What is the NEW currency of change?


Copyright Beth Jennings Photography 2016_Yamini Naidu_WEB-6840

How do we persuade people to adopt our ideas, listen to what we have to say and even be inspired to act?

If you lived in 16th century Venice, the answer would be easy. You would do it through fear, as suggested by diplomat and political theorist, Niccolờ Machiavelli.

Successful, smart leaders in the 21st century know that hard power (fear, command and control, yell and tell) is not the way to create long-lasting, sustainable influence or change.

In the 1990s, Professor Joseph Nye introduced us to the idea of soft power–creating change through connecting, consulting and collaborating.

Most leaders know that soft power is how we get people on board. Think of soft power as sowing seeds and planting a garden—worth the long-term results but difficult for the impatient.

However, research informs us that over 70% of change efforts in organisations simply fail. So, using just these two tools (hard power and soft power) will make many of our change efforts unsuccessful.

The new currency of change is as old as time yet is the contemporary tool of our time. It is business storytelling. A purposeful, authentic story in business can influence, persuade and motivate people. Here’s an example from a client on what this looks like.

John Kotter, the leading authority on change, declared, ‘Change leaders make their points in ways that are as emotionally engaging and compelling as possible. They rely on vivid stories that are told and retold. You don’t have to spend a million dollars and six months to prepare for a change effort. You do have to make sure that you touch people emotionally…’

Simply stated, hard power informs, soft power invites and story power inspires.

Not for a moment am I suggesting to share one story, and you will instantly influence 100% of the people. No one story can do that, and no one deserves that level of influence; you would never want to have a bad idea in that case. But, over and over again with clients, I have seen that purposeful stories, crafted and shared with authenticity, inspire and create and power and mandate for change.

The currency of change has changed. Are you trading in this new currency?

Where Will Storytelling Be 1 Year From Now? 


unnamed

You can’t throw a stone without hitting a storytelling consultant today. Yet, I remember a lot of blank stares when we co-founded Australia’s first storytelling company 10 years ago. Our first 18 months were spent answering questions from puzzled people, such as ‘How can you storytell in business?’ and ‘Aren’t storytellers natural?’

Yes, we know today you can storytell in business, and you should if you want to connect with and engage your audience. However, storytelling is not a natural gift, but everyone can learn how to get better at it.

It’s wonderful to see how, in just the last decade, business storytelling has become established as essential in both business and leadership. It is widely taught across the globe and part of most leadership development programs. This then begs the question, what’s next for business storytelling?

We are going to experience a tsunami of storytelling across all platforms, digital media and sectors—marketing, advertising and professional services, just to name a few. In addition to data, stories are going to become de rigueur. Nobody is going to buy or be persuaded to change simply based on data.

‘Show me the money’ is going to be reinvented as ‘Tell me the story.’  Google’s own ad on search is a wonderful example of this. Already there is a recognition that storytelling is the fuel that drives compelling engagement face to face and on social media.

In turn, this means our audiences are going to be much more discerning. The authentic, well-told story will wow. Spin passed off as stories will incur well-deserved wrath. Social media will amplify success and failure.

So, where will storytelling be one year from now? Here’s my snapshot view:

  • More competition—everyone will be doing it across industries and in roles from leadership to marketing
  • Audiences will be more discerning and more vocal
  • This is the biggie – There will be a chasm between good, bad and ugly storytelling

So, how are you preparing for this storytelling revolution?

Please share, I love hearing from you.

Hijacked or Precious? 


Copyright Beth Jennings Photography_Yamini Naidu_Public Storytelling Workshop_Web-3774

I introduced myself at a recent event as a business storyteller, which is what I am. There was a time when no one understood what the word meant. Not so today. The person next to me then introduced himself: ‘I am a storyteller too and tell stories with numbers.’ Everyone just looked confused. We later found out that he was an accountant!

One part of me celebrated. The word storyteller is now so sexy that it’s being hijacked. But another part of me was unconvinced.

Stefan Semester, of the design firm, Sagmeister & Walsh, doesn’t mince his words when he calls this bluff: I think all the storytellers are not storytellers. Recently I read an interview with someone who designs roller coasters and he referred to himself as a ‘storyteller.’ No @%$#head, you are not a storyteller, you’re a roller coaster designer! And that’s fantastic and more power to you, but why would you want to be a storyteller if you design roller coasters?”

Until I read his work, I thought I was being precious about labels.
It turns out we all can and should story tell—it makes what we do engaging, interesting and relevant. But using storytelling as a tool versus being a storyteller are two totally different things.

It’s not (just) that my nose is out of joint (really!). I worry that it reflects a deeper problem. If you describe yourself as a storyteller when you are an accountant, then the very first story you are sharing is spin. Not cool.

