The art of seeing the story…

popup1Joe Dager of Business 901 and I begin by talking about the similarities between storytelling and art in this podcast.

I promise to send out a new Story Factor Podcast soon. I’ve been writing and editing the second edition of Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins and there is so much I want to add! [Read more…]

Just do it! Iteration or "playing it by ear" is a great way to learn storytelling and find great content fast

I recently posted that Coke shifted half their marketing content research budget from qualitative research to iterations.
One of my friends responded:  “So?”
Okay, fine. I went all geeky.  I will try to redeem myself with an example of how that works. [Read more…]

More Experiments!

I think we spend  too much time looking for the “right” story. We can’t know a story is effective until we try it out because stories are co-created. I have suggested we expect a 30% fail rate – a percentage I made up – so people won’t craft a story to death before they try it out.  I thought increasing tolerance for failure might lighten things up.


How can we know a story is effective until we try it out? Stories are co-created.


Now I see  at least one corporate giant has found there is no substitute for experiments. They have completely removed qualitative research in favor of telling new stories straight to consumers to see what flies.

Coke found, according to their Content Strategy Video (at 4:28), that recently their best stories were not pre-tested (ex: Old Spice Man). Coke  shifted 30% of their money away from conducting research on customers to support hanging out with customers for inspiration.


 Qualitative research can evaporate ideas!

Coke killed qualitative research on story ideas altogether because it “evaporates” ideas or solidifies them too soon.  They put their money behind generating lots of ideas and taking these story ideas straight to consumers to see what catches their imagination. Coke cut their budget for link testing (eye movement tracking, likert scale ranking, etc) in half from 60% to 30%. Twenty five percent of their money is now used for real time testing and adapting stories as they are co-created with real live Coke drinkers.

Stories arise from unpredictable experiences.


I may be jumping to conclusions but I think this validates the idea that we can’t research our way into great stories. Stories arise from unpredictable experiences in real time with live people and grow when given space and protected from reductive scientific research. It is about experience, not examination and feelings, not facts.


Speaking of experience, I have been interviewing people with practical storytelling experience to tell me: Who is using storytelling? to do what? and how do they measure success? You can hear edited podcasts (about 20 minutes) starting next week.  I’ll send you more info, then.

Two Line Stories – Examples

From Sheila on Easing a Story into your job interview #

Dear Annette,

Would love some examples of two line stories you have used in a business meeting.


Dear Sheila,

Business meetings are a great place for two sentence stories. I even have some one sentence stories!

“An Ethiopian taxi driver in NYC once shared his grandfather’s favorite saying with me: A man who beats his horse will soon be walking.”

When I see someone who uses punitive measures to control behavior, I sometimes find a way to tell this tiny story.  It requires a very light tone and I choose to present it as an indictment on my own behavior when I was younger.  I might even add: “By the time I was thirty I was surrounded by dead horses,” and follow with “You might be interested in something I learned in grad school”… or from my mentor….”

In a meeting with a pretty hip client (otherwise I wouldn’t have mentioned sex) I told this quick story:

“When I worked at JWT – we used to say it’s “a great place to work if your parents could afford to send you there!” We did a weekend training at the beach full of sex, drugs and rock and roll but I still learned the most important concept I’ve ever learned about marketing – the Key Response.”

After that story I usually have permission to talk about using a Key Response to guide communication design.  I like to focus on what/how we want a listener to think/feel and after experiencing a communication rather than starting from the point: “What do we want to communicate?” The sex, drugs and rock and roll on the beach usually lowers inhibitions paving the way for better communication!

One more?

First, let me say that events and anecdotes about people close to the project usually provide your most powerful stories.

First, let me say that events and anecdotes about people close to the project usually provide your most powerful stories.  For instance, I volunteer to support local food and local community gardens.  I am also on my local Artists Directory.  Last Saturday I attended a planning day for artists who among many other things want to run a month-long focus on the culinary arts with a focus on local food. They mentioned community gardens. I wanted to build enthusiasm and share a contact name. I shared this short story:

“Grace XX our county ag person, already holds events when kids cook what they grow in the Allendale Community Garden. Last time I helped, all my kids competed for the privilege to grate carrots and apples until they realized it was work … and dangerous! Most of our knuckles survived.”

Everyone there knows where Allendale is.  I wanted to build a visual image for an already successful community garden with images of the garden, maybe a big kitchen area, lots of kids, smells of the apples cooking, etc.  My secondary purpose was to establish myself as a resource.  I can put them in touch with the person who will best coordinate events.  And finally I was acknowledging that there is hard labor involved.  Too many people already approach Grace with ideas but lack the discipline to help make things happen.

I could have said, “I know the people at Allendale, call me if you need a contact. But don’t call if you just want to swoosh in and swoosh out.”

But I don’t think it would have had the same effect.

So Sheila, does this help? Does anyone else have a two-line story?

Disclaimer: This isn’t like a haiku where you can only have only so many syllables and literally X number of lines. A “two-line” story is merely a concept so we remember just how tiny a story can be.


Earn your turn!

Listen first.  If there is dead silence offer your story as a little gift to get things rolling. Begin with an obvious link to their particular use for your story.

