How to make storytelling work for Irish businesses

Kevin Kelly speaking at the Project Management National Conference in Mumbai, India, a three day professional development event, earlier this year.
Kevin Kelly speaking at the Project Management National Conference in Mumbai, India, a three day professional development event, earlier this year.

Lifestyle – Judy Murphy meets a leading Galway  motivational speaker who is organising novel conference on uniquely Irish skill

Kevin Kelly graduated from UCG in 1987 with a Commerce degree but the Furbo-based businessman reckons his talent for sales and marketing were honed as a five-year-old working in the family shop and petrol pumps in Ballintubber, Co Roscommon, where communication was the key to customer relations.

Now, the leading motivational speaker whose clients include companies such as Microsoft and organisations like the GAA, is fresh home from a conference in India where he gave a keynote address. And he’s in the middle of organising an interactive conference in Croke Park which celebrates a uniquely Irish skill – that of storytelling.

Not everyone would regard storytelling as a marketing tool, but according to Kevin, it’s the most basic one there is.

With the StorySELLING event, which will take place in March, he intends “taking Ireland’s national resource” and putting it centre stage in the world of business.

“Changing the way people sell, by telling stories,” is his aim for StorySELLING, which will feature a top-class line-up of Irish and international speakers including Galway’s own Noeline Kavanagh, the Artistic Director of Macnas.

The one-day conference is aimed at solo entrepreneurs, CEOs of small and medium-sized businesses, and at sales and marketing professionals.  It follows from a Speakers Summit which Kevin organised last year, also in Croke Park.

But StorySELLING is a new departure, with a specific aim.

“I want to platform Ireland as a storytelling place. What we are able to do naturally is something that other countries are not.”

Ironically, despite our innate ability, the market for home-grown speakers in Ireland, “apart from celebrity speakers”, is minimal, according to Kevin.

He’s been on the speaking circuit internationally since 1990 and initially focused on sales and marketing.

“But bit by bit sales and marketing became less important and I became more known for motivation, explains Kevin, adding that he’s better-known in India and Iran than he is in Ireland.

“There’s still this belief in Ireland that if you bring in a fella from abroad, then he’s better than what we have here.”

That may be because of an Irish inferiority complex, but whatever the cause, Kevin has had first-hand experience of the sentiment.

“I’ve spoken in about 35 countries worldwide and in most of these places, Irish people are regarded as friendly, warm, brilliant communicators and great storytellers. People abroad know how good we are. But that’s not so much believed at home.”

That’s why the StorySELLING programme has mixed Irish speakers including Kavanagh and social entrepreneur Aoibheann O’Brien, with some of the best-known international names in motivational speaking. They include former Yahoo Chief Solutions Officer, Tim Sanders a sales and leadership guru; and ex-IBM man Paul Sloane, a leading figure in lateral thinking and the author of more than 20 books on lateral puzzles and leadership.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.