There are many reasons why the race to embrace storytelling in business has often ended up being a swift race to the bottom. Here’s just one example of bad storytelling advice:
“Tell YOUR story”!
The idea behind this advice is that ‘your’ story will inspire people who don’t know you to do business with you! Think about this. Would you want to do business with someone you knew absolutely nothing about after you heard them talking about themselves? No, you wouldn’t.
Why the rush to tell your story?
Plain egoism is a biggie here. There are lots of people who love talking about themselves and live under the illusion that others find their stories interesting. How many times have we been cornered at a party or a business event by someone like that? Another popular argument put forward for telling your story comes from Simon Sinek’s theory Start with Why, which, as I’ve pointed out in a previous post, he applied only to established, well-known businesses and which he has since revised.
One of the keys to successful storytelling is correct timing!
No one is interested in YOUR story until they are ready to buy from you. So telling your story too early is simply bad storytelling advice! Basic neuroscience helps us get the timing right.
When we talk to strangers, we are operating from the reptilian brain. That‘s the part of the brain that is responsible for our survival mechanism: it knows only yes/no and fight/flight responses. When we are in the reptilian brain we cannot hear the other’s story. Only when we have moved into the part of the brain that is responsible for our emotional and logical response, located in the front lobe, are we able to ‘hear’ someone else’s story, connect with it and respond to it.
How do you move someone out of survival mode into receptive mode?
Tell them THEIR story.
Until that shift in the brain has happened, the only story you should tell your potential clients is the one they are able to hear, i.e. THEIR story. That’s how connection happens! To get their story right, you have to know their story. And to know their story, you have to have listened to them so closely that when you tell it, they can say:
“That’s me!” “That’s exactly what I struggle with!”, “That’s what I want now!”
If that’s not their response, you need to go back and listen again so that when you tell them their story you are holding a mirorr in front of them in which they see themselves more clearly than without it.
Only when you have successfully done that, are they are ready to hear your story. Otherwise, your story will fall on deaf ears!
If you could do with some help with telling the right story at the right time to the right audience, I’m here to help you!Learn More
If you’re still struggling to create a post-Corona business model, don’t worry. Change is coming. Lots of it and it’s heading our way!
Change is the new normal!
The Corona crisis has marked a major turning point. As the weeks and months pass, we’ve come to realise that the changes it introduced are not temporary. What’s actually happened is that Covid has destroyed existing templates for the ways we live, think & work.
For example, in our pre-pandemic world, employers dismissed working-from-home arrangements as unworkable and untenable. These arrangements are now fully operational and here to stay! Wearing masks in public and speaking through glass partitions are also part of our daily ‘normal’. Some jobs that were ‘lost’ due to the pandemic are gone for good and more are about to disappear – forever.
And that’s only the beginning! We’re getting mere glimpses of the magnitude of the changes that are shaping our future. Changes that will see robotics and AI as part & parcel of our daily life.
How do we prepare for the changes ahead?
It’s no longer about managing the disruptions, it’s about preparing for the beginning of a new era – without a roadmap. We have to be willing to re-imagine our lives in an emerging world. And one of the best places to start is to ask yourself a simple question.
What can I bring to the table that is uniquely ME?
If we’ve learned one lesson from this crisis it’s this. Our ability to survive and succeed is dependant on our willingness to connect with others. The days of the solo super-hero, braving a hostile world alone are over.
What’s needed now is knowing how to express our individuality AND connect with others.
One way to do just that is in the way you communicate with the world.- your ability to listen deeply to what’s being said around you, the words you choose, the stories you choose, the ways you tell those stories. That’s how your response to this changing world is shaping the outcome.
Developing your storytelling skills is a good place to begin exercising your unique perspective on a changing world and creating connection with others.
If you want to know how to begin, I can help you get those storytelling wheels moving.Learn More
Do we talk to get a reaction or a response from others?
Our intention defines the quality of the exchange and it’s outcome – whether the audience reacts or responds to us. That difference can be explained in terms of whether our communication is a ‘monologue’ or a ‘dialogue’.
