started off as an international boot camp for 6-8 companies eventually attracted 17 companies from across Canada.

Each company was very eager to make the event a worthwhile experience, since they were taking time off to attend the workshop, on top of the travel time to get to Winnipeg.

My organization’s role was to deliver the second day of the workshop, focused on how to do business in the European Union.

Preparing for the challenge with FITT courses and a lot of practice

At the time I presented the project concept to my organization months before, it had never dawned on me that the person tasked with delivering the workshop would be me.

This meant I would not only be responsible for delivering the presentation material on the day of the workshop, but also for developing and preparing the material.

There was no one else available in our office for the task.

Two weeks before the workshop I was handed a draft PowerPoint presentation covering five hours of teaching modules that I needed to prepare. My first instinct was that this was not possible. Fortunately, I soon discovered a silver lining.

As I flipped through the pages for the first time, I realized that I already knew most of the information to be covered. The FITT courses that I had recently completed covered a lot of the content I had to teach, and with a bit of ingenuity, I could probably get by.

But time was of the essence. As my workdays were packed with my other workload, I found myself preparing in the evenings and on the weekends.

Two weeks later, the deadline arrived.

We all know the feeling. Regardless of how many times you have given presentations, it is always a daunting task to speak in front of a large group of eager people; people expecting to absorb some knowledge from you.

About a minute before my first words to the group, while I was nervously getting ready, a little piece of magic happened. One of the participants came up to me, and after exchanging the usual morning greetings and admitting I felt a little nervous, he looked me straight in the eye and said:

“Just tell your story.”

Use your experiences and what you know to accomplish your goals

Well, that’s exactly what I did. As the five different modules were presented over the course of the day, I found I wove more and more of my personal experience into the content.

I realized that having gone to seven different schools in three different continents before my 20th birthday, speaking four languages, and starting my own international career in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Uganda, I had a wealth of interesting experiences I could share with the group.

From the international financing of a coffee processing plant in Africa, to the complexities of transporting its cargo through jungle and war zones to reach chaotic ports and pirate infested seas, I was able to weave my experiences in memorable lessons as part of the module teachings.

I quickly realized that I did have a story to tell and many experiences to share.

I have lived and been educated in such diversity, and amongst so many different cultures. What seems completely natural to me, I found, is not always so obvious to others.

I talked about giving greetings and gifts, learning proper business etiquette and cultural protocol while developing an international business alliance. These are all important skills to master in order to develop a successful partnership.

I have had the opportunity to experience all of these in my previous career roles.

When my portion of the workshop was complete, I have to admit it turns out that being told “You will have to do it!” was a blessing in disguise. It led me down the road to what turned out to be a truly great experience. I ended up enjoying my teaching day and my colleagues now knew that I could deliver.

What opportunities do you have to “have to do something” new and exciting in your international trade career?

 Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributing author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forum for International Trade Training.

About the author

Author: Virginie de Visscher, CITP|FIBP

Virginie De Visscher is known for her entrepreneurial approach to international business development. Her experience includes more than 10 years working in Africa where her positions included Operations Manager at UGACOF, a processing and exporting coffee plant in Kampala, Uganda and Sales and Marketing Manager at TRANSYS, an IT commercial enterprise in Kinshasa, DRC. She speaks English, French and Spanish fluently.

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2 thoughts on “How I used storytelling to liven up a daunting international trade project”

  1. What are great blog Virginie. Storytelling is one of the most effective tools in education and business development. While theory is important, to have examples of how it is put into practice (both successfully and not) is illustrative and real. In working in FDI, I used to say ” you don’t know what you don’t know” and then follow up with storytelling. Colleagues would good naturedly poke fun at my colloquialism but found that later they also engaged in “you don’t know what you don’t know” 🙂

    1. Thanks Bill, really appreciate your comment. It’s great to know that one is read when you take the time to write and share. I fully agree with you. I look forward to perhaps reading one of your stories in future. Cheers.