“I am particularly interested in…

  • how you do X…because my interest in X started one time when
  • your focus on X…because I had an experience that…
  • saving us some time so I thought I’d share…

If your interviewer is already talking, listen carefully, for two reasons.  One, when you give your attention first, they are more inclined to match it with a return gift of attention.  Second, you can repeat back in their own language their exact words and link their words to your story bridging the conversation to your story.

Getting Away with it

Listen to a politician on TV or radio – no matter what question is asked the answer turns into the story they want to tell.  You can do that too.  Most questions are just probes to find out what you/your answer means to them personally. I think every interviewer has a future desire to hear “thanks” or “good job” for hiring well, as well as a present need to get the right person. If your story doesn’t address their desire or need, it won’t work.

People get irritated when you waste their time.  If your story feels like a waste of time or a hard sell – they have every right to be irritated.  So stop talking

Enhance “Yes or No” Questions

Avoid monosyllabic answers to “Yes or No” questions.  If asked a direct question:  “Have you worked overseas?” and your answer is “no” – for heaven’s sake add a story that tells a more complete and informative picture:  “When I was growing up we lived in Germany and Japan. On my first day of school in Japan…” Or if you are asked, “Can you travel?” A yes answer can be coupled with, “One day last year, I had a flight…”

What about people who want me to cut to the chase?

If a picture is worth a thousand words a story can be worth an hour or two of interviewing. Remember you are there to save them time/money/frustration anyway. You may as well start doing that during your interview.

When you deal with someone who operates with a sense of urgency it is best to match their pace. They have the power and it is a big risk to force a slower pace or go deeper too soon. Your stories will have to be lean and punchy. However don’t edit to “just the facts.”

Edit to deliver an emotional impact with the least words.   If the emotional impact is effective, they will ask for more of your story.  For example: “I prefer to lead in a collaborative manner.  But I can be directive in necessary …like the time my group’s budget was cut 30% and we had one day to decide how to deal with it. I had to push to get decisions.”

That two sentence “story” should invite a “tell me more” response.

I will be interested to hear your comments and particularly interested in responding to specific issues or questions.

Stories for a Job Interview

“I think you need at least three stories walking in to an interview.”

Whether it is a formal performance review or a potential employer evaluating us in casual conversation we are constantly being interviewed.  I will be posting a series of thought starters that walk you through finding and telling great stories that might wow an interviewer, get a promotion, or at least set the scene for your next performance review.

I think you need at least three stories walking in to an interview.  First you need a “who I am” story that says a lot about who you are and who you are not.

You also want to have ready answers to the predictable versions of “Biggest Strength and Biggest Weakness” request.  Use Value-in-Action stories.  You can describe your strength/best quality by telling a story about a time you shined.

Your story about a weakness can be an “I Blew It” that shows how this quality got you into trouble one time. This kind of story simultaneously showcases your commitment to your strength as well as demonstrates you already know how this quality can be a weakness in certain situations.

How do you come up with a story like that?

You start by asking yourself: What qualities do I bring above and beyond my resume? Two years from now what words would they use to describe why they are glad they hired me?  Discern these best core qualities and then look for a story that showcases those qualities.

When were you really tested?  Think of an event where it would have been easier even cheaper to do something else, but you held firm. For the “I Blew it” story, find an event that nags at you still – a time you recall with thoughts of “shoulda/woulda/coulda” and you will find a story.

The Premiere of EPIC

I rarely watch a movie without identifying at least one scene that will work as a story. There is always a scene you can adapt for some future date when you are hunting for a story.

Epic – the movie – is all about the story! Or I should say: stories. There are many stories interwoven in this movie. It is based on children’s book author Bill Joyce‘s The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs. Actually the story isn’t even close. There are leaf men…and bugs…but that’s about all the new story has in common with the old one. Bill Joyce won an Oscar last year for the animation put out by his studio Moonbot, located here in my hometown. It makes it easier to live in Shreveport, La. knowing that he lives here too!

Watching the movie in 3D lifted me into a green, growing micro world with blooming flowers and speeding hummingbirds ridden by leaf men and leaf women in tiny saddles. It was fun. Moonbot’s animation team loves to dance with realism enough that fantasy is visceral and sensory.

This little video about our night is my latest attempt to play with digital storytelling. I made it on my iPhone using iMovie over two hours this afternoon. Tell me what you think!

Have a look at the characters, here:

Diversity is Inclusion – Telling a story so I can hear your story

Recently a client asked me to find and record the stories in their organization that demonstrate and promote diversity. Across 48 countries this organization interacts with people from impoverished to wealthy, from indigenous to expatriates, and they know they have a problem with gender inequality.

I’m not an expert in digital storytelling. So I asked for help from Beyond Measure a couple from Austin experienced in TV and documentary production. They used two cameras and integrated still images into this demonstration video. Tell me your experiences using digital storytelling to reinforce or change values within an organization. I’m very curious about measurements to track the success of digital storytelling. I’ll be doing research on this topic and will report my findings in future posts.

Lean In! Stories about Women and the Will to Lead

I want to talk about Sheryl Sandberg and her new book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” I share her story and a few stories of my own in this video. I believe that along with storytelling tips, sending you videos like this will help develop your storytelling talents by reminding you to continually look for stories. Listening to meaningful stories should trigger memories that can develop into great stories. I hope these stories are about issues that are important to you. Let me know what you think!

Lean In: Stories about Women and Work <<< CLICK HERE!