April 16, 2019
DEFINITION: Having or manifesting a great effect
Everybody knows Will. Everybody loves Will. And everyone – from children’s educators to business leaders – believes “where there’s a Will, there’s a way.”
How can you tell? Watch him in action as a professional storyteller, presenter and entertainer. Children giggle, gasp and clap uncontrollably. Adults set their stress aside for a good shoulder-shaking laugh. Those attending a professional corporate speaking event with Will alternate between lighthearted surprise and careful consideration of a powerful central theme: Everyone has an important story. It’s connected to others’ stories. And in sharing yours, you honor yourself and the rest of the world.
As a St. Joseph native, Will Stuck turned the pages to his future deliberately and creatively, even as a youth. He spent most of his childhood in the downtown St. Joseph area, often visiting the nearby libraries. He always had a book in his hand and a story on his mind.
“My dad wasn’t much of a talker, actually, but he always had a good book and made sure we did, too,” says Will. “My grandfather, Basil, had a great sense of humor and the ability to spin a tale. I’ve always gravitated toward individuals like that.” Just weeks after graduation from Lafayette High School in 1993, Will took a job at the library where he spent so much time as a young man. He also enrolled at Missouri Western State University, where he graduated as an Art History major.
After graduation from MWSU, Will continued forward with library work, and eventually found his library career “home” in children’s services. He became manager of the children’s department at the East Hills Branch in 2002, where he served until 2017. Upon his retirement from the public library in 2017, Will had worked nearly 25 years.
And like many good stories, this season was marked by events leading to a new journey. Will was selected to represent the St. Joseph Public Library in the Leadership St. Joseph Program, where he met Dr. Tim Crowley. Dr. Crowley encouraged him, as he says, “to make a larger impact on the world.”
“When he said this, I really paused and listened,” says Will. “It took a little time to really decide what would be next for me, but Dr. Crowley helped me nail it down. It wasn’t money or power or fame. It was impact. I am impact driven and I know I need to make a difference with what I do. Once that seed was planted It occupied my thoughts for a few years.”
During the same season, an unexpected health crisis had overlapped with a period of serious soul searching – leading Will to really consider, in his words, “What’s next for me? I’ve accomplished a great deal, but there’s still so much more.” The “more” arrived in 2017, when he officially retired from the public library to bring his passion for stories to businesses, schools and events in a new way as a professional speaker.
And this chapter might be his most exciting yet…
Sometimes described as “a little bit Gallagher and a little bit Oprah,” his speaking roles include corporations, nonprofits and educational leadership events. He calls himself an “edu-tainer,” and says he was actually doing this kind of work in various roles before he truly realized it.
“I always enjoy having fun in front of kids, and have never minded being a bit of a goofball,” says Will. “Now I am hired to help train people who work in careers with children.”
Will explains that the stories he shares as a speaker are relatable, anecdotal experiences. “I pull things from famous leaders across the world, not just my own experience,” says Will. “Human beings are all connected through stories, and it’s really one of the best ways we can connect. We remember things for a long time when they come to us as a story.”
Reflecting on his journey, Will says the St. Joseph libraries were a definite connection point for his current career as a professional speaker. “Everyone knows me here as the ‘library guy,’ and that has helped me in several different ways. It really allowed me to hone my skills and to become aware that everything I had been doing was linked together. I was able to connect my expertise in early childhood literacy with storytelling and entertaining skills when I started as an entrepreneur,” says Will.
“It took guts. But I knew I was never motivated by money or status. I am motivated by performing and being in front of people, impacting their lives with humor and new meaning. For my hour in front people hopefully they’re learning. And in that hour they’re disconnected from other stressors in their lives.”
Since launching his professional speaking career more than two years ago, Will has worked in Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma. Current professional clients include the Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals, the Arkansas State Library, the United Way, Missouri State Library Association, Eagle Communications and regional community hospitals. During the summer of 2019, he will expand his reach to venues including Michigan State Library and a few locations in South Dakota. The Michigan State library is featuring Will for a series of workshops, with topics focused on training library staff on successful summer reading programs.
When speaking to library associations or groups, Will focuses on helping teams identify what’s unique about their children’s programming and how to draw in a bigger reach. “I have delivered many talks on how to engage the community in new ways … and how to get people into their library,” he adds. “Being a part of St. Joseph’s library programs provided a great deal of creative insight for this mission. And did I mention I met my lovely wife there, too?”
Across the Midwest, St. Joseph Public Library programs have been identified as enviable in many ways. “Attendance has continued to grow over the past several years at local library programs, even among teen populations,” says Will. “We are fortunate to have resources and great spaces to do that, and I’ll always carry a sense of pride with me about our local libraries when I’m out helping train other library teams across the region.
“There’s something truly special about being able to engage a room full of kids and get them to laugh and listen for an hour, while teaching some strong values,” says Will. “They can turn that message around that day at lunch and recognize, ‘Hey, I can change this and make it more impactful.’ But there’s also so much meaning in helping people in a corporate setting see themselves as a storyteller with their own important story to share. It really opens their eyes,” he adds.
Will explains that business storytelling is a key element of success and is popular as a strategy tool. “You can break through to employees and leaders in this way. Sometimes they initially dismiss storytelling as a powerful human communication tool. Then they come to see that it’s huge across sales, customer service, leadership and marketing. I tell them how I’m an expert in storytelling and then demonstrate how it will apply to these settings.”
Like the tales he shares, Will has a knack for kitting together everything around him together. As part of the Missouri Library Association, he served on the Selection Committee for the Missouri Building Block Award for more than a decade. The Building Block Award goes to the best “read aloud” picture book of the current or previous year. The final voting includes a read-aloud of the top choices to groups of children. “I’ve had the honor of reading the book finalists aloud to the kids in the room, and that’s really exciting and powerful,” he adds.
Like any art form, Will says practices, experience, working with others in the field and really listening helps improve his craft. He continues to connect his talent to the local community through volunteer roles. As the Allied Arts Council Storyteller in Residence, he regularly brings lively and meaningful stories to area school children. He hopes to return to the stage one day at the Robidoux Resident Theater, where he enjoys the auditioning process.
A husband, father and self-professed all-in Disney nerd, he encourages his own children to tell a story and tell it well through their own activities. “I love that as an entrepreneur, you just learn to tackle stuff. I think everyone has this ability inside themselves. I’ve never been satisfied with just knowing one thing. I want to do many things. People say I have to focus, and for now, that means helping use corporate work to shake up people’s perceptions of storytelling.
“Everywhere I go, I am reminded that kids are kids, and adults are adults. We are all in this together. We have so many more similarities between us than things that make us separate. Storytelling is an art that helps capture that. Everyone’s a storyteller. Everyone’s story is important. Everyone’s story deserves to be told.”
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