Stop Kony 2012 – key lessons in communication

Business StorytellingOnly if you were hiding under a rock all of last week could you have missed the Kony 2102 viral video campaign. The campaign swept the Internet, becoming the number one news topic, raising over $15 million dollars in two days and attracting over 70 million views. Even our hairdresser was talking about it!

The Washington Post summarizes its success by noting “the viral video campaign has achieved something very real that essentially nothing else up to this point could — broad exposure and emotional connection that now carries many tens of thousands, if not more, of passionate supporters”.

Wherever you stand on the broad spectrum of public opinion on the campaign from praise to criticism there are some core communication tips every leader can learn from its success – and none of them have to do with the power of social media.

Make me care

The most important communication commandment if you want to influence, and shift behavior is ‘ make me care’. Make me care about your message, emotionally, intellectually, and physically.

The hard-nosed truth is most leadership communication doesn’t make people care.  What would make your audience care and please it can’t be the prosaic like it’s important, or it makes sense.  It has to be bigger than that.  The Kony 2012 campaign makes us care about child soldiers.  How I hear you ask.  They do it by using stories.

Filmmaker Jason Russell uses three stories to weave his narrative.  He draws us in with the story of his gorgeous five-year-old son called Gavin.  The story of his African friend Jacob and finally the story of the difference everyone can make.  Moving, engaging and above all authentic.  Note the strategic choice of stories – he chooses not to tell us the story of Uganda or even Kony himself, but chooses these other lenses – simple, fresh and yet powerful.  The story through his son Gavin, engages us as the innocent, the story of his friend Jacob takes us to the harsh brutality of life in Uganda.  Again we are moved and shaken but by focusing on just one person – Jacob, we feel connected and not overwhelmed.  By then moving on to the story to what people all over the world have done, he moves makes us feel empowered, knowing we can make a difference.


Call to action

The Kony 2012 invites action; otherwise all its power and 30 minutes of our time have been wasted.  It was designed to provoke action.  This is as simple as using social media to like, share, tweet, or to donate money or purchase an action kit.

This campaign succeeds where many business communications fail.  The people behind STOP KONY fully understood what they wanted their listeners to do, feel or think differently after hearing their message.  When working with our business leaders we often ask them, “What do you want your staff to do, feel or think differently after the presentation or briefing?”.  The vast majority cannot answer this in the detail required and respond with a “I want them to get excited about it, or get behind it”.  And then get frustrated when nothing changes.

Get key influencers on board early

Jason Russell the creator of Kony 2012 gets the power of celebrities.  He says in his video “Celebrities, athletes and billionaires have a loud voice and what they talk about spreads instantly”.  His campaign targeted influencers like Bono, Oprah and Rhianna and was closing in on 39 million YouTube views the day it was launched.

Now in business we are not suggesting you get Bono or Oprah out for your next internal strategy briefing to staff, although it would no doubt get people turning up …but ask yourself “Who are the influencers – the movers and shakers in our world?”  Can you get them onboard first so they influence the way your messages are received?  If you can get them talking and excited, that will have a ripple effect all through your business.  We are not talking about the token ‘change champions’ but people who in an informal sense are key influencers.

So three timeless and proven methods of communication we can all learn from the success of the Stop Kony 2012 campaign:

  • Get people to care through stories
  • Be clear on what you want people to do, feel or think differently
  • Enlist key influencers, early

Do that and you are well on your way to success.

Leaders how to find your Communication Mojo NOW!

In an Austin Powers movie, Austin loses his mojo – stolen by Dr Evil and then destroyed!  The Dr Evils of Leadership communication are corporate jargon (executional excellence anyone?), and mojo destroying PowerPoint slides, dense with data.

So how can you as a leader restore your communication mojo, if it’s lost or destroyed? Today’s leadership literature states that people crave connection & authenticity in their leaders.   Where better to show this than in your communication & let your communication mojo shine.

A skill that can help you build connections is storytelling.  This is story shared by a leader that does just that.

“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.”

Ann Burns, Accenture

This kind of storytelling because it is a true personal experience, has a healthy level of self-disclosure & humility helps people connect with you.  It’s refreshing and packed with mojo!