Even when the trendy communication props are in place, it isn’t difficult to spot the self-serving monologues – often masquerading as interactive dialogues. You’ll get an insight into how the ping-pong game of monologue is played out by watching two politicians talking, or the typical political interview – each side is simply delivering their respective sound bites and not engaged with the other’s arguments.
To help you spot the difference when you talk between getting a reaction or a response from others, here are a few guidelines.
Some typical characteristics of a ‘monologue’:
- talking AT someone
- a closed form of communication, i.e. one-way messages & viewpoints
- curated comments and explanations that push a specific agenda, i.e. create a REACTION
- no ‘real’ attempt to listen to & reflect on what the other is saying
- impersonal language filled with jargon, sound-bits and buzzwords
Being in a ‘dialogue’ with someone is about a deeper, richer and more textured form of exchange.
Some typical characteristics of a ‘dialogue’:
- two-way exchange
- talking/engaging WITH someone
- an open exchange of active listening & deep reflection that can lead to a shift in opinions – on both sides
- exchange is the result of mutual RESPONSE, i.e. actively responding to what the other is saying rather than waiting for the opportunity to speak
- direct, personal language that is jargon-free
Here’s a short quote by Andy Sivell that will help you understand the profound difference between getting a reaction (monologue) and a response (dialogue) these two forms of communicating:
“Two monologues do not make a dialogue“Learn More
Has story become a ruse to deceive and mislead; a manipulation tactic at odds with ethical marketing?
I’ve been drawn into three different conversations in as many days about the ‘end of storytelling’ for business. The arguments made were that all storytellers are ‘liars’, that storytelling is a polished decoy, that it has been ‘ruined’ for business by ‘unconventional’ politicians who don’t even try to conceal the political agenda behind their ‘fake’ stories.
I agreed with every argument – to a point. Here’s why.
I’ve had my own ‘dark night of the soul’ since leaving academia to work as a storytelling consultant for business. I’d spent my final years in academia researching the relationship between storytelling and trauma and knew I’d have to ‘shift gear’ for the business world.
Nothing could have prepared me for the way the market had emptied storytelling of its primary purpose in service to profit. Instead of creating meaning in a world gone awry & helping us understand each other better, story was used as emotional bait, a sophisticated selling tactic, peddled by endless books, articles & cheat-sheets that told us ‘Story Sells’, ‘Tell to Sell’, etc.
Story had become the Trojan Horse of marketing.
Just like in the original Greek myth, story is used as a ploy to win a war, in our case, to breach our defences against the onslaught of selling. Story is the poisonous apple that lured Snow White with its shiny red skin to dismiss the danger. Story is the puppet cleverly manipulated by the invisible hands of the puppeteer.
So, why do I do what I do?
The uncertainty and trauma caused by COVID-19 has given us the perfect opportunity to restart, realign & reimagine. We’re witnessing first hand how human relationship is an invaluable tool to create a different model of ‘normal’.
If story has become a ruse, then simple, honest storytelling has a huge role to play in helping us build our business around trust, credibility & community as we search for a sustainable way out of the current crisis.
My on-going mission to revive authentic storytelling as an integral part of meaningful, honest business communication is gaining in relevance. To help you become part of this revival, I’ve distilled what I’ve learned about authentic storytelling skills into a short, intensive online workshop which I’m offering at a very affordable price.
Check out the events page on my website for more information!Learn More
In a recent post I asked what kind of heroes were appropriate for the new normal unfolding in the world. It’s clear they will be vastly different from the old ones. And the same goes for our stories!
The coronavirus is not the first pandemic in history – and it won’t be our last! We have a rich library about life during and after plagues, spanning over the last thousand years, whether it’s about the Plague of Justinian in the 6th century, the Black Death in the 14th or the Great Plague of London in the 17th century (to name just three).
There are two things we can learn about storytelling from that history
- During a pandemic we tell stories to entertain, distract and fact-check. These popular narratives include: conspiracy theories, bawdy tales, what-if setups, high drama scenarios & futuristic escape. Does this sound familiar?
