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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing humanity in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, and with me is my co-host Susan White, a national HR consultant. I’m the owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and author of “JoyPowered®” and “The JoyPowered® Family.” Susan and I recently released our newest book, “The JoyPowered® Team,” with five other authors. In today’s episode, we are going to talk about “story powered.” We will explore creating compelling stories for recruiting and business development. Any thoughts you have on this, Susan, the concept of “story powered”? I love that word.
Yes. I do know that when I’m building a business case, or I’m trying to influence a client, I know that I sometimes have to, not make up a story, I have to find a real life anecdotal example, something that makes what it is I’m trying to convince them to do be, be more real to them. So I do think it’s important that we learn how to tell a story, and to really make sure that it helps whatever message we’re trying to make resonate with the listener.
Exactly. I think too, from a recruiting perspective, that so many times I, I believe a lot of managers, even business owners and executives sometimes are, are nervous about recruiting and say, asking the right questions, or saying the right word, when what our top recruits really want to hear so many times is the story. Tell the story of the business. I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat my story about Purple Ink, which, actually, early on, I was afraid people might think was a little bit goofy. But yet every time someone asked me the story about how I came up with the name Purple Ink, I can tell they’re, it just gives them such a warm fuzzy feeling, which was never my intention. But my story is that I worked in public accounting for 21 years and I’d always worked for someone’s name, as legal firms and many times engineering and accounting firms are always based on someone’s name. So I wanted my company name to be different and to represent something positive. So when my youngest son, at the time he was star of the Broadway musical at the elementary school, and he came home from school one day and said he was playing the part of Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and this was his favorite line, “Charlie, the Bucket family may be poor and we may be hungry, but we’ll always stay positive. Write that in purple ink, Charlie. Purple ink.” And I said right then, “that’s what I’m going to name my business.” That represented something positive to me, in purple ink. And I have found people ask me to tell that story over and over and over again, and I just, I now, I find so much fun in sharing this story. But it is, it, I think it’s a story that people don’t forget the name of my company after having heard that story. So when we can tell stories like that, that connect us to each other, that connect us to something about our business that people want to be a part of, or want to work with. It really makes a powerful difference.
I do, I really do think a story can inspire, inspire action, inspire confidence, so I love this topic for today.
We’ve been excited to see our listenership going up a lot this last year, and now we want to learn more about you and what you think about our podcast. We’ve created a listener survey that will be open for the next few months. If you want to help us out by telling us a little bit about yourself, you can access the survey at surveymonkey.com/r/joypowered2019. We’ll also have a link to the survey on our website. If you take the survey, you’ll have the option to enter to win a set of our three JoyPowered® books, “JoyPowered®,” “The JoyPowered® Family,” and “The JoyPowered® Team.” We hope you’ll take a little time to help us make the podcast at the best it can be, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts. Again, you can take the survey at surveymonkey.com/r/joypowered2019. Thank you so much for listening to our show.
I have the pleasure today of introducing Dr. Sally Perkins. Sally is a professional storyteller who both performs stories and trains and consults with professionals who need to tell more compelling stories about their businesses or organizations. Clients range from business owners presenting stories to clients, to nonprofits telling stories for fundraising, to tour guides telling stories for more compelling tours. Sally is currently touring the country with her one woman story performance called “Digging in Their Heels.” It’s an energized, eye-opening story of women’s battle for the vote. She has a PhD from the University of Kansas and teaches at Butler University.
So Sally, why is storytelling so important?