But how do you get authenticity from communication like this?  People can immediately sense authenticity. For any storytelling to work it has be authentic.  People will immediately sense if it is or not.

Imagine this story used in a presentation or woven into a team meeting at an appropriate point of course.  So much more mojo laden than the usual clichés of  “Believe in yourself”, or even worse some turgid jargon fest intended to convey the same message.

The Austin Powers film has a happy ending as Austin finds even though Dr Evil destroyed his mojo, he had his mojo inside him all along!  He simply had to be encouraged to find it.   So there’s hope for all of us as leaders – we have our communication mojo in us already, and just have to have the courage and confidence to set it free.

Fun At Work?

Business StorytellingOn March 15th the Hub turns One.  And on top of that, the Hub has just moved into a brand new expanded space. So the first thing that popped up was ‘PARTY TIME”.  It’s a Mad Hatter’s Party that promises to be an awesome night with entertainment, music and DJs!  There’s a great poster advertising the party  and everyone is buzzing about it.

This made me think about how often do we have fun at work?  Doesn’t have to be party fun but could even be small things. I remember in one of my previous workplaces on stinking hot days the boss would do an ice cream run.  So perfect!  And sometimes we had ice cream just randomly on Fridays.  When I worked at an office in Box Hill we used to do a ‘Custard Bun’ run to a nearby Vietnamese bakery.  Of course we tried not to do this more than once a week.  Oops both my examples are food related, but the purpose was to show it doesn’t have to be a big affair, even small things that perk people up and break the monotony of the work week all help.

Bernie Dekoven a ‘Fun Coach’ says even meetings can be fun with toys, food and games and believes ‘When fun gets deep enough it can heal the world’. Fun is serious business.

Of course fun can be intrinsic to your work – when you love what you do you probably have fun doing it …most days.  To paraphrase a  Marian Keyes one of my favourite authors  work is not meant to be all fun & relaxing, ‘That’s why it’s called work, otherwise it would be called ‘Deep Tissue massage’.

Some thought and effort have to go into making work fun.  I remember recently watching ‘Date night’ where Steve Carrel & Tina Fey play a married couple whose domestic life had become boring and routine. To reignite their romance they create a weekly ‘date night’ and both action and comedy ensues.  I’m not suggesting a date night for work – more like a date with fun where we think of different things we can do to make work fun…and both action and comedy will ensue.

When have you had fun at work? We Would love for you to share what fun ideas you have had at work.

Is Storytelling the new black?

A new General Manager has joined one of our client’s organisations. And the word has spread that when he meets people in the lift he asks them ‘So what’s your story?’ GULP.  A sure fire way to kill any conversation, most people feel cornered with this one & mutter hum ha and then hastily dash out at the next floor, whether it’s their stop or not.

We are definitely seeing the word story used everywhere, from the company story, to the brand story, to the tag line for a budget airline that says ‘Low prices are just half the story’.

So if storytelling is the new black how do you wear it well?  As the self nominated  ‘story fashion police’ here are our tips.

For GAWD’s sake stop calling everything that moves a story!  Just calling something a story doesn’t make it a story.  We were working with a client who kept talking about their retail story.  When asked to explain further they promptly launched into their retail strategy.  So it wasn’t a story it was their strategy.  It’s still OK to have a strategy (in fact it’s highly recommended) and even better is to call it a strategy.  You can then have a range of stories that help people understand and connect with your strategy.

This brings me to my next piece of advice – always aim for a range of stories – no one story can encompass a whole strategy or a whole brand.  Having just the one story is like having just one black suit and trying to wear it all year around, in summer, in winter, to the beach, skiing, in the garden, on weekends…you get the point.

Similarly you need a range of stories to communicate your strategy or your brand.

Nordstrom the upmarket retailer in America has ‘Outstanding customer service’ as one of its core values.  And they communicate what they mean by this through a range of stories. Like the story of a Nordstrom employee who made a house call to exchange a pair of shoes and another one about Nordstrom splitting two pairs of shoes in order to fit a customer with different sized feet.

