The Life-Changing Magic of Hanami at work


Millions of people can’t be wrong. Both in terms of Mari Kondo’s bestseller on the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (the inspiration for this blog’s title) and in the practice of Hanami.

Hanami huh?

I have just returned from Tokyo where I was working with Goldman Sachs on business storytelling. My trip luckily coincided with the cherry blossom season. Nothing prepares you for the beauty, the lushness and the bliss like sensory experience. Cherry blossom season however is fleeting, the magic ephemeral and the beauty disappears after a short intense period.

So the Japanese celebrate this season through Hanami. Hanami is the practice of viewing cherry blossoms when they are in full bloom. At a deeper level it is spending time contemplating their beauty and fragility. Hanami could be a walk through the park or sitting on viewing benches in front of the trees or attending picnic parties under the blooms. Hanami seems to be both an act of contemplation and celebration. Joyous to experience.

My experience made me reflect on how we could all do with more hanami at work.  Not literally as hard to do in Melbourne with narry a cherry blossom in sight. But metaphorically, taking time out to contemplate, to think about our lives and work. Instead of always relentlessly surging forward to conquer that next item on our do list, deadline or project.

Hanami or my interpretation is the space we make in our lives for pausing, contemplating and celebrating. Something as simple as 3 deep breaths, can help us experience a moment of hanami. Sitting down in your favourite café and savouring that perfect cup of coffee instead of rushing off with a take away cup. Walking through a park on the way to the office. Looking deeply at a work of art – immersing yourself in its beauty. Stopping to listen to a busker.

This might sound like schmaltzy advice. For me the gritty take away is the practice of hanami is a micro holiday at work. It creates more time and energy for us to do our best work, to go deeper with our creative instincts and savour life’s moments.

3 Super ‘Story Slam’ Success Secrets for Presenters


Not long ago, I took part in a Melbourne Moth Story Slam. I share my video further down. I won! Now, I know what you are thinking: I had an unfair advantage because I am a professional storyteller. But the rules for the stories told at The Moth are very different than the rules of business storytelling. (Or that’s my story, and I am sticking to it!)

Importantly, I learned some lessons from the story slam that helped me push the boundaries when I tell business stories. I’ll share them with you here:

True personal
At The Moth, you cannot share how you were raised in a cupboard under the stairs or that, when you were 9, you discovered that you were a wizard and went to wizard school (unless you are actually Harry Potter, of course). The Moth is all about true personal events. They have to be your stories. Storytellers share tales that mean something to them—you have to own your story.

In business, many people make the mistake of reaching for the well-worn, impersonal stories—starfish, anyone? Yawn… boring. Or they rely on stories about their business. We can all afford to get much more personal. And the difference between using a business story and a personal story is the difference between a good result and a great result.

Imperfect
At The Moth, the audience loathes anything overdone, over-scripted or over-performed.

Even with my clients, I always advise them that stories are the opposite of every other communication. They work best when we don’t nail down every word, script it to a ‘T’ and memorize it. In fact, these 3 things doom your story to fail.

At The Moth, and in business, it’s the sweet spot between knowing what you are going to say and not overcooking it. In fact, The Moth also has no notes and recommends being unscripted in its guidelines.

Sensory
Angry red face, squeaky high-pitched voice, deep golden sunset. Did your mind immediately conjure up images for each of those words?

All of the above phrases are examples of sensory details. When storytellers use any one of the five senses—sight, sound, touch, smell or taste—they are weaving in sensory detail. Rich sensory detail makes stories come alive. So much of the blandness in business comes from lack of any sensory texture.

Here’s my video or listen to the podcast version. Your overwhelming response to my deeply personal comedy post has given me the courage to share this. Thank you again.

Learn more about The Moth here and find a live event near you here.

Please comment. I love hearing from you.

5 Stand-up Comedy Secrets for Presenters


Last year, I debuted as a stand-up comedian! I am being quite generous with my use of the word “debut.” A more accurate description would be a humble start of some sort. While my street cred has skyrocketed, people are always intrigued by why stand-up comedy? Stand-up comedy is simply the best personal and professional development I can get as a presenter. So, here are secrets from the world of comedy that every presenter can use. And being funny is optional.