Whenever we talk to people, we are always activating one of two parts of their mind at any given time. So either we are activating what Granville Toogood calls the conscious mind, which is the part of us that processes information, so when you’re teaching a class and you say, “oh, here are the, here are the seven components of being JoyPowered®, right, and you’re you’re getting a list, then you’re activating the conscious mind, and that’s absolutely essential and absolutely critical, but it misses a whole component of our brain. So if we’re not activating the conscious mind, we are activating the primal mind, which is the more reptilian part of the human brain, and that’s the part of us that is motivated to take action. That’s the part of us that we, more often than not, make decisions from, is the reptilian part of the brain. Yeah, because while we while we need information in the conscious mind to make rational decisions, and we’ll use that as a guide, ultimately what the research shows is that when it comes down to it, our decisions come out of someplace else, a more emotional component, a more, something that’s more deep, something that’s more guttural, and that’s the primal mind. So, a couple of things that we know is that, that the primal mind is activated primarily by stories. I real, I knew I was going to get there eventually. Right? So stories do that because stories tap into details, concrete imagery that’s part of stories, people who are part of stories, action that’s part of stories, that’s all connected to that primal mind, and that’s what gets activated when we tell stories. So if we want to motivate people to action, if we want to have them remember what it is we teach them, if we want them to be inspired, we have to tap into the primal mind. Conscious mind is important. It gives people all the information they need. But if they want to be motivated, if they want to be moved, and if they want to remember what it is that we have said to them, their primal mind has to be activated, and we have the stories to do that.
Wow. So when people say “You know what, trust your gut, go with your gut.” They may be using that data that they got through the conscious mind, but they’re truly going to whatever this primal thing is.
That’s exactly what we…
Very interesting. Thank you.
Wow, question number one, I’m already learning from you, which is no surprise. So Sally, how can stories be used in a company’s recruitment process that might have that same impact, right, inspiring people to want to work there, or at least want to apply to work there?
Let me just answer it with an example. Let’s say…I’m going to use a volunteer recruitment, but it’s the same sort of thing, right, as if…it could be employees, it could be you’re recruiting volunteers. If I was going to try to recruit you to do volunteer work at Riley, which I do, of working with the kids, and telling stories to the kids, of course, I would need to operate in your conscious mind to give you information, right? Why do you want to work here? Why should I…and I’m going to give you reasons to do that, right? It’s, it’s motivating, it’s inspiring, it’s great for the kids, it’s great for the families, and it doesn’t take too much of your time. And of course, if this is a job, I’m going to tell you about all the benefits and I’m going to tell you about what a great culture it is and I’m going to tell you all of those things. I’ve just been activating your conscious mind in giving you that list. But how much more compelling is it when I tell you that the reason I work at Riley telling stories, or volunteer in this case, telling stories to kids is that I wasn’t even sure I was going to continue to do it when I started it about 10 years ago, but one night my storytelling partner and I walked into the room of a little girl who was about nine years old, and it was clear that she was in pain. She was audibly moaning and holding her abdomen, so we weren’t sure if she was up for story at all, but we noticed that her mother was flitting about in the room, shuffling…her mother wasn’t, like, comforting her, at her side, touching her, or anything. So we assumed that this girl’s pain was normal for them. So we thought we should give it a try, and we decided to start with something very simple to see if she was okay with it, so we told the story of the three pigs. By the time the second pig was building the house of sticks, her moaning absolutely stopped. So you know how the story goes, eventually the wolf goes up the, up the roof and down the chimney into the pot and we did all of that. We put the lid on the imaginary pot with the wolf in it, and, and so the story ended and we talked with the little girl for a bit after that, and I’m not kidding you, 15 seconds after the story ended, her moaning started again. Alright, now let’s back out of the story for a minute. For one thing, that told me stories are, have some sort of incredible power, and then what it tells us is that if I’m trying to recruit somebody to come do this work, that story, look at your responses. I wish your listeners could see your faces. You’re so much more engaged by my story about why I do that work than you are about the list of reasons, or all of my arguments for why volunteering in this case is a good thing for you to do, so you can see why companies have to tell stories about the experiences of their employees, the experiences of their clients and their customers, in addition to giving their recruits all of the information, and their list of arguments for why it, this might be such a good place to work.
You know, I contend that it’s really important when you’re trying to recruit someone that they understand why the job they’re going to take matters. And I love the fact that you would use a story to demonstrate, this is why what we’re going to ask you to do really matters. Gosh, it’s, it’s starting that employee engagement from the moment you’ve just engaged them in interest of the job.
