Four storytellers about storytelling

I have been blogging about storytelling in business for the past two years and written more than 80 posts about the topic. If you still wonder what storytelling is all about, and why it’s so important in today’s business environment, then listen (or read) what these respected entrepreneurs, businessmen and storytellers are saying about it.

richard_branson

Richard Branson (@richardbranson), founder of the Virgin Group, is certainly one of today’s most influential thought leaders. With more than 4 million followers, he is the most-followed public figure on LinkedIn. His blog posts, opinion pieces and interviews are putting him in the spotlight as a great communicator, and an inspiring storyteller.

“Whatever you are trying to sell, storytelling is the most powerful thing you can do. Most of the best business ideas come from personal experiences.”  (from Jack Preston’s blog post about Virgin Media Pioneers’ Pitch to Rich competition)

“If you want to stand out from the crowd, give people a reason not to forget you.” (from Richard Branson’s blog post on virgin.com)

“What I soon learned was that practice made all the difference. The more prepared I was, the less I stammered and stumbled. Good speakers aren’t just talented or lucky ̶ they work hard.” (from an interview with Richard Branson in Entrepreneur magazine)

gary_vaynerchuk

With “only” 218,326 Linked followers, Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) is a little less known –which doen’t mean less talented– storyteller. A Belarus-born author, investor, and founder of VaynerMedia – and a famous wine connoisseur.

“No matter what you do, no matter what your profession is, our job is always and forever to tell our story. And that is never going to change. The way you make real money, the way you make real impact, the way things get changed is by great storytelling. It’s always been that way, and it always will be that way. Because we’re f***ing human beings, and that’s what we like.” (from a 99U presentation by Gary Vee)

“My ability to tell a better story than my competitors became the reason we had a successful company.” (from an Entrepreneur video in which Vaynerchuk tells about his wine business)

guy_kawasaki

Also Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki), author, entrepreneur and former chief evangelist at Apple, stresses the importance of storytelling in his talks and writing. I am a big fan of Guy’s book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions”, about influencing people and delivering a powerful brand experience.

“You need to tell a story. Most people, particularly ad technology, are horrible at telling stories. You need to tell a story. Why did you start eBay? Why did you start Google? Why did you start Apple?” (Guy Kawasaki in a presentation at Stanford University)

“The art of branding requires creating something contagious that infects people with enthusiasm, making it easy for them to try it, asking them for help in spreading the word, and building the community around it.” (from “The Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki)

“Enchantment transforms situations and relationships. It converts hostility into civility. It changes skeptics and cynics into believers… When you enchant people, your goal is not to make money from them or to get them to do what you want, but to fill them with great delight.” (from an interview with Guy Kawasaki in Forbes magazine)

steve_jobs

And finally, there’s the obligatory Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple Computer (and Guy Kawasaki’s ex-boss,) who I still consider the archetype of a born storyteller, storymaker and storydoer.

“We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.” (from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs)

“People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.” (from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs)

So this was my last blog post before summer holidays.Thank you for your readership, for following my blog, and for your comments and reactions. Let me close in beauty with a memorable video clip of the MacWorld 2008 keynote by the late Steve Jobs, in which he introduces a MacBook so thin that it even fitted inside a brown envelope…

Profession: storyteller

“The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often.” — Hugh MacLeod in “How to be Creative

The quote above, also known as Hugh MacLeod’s Sex and Cash theory, says it clearly: you need a job to earn your living, and “being creative” is not always on top of the list of an employer’s expectations. The ideal occupation, of course, is when you can follow your passion, leave your mark on the world and at the same time make money. But, there’s some good news for the creative among us…

A study carried out by the French ManpowerGroup has identified three emerging job profiles for the future: the Protector, the Optimizer and the Storyteller.