- Once the pandemic dust finally settles, there is no going back to pre-pandemic ‘normal’. Our existing stories, the ones that made sense of our old normal, are irretrievably broken. A corner stone of modern physics was developed by Sir Isaac Newton – theory of gravity – while cocooning at home in 1665 from the Great Plague of London.
The biggest challenge we face is this: our story has no closure. We see the challenges, but no resolutions.
History tells us we’ve been here many times before and we have two choices:
- We try to retell the old narratives to cover the gaping cracks created by the crisis. But these fragments quickly collapse into the cavernous holes left in its wake.
- Or we stare into the uncertainty and the unknown and after a time realise we are different now – wiser, more compassionate & more resilient. We begin to tell stories about the experiences and the insights that got to this point and how these can help us set our compass for a way out.
We tell about the lack of solid ground, the absence of a pathway ahead, the challenges of sitting with uncertainty, the faint outline of new possibilities emerging, the flicker of hope in the darkness.
Then, one small story at a time, we slowly begin to create a new normal.Learn More
If our stories are reflections of our world and our heroes the values of that world, then it’s certainly time to tell new stories and create different heroes!
Let’s start with the heroes!
For decades our views on the ‘hero’ were defined by the comic-strip characters created during WW2 and the post-war years. The clean-cut, muscle-flaunting, super-powered hero (Captain America, Super-Man, etc.) single-handedly confronted an external enemy, defeated the evil forces & restored ‘good’ to a world that had temporarily veered in the direction of ‘bad’.
Those popular characters rode the gravity-defying waves of individualism and singularity. Until … suddenly & unexpectedly the waves came to a crashing halt on the shore of Coronaland.
The heroes in Coronaland were very different.
They were not driven by personal glory or powered by ‘super’ strengths. They were the millions of nameless & individually-unacknowledged helpers, carers, service-providers, parents, friends & neighbours who worked together in the interest of community and the common good – some of them as part of under-resourced, over-worked teams.
The ‘elixir’ in Coronaland?
It was not carried by a triumphant super-hero, whose solo performances had rescued the world. The elixir in Coronaland was shared generously among all the unsung heroes. Those who drank it showed heightened levels of caring, compassion, generosity & humanity.
The stories emerging from Coronaland?
One thing is clear. Like the out-dated heroes, the old story-formulas didn’t fit their journey anymore.
Their stories about a time when a great darkness fell across the land and the people were very afraid are being written. One story at a time …Learn More
Whats your story of Covid-19? Which story are you telling about your experiences of ‘social distancing’, quarantine or lock-down? That story defines how you experience this crisis!
1 As the story of imposed confinement that disrupts your plans, interrupts your life & destroys your business?
What are the underlying energies behind this story?
Panic, self-righteousness, victimhood?
Are these the energies that compel people to act in their own interests (hoarding, non-observance of ‘social distancing’ guidelines)? Are people so unable to be with themselves that they constantly seek any kind of distraction?
2 As the story of a journey into your inner world, an adventure into unexplored territory, filled with insights, ah-ha moments and true wisdom?
What are the underlying energies behind this story?
Gratitude, compassion, connectedness?
If you need a reminder as to why these responses are also a very real perspective on the Covid-19 crisis, watch here!
It’s no coincidence that some of the greatest scientific break-throughs, art works, inventions happened during periods of social isolation – whether imposed (Isaac Newton & Shakespeare during the bubonic plague) or chosen. Social isolation creates a space in which we can go deeper, get in touch with our inner creativity, avoid external distractions, listen to our inner voice, etc.
The story you choose to tell now defines how you experience this crisis.
It also defines the story you are passing on to others and in turn their story and their experience of getting through this momentous challenge.
Your story of the Covid-19 today also defines the story you will tell when you emerge from this crisis! This the point between ‘before’ and ‘after’, the turning point in every story.
This is the moment when you are called on to make ‘heroic’ decisions – for your own safety and well-being and those of others.