Can I give you another quick example? General Electric Healthcare, so this is a division of GE that focuses on healthcare, and they produce primarily equipment for imaging in hospitals. Recently, they came up with a new MRI machine. The designer of the machine, the engineer, the lead engineer was Doug Dietz, and he was thrilled with what he had come up with. This was great. And the day that they were going to launch it, use it for the first time at the University of Pittsburgh hospital, he got to go, they invited him to come, you know, kind of like a ribbon cutting ceremony. So he went in, and he’s so excited to see his new machine there, and the first patient is going to come in. They asked Doug to leave the room for the moment while the patient was going to be entering, which he did. He stepped out in the hallway. Well, he happened to get a glimpse of the patient. The patient was a little girl, about seven years old and her parents, she was walking with her parents, in between them, and she’s crying, crying, crying, and she hears, Doug Dietz hears her father say “Now, you remember that we talked about what it means to be brave.” So they bring her in, and at that moment, Doug Dietz realized he failed, that while it might be a great MRI machine that’s going to look well onto the inside of her body, that he had a whole new, he had a whole new mission, that they needed to figure out a way to make this manageable for kids, because it’s, they squirm, I mean, it takes them a long time, all that sort of thing. So what he did was, he went back to GE and they gave him free rein to build a new design. They’ve now created these MRI machines that are just colorful, they, they brought in kids, they brought in child develop, child life specialists, child development specialists. So they’ve designed these machines that are so child friendly. So one of them, for example, is like, the whole machine is designed to be like a pirate ship, and it’s walking onto the, on the plank to go into the machine, and if you lie still long enough, you get to see the fish jump over you. It’s brilliant, right? So, I mean, talk about a recruitment story. Aren’t you so much more inspired to come work for GE Healthcare if you hear a story like that?
Yes, I love it. That’s beautiful.
So how could these stories, or the idea of using stories, be used to enhance performance, both within the workplace and in the client, customer development?
I was just reading a great book in which the author argued, you can bypass talking about rules or giving your employees lists of rules if you use stories. So, great example, Union Pacific a number of years ago decided to roll out some new safety rules, and they were rules that were going to have to apply all the way from those who are working the railyards to those who are in corporate headquarters, and the rules, consequently, were going to be kind of annoying to the people in corporate headquarters, because they were safety rules, and yet they felt that everybody needed to abide by the same rules to build the culture. So how are they going to convince people to do this? One of the leaders of the organization put together a video in which he talked to the company about the fact that about 10 years ago or so, Union Pacific had been a leader, had one of the best track records among the railroad companies for safety, but then along came cell phones and other kinds of very distracting devices, and it had led to a number of safety problems. And so he proceeded to tell the stories of four deaths that had occurred at Union Pacific because of safety violations, and when he finished telling those stories of those deaths and the families that were impacted, he then explained, “We’re all going to follow these rules so that this doesn’t happen again, and because what we want is for you to care about your coworker and remind them to follow the rule, we’re going to make that the case across the company culture, so that even if you’re in headquarters, and going up the escalator, you’re going to remind your colleague to put their hand on the escalator handrail, so that everybody is in this culture of care and safety.” It was very powerful.
That is a powerful story, and that, Sally, I know you have so many beautiful stories. I feel like no matter what question we ask you, you would come up with an amazing story that totally fits the point. And I, although I don’t feel like I’m near as good as you, I have had many people, even people here at Purple Ink who were starting to be trainers, they have told me that, “Gosh, when you train you tell so many stories, and I don’t have stories.” So how do you encourage someone, or whether it be the business or the organization or even an individual, to gather valuable stories? I I don’t know how to teach that to someone. I think I’m just old, so I have lots of stories. So I don’t know how to teach a young person to have stories. How do you do that?
Well, there are lots of ways to do it, and what it kind of boils down to is being becoming very intentional about collecting stories. So if you have been around a while and you have all these stories, there’s something really valuable about asking yourself the question as a leader, have I recorded these stories? Do I have them either in writing, or do I have them recorded orally, now there’s so many ways like this to capture things orally, so that I can transfer those stories as I’m onboarding people, so that they share and know the stories of the culture. So I’m advocating in all kinds of organizations that I’m working with that, that those who have been around for a while, not just keep them in their heads, but they start to capture them, and then create story vaults, story banks, and that those, if they’re going to be strategic about it, that we build, you know, a story matrix that has the lists of those stories and different purposes that they can be used for. And then of course, if you’re newer to the process of learning, to be intentional from the get go about journaling or note taking, recording those stories as you hear them, so that you have them. And so, really, it is about creating story vaults.
