Storytelling

A lesson in humanity ... from a robot

Machines have two primary functions: they perform the task they were built for or, failing that, they serve as emotionless objects through which we can vent our pent-up rage and frustration.

Who among us hasn’t wanted to go all Office Space on the company printer? We slam our car doors, punch parking meters, and throw our remotes against the wall. (You guys do that, right?) And we take out our aggression without a hint of remorse because these are victimless drubbings. We’re thrashing machines, not people.

As novelist Richard Price said, “The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don't write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid's burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.”

Say what? How social media platforms affect what you say ... and how you say it.

 "Save it for the judge, kid."

"Save it for the judge, kid."

You already know that your audience influences what you say and how you say it when you’re telling a story. (That googly-eyed baby talk that entertains your girlfriend will get you tazed if you use it on a cop.)

But did you know that where you tell your story is just as important as whom* you’re telling it to?** Think about how the following venues affect what you say and how you say it:

VENUE: Your favorite noisy pub

APPROACH: Loud, off-color comments that you practically spit in your friend’s ear.

VENUE: Sunday Mass

APPROACH: Fidgety whispering about how bored you are, accompanied by crude illustrations drawn with those bowling-alley pencils on the back of the church bulletin.

VENUE: Elevator

APPROACH: Vapid comments about the weather directed to the top of your shoes.

VENUE: Men’s room

APPROACH: There is no approach. The first rule of “Men’s Room” is you DO NOT talk in the men’s room.

The same is true with social media venues. You wouldn’t post a video of a shark-cat riding a Roomba on LinkedIn would you? Of course not. Different venues require different approaches.

To help you navigate the rocky waters of social-media etiquette, the good folks at My Clever Agency created an infographic to help you “Create The Perfect Pinterest, Google+, Facebook & Twitter posts.”***

Check it out.

*Full disclosure: I don’t often use “whom,” even when I know I should. Just as I don’t say, “It is I,” when asked “who is it?” But my sister-in-law occasionally reads these posts, and she’s a stickler for proper grammar, so I figured I’d go all highfalutin for her this one time.

**But don't come after me for ending a sentence with a preposition.

***Relax. It's a quote. They capitalize, I capitalize.

Today's Lesson: Lessen the Lessons

"I assure you, madam, I am quite capable of swimming ... my way!" Want to kill a kid’s interest in something he enjoys? Make him take lessons “to get better at it.”

When I was a kid, I liked to swim. My technique was appalling but I could cut through the polluted water at Ideal Beach with no effort at all. And whenever I stepped on a crab, I was a regular Mark Spitz.

But apparently this wasn’t good enough for my mom, who signed up the four of us kids for swim lessons at the Red Bank YMCA.

Everyone who takes swim lessons at the Y starts as a Pollywog before advancing to Minnows, Flying Fish, and then the ultimate achievement—Sharks. Being a Shark in and of itself was pretty cool. But they also got to use the high dive, so you just had to get to Sharks.

First, however, you had to graduate from Pollywogs by demonstrating that you could swim … their way. Apparently, what I was doing did not qualify as swimming, so I got stuck with the five-year-old Pollywogs while my brother and two younger sisters advanced to Minnows. I was 12 years old.

It gets worse.

Before they even let me paddleboard with the other kiddies during free time, I had to demonstrate that I knew how to hold my head underwater without breathing. To do that, they had me bend at the waist with a paddleboard in my outstretched hands, take a breath, put my face in the water, exhale, turn my head to the left to take in a breath and repeat the process 10 times.

I couldn’t do it. For six weeks I couldn’t do it.

Those six weeks passed slowly. I’d watch as nervous new kids—“fish” we called them—entered the pool for their first day of swim lessons. And then, when they learned their lesson, I’d pat them on the back and wish them well as they advanced to Minnows. Sure, I was envious at first. But I knew I was never getting out of that hell hole so—over time—it made me happy to see those little tykes get over the wall, so to speak.

As the summer--and our swim lessons--were coming to a close, I asked my instructor in a final act of desperation if I could turn my head to the right to breathe. “Sure,” she said. “A lot of good it’ll do ya.”