I totally get that in a fluid agile work environment, the work we do cannot always be distilled into one or two words. Right till the 1980s the census job question only asked what is your title? Today the census features a 2-part question: What is your title? What do you do? Because titles like ‘Chief Fun Officer’ beg for more information.

So whether you are filling a census form or describing what you do to someone my advice is the same. Celebrate what you do! And find a sexy way to describe it (without hijacking the word storyteller). Unless, of course, you really are a professional business storyteller.

How would you describe what you do?

Please share, I love hearing from you.

A Star and a Suggestion


pexels-photo-247245

One of our highest needs is appreciation. This is true even if you are not normally needy!

My daughter was telling me her violin teacher has created a simple way for the kids to appreciate one other after a performance. They use a system called “star and a suggestion.” A star would be one thing I liked about your violin playing, and a suggestion is one thing to do better/differently. A simple frame and an easy way for kids to learn the art of appreciation.

Business, of course, is a much more hard-nosed place. We, as employees, want our individuality and our contributions at work recognised in some way. Imagine our delight if we are recognised as customers.

A group of customers was invited to test out a new model ATM for TD Bank in Canada. When they tested these ATMs, they found out that they were Automated Thanking Machines and not Automated Teller Machines. The ATMs spat out gifts instead of balances, not just mundane movie tickets but well thought-out gifts. A mother with a sick daughter in Trinidad received a plane ticket. Another parent received a family pack of passes to take her kids to Disneyland. Through #TDThanksYou day, the bank thanked over 30,000 customers—some receiving money in their bank accounts at a branch or via direct deposit. The emotionally heartfelt responses of their customers speak to the thoughtfulness of this idea.

The #TDThanksYou day event continues to this day following its successful launch in 2014.

#TDThanksYou day poses a challenge for all of us in business. It raises the bar. While we might have plenty of suggestions for our customers, how can we give them a star?

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

Shhh this is private…


kristina-flour-185592

Our biggest fear with storytelling is that we might disclose too much. It is after all storytelling and not group therapy! At work, no one wants to be like that friend on Facebook who overshares.

The paradox is that successful storytelling requires vulnerability. This then begs the question—how can we do storytelling and do it well?

When working with clients, I suggest thinking in terms of ‘storytelling wells’. These wells are what you use to draw your stories. They provide you with storytelling ideas. The wells help us strike a balance between vulnerability and oversharing.

Public story well

These are stories that are available in the public domain.
For example, check out how thought leader Carolyn Tate uses the Golden Buddha story (available in the public domain) to create a link to her message. You could use this story too and land it on a message that is relevant to your audience.

Professional story well

These are stories about things that happen at work. Zappos is an online retailer with a core value to ‘deliver WOW through service’. A legendary customer service story is how Zappos shipped a pair of shoes at no charge to a customer whose Zappos shoe order had been delivered to the wrong location. The customer was a best man at a wedding, and the replacement order literally saved the day.

Personal story well

This is powerful stuff in business yet it requires some level of self-disclosure and vulnerability. Here is an example of a personal story I share on my website and LinkedIn profile.

Private story well

These are stories you decide not to share; they are private. You as the storyteller decide what is private for you. Sometimes a client wants to share a story about having undergone a serious illness. The test I recommend my clients use is, what is the purpose of this? And how does this serve the room (help your audience)? If the line between personal and private is blurry, this simple test can help you.

Understanding and using these storytelling wells prevent your stories from floundering on the rocks of inappropriate disclosure.

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

Revenge of the analogue?


lavender-flower-purple-nature-158644

Every year, I do an annual holiday with my oldest childhood friends. A ‘girls only’ holiday, no partners or kids. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my year. Last year, one of my friends brought some of the letters we had written to each other when we were teenagers. We read the letters aloud to each other, all of us often convulsing in fits of laughter. Oh, the angst of being 18, our ability to make mountains out of molehills and the all-important self-aggrandizement.

The smell of the old letter paper, the faded and splotchy ink on the page and the now-obsolete aerograms brought back a flood of memories.

We may never see the rise of the handwritten letter again, but we are starting to see a new dance with the analogue: the resurgence of vinyl records, the soaring sales of moleskin notebooks and even the revival of film, as in film for your camera. Interestingly, this isn’t just fuelled by the nostalgia of middle-aged customers but actually driven by a new breed of younger consumers.

David Sax, in Revenge of the Analogue: Real things and why they matter, explains, ‘surrounded by the digital, we now crave experiences that are more tactile, and human centric.’

This isn’t a call to embrace our inner ‘Luddite,’ for those of us who still have one, that is. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s a recognition that big business has thrown out the analogue baby with the bathwater. So, when we design high-tech digital strategies, what are some high-touch analogue things we can do for our customers? Every business definitely needs a digital strategy, but, if you were to map an analogue strategy, what would it look like?