Yeah. Well, and that’s what many times I tell our people or people that are in my classes, that they don’t have to be their stories, right? Even just so far this morning, you’ve told stories that you’ve read or heard of. The GE story wasn’t your story, but it was a great story to share with others.
Yeah. Actually, Susan, you have a great story that I’m not sure that we’ve shared with our listeners about one of our podcast guests who had an accident. Would you want to share that?
Sure. This is a really good one to use if we’re trying to get new people to come and be on our podcast. But I don’t know if folks remember the HR Business Partnering episode we did. It’s been highly popular. If you haven’t listened to it, I would encourage you to go back and find it, “HR Business Partnering.” And our guest was Jerry Goldstein, who was a client of mine back when I worked in a very large organization, and Jerry did a wonderful job. He talked about why he really valued human resources, how he thought it was important to have a real partnership, and what he looked for in that HR partner challenging him, challenging his thinking, all those types of things. Anyway, very shortly after his being on our podcast, he and his wife Wendy went to Hawaii on vacation, and Wendy was in the shops, and Jerry was sitting on the bench outside the shops, because he just wasn’t all that interested in shopping, and having a great time. He sees Wendy come out of the store, he jumps up to go help her with the bags, and you know, he fell, and, unfortunately, when he woke up, it turned out that he had broken, I don’t know if it was his neck or some other really important…ability to move your your limbs, issue might have been part of his back, I’m just not sure what it was that he broke. Anyway, he ended up having to get airlifted out of Hawaii back to Chicago, which is where he lives, and he went through just a lot of therapy. In fact, he’s still getting some outpatient, but he had to re-learn how to talk and how to move all of his limbs. His goal right now is to re-learn how to drive. And the fact is, in the very early days, the therapist, the speech therapist asked, “I’d love to know what you sounded like before the accident, because I want to help you regain your voice.” And his, as Wendy says, “He was just on a podcast.” They used our podcast! Probably why we have so many downloads of that particular incident, or episode, but anyway, that was so invaluable and he is grateful for being a podcast participant with us, because they were able to, his voice sounds just beautiful now, it sounds very natural thanks to his recording. So Sally, what makes a truly compelling story?
I was, I was listening for that just now when you were telling that story. You did a great job.
Oh, thank you! Jerry, I hope you’re okay that I just shared medical information! But I’m not your HR partner right now. I hope it’s all right.
When I work with folks on what constitutes a great story, what, one of the things that I attempt to do is to help people distinguish the difference between a chronology of events or a testimonial, “Oh, that’s such a great place to work,” and a story. And we know we’re in story mode when several things happen, we know we’re in story mode when there’s a specific time and place. So all of us, you gave us the background, you gave us the context that we needed on Jerry to understand who he was, and then you put us in a specific time and a specific place. He was in Hawaii, he was sitting outside the shop on the bench. What that did is got, it went to detail, and it activated the primal mind when that happened. Different parts of the brain, the sensory parts of the brain lit for all the listeners have, were, were lit up at that moment. So we know we’re in story when that happens, and there are specific characters. So we have Jerry and his wife at that moment, and then it’s, it’s, if it was just Jerry and his wife were shopping and they had this great time in Hawaii and then they came back. We’d say, “Great, Jerry.” But it was because there was what I call an “uh-oh.” Right? Something went wrong. And stories are compelling when there’s the “uh-oh,” because we, as the listener, are wired in our brains to have to know what’s going to happen. So there’s suspense when something goes wrong, and when there’s suspense, we’re compelled to continue to listen. At some point, though, there needs to be some intervention, something that happens that helps that character get out of whatever the “uh-oh” is. And in his case, it was medical care and a lot of hard, hard work on his behalf. I’m sure there’s, there are many stories within that, right, of what has had to transpire. And then the story has to move us to, so where are we now? Where did that event take us? And what did we get from it? What did we learn from it? What did it teach us? Without that other end to the story, it has kind of a “so what” quality, but when we know then this is what Jerry is now and especially the more we know about what, what did he gain from this incredibly difficult and horrendous thing that has happened? Where is he now? Where is his wife? Where’s their relationship? Right? All those things that we learn from it, when you put all those pieces together in that particular order. That’s what gets the brain going, when it’s in that particular order, that we go from normal, to intervention, to solve that, to a new normal. And it’s really compelling then when there are those, a few vivid details, when there’s that suspense, but also when the characters of the story are made visible and identifiable. And, and while I don’t identify with what, with Jerry’s experience of having broken my neck, I can identify when we talk about the feelings that the characters have, especially in the “uh-oh.” So when we know what the struggle was, that’s when we identify with characters, even when we don’t have the shared experience, which is what makes it so powerful.
