(Thanks for reading! This is part 2 of a quick mini series on one of the most humbling “storytelling” sessions I ever had to do. If you did not catch Part 1, go read that here!)
And here we go…
Thanks for continuing to follow me through this! While I wasn’t intending to give a huge backstory of the Bozeman Mill District or the Northeast Neighborhood Association, it seemed necessary before getting into the meat of what I really want to talk about: being brave enough to tell your story.
If you remember, we left off with this idea that we needed to meet the people. In their space. On their terms. We needed to address their concerns head on and without fear. They deserved to hear from us directly and get to know us and we deserved whatever it was that we would get in return (we hoped a handshake but didn’t know what would happen).
I also kept lists of “wins” during all of this. At the time, here was my list:
- Great meeting with a member of the traffic calming project in the North East community.
- Great meeting with the president of the North East Neighborhood Association
- Found out the owner of one of the buildings we are looking at (not the train depot) is looking to buy or lease another parking lot.
- Got to go inside the old train depot building and found out that it is a fantastic location for Cafe Evoke.
- Got the brochures done for the market research project.
- Got invited to the neighborhood association meeting.
N.E.N.A – North East Neighborhood Association
The mission of the NENA is to promote and preserve the qualities of our uniquely diversified neighborhood that are important to the residents, businesses, and city of Bozeman. The Northeast section of Bozeman is unique within the City of Bozeman as to the uses of properties, the ages of the properties, the economic value of the properties, and the people who have chosen to live and/or operate a business within the area.N.E.N.A Mission // www.nenabozeman.org
We ended up getting those information brochures created and began listing all the people we needed to meet. We began contacting officers with Bozeman’s North East Neighborhood Association.
This was a strong community group that worked together as the glue for the residence in that part of Bozeman. They were active and made sure their community was taken care of as well as possible. We knew if we could win the hearts of this group that the rest of the stakeholders would be a much easier process.
By this point, the City of Bozeman had already asked us to talk with them to see what they thought about our hours, the traffic, the menu, and the concept to see if they would approve so we knew this was our BIG step.
We got in touch and began talking to one of the owners of the historic Lehrkind Mansion – the owners were a major player in the area and, if I remember correctly, were very involved with NENA (maybe officers). We set up a time to visit the bed and breakfast and talk with them about our plans and get their advice on what the proper next steps would be. I would call this a “dry run” and “friendly” conversation.
At this meeting, we were told about the NENA meetings that happened regularly and he asked us if we would be interested in coming to talk about our plans for EVOKE and field some questions. This was it. What better way to tell our story and hear from the community than this? I was pretty anxious and nervous and felt strangely unprepared but also wildly confident that they would like us and this concept.
We spent a good amount of time talking through northeast Bozeman, Bozeman in general, about our time in Nashville, how our move went and how we were loving our new home… about the history of the district, who owned what and when, thoughts on the future, and so much more. We left excited to have an ally and someone that would speak truthfully to us but also not shut us out at the idea. We felt like this was going to be a great partnership. It was.
They were appreciative that we cared enough about them and their community to get out in front of their neighbors for their feedback, directly. They also seemed to enjoy our ideas and desire to be a community hub for all.
Our brochures went over well, too, and really helped us keep on track and explain all that we hoped EVOKE could be. It was also great to leave it with them so they could ask questions later and know that we were always available if something came up that was questionable. That part was a win.
Our new friends made some calls and got us on the agenda to speak to the community at the NENA meeting. I went to work going over our story, what we would talk about, how we would handle questions, and trying my best to prepare for all the unknowns of this.
We continued to meet people during this time trying to create as many friendly faces in the crowd as we could. We had NO IDEA what was coming.
The night finally came. Here is the truth: I was terrified. I had spent so much time defending this plan at school, with banks, and with my mentors but doing it in front of what was feeling more and more of a hostile crowd was unnerving. I didn’t want to do it. I couldn’t sleep the night before and was worthless in the hours leading up to the event. It was a strange combination of confidence in our plan and dream and feeling completely unprepared and unable to really pull any of this off.
We got to the auditorium early and met with the few people that had helped us set up this meeting. We had comment cards, brochures, and what we hoped were plans that everyone was going to like. The room began to fill up, and fill up, and fill up. It felt like 1,000 people were there (probably was like 50, maybe less, but it was scary for me at the time). We could already hear people talking about our agenda item and many did not sound super excited about it. What was going to happen??
It came time for me to get up to talk. In front of what felt like the entire USA. It was my chance to tell about all the work we had done on the plans for Cafe Evoke and get others excited about it. I was normally really good at this. I was sweating like you’ve never seen before.
I began going over the history of EVOKE, about us, about our desire to be a place for the community, about all the things I’ve mentioned above. We had information from the developer and visual guides to help us really tell the story the best we could. I thought I did great and that it went well. I felt like I hit all the talking points perfectly. I felt like I communicated what they wanted to hear. I was pretty excited.
When I finished up this rehearsed presentation, we began taking questions and…. flood gates.
You know those cartoons where the speaker is getting pelted by tomatoes being thrown by the audience? That is exactly what this felt like. People attacked, dismantled, and upended all these “solid” plans I had. I might have been the most unpopular person in NE Bozeman at that moment. I wasn’t a stranger to people not believing in my dreams but this was different. It felt personal (although I don’t think it was).
We answered openly. Honestly. Transparently. We took every question seriously and did our best to assure them that we were not there to take over the world or change what they know and love. We wanted to be there for them.
Some stood up and entertained the idea but had lots of questions. Some stood up and hated it all. Some seemed to not even like us and probably prefered to never see us again. It felt like EVERYONE stood up to talk. It all hurt… deep down. It was the longest evening of my life. The longest meeting. The most isolated I have ever felt in business. It was crushing.
I entered that night confident in our plan. I left humbled that I did not have all the answers.
There is one more part to this which I will share with you in Part 3 that will bring this all around. Stay tuned!