Please comment; I would love to hear from you!

What drives us to reach our potential?


Beer and diamonds…how to showcase your ‘uglies’


copyright-beth-jennings-photography-2016_yamini-naidu_web-6850

Recently I was walking past a popular bar near my house and the ad in the window said:

‘Over rated
Beer too cold
No empty seats’

The tag line: ‘Come in and see why 7% of people don’t like us’.

I love it – taking a negative and crafting it into a positive narrative, using humour and authenticity. An anti-ad ad.

In a hyped-up world, where most products pretend to be perfect, the ugly ducklings stand out. Especially uglies that are comfortable in their skin and craft it into a strength.

What does this have to do with diamonds you ask? In the Argyle diamond mines in Australia, the diamonds mined were all brown. A potential marketing catastrophe. Customers eagerly seek glistening white diamonds, known as Champagne diamonds. Might customers spurn what seemed like an inferior diamond, based on its colour? Urban legend has it that the global advertising company, Saatchi & Saatchi, were paid mega bucks to solve this challenge. They came up with the idea of calling brown diamonds, Cognac. So diamonds range from Champagne to Cognac. Sheer genius.

So what needs to be considered when we showcase our ‘uglies’?

  • It can’t be a ‘faux’ ugly. You know, like the interview candidate who, when asked for their weaknesses, says ‘Oh. I’m a perfectionist’. Right! Next. No, it’s got to be real – not fishing for compliments – that is just annoying and twee.
  • Don’t fake it. Don’t call attention to uglies that exist only in your imagination. A speaker might apologise for their accent when the audience is thinking, what accent?
  • Sometimes it’s OK to admit to an ugly – an undeniable one –acknowledge it (customers love honesty), and then switch to focus on a positive.

So how are you going to turn your uglies around? Please share I love hearing from you.

The immutable law of storytelling success


copyright-beth-jennings-photography_yamini-naidu_public-storytelling-workshop_web-3888

I am an economist by training (please don’t stop reading here!).  One of the most famous laws in economics is The law of diminishing returns.  In everyday language the law  tells us that,  after a point in time the more you put into something the less you get back.

The law of diminishing returns has broader applications not just in economics but across life. In a call centre, for instance, service level improvements decline in proportion to each additional successive agent added.  An example that a lot of people can relate to is how good that first piece of cake tastes ..the second piece not that good and the third piece yuck….diminishing returns in operation.

So what does this have to do with storytelling?  Storytelling like most things in life is subject to this law.  Do you remember the famous line popularised by the film Jerry Macguire?  This is when Jerry Macguire (Tom Cruise) flies back home to meet Dorothy (Renée  Zellweger) to tell her that he loves her.  She tells him “You had me at hello“.  Our challenge is to find that same ‘sweet spot’ in our stories where we have our audience and to stop our stories there….sadly it’s unlikely to be at hello.

Perversely I think for storytellers that sweet spot is when you end at the exact right moment.  There is a point in your story where you have your audience – and if your story continues beyond this point you actually start to lose them, as the law of diminishing returns kick in.

That is one of the reasons why over-long stories simply don’t work.  Quite often with  long stories there is a lot of unnecessary detail and the point is often laboured or repeated.  The only way to know is to practice and bounce your story against a trusted colleague and gauge where the best place to end your story is.  End your story at the right point, at the top of the curve and you get the optimum results for your story.  Just like cake with storytelling it is knowing when to stop.

Beyond Binary: How to grab your audience’s attention 


Copyright Beth Jennings Photography 2016_Yamini Naidu_WEB-6833

“We work with people who only want the data; the facts. Do I just stick with facts or tell stories?” This is a frequent statement I hear from leaders all over the world.

Most leaders stick with just the data, often stemming from their subject matter or technical expertise. Unsurprisingly, this results in little or no audience engagement and very little recall. On the other hand, a few leaders use stories only, and this can feel hollow: where is the data to back it up?

When it comes to data versus stories, we are asking if we should appeal to people’s heads or their hearts? Much as we like to believe that people are rational beings and that appealing to their heads with logic should persuade them, we know this to be far from the truth. If logic alone does the trick, life would be so easy: we could tell people the logical thing to do and they would do it!

Sally Hogshead, the author of How To Fascinate, says 100 years ago our attention span was 20 minutes. Today our attention span is nine seconds. You read that right: nine seconds. We have essentially become mean, lean scanning machines –  a survival mechanism that gets us through the challenges of living with daily information tsunamis.

Interestingly, the nine-second stat applies only to data. The minute we engage with emotion and story, a much wider window of attention opens up.

So it’s time to move beyond binary: yes, use data, but also connect, engage and inspire with the right story.

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

1 2 3 18