Sally, one of the things that I think most fascinates me about watching you, and unfortunately our viewers can’t watch you right now, but whether it’s been just this morning or in performances that I’ve seen you do, is your powerful use of your body and your hand gestures and, at times, even the props, when, when that’s appropriate, which we don’t always have that opportunity. But the other things that you use to add to your stories, even when you were just telling the story a bit earlier about the three little pigs, you were putting, using your hand to put the lid on the pot. Now that, I, to me seems like a skill that although it seems natural to you now, that do you tell people to work on that, to be aware of that to help make the stories more compelling? Or how – what’s your advice to listeners on what we can do with our body? By the way, one of the most powerful things I’ve seen Sally do is play the trumpet with her hand and her mouth, and I would have sworn she had a trumpet in, in her hand.
Some of that is just my nature, and I would definitely say that the story drives it. A compelling story doesn’t necessarily have to have a great physical component to it. One of my favorite storytellers, in fact, was born with a deformity in one arm, so it is essentially nonfunctional, and he was in a motorcycle accident as an adult and lost the use of the other arm, and he is one of the top three, five storytellers in the country, Kevin Kling. So he is proof to me that it’s not necessary. However, I do encourage people to work with it, because there’s a relationship between using your voice and using your body and, and emotion is conveyed with our voice and can be conveyed with our body, and sometimes the more we use our body, the more that helps people start to make their voice be more engaged, to sound, to make the emotional connection with that. So, so yes, there, I do, I do talk to people about using gesture in as natural and easy a way of possible, but the great thing about it is that I talk to people about the fact that sometimes gestures can show what you’re saying in a way that, that can bypass a lot of language and then also bypass PowerPoint slides, which, yeah, the less we can do with that, the better. And you can show people things with your hands, and it just draws them in. Part of it is that it’s sensory engagement. It’s kinesthetic sensory engagement, and that, again, triggers the primal mind to be active. So, so yes. The other great thing about using the body is that for me, it helps me remember the story.
That’s great. Sally, can you help our listeners understand if in their business, they’re thinking this is really a tool that could be helpful? How could, how do you help businesses work on their storytelling?
Through several different means, depending on what their needs are. Obviously, we always start with an assessment of what it, what are the outcomes that any business wants. Are these stories for external client outreach, are these stories for internal use so that we can bypass talking about rules and when we’re doing onboarding, or is it for recruitment purposes, right? So first of all, it’s always figuring out, what do we want to use stories for? Then I offer training so that if we want, for example, our employees to be able to tell stories when they’re working with clients, I offer training to help them learn how to tell them in compelling ways, taking everything we’ve just talked about, and blowing that up into however long of a training session that we might have to really get them to build their skill and to build their repertoire so I can help them with ongoing work to continue to build repertoire in their stories. And then I work with organizations to help them figure out how to build the story vaults.
I love it. So you’ve talked about your business work, or how you consult with clients, and then we also mentioned that you do your own personal performance work. How does your performance work feed your business work?
It just makes sense that I can help people tell more compelling stories if I practice the art myself. So I’ve just been fortunate to be able to shift hats a lot and go from sort of the artist who performs stories to taking the principles of that and applying it when I work with clients. But to be sure, I was – my own storytelling skill continues to evolve as I work with my own coach, who helps me when I’m crafting and preparing to perform a new story. I always go to my coach, who is marvelous, a marvelous national storyteller and she is, works with me and helps me see the things that I can’t see. And as she does that, I learn from her, and the questions that she asks me to make my stories better become the questions that I in turn ask my clients to help make their stories more compelling.
Yeah. Well, and really good advice to all of us, that no matter what our skill level or our experience level, that it can always be powerful to work with a coach.
Without a doubt.