Well, it worked. I could swim—their way. In one day, I graduated from the Pollywogs, blew through Minnows and became a Flying Fish. By the end of the week, I was a Shark.

True story.

But now I hate to swim. And I’m afraid the same thing is happening to people who enjoy telling stories. You can’t swing a life guard’s whistle these days without smacking into some self-described expert who wants to teach you how to tell a story.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you already are a great story teller. Sure, there are ways you can improve your unique technique, as you’ll see in this video*. But when it comes to telling stories, you’re incredible. A regular Mr. Limpet.

* This video originally appeared in our QuASAR Method Video Series.

 

Internet Killed the Hollywood Star: Why being a star is not enough in the Interactive Age

To be a success in the 20th century was to be a star. Whether a movie star, a rock star, or an NBA All Star, your job was to shine brightly and be worshiped by “the little people” below you. Feedback from the masses was next to impossible and that was OK by you.

Many stellar Fortune 500 corporations operated in much the same way, preferring target demographic marketing over actually engaging with their customers.

Then the Internet—which abhors one-way communication—snuffed out many of the 20th century stars and gave birth to a new celestial model of success: the quasar.

Unlike a star, which only radiates, a quasar has an enormous black hole at its core that sucks matter and energy in while shining light out--more light, in fact, than any star in the universe. This two-way flow of energy is the foundation of successful communication in the Interactive Age. Dictatorial monologues are out; thoughtful and empathetic dialogues are in.

As it happens, “QuASAR” is also an acronym for the five-step process that can teach you how to become a thoughtful and empathetic communicator yourself. QuASAR stands for Quest, Audience, Stories, Action, and Results.

Quest—Most meaningful communication begins with a quest. Unlike a mission—which is a directive from an external source, usually a framed piece of paper nailed to the break room wall—a quest is driven by a passion that comes from within to achieve a purpose that you hold dear. By discovering your quest, you will attract people who share your goal and your passion.

Audience—Until very recently, an audience’s primary function was to serve as a barometer of success. They were counted, not consulted. Today, however, the audience you attract will actually give you invaluable insight and helpful advice as you share stories during—and about—your mutual quest. You cannot overstate the importance of your audience. They are no longer passive observers of your communication “campaigns.” They are your new partners and active participants in your quest.

Stories—Press releases, official statements, and talking points don’t initiate conversations; they kill them. To engage in a dialogue you need to share stories. In fact, now that you’re on a quest with new friends who share your objective, it would be almost impossible not to.

Action—Woody Allen famously said “80% of success is showing up.” In the Interactive Age, it’s closer to 100%. You need to take the time and energy you’re spending on quarterly magazines, monthly newsletters, and staged press events and spend it on developing organic, ongoing dialogues with your audiences. As Jay Baer, best-selling author of The Now Revolution, said, “Focus on how to be social, not on how to do social.”

Results—Success used to be measured by the number of clips your press release generated. But that metric (and most press releases) are far less important in the Interactive Age. Successful communication isn’t measured in “hits,” it's measured by your audience's reaction.

Take Molly Katchpole. Ms. Katchpole was a part-time nanny in 2012 when she decided that she didn’t want to pay Bank of America $5 every month just to use her debit card. So she started an online petition opposing the surcharge that generated more than 200,000 signatures in one week. It’s a safe bet that BofA’s media team reached tens of millions of people that week, but that wasn’t enough to keep bank CEO Brian Moynihan from crying “Uncle” and dropping the $5 fee.

Interaction is the currency of the Interactive Age. After years of talking at your targeted audience, you and countless others are going to have to adjust to talking with both your targeted audiences and with the many new people and communities you will meet as you venture on your quest.

It will be difficult, but it’s not impossible. If Daniel Pink can learn how to draw a passable self-portrait by using his right brain, you can learn how to mechanize the magic of meaningful and effective communication through the QuASAR process.

 

The former CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters loved our book. Dig us!

"Upon reflection, I want to add one more 'really' because it really is that good." If you’ve spent any time in Washington DC, you’ve heard of David Rehr. When he ran the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Fortune Magazine ranked that organization as one of the “top ten most influential lobbying organizations” in America. When he was president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, Radio Ink magazine named him one of the “top 20 most influential people in radio.” And Washington Life magazine put him on their “Power 100” list. Yeah, he’s that good.