Choose your story carefully!Learn More
How did we get to a place where we publicaly glorify being busy as a measure of our success? How come we don’t cringe at our binging on being busy in view of the evidence that it’s detrimental to our wellbeing and undermines our performance?
I let those questions run through my mind as the sound of cowbells echoed through the stillness of an Alpine morning. A post from a friend the previous evening had reminded me of the busyness that had ruined my last Alpine holiday seven years ago. In her post she proudly described her busy day. She delivered a presentation that morning which she’d prepared on the train after only three hours sleep, returned later on the train to attend an important meeting that afternoon, then made it to a networking event that evening and updated her social media posts before midnight. She finished her post: ”I was crazy busy today!”
This is not a ‘once off’ busy day, a busy week, or a busy month that is part of the rhythms of living and working. It’s about the socially acceptable status symbol attached to binging on being busy.
I, too, am guilty of binging on being busy and belonged to the ‘Super Busy 7/24 Brigade’. Here’s how I became a club member.
The Lure of Busyness
Once upon a time I had a job I genuinely loved, one that ticked all the boxes of my ideal career: lecturing and researching at university. However, a new era arrived that would radically change my dream job. The development of technology and social media (e-mails in particular) promised us all increased efficiencies, but what actually happened was they extended the working day. With the rise of quality reviews, the value of my job was increasingly defined by accountants, who measured units of performance. As that bar was raised on an annual basis, telling people I was busy, secured my worth and relevance within the organisation.
The increase in external pressures is, however, not the full story. I was living an economic model that coupled self-esteem with productivity, so being hyper busy defined who I was. Busyness demonstrated that I had an important, responsible job and the work I did mattered a great deal – not least because there was always so much of it.
Explaining the Busyness Cult
Tim Kreider explored the glorification of being busy in his seminal article, The ‘Busy’ Trap. He points out that we choose busyness because of our “ambition or drive or anxiety” and our “addicted to busyness.” The root of our addiction (our binging) is, he claims, the “dread [we] might have to face in its absence”, an explanation long supported by Buddhism, which sees our busyness as a form of laziness, a socially acceptable way of avoiding our own issues.
Courtney Martin points out the egoism and “arrogance” underpinning being busy, that comes with the “privilege” of self-imposed busyness. It’s that privilege that teaches us to “overvalue ourselves and undervalue others.” Martin describes the ugly truth behind our ‘need’ to be busy: “[T]his is the thing about privilege and the arrogance that stems from it: it keeps us weighted down with self-importance. It traps us in a fog of specialness and busyness.”
I would add another ego-feeding mechanisms to the busyness trip. Our publically performed and publically acknowledged martyrdom is, after all, the highest and most admirable price to pay for our success.
Is there a Fix for our ‘Busyness-Fix’?
Yes, there is. But it’s not something you can just tick off on your do-do list and continue as normal.
Let’s go back to unapologetically (to myself) lying in my bed in the Alps, listening to the mellow chorus of ringing cowbells. Then rewind to my previous Alpine holiday when I had cursed those cowbells for disturbing my concentration as I battled to get an article written for an approaching deadline. At the end of that holiday I had failed on two counts: I could neither relax nor work and I left feeling more exhausted than when I arrived. What changed in those intervening seven years?
Re-learning how to be Idle.
Being idle is not about just doing nothing. Back in 1877, Robert Louis Stevenson explained in his essay, An Apology for Idlers, that idleness is about, “doing a great deal not recognised in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class, [and] has as good a right to state its position as industry itself.”
Andrew Smart develops this idea using contemporary scientific research in his book, Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing and states right at the beginning that being idle is extremely important for our creativity. Doing nothing allows the brain to process the information it has gathered and opens up a space for creative ideas and original insights.
It’s why Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree daydreaming and not worrying about cutting the grass when the theory of gravity occurred to him. Or the mathematician Archimedes was relaxing in his bathtub and not taking a ‘quick’ shower when he had his eureka moment. Being idle is also the time when we can self-reflect and develop a sense of ourselves beyond work.