Yeah. Sally, how can our listeners reach out to you if they are interested in having their business work with you or as an individual to become a better storyteller?
Please go to my website, at, which is sallyperkins.net. And there you will see both the performance components of my work as well as the professional services components of the work. So, go to the website, check that out. Email me at email@example.com.
Yeah. And then, Sally, you have to tell our listeners what you’re going to be doing in October. October 17th.
One of my story performances that is the primary focus of my own attention right now is a story called “Digging in Their Heels,” which is an updated, fast, fun, engaging, interactive story of how women won the right to vote. My goal with this story is that people walk away and say three things. Number one, “I didn’t realize what I didn’t know about what it took for women to win the right to vote.” “I didn’t really realize what it took and how long it took.” and number three, “I had so much fun learning.” And thus far, that has been the experience. So I’m booking performances for this all over the place, but I’ve been very fortunate to have this piece selected for the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City. It is a festival in which all the performers in the festival are solo performers, just them on the stage doing their work. And I can’t believe it was accepted, but it was! This is crazy. So on October 17, I have my designated performance. If tickets sell well, then they open up additional shows. So there are currently only 28 tickets left, and so if listeners happen to be heading to New York City in October, October 17, get your tickets now, you can do that through my website, and come and see the show.
Well, I have seen this performance, and Sally, I, without question, you achieved all three of your goals with me.
And a fourth one that has led me to know that you are one of the most amazing and interesting women I’ve ever met. And that’s the truth. It was so powerful to me.
Well, these were amazing women that are I hope honored well in this story.
Well, thank you so much for today. I learned a lot, and I’m going to go about telling my stories differently. I’m going to try to think of more stories as I am trying to train and recruit and help in business development.
Yeah, yeah. Thank you.
Thanks for having me.
The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast is sponsored by Purple Ink. Purple Ink’s customized HR services will help you make your workspace JoyPowered®. Whether you’re looking for help with recruiting, compliance, or leadership training, we listen to what you need and tailor our solutions to you. What we won’t change? Our positive approach. Check out purpleinkllc.com, that’s Purple I-N-K L-L-C dot com, to find out how we can help your business.
JoDee, here’s the listener question we have today. “JoDee and Susan, our company has a very long application process. I have tried to get it shortened, but our leadership says that if employees really want to work for us, they will be committed enough to complete it. Can you help me with communicating the importance of shortening our process?”
Yeah, so I get it. I get the comment about that. You want people who are committed enough to complete it, but in today’s labor market, people have so many choices. People want to apply for jobs on their mobile phones, right? They want to do it quickly, and if yours is too long and complicated, they can just move on to the next one. “If you continue to provide a slow or difficult mobile application process, you’re limiting the number of people who will apply, especially for entry level and blue collar jobs.” And that comment comes from Chris Russell, who’s the managing director of RecTech media, a recruiting technology consulting and research firm in Connecticut. The study also found that promoting a job as mobile friendly increases the number of applications started for that job by almost 12%. So I think maybe sharing some of those statistics with your leaders will help, help them to determine that it just, simply, in today’s market, long doesn’t work anymore.
It does not. If you don’t move quickly, you’re not going to hire the best, you’re gonna hire the rest.
Yes, yes. Love that. In our in the news section today, in the May 2019 issue of Credit Union Magazine, and yes, I do read Credit Union Magazine.
It sounds like a fascinating read.
I read about a credit union that offered a benefit called “life happens.” Employees of Members First Credit Union in Midland, Michigan can request up to $500 a year to fund “life happens” expenses. That might include things such as pet insurance, wellness, student loan debt, or car repairs. They wanted to offer a benefit that gave employees flexibility and choice on how it would work best for them. In their first year, they had requests for repairs, travel, and wellness. I thought it was such a cool idea that I added a fund like this at Purple Ink.
I think that’s very cool.
Yeah. I love it. Thank you for listening today. Please tune in next time. If you have missed any of our podcasts, you can catch all episodes for free on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts by searching on the word “JoyPowered.” If you like our podcast, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any upcoming episodes. And we’d love for you to rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. It helps people find our show. If you have questions on any HR topic, you can leave us a voicemail at 317-688-1613 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org We are also on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter @joypowered. We welcome listener questions and comments.