And finally never ask for a story / stories.  It’s like asking people to tell you a really funny joke.  It puts people under too much pressure.  Instead ask the right questions to draw out the stories.  So if you are looking for stories around your customer service ask people “Can you think of a time when you or someone you know made a customer happy?”  You need lots of questions, to draw out the stories and some patience.  It will take some time for people to warm up and often the first or second story will spark more stories.

For example every register at Nordstrom stores has pen and paper for customers to share their customer service experiences. Every morning before each store opens, Nordstrom employees gather in the main lobby for the store manager to share some of the best experiences from the previous day and reward the employees in those stories.

Storytelling is definitely the new black and just like black it’s both timeless and classic…or is that just a Melbourne thing?!

Bright ideas – where do they come from?

Business StorytellingMark Henderson was sitting in a coffee shop when he asked the barista what they did with the used coffee grounds. “We just put them in the bin” was the reply. Mark also found out that, the shop alone threw out about 10 kilograms of grounds a day.  He thought there must be a better way and started to research how coffee grounds could be used to produce fertiliser.

Anecdotally I also know a few people who put coffee grounds into their gardens because they have heard it’s good for gardens, but no one thought of taking it further than that.

Mark and his friend Geoff Howell did and  quit their jobs as IT consultants and set up ‘Espressogrow‘, which plans to pay coffee shops for their used grounds, and then turn it into organic fertiliser at a central manufacturing plant .  Wow, what a neat idea. As an entrepreneur I am always interested in where people’s ideas come from – like Mark’s it could be with our next cup of coffee?  The mindset that drives this is usually ‘There must be a better way’.

The desires that drive us to connect

 Recently we had the pleasure of both presenting and attending the Creative Innovation 2011 conference in Melbourne.  The theme was ‘Challenges and opportunities in a super connected world’ and expert after expert presented cutting edge ideas from the present as well as  glimpses of the future…including do you want to live for ever (Raymond Kurzweil)?

But what are conferences if not to be provocative and present us contrary points of view?  Hugh Mackay, leading psychologist and pioneering social researcher did just that, in his session ‘The desires that drive us to connect’.

Hugh Mackay presented the double paradox of a super connected world.  The illusion that technology brings us together, but actually keeps us apart.  He gave the example of face book friends who met up for coffee and had nothing to say to each other as they already knew everything that was happening in each other’s lives!  The other paradox is the more we connect online, the more likely we are to frustrate our deep human desires to connect. So what are our 3 deep human desires?

One of our key desires is to connect with each other. Not through data transfer but through communication that nurtures us, connects us.  We need to see and feel the expression on people’s faces, their posture, the tone of their voice, how they are dressed, and their words and we take all this into account when we are trying to interpret meaning from each other.  Technology that uses just words, is stripping out the connection and communication that happens through the conduit of personal relationships not through cyberspace.  He used the paradoxical fact that we all choose to physically attend the conference, which could have easily been done online, and also was available via face book, twitter etc as illustration of this desire!

As part of this desire we have to understand that the key to effective communication is not brighter, smarter technology but brighter, smarter listening. Yes that old chestnut.  The barriers are not technology based but based in our ability to listen. Mackay also presented research that showed there was a direct correlation between increasing workplace boredom and time spent at the screen… we always suspected that!  My take on this is even though people grumble about the number of meetings they have to attend, attending meetings no matter how tedious or boring might be tapping into this desire of ours to connect with other people face to face.

Our second deep desire is to connect with the natural world.  That is why even in high rises you can spot a struggling pot plant on the 14th floor.  Some of us express this through our pets, our gardens, bush walking etc.  This explains me seeing this as a self indulgent photo opp for my dog!

Our third desire is to connect with ourselves and unless this happens or has happened the other two won’t work.  This brings to mind the old adage ‘Know thyself’, which the esteemed psychologist Carl Rogers described as a life long project.  So what are ways in which we can connect with ourselves? Mackay cited meditation, psychotherapy,and creative self expression, art, music, writing.  To this list I would like to  add laughter, and for me personally both exercise and reading help me connect to myself. So any regular creative activity that both stimulates and stills us.

Hugh Mackay is by no means a Luddite and is not presenting this as a  dichotomous view of the world but cautioning us to do both – while we embrace technology not to forget what our three desires as human beings are.