But what makes David Rehr so special (besides his eerie resemblance to Matt Damon) is his uncanny ability to identify talent. Take this book review he recently posted on Amazon.com.

“Megan McDonald & John Doyle break through all the communications clutter and treat the reader to the essential "you have to get these right" elements in this easy to read, yet fascinating book. I have been in organizational communications my entire professional career but found myself shaking my head (while reading the book) and saying to myself, "yes, I have to be sure I do that..." This book is a great investment. It's has some lighthearted moments but the content is serious - we do live in a cluttered communications environment and virtually all organizations are terrible in getting their positive messages out to the public. I am certain I will continue to refer back to it on important communication projects. It's that good. No, it's really, really, really good.”

Now the fact that he was talking about our book is just icing on the cake. In fact, I didn’t even realize he was referring The TV Guide to Telling Your Organization’s Story until Megan pointed that out to me.

But it was our book he was talking about. And if a man as busy as David Rehr could find the time to order our book, read it, and post this brutally candid and informative review, you can too.

So go ahead and get yourself a copy. As David said, “It’s really, really, really good.”

Storytelling in the Interactive Age: TV as Teacher

TV as a guide to storytelling As the television industry navigates its way through these tectonic changes, it can teach us how to respond to similar challenges. The static monologues delivered via press releases, white papers, and the vetted and sanitized “statement from the CEO” are rapidly being replaced by genuine dialogue between organizations and the audiences they want to reach.

Similarly, TV is restructuring its programs so that it can engage in a dialogue with its audiences. The signs of this restructuring are on every channel:

  • Folks watching Hawaii 5-0 can determine the ending of the program in real time by selecting the bad guy via Twitter.
  • Netflix uploaded every episode of House of Cards to allow people to watch it when they choose to.
  • A number of programs (including my favorite, The Blacklist) post Chyrons (those messages on the bottom of the screen) prompting you to download the episodes and the show’s soundtrack on iTunes.
  • Vine superstar Logan Paul took over the Today Show’s Vine account … live. (Don’t understand that sentence? You will.)
  • CBS’s Showtime Network partnered with LG Technologies to develop a system that allows viewers to participate in polls and trivia games about Showtime programs such as Dexter and Ray Donovan as they watch the shows.
  • Connect TV has an app that lets viewers capture six seconds of the show they’re watching and send that clip to their friends.
  • The app Viggle identifies the show you’re watching and then connects you to others watching the show via Facebook and other social media. It also allows you to rack up points for every minute you watch the show, which can then be redeemed from the show’s partners.
  • Engaging TV ads are no longer restricted to the Super Bowl as advertisers fight for viewers’ attention with better content and real-time interactivity.
  • TV networks are partnering with content distribution platforms—from YouTube to Apple TV—to ensure that their programs can be viewed anywhere on myriad devices.
  • Television manufacturers are taking the dialogue concept one step further with social television technology that allows you to literally talk to your television system.

Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey best summed it up when he said, "For kids growing up, there's no difference between watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game of Thrones on their computer. It's all content. It's all story.”

“The audience has spoken,” he said. “They want stories. … And they will engage with it with a passion and an intimacy that a blockbuster movie could only dream of—and all we have to do is give it to them.”

You don’t need to invent an app to remain relevant. But you do need to share compelling stories with your audiences if you want to attract and hold their attention. And TV can show you how.

For concrete tips on how to improve your storytelling, check out our new book, The TV Guide to Telling Your Organization's Story: Insights and tools to help you navigate the Interactive Age.

Expertise is not enough in the Interactive Age

To understand how communications have changed so quickly and why it is virtually impossible for expertise alone to cut it in the Interactive Age, you have to think of information as a commodity.

For most of human history, the information market was functionally an oligopoly: a few information producers and brokers (royalty, the church, scholarly institutions, etc.) dominated the market. Their production systems—chiseled stone, monastically scribed books, a limited run of hand-pressed Bibles—were expensive and labor-intensive. As a result, there was an extremely high “price” for accumulating information, which restricted learning to those who had stature and wealth.