Economy

‘All comedy starts by writing.’ This is the first thing my comedy teacher said. DUH! I simply wasn’t expecting that. But, as soon as he said it, it was bleeding obvious. Delivery might look ‘off the cuff’ (and sometimes it is), but every comedian spends time writing and rewriting. From seasoned professionals to rank amateurs, comedians write content into their iPhones, in a trusted black book and on the fly. The key aim with writing is economy of words. Finding the least amount of words that can take you from A to funny. Similarly, if you want to be a brilliant presenter, start by writing down your words. Then edit with the knife of economy. (I never said any of this would be easy!).

Edge work

Even if airline food jokes have been done to death, they still persist. Why? Because what matters in comedy is your unique perspective on things. Great comedy gets its edge from the comedian’s unique perspective. One of the simplest ways to give your presentation an edge is to bring your personal perspective in¾perhaps through a story or an example. And, if you want to be a presentation superstar, what works best is a funny story.

Emotion

Comedy comes from emotion, not from a neutral state. It comes from something you were excited about, or that made you mad, or you found funny*. In business, the hard truth is that presentations without any emotion simply flat-line for your audience. We all want to hear from presenters who care about their messages, are passionate (but not evangelical) about their content and connect to the audience through conviction. The alternative is a presentation fail.

Empty cups

You can’t fill from an empty cup. For anyone to enjoy your content (whether you are a comedian or a presenter), you first have to look like you are enjoying it. Is there a bounce in your step, a twinkle in your eye and a smile on your lips? These are visual cues for your audience.

Embrace beta

Recently, people doing the ‘open mic’ comedy circuit (which is free for audiences and performers) were surprised to see Dave Hughes performing. Dave Hughes is a huge Australian comedy star with his own radio and TV shows. Yet, he was out there, doing the hard yards, cheek and jowl, with people trying to break into the business. Hughes was demonstrating what all good comedians do¾they embrace a beta mindset. They constantly practice, showcase and road test material. Most importantly, a beta mindset learns from both the bombs and the bouquets.

OK, here’s a video of my debut performance.

Also an invitation to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2018 where I will be performing in a ‘Best of showcase’ for newbies. Excited and terrified!

Of course, I still have my day job, so you can still book me for storytelling workshops and keynotes! I am also excited to offer my new “Lead with humour’ keynote and master class.

*Of course, there are comedians whose shtick is total deadpan, and that works for them. But remember, they offset this lack of emotion by content that is hysterically funny. So, if your business presentation is hysterically funny, then go for the ‘no emotion’ show.

Business Storytelling Success Secrets for Presentations  


Leaders often ask me, “How do we use business storytelling effectively in our presentations?” Smart, successful professionals know that stories can make your presentations memorable. Here are my top business storytelling techniques for presentations.

It is important that every story you relate links to a message. Otherwise, you are wasting your audience’s time by being self-indulgent. Your stories are there to help your audience connect and remember your messages, so use your stories purposefully.

There is a humor drought in most organizations. In fact, in any other context, a drought of this magnitude would be declared a global emergency. If you want your business storytelling to rock your next presentation, make sure some of your stories are funny. Watch any TED talk by Ken Robinson, who is a storytelling master. Even the most serious story should incorporate at least one funny line.

Magic happens when you share a purposeful, funny story that is also personal. This is a trifecta. The holy grail of business storytelling.

There is a scene from The Matrix, a 1999 science fiction film, in which Neo (Keanu Reeves) points to a helicopter and asks Trinity, “Can you fly that thing?” She replies, “Not yet.” Then she calls Tank and says, “Tank, I need a pilot program for a B-212 helicopter,” and he uploads it into her brain!

Isn’t this every presenter’s dream? Where your presentation is so good that people immediately get it and remember it? While we don’t have Tank’s program, using business storytelling well is our best bet yet. Stories are Velcro for your audience’s brain, sadly almost everything else is Teflon.

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

How to use Business Storytelling like a Pro


Recently, I completed a stand-up comedy course at the School of hard knock knocks (I know!) No plans for a career change, just professional development that feeds into my speaking.