Cracking the Idleness Code
So, if idleness is so important, if it’s not just a matter of doing nothing, then how does one just be idle? (Yes, there is a humorous and thought-provoking book on this very topic by Tom Hodgkinson, How to be Idle.)
Being idle, a.k.a. chilling out, unplugging, tuning out, etc., is about being idle for idleness sake. It’s about giving undivided attention to doing nothing. Being idle for its own sake is not to be confused with organizing down time to ‘sharpen the saw” of efficiency.
I have two strategies on How to be Idle:
- Press the STOP button.
STOP binging on being busy,! Stop doing! Stop thinking! Stop planning! Stop saving time! Create a space, or spaces, in your day when all devices, all diversions, all external stimuli are ‘unplugged’.
- After your press the STOP button, BE idle.
Give you attention to what slows you down, brings you joy, activates your imagination, keeps you in the present moment, etc. Just remember: be idle for it’s own sake on a regular basis.
In case you already feel skeptical about whether altering behavioural patterns is that simple, the science of neuroplasticity proves we can change the structure and the function of our brains by practicing new responses.
Two rules apply:
- you have to want to change
- you have to commit to practicing new responses
It takes up to around 4-5 weeks to establish new neural pathways and these pathways will go dormant if not activated regularly.
So, start being idle during your day. And don’t stop!Learn More
Story has been trending for some time as the cure-all for creating engaging content – presentations, blogs, sales pages, a PR-blurbs, newsletters, etc. Story, apparently, is the fast-track to connecting us!
Neuroscience shows that story ticks all the important boxes to create impact. It touches us deeply, releases ‘happy hormones’, builds relationships, supports memory, makes identification easier and quicker, etc. etc. And the relevance of all that for business was reduced to one goal? Story sells!
So, everyone scrambled onto the storytelling bandwagon to grab the attention the masses with their manipulative stories and to sell, sell sell.
However, the wheels soon began to fall off that bandwagon – for obvious reasons.
How story gets our attention and holds it
According to recent research, we are not suffering from a growing attention deficit. We’ve just become more selective about where we focus our attention.
Simply put, if something is boring, irrelevant, repetitive, re-cycled, manipulative we switch off almost immediately. If something arouses our curiosity, engages us, we can’t seem to get enough of it – we ‘binge’ on it!
Back to that stationary storytelling bandwagon mentioned above. Story in itself does not make engaging content. According to the same research findings, the winners on getting our attention and holding it are: “compelling stories” combined with “compelling visuals”! Note the word COMPELLING here!
How do you tell a “compelling” story?
A good way to answer that is to flip the question. Why does a story not grab our attention and hold it?
Here’s a few basics ‘Don’ts’.
- Your story is a thinly disguised sales pitch! People do not like to feel they are being manipulated or have their trust abused. Do not promise to tell a ‘story’ when you really intend to sell!
- Your stories are monologues about you. To make a story engaging, the audience has to identify with it and want to own it. It gets boring very quickly when you constantly talk about the same character – you!
- The story you tell is not relevant for the audience. Just because you think a particular story is good, interesting, funny, worked for others, etc., doesn’t mean it’s relevant! Always ask yourself before adding a story, “How does this story help the audience understand the point I’m making?”
- Your story is too long. For example, if you include stories in your 20- minute-presentation, then make sure that each story is about 2-3 minutes long – and only use 2-3 stories.
- You waste too much of your audience’s time on the backstory. Get to the primary story the goal, the problem, the challenge straight away and briefly include the backstory as the main story unfolds.
- Your story isn’t integrated into your content. Too often the story feels part of a ‘cut and paste’ activity. It interrupts the message instead of illuminating it. It takes know-how and practice to seamlessly integrate a story into your content, so that it feels ‘compelling” for the audience.
The goal of all our communication is to create connection, inspire engagement and start a dialogue
Through dialogue we organically build trust by adding value that invites participation, inspires action and eventually investment. Knowing how to integrate a “compelling” story into your dialogue is a powerful tool to achieve this. It’s also the quickest way to get off the storytelling bandwagon – for good!
If you want to find out more about how to do this, make an appointment and let’s talk about dialogue!Learn More