Mackay’s presentation actually filled me with optimism, as some things never change.   We are all afraid of getting left behind by a relentless technology tsunami.  But now no matter how fast or rapidly technology changes, being able to connect face to face with other people, being able to connect with nature and with our own selves will always be the key.  And fulfilling these desires will enable us to thrive and connect with what matters most…of course while still lugging our iPad from conference to conference.

Reframing the problem? Let’s drink to that

Business StorytellingAs an entrepreneur I am fascinated (unhealthily?) by what sparks ideas in other entrepreneurs.  Most people would be familiar with wotif, an Australian success story.  In 1999, Graeme Wood was a consultant when hotels presented him with their problem of last minute room availability.  He saw this as an opportunity and founded wotif to make these rooms available at discounted prices…and now we have a global business.

I was presented with this same ingenuity when listening to Simon Griffiths  (pictured) an engineer, economist turned entrepreneur.

Simon knew that biggest bug bearer for ‘not for profits’ and ‘charities’ is fund raising.  They constantly have to get us to donate money and we on the other hand suffer from what is described as ‘compassion fatigue’.  We are sick of constantly being asked for money or already have hand picked a few causes we support, but feel guilty or resentful and really altruism should make us feel better about ourselves and the world!

Simon then thought about this problem differently and came up with the concept of the ‘consumer philanthropist’.  Instead of asking people for money, what if we looked at what they already consume and  tap into that?  So he set up Shebeena non-profit bar in Melbourne. It sells exotic beer and wine from the developing world. The profit from each drink sale supports a development project in that drink’s country of origin.  A drink for Kenya?  Go for it.  Today Shebeen supplies its beer to various venues.  But then he hit his next hurdle, not everyone drinks beer and not everyone is happy to drink African beer.  So what other consumer product could he tap into?  He has now come up with his next venture, called ‘Who Gives A Crap’, which produces toilet paper manufactured entirely from recycled materials. 50% of the profits of this toilet paper will be used to build toilets in the developing world.  Ingenious and the name always makes audiences roar with laughter.

Simon’s concept could revolutionise the globe – turning everyday consumers into philanthropists – let’s drink to that.

Presenters, how to make your presentations twitter friendly

Business Storytelling

I recently had the pleasure of attending  TedX Melbourne .  Like all the TED events there was a great array of speakers, with an engaged audience, hungry for information.  I love the format – 18 minutes per speaker and most of the speakers went the presentation equivalent of the ‘full monty’, no PowerPoint or visuals.

For the first time I also felt the entire playing field had changed. Right through the conference lots of participants were tweeting.  The person next to me had his laptop, his iPad and his phone out but also used a good old fashioned pen and paper to take notes…so some things never change.

Like everyone else in the audience I was both listening to the presenters and keeping an eye on twitter to see how the audience was responding, all in real time.  It was interesting and confronting (and I wasn’t even presenting!)  to see how immediate the feedback was, what people were saying almost in response to every point the speaker was making.  So as a presenter how can you make your presentation twitter friendly?

The good news is some of the rules of a good presentation haven’t changed at all, but there are some new things to consider.

One – As always it is all about your preparation, preparation & preparation.  You can never be over prepared and if you are under prepared, the twitter comments will let you know at once!  As part of  your preparation know the rules of engagement.  For example at TED one of the mandates for speakers is ‘Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage’.  One speaker who was unaware of this or chose to ignore it received a verbal bashing on twitter.  Twitter audience is quick off the mark and unforgiving in this respect.

Two – Make every word count, no fluff, extraneous padding, jargon or mindless repetition.  Like Mark Twain said ‘The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lighting and the lighting bug’.  Make sure all the bugs are ironed out of your presentation.

Three– Having a very clear structure still matters, so the audience can follow you easily.  But try not to be clichéd or too conventional with structure.  Trust your audience’s intelligence in being able to follow you without an obvious power point hierarchy (yawn, boring).