The first thing our instructor said was, ‘All comedy starts with writing.’ You could have heard a pin drop in the room. None of us ever thought that comedy starts with writing! Jerry Seinfeld writes a joke every day. He says that, at the start of every year, he hangs up a large year-at-a-glance calendar on his wall. Every day, when he writes a joke, he marks a red “X” over that day. Eventually, he creates a chain of red Xs. He says the idea is to never break that chain.

Storytelling is no different―it all starts with writing your story down. It sounds simple, but is a powerful step that separates amateurs (who try to wing it) from the pros. The trick is to write like you speak so your story isn’t stilted. Writing forces you to think, and disciplines you to keep your story short and stick to a structure (beginning, middle and end). Also once you have written your story down, you can then continue to tweak it and make improvements.

The other business storytelling technique that separates pros is they use personal stories to land a business message. Personal stories immediately engage a business audience. Yet, for a storyteller, personal stories in business take skill and confidence. It’s often challenging to find the right personal story that serves our purpose and our audience. We feel vulnerable when we share personal stories, yet we know instinctively that they pack a punch. Personal stories pressure test our risk capacity. It feels risky but with the right business storytelling training, need not be. And, as in life, the greater the risk the greater the reward. The pros know the power of business storytelling rests with personal stories.

Finally, pros make it all seem so effortless. When they share a story, it is like they are sharing it for the first time ever, even though we know this not to be true. So, what’s their secret? We had the opportunity to interview John Stewart, then CEO of National Australia Bank, who we were told was a natural storyteller. When we asked him, he laughed and replied ‘My most ad-libbed stories have been practiced for hours in front of the mirror.’ Just like in every other field (sports, music, public speaking, etc.), all pros practice.

So to be a pro at business storytelling: write your stories down, use personal stories and practice.

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

Universal versus specific in business storytelling


Yamini Naidu Business storyteller

Why are so many films about love, or the battle between good and evil, or ‘coming of age?’ Because these are universal themes with which people across cultures or geographies can connect. In a sense, they all speak to our human condition. Universal is that which resonates with all of us.

In Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, author Lisa Cron describes it as, ‘The universal is the portal that allows us to climb into the skin of characters completely different from us and miraculously feel what they feel.’

But, whether it is a script for Hollywood or your next business story, the universal has to be packaged in the specific to become accessible. Specific makes it tangible for your audience. Specific―what happens to one specific person in a specific moment in time―is when we start to unlock the magic of business storytelling.

 

Business storytelling… knowing when to quit


Yamini Naidu Business storyteller

“After all, tomorrow is another day.” In the end of the blockbuster, Gone with the Wind, this is what southern belle Scarlett O’Hara (played by Vivien Leigh) says after Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable) walks out on her with the parting shot: ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

Her entire response is ‘I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow is another day.’

Everyone remembers or knows that famous last line―brimming with potential, an ending that leaves an audience wanting more. Author Margaret Mitchell understood the power of ending at the right point, even though the novel is 1,037 pages long!

Storytelling in a novel is like swimming in the ocean―you have all the time and place in the world. However, business storytelling is like swimming in a bathtub. It has to be tight and short. One way to be concise with your business storytelling is knowing when to end. Ideally, your ending should be only one line or two short lines.

An ending leaves your audience with a message without banging them over the head with it. You imply, suggest or invite, never dictate what your audience should get from your story. In business storytelling, your ending should leave your audience wanting more.

Business storytelling mindset for success


Yamini Naidu Business storyteller

Christopher McDougall was a desperate man. He was about to embark on a gruelling challenge of a lifetime in a 50-mile race through some of the world’s toughest terrain. He had heard about the Tarahumara tribe, or ‘running people,’ a reclusive tribe who lived in the canyons of northern Mexico.

The Tarahumara tribe are renowned for this activity, often running 200 miles in one session without a rest! Despite this superhuman talent, they don’t suffer from running injuries.

Intrigued, McDougall set out to track them down and discover their secrets. Despite their reputation, they were welcoming of him and shared their secrets, which he describes in his book, Born to Run.

McDougall says that the lesson from the Tarahumara was simple: learn to love to run. The Tarahumara people have a mindset and culture based on the belief that running is an essential human skill. It is hard to be a part of the Tarahumara and not enjoy running. It’s seen as a necessity that makes them who they are as a people.