During the Industrial Age, the supply of information gradually broadened as universal education became widespread. During the Information Age, however, the supply of information exploded as technological advancements lowered the price for the production and accumulation of information.

The supply of information greatly outpaced its demand long ago. Anyone who’s ever been to a library has seen a vast amount of information languishing on dusty shelves.

Ironically, in the Information Age, information became less valuable than ever before. But because the channels over which this “cheap” information flowed was until recently controlled by corporations, the media, Hollywood, and the recording and publishing industries, the price for that information could be artificially manipulated. As long as they controlled the distribution of information, these multi-billion-dollar industries thrived, generating profits that would make a banker blush.

The Internet broke the lock on the flow of information and people began freely sharing ideas, images, videos, music, and art. Where consumers once paid money to receive information (via subscriptions, cable fees, telephone bills, movie tickets), they are now getting it and giving it away for free.

Today, the value of information is not predicated on how much people are willing to pay to receive it. It is determined by how many people want to share it.

The consistent delivery of relevant, accessible, and/or entertaining content will build “brand loyalty” that can be used to earn revenue the old-fashioned way, while also creating an emotionally invested community of supporters.

To learn more about how to communicate effectively in the Interactive Age, check out our new book, The TV Guide to Telling Your Organization's Story.

TV or not TV? Why your television may be your best social media mentor

"That's what 'twerking' means? Why didn't somebody tell me BEFORE my speech?" The following is an excerpt from our new book, The TV Guide to Telling your Organization's Story--Insights and tools to help you navigate the Interactive Age.

Like what your see? Get yours here.

  • In 2011, part-time nanny Molly Katchpole told Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan and the online world that she didn’t want to pay a new $5 monthly debit card fee. Moynihan was “incensed by the bad press,” and vowed that he “won’t budge on the new fees.” But the banker budged … and the nanny won.
  • In 2012, Hollywood’s top lobbyist Chris Dodd blasted his former colleagues in the US Senate for killing his signature legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have allowed the government to censor the Internet. Upon losing what had appeared to be a slam-dunk deal, an enraged Dodd said, “Don’t ask me to write a check for you [politicians] when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.” This refreshing candor resulted in its own online petition on the White House website calling for an investigation into Dodd’s alleged “open admission of bribery.
  • In 2013, Canadian PM Stephen Harper announced that he “has a lot of fun twerking,” but only with close friends and “every now and then with President Obama.” Before a media aide could update the PM on early 21st century parlance, he added that he “would like to twerk with every Canadian but that of course is impossible.”

There was a time when emulating society’s leaders was a viable strategy for success. But those days are truly gone. The 20th century leadership skills that catapulted people to positions of power—being unilaterally decisive and hogging the megaphone, to name just two—are liabilities in the Interactive Age, where collaboration trumps intimidation.

The sense of unassailable superiority by those in power is resulting in regular digital spankings as the once-untouchable establishment titans go head-to-head with “little people” who may lack executive prerogative, but more than make up for it in social media savvy.

But if successful business and political icons of the 20th century can no longer guide us to success, who can?

Television.

Yup. The faithful companion that taught you how to run faster, jump higher, and build strong bodies 12 ways can now help you navigate the roiling waters of social media.

Think about it. The world is changing faster and more dramatically than at any point in human history. Every aspect of communications is changing in ways we could never have imagined a decade ago. Keeping up with the changes is next to impossible and the struggle can overwhelm the strongest of us.

One way to get grounded and to regain a sense of balance is to filter these new experiences through the lens of something familiar; something that is feeling its way through this brave new world like you are. And there’s nothing more familiar and universal—in the 20th century, anyway—than television.

As the television industry navigates its way through these tectonic changes, it can teach us how to respond to similar challenges.

Coming up ... "Channeling your inner TV show." Stay tuned!

Television. AmIright??

Let your TV be your guide. “I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts.” —      Orson Welles

“If television's a babysitter, the Internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.” —Dorothy Gambrell, Cat and Girl Volume I

“The difference between TV and the internet was how far you sat from the screen. TV was an 8 foot activity, and you were a consumer. The internet was a 16 inch activity, and you participated.” —Seth Godin

Want to know the 33 things your television can teach you about storytelling in the Interactive Age? It's all in here.