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MPHA Fall Conference: The Power of Story

MPHA kicked off this year’s fall conference in Billings with keynote speaker, Thaler Pekar. According to her bio on, “Thaler is an internationally recognized pioneer in the field of organizational narrative, leadership storytelling, and persuasive communication.” As she spoke, she helped her audience understand that when built on a certain framework, our stories could truly pack power. Thaler suggests two simple elements when telling a story; frame your story in time and place, and always end with “imagine if…”

One example of this power comes from Holly Jordt, a supervisor at the Flathead City-County Health Department. She recently shared a story with her local Rotary about FCCHD’s collaboration with one of their local libraries, coincidentally named, “Imagine IF Libraries”. Holly agreed to allow us to share her story with the MPHA membership. In an email to Ms. Pekar she wrote,

              I heard you speak this week at MPHA and told you that I was using your storytelling format to present at Rotary about our public health home visiting collaboration with ImagineIF Library in Kalispell, MT.  All I can say is THANK YOU!!!!!!  It went better than I could have imagined. I had 5 minutes to share about our work with the Library to offer families Literacy Kits that were purchased by a small local business grant. The Library is pursuing local support that will allow a continuation/expansion of the kits to more families.


I shared a story about a family that received a kit.  I put a place in time, described the kids and the emotion/sensory pieces of the story that included stress, chaos, family split by a father having to work away and a mother juggling work, childcare, start of kindergarten and 2 rambunctious children on her own.  I gave the kids false names to protect identity but help the audience connect.  I used my Imagine if...every family in our community had increased opportunities for literacy.  What kind of an impact would that have on our youth, our adults, our schools, our businesses when the next generation enters the work force with higher literacy rates. What would the impact be on crime and poverty?


 I asked for support from a room of business people, healthcare administrators, educators.  I came back to my table where 2 of the 4 Rotary members I was seated with had tears in their eyes and told me thank you for the work we do and the collaborations we have built.  I received several pats on the backs, several handshakes, 3 further invitations for future speaking engagements, and 2 completely separate from each other, "you knocked it out of the park" comments!!!!  What just happened?!  I have NEVER had a response like that when speaking.


I owe you a huge thank you.  Your tactic really worked!!!  What a powerful tool.  Thank you for taking time to share your knowledge and skills with us here in Montana.”


This is the type of outcome that conference organizers hope to generate when planning speakers and presenters—some tangible skill that we can use in our practice. Storytelling is not a typical competency one would expect to learn at a public health conference, but imagine if we all could impact an audience the way that Holly did simply by telling our stories…



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2018 MPHA/MEHA Annual Conference and Meeting


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