Four– Be disciplined and have 2 or 3 key messages, only.  We can never stress this enough and to be twitter friendly your message should be in the form of a sound bite that can be easily tweeted.  Remember the twitter limitation of 140 characters.  This is great discipline for presenters as if you can make your key point in 140 characters you have it nailed. When your audience engages with a message it will be tweeted over and over again by different people and then retweeted.  This is GOOD and the presentation equivalent of a standing ovation except the everyone globally on twitter can see it / hear it.

FiveUse Storytelling.  Because how else could you convey complex information quickly and engagingly?  The only time people stopped tweeting completely during TedX Melbourne was when one of the presenters, Liza Boston, started narrating a story – she had everyone’s attention in the room for the 3 minutes.  And one of the first tweets after said ‘Liza Boston’s presentation alone has made the admission price worth it!’.

Six– Don’t be distracted by the lack of eye contact.  Even though everyone is looking at their phones , they are still listening to you, except they are listening differently.  They are listening to you and also listening to what the twitterverse is saying.

Seven – Be yourself, be authentic and use your personality.  People love that and will respond to you like a real person which of course you are.

Eight – After your presentation, take a big deep breath first, and then look at the twitter feed.  This is the best feedback you will ever receive as a presenter and a great learning opportunity.

This is by no means a complete list so please add to it.

Bruce Springsteen and Customer Service?

Business StorytellingEarlier this month we conducted a workshop in Melbourne and this is where Matt Ritchie, National Manager, Sales Strategy & Delivery at MLC Advice Product shared this story:

‘I was recently reading a magazine that featured an interview with Bruce  Springsteen.  Bruce Springsteen has been a musician and performer for over 20 years and has a tremendous reputation as a live act.  The interviewer asked him how he kept up his motivation to deliver night after night.  To which Springsteen replied “It was when I realised that, while for me, every night is a “Bruce Springsteen concert night” there are 1000’s of people in the audience, who have spent their money to see a Bruce Springsteen concert maybe for the first and only time in their lives.   They may only come to one Bruce Springsteen concert in their life and I want to give them the best ever Bruce Springsteen experience. And thats what keeps me going night after night”.  

Reading that reminded me of  us at work every day.  While we might take hundreds of calls, for  a customer who rings us, that might be the only contact they have with MLC, this might be the only “Bruce Springsteen concert” they go to.  Imagine the difference we can make if every time  our customers got the full Bruce Springsteen experience…’

The story struck a chord with everyone in the group and what a powerful and memorable frame for thinking about, and delivering customer service – the  Bruce Springsteen experience.

We are sharing this with you to illustrate that telling a personal story (and as you can see from this one it does not have to be the most revealing personal moment in your life) and linking it back to a business message can be really refreshing and powerful in business.

Why I do what I do? Business storytelling at its compelling best

Business Storytelling‘In July 1985, 5 year old Eve van Grafhorst was banned from attending her local kindergarten in Kincumber, NSW.  Eve was HIV positive and had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion when she was born.  This was the time of the grim reaper ads about AIDS and families in the town of Kincumber would cross the street to avoid Eve and her family.  Completely ostracised Eve and her family migrated to Hastings, New Zealand where I met her while working for the newspaper. 

One day in New Zealand Eve decided to raise money for AIDS awareness by selling hugs for $1.00 at the local mall. Everyone was giving her a hug and helping her raise money except for this one man who was watching from a distance.  I asked him if he planned to give her a hug and he told me ‘I am scared to give her a hug as I might catch something’.  I told Eve and she went over to the man and gently talked to him for nearly an hour at the end of which he gave her a hug and $1.00 and there wasn’t a dry eye in the mall.  When I saw how this little girl could work for an hour to raise $1.00 to make a difference I realised how much I could do to make a difference. 

This was my turning point and I decided to set up my company m.a.d.woman, committed to encouraging, inspiring and enabling people to make a positive difference in the environment, community and to the lives of people who need support.  Eve died peacefully aged 11 in her mother’s arms. She remains one of the most inspiration people in my life.’

Melina Schamroth

We recently had the privilege of hearing this story shared by Social entrepreneur Melina Schamroth, on why she set up her business.  We were also so delighted to learn that on on Friday night m.a.d.woman was named the National Winner of the 2011 Telstra Business Awards – Yellow Pages Social Responsibility category. GO Melina!

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