Consider a 30-second iPhone 4 ad from Apple called "Smile." A dad is talking to his teenage daughter on the phone. She has just gotten braces, and when her dad urges her to smile, she refuses. Dad sings a song that makes her smile. When he tells her she looks great in her new braces, she starts feeling comfortable. The ad ends with a brief mention of the Apple software Facetime. And that's about it.
Apple makes great products but more importantly, its DNA is built around telling great stories. Its Facetime ad didn't talk about the features of a new software, but instead told a story of a father and his teenage daughter communicating using Facetime.
That story makes all the difference. Let’s talk about the stories where the stakes are high, in your work and in your life.
So few good storytellers
If stories are so powerful, why are there so few good storytellers?
Good storytelling fades into the background and the focus goes to the story. People are mesmerized by a good story and forget to give credit to the storyteller. If you are already telling a good story, not many people appreciate you for that skill. Their appreciation comes in comments like, "that was a great story."
The opposite is true, too. When you don't tell a good story, the storytelling is simply background and people just don't like the story.
Amplification or invisibility
Good storytelling amplifies your stories. So, what is the opposite of good storytelling? It is to become invisible.
Amplification gives your story a chance to be heard. But you may become invisible if other good storytellers are vying for the mind share of your audience.
So, how do you get started?
Start with mini sagas
A mini saga is a story in 50 words. Fifty words may not seem like a lot, but if you plan well, you can pack a lot in those words. Here are a couple of examples.
Mini saga No. 1 - Confidence
Samantha is deeply focused on her drawing. The teacher has to call her name twice to get her attention, asking “What are you drawing Samantha?” Samantha smiles and says, “I am drawing a picture of God.” The teacher protests: “But nobody knows what God looks like.” Samantha smiles again. “They will, in a minute.”
The above story was adapted from a story told by Sir Ken Robinson in his book, The Element.
Mini saga No. 2 - Action
Life seemed unfair to Keith. He had made good decisions and not many blunders in his life. Yet, he was stuck. His friend Matt asked, “Keith, are you making any big decisions now?” Keith shook his said. “No,” he said. “Have you ever made one?” Matt asked.
Read a collection of mini sagas.
Powerful storytelling tools
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to find powerful storytelling tools: PowerPoint and Keynote will do the trick. The problem is that while it is easy to tell a great story with those tools, it is also easy not to. It is far too easy to get carried away and make a mediocre presentation or tell an average story.
If you want to spend a bit more and if the stakes are high, you can use Pllop, a visual storytelling tool that is optimized for tablets. (Full disclosure: I am an advisor to the company.) I got a sneak preview of my book ThinkTweet, which was created using Pllop. It has social sharing and conversation elements built in.
If you want to be a good swimmer, get a good teacher, and go to the pool and practice. Similarly, if you want to be a good storyteller, get a good teacher, and then practice telling stories—day in and day out.
Question: How do you know you are succeeding?
Answer: From the feedback you receive. Remember one of the basic rules of neuro linguistic programming: The meaning of your communication is in its response.