Business storytelling and ‘White Noise’


Business StorytellingOur first floor office is on the corner of a busy CBD intersection, in the heart of Melbourne. One of the things we love about our office is the sounds of the city, the ding of passing trams, the hum of traffic and the general buzz of a city going about its business.  The one sound that cuts through all this, is the siren of emergency vehicles.

I was interested to learn that emergency sirens are designed using the concept of white noise – to cut through everything and grab our attention.  I was first introduced to the concept of white noise when Sydney had the Olympics in 2000.  Flight paths were extended over new housing estates much to the residents’ chagrin.  The council invited architects into the discussion and the architects placed simple water features in the courtyards of the houses.  The gentle soothing sound of the water became a focal point, desensitizing residents to the aircraft noise overhead.  Innovative use of white noise.

As business communicators in an information overloaded world, our challenge is, how can we create white noise instead of just noise around our messages?  I absolutely think (no surprises here!) that storytelling when done well creates ‘white noise’ focusing attention on your messages.

Tim Reid shared this wonderful example in a recent interview .  The head of  Tooheys was handing over the Melbourne Cup and everyone was bracing themselves for a boring corporate speech (lots of noise).  Instead all he said was ‘At Tooheys we are here to make the world more social’.  Wonderful use of white noise that grabbed everyone’s attention.  Needless to say everyone cheered. And the  story becomes one worth repeating and has entered Melbourne’s urban mythology, possibly forever.  So the next time you are communicating think about whether you are adding to the noise or standing out using ‘white noise’?

Business Storytelling – The Myth of the Natural Born Storyteller


In the work we do with business leaders on organsiational storytelling, we are often asked about ‘natural’ storytellers.  Granted some people are better at it than others, just like some people are better at tennis or singing than others……but everyone can get better at it with preparation and practice.

In this our first video blog, Yamini Naidu explodes the myth of the natural born storyteller. ..and shares their success secrets with you.

Business Storytelling for Leaders – What do you stand for?


Business StorytellingRecently we facilitated a storytelling workshop for Accenture in Melbourne when Ann Burns shared this story. The story gave us an insight into some of  her values.  Sharing a story like this (Annette Simmons story expert calls these ‘Who am I Stories’ ) lets people know what you stand for.

Very powerful in leadership, where people crave to know who you are and what you stand for.   Here is Anne’s story…..

“I grew up in England with two brothers.  One of my brothers was learning to ride a bicycle and every Saturday my father would take him up to a nearby hill and he would pedal down,  while all us kids watched and cheered.  He used to do this with a bike that had training wheels and after many Saturdays of this my father took the training wheels off. 

I was determined to repeat his feat and persuaded my father to let me ride down the hill too, on my bike with no training wheels.  My father very very reluctantly agreed.  I was very excited when we walked to the top of the hill.  I could see my brothers and friends at the bottom of the hill looking on.  I got on to my bike and shot off down the hill and to my shock the bike started hurtling down  the hill faster and faster, almost out of control – I could see the stunned faces of the children waiting below and before the bike hit the ground I hurled myself off onto the grass and rolled down laughing, much to everyone’s shock! 

On that day I learnt two important life lessons.  If someone can do something so can I , and no matter what you are trying in life always have an exit plan.”

Invite your audience in


Business StorytellingWalking past the building site for the new Royal Children’s Hospital.  Love the way they invite us to do what we always want to do when we pass a building site – peep in .  Notice the two peep holes – one at a child’s level?

They are already making their target audience, parents and children feel included in the new project and welcome.  Lessons for us in business and leadership…

No matter what you do we can all find ways to invite our customers or our audience in.  I was intrigued to learn how the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) does that.  When you visit a gallery you possibly spend some time reading the printed text on the gallery wall that tells you more about the art work.  Conventionally this would be put together by the curator or an expert.

The NGV has trialled projects that look at how this can be done differently for a modern audience.  In addition to the curator’s words, the wall texts initially quoted poets and other writers. When this was well received, the NGV extended a project into Victorian schools, asking children to write labels in response to the paintings.  These labels written by children were fixed to the wall alongside the conventional texts.  Imagine the delight of a child reading a wall label  written by another child, just for them.

How do I know my story worked? What does success look like in business storytelling?


As soon as you tell a story, the first thing you want to know is ‘did it work?’.  We crave that immediate feedback and sometimes, someone will tell us right away or maybe later….if we are lucky.

This would have to be the number one question leaders ask when they use a story.  “Did it work? How do I know it worked?’  We all want to know what success looks like with storytelling.

I love the elegance and simplicity of Noel Turnbull’s measure of success with storytelling. ‘Success looks likes two things – when other people start to repeat the stories and when people smile sincerely.   That’s why you tell a story’.

Of course people won’t repeat every story you tell – only the memorable sticky ones get this extended lease of life.  That is in storytelling the gold standard! So it still comes to you in a room with your audience wondering…did it bomb?  In that common scenario building on what Noel says trust your intuition.  Look  around the  room when you are narrating your story.  You can always sense the level of engagement in the room.  One of our leaders described it as ‘It felt like there was a spotlight suddenly shinning on me and and for that minute I had every one’s rapt attention’.

But this is harder said than done – we are often our own harshest critics.  Another option is to ask someone you trust.  Prep them for it and say ‘I am going to be using a couple of stories can you please look around the room and help me gauge the response to see if they worked’.  This person might also pick up the informal chatter after when people talk about your stories and give you the feedback you crave.  They can also help to validate your expereince or provide another perspective or some fresh insights.

Good stories also have a long tail. We have some clients who thought their stories didn’t work and 6 months later someone told them very casually “I still remember the story you told us about customer service ‘.  Or they get a repeat request out of the blue when someone says “John I really think you should share that story on innovation you told us in last year’s forum!”  And poor John had been wondering all that time if his story had worked.

Of course if you were hoping we would give you some hard measures of success and are disappointed please feel free to check out our Ericsson success story, which does just that.

Goldilocks storytelling – getting your messages and metaphors just right


Business StorytellingThere has been lots of media coverage with headlines like this recently ‘New Planet Discovered 2010 Gliese 581G Another Planet Like Earth?

Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz states “It’s the Goldilocks planet. That’s a well-worn analogy, but in this case it fits. We had planets on both sides of the habitable zone—one too hot and one too cold—and now we have one in the middle that’s just right”…Like earth.

Like most people I can hardly remember the name of the new planet Gliese 581g. In contrast how sticky (memorable) is the term ‘Goldilocks planet’? And as most of us know the story of Goldilocks it makes instant sense and also becomes a talking point and worth repeating. This reflects our challenges in business: How can we have compact messages that are sticky, make instant sense and are worth repeating?

Dan and Chip Heath in their book ‘Made to Stick’ say with compact messages you have to pack a lot of meaning into a little bit of messaging. One way to do that is to use what is already there. You use flags and tap into the existing memory terrain of your audience. That is why the term ‘Goldilocks planet’ works because it is using what we already know. Goldilocks is a schema (pre recorded information in our memories) we already have.

I remember attending a conference where at the end of the day each team had to present a TV news bulletin on what they learnt. That was all the instruction we needed because the facilitator was tapping into existing schema.  We all knew exactly what a TV news bulletin would look like etc.

Use schemas well and they can do a lot of heavy lifting for you.  But please steer clear of anything tired and overused like sporting metaphors…they are YAWN boring and seldom work.