McDougall also reminds us that this running passion is not exclusive to the Tarahumara. As children, most of us run around in play with wild abandon, enjoying the freedom. However, a lot of us disconnect from this as adults.

I was immediately struck by a similar experience my clients have with storytelling. As children, we love stories―listening to them, reading them and even coming up with our own. But, sadly, as professionals in the business world, we tend to disconnect from storytelling as a valid tool. The biggest successes my clients have had with business storytelling is when they have embraced it as a mindset, often challenging one another by saying, ‘What are some of the stories we are going to share?’ And this is across contexts. Could be for a pitch, an important client meeting, a team briefing or even a corridor conversation.

A few years ago, I was featured in BOSS Magazine, along with some of my clients from Nab, Ericsson and Accenture. The then Managing Director of Accenture, Jack Percy, is quoted as saying ‘Storytelling doubled our revenue.’ The key reason was that their organisation embraced a business storytelling mindset.

How to use business storytelling like a pro


Recently, I completed a stand-up comedy course at the School of hard knock knocks (I know!) No plans for a career change, just professional development that feeds into my speaking.

The first thing our instructor said was, ‘All comedy starts with writing.’ You could have heard a pin drop in the room. None of us ever thought that comedy starts with writing! Jerry Seinfeld writes a joke every day. He says that, at the start of every year, he hangs up a large year-at-a-glance calendar on his wall. Every day, when he writes a joke, he marks a red “X” over that day. Eventually, he creates a chain of red Xs. He says the idea is to never break that chain.

Storytelling is no different―it all starts with writing your story down. The trick is to write like you speak so your story isn’t stilted. Writing your story down forces you to think, and disciplines you to keep your story short and stick to a structure (beginning, middle and end). It sounds simple, but is a powerful step that separates amateurs (who try to wing it) from the pros. Also, once you have written your story down, you can then continue to tweak it and make improvements.

The other business storytelling technique that separates the pros from the amateurs is pros use personal stories to land a business message. Personal stories immediately engage a business audience. Yet, for a storyteller, personal stories in business take skill and confidence. It is often challenging to find the right personal story that serves our purpose and our audience. We feel vulnerable when we share personal stories, yet we know instinctively that they pack a punch. Personal stories in business are pressure tests on our risk capacity. They feel risky but, with the right business storytelling training, are not. And, as in life, the greater the risk, the greater the reward. The pros know the power of business storytelling rests with personal stories.

Finally, pros make it all seem so effortless. When they share a story, it is like they are sharing it for the first time ever, even though we know this not to be true. So, what’s their secret? We had the opportunity to interview who we were told was a natural storyteller―John Stewart, then CEO of National Australia Bank. When we asked him, he laughed and replied ‘My most ad-libbed stories have been practiced for hours in front of the mirror.’ Just like in every other field (e.g., sports, music, public speaking, etc.), all pros practice. They practice, and then they practice some more.

So to be a pro at business storytelling: write your stories down, use personal stories and practice.

Why ‘A Dalmatian ate my burrito’ holds the secret to brilliant business storytelling?


“A dog ate my lunch,” my client Jen recently tweeted. She then replaced it with, “A Dalmatian ate my burrito,” and Twitter immediately exploded! People loved it. Why?

What separated those two tweets and transformed “ho hum” into “ha ha?” The magic happened when she was specific―a Dalmatian (not just any dog) and a burrito (not just a generic lunch).

Being specific is the key to good business storytelling. Relating a specific moment in time, a specific event, a specific person. There―have I said the word “specific” enough times?

This sounds easy but is a stumbling block for many professionals when using business storytelling. We are often good with the abstract and the general. Yet, for your story to resonate, it has to be concrete and specific.

JFK, the president of America in the 1960s, nailed this when he said: “We want to put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth by the end of the decade.” Very concrete and specific. Dan and Chip Heath, in their bestseller, Made to Stick ponder what JFK would have said if he were a modern-day CEO. They think he probably would have said, “Through strategically targeted aerospace initiatives and team-centered innovation…” (abstract and general).

Being specific, like the tweet above creates emotion (makes people feel something) and sensory data (paints a picture). People can visualize images in their mind’s eye centered around what you are saying. Being specific is the key to business storytelling success.

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