The latter one, the Storyteller, is described as  a “craftsman of engagement”. He or she gives meaning to (or renews) the company’s engagement in times of crisis and communicates with all stakeholders through dialog and social media. In today’s organizations we often find these creative people in marketing and communications functions such as “Content Marketer”, “Digital Brand Manager” or “Community Manager” and in business supporting roles, including “Innovation Valorization Managers”, “Business Evangelists” and “Cultural Engineering Consultants”.

storyteller_bizcard

Although I have met only very few people with “Corporate Storyteller” on their business card (some companies have seen the light, and e.g. SAP hired “Chief Storyteller” Julie Roehm about 20 months ago), storytelling is becoming the new gospel of business. And those creatives who can create compelling stories, get their message across, and inspire audiences’ passion will stand out in the new era of content and meaning.

Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:

Business explained by a bear

Not so long ago I finished a book with the intriguing title “Winnie-the-Pooh on Management”. The publication is written in genuine A.A. Milne style and the content covers what the subtitle says: “In which a Very Important Bear and his friends are introduced to a Very Important Subject”.

pooh_manager

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

“How can I help you?” asked Pooh.
“Well.” The Stranger put down the picnic basket he had been holding. “I’m writing a book, and it seemed to me that if you let me write about some of the adventures you and your friends have had, it would be a better book. It’s a book about management.”
“Man-age-ment,” said Edward Bear in the somewhat puzzled tone he used when he was thinking, or, as Eeyore might say, “Trying to think.”
“Yes. Management.”
“That is a very long word.” Pooh reflected. “It is the kind of long word that Owl uses. Does it stand for something good, like ah ummmm honey?”

Guess what? I liked the book and though it’s rather short and already a few years old, I actually consider it as one of the better –however not very profound– management works I have recently read.

The way the author, management consultant Roger E. Allen, has transposed Milne’s classic stories and popular characters –Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger and friends– into an unexpected context, and how a Very Important Bear (V.I.B.) teaches us some basic MBA stuff, is original, refreshing and entertaining.

A closer look at the Table of Contents reveals how the book is actually covering quite a few different aspects of management:

  1. In Which Winnie-the-Pooh Learns About Management and What Makes Someone a Manager
  2. In Which Pooh Visits Owl in the Hundred Acre Wood, Has Management Theories Explained, and Fears He Is a Bear of No Brain at All
  3. In Which The Stranger, Pooh, and Rabbit Talk About the “Hows” of Setting Objectives and Organizing and Pooh Forgets to Sing His Manager Song
  4. In Which Piglet, Pooh, and Tigger Communicate After a Fashion, Learn the Rules, and Pooh Is a Very Forgetful Bear
  5. In Which Pooh Finally Sings His Manager Song, Eeyore Wanders By, an Exposition Is Remembered, and Motivation, Delegation, and Leadership Are Explored
  6. In Which We Talk About Measuring Ents, a Woozle Is Tracked to Its Lair and Defined, and Pooh Gets to Know How Much Honey He Has
  7. In Which Pooh, Owl, and The Stranger Discuss the Others in the Forest to Learn About Developing People and Tigger Is Unbounced
  8. In Which Pooh and The Stranger Talk About the Horrible Heffalump Trap for Managers and What They Can Do to Avoid Falling Into It
  9. In Which The Stranger Comes to the Forest for the Last Time, a Party Is Held, Pooh Becomes a Very Important Bear, and an Enchanting Place Is Visited
  10. In Which The Stranger Thinks About Visiting the Forest, What Was Found There, and What Was Brought Back

“Winnie-the-Pooh on Management” is a great example of serious storytelling: original approach, simple language, presence of a protagonist, recognizable style, educational content, … what more can you ask?

And I still have more to read, since –according to amazon.com– customers who read this book also bought “Winnie-the-Pooh on Problem Solving” and “Winnie-the-Pooh on Success…”

Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:

A tale of two talks

This is a true story that happened a couple of years ago when two executives of competing companies delivered a plenary keynote address during the opening session of a large industry conference.

The first presenter of the day was deliberately a charismatic speaker. He brought a broad and interesting slideshow about his company’s vision on emerging market trends, the challenges and opportunities these pose to customers, and gave examples of how his people were providing the right solutions to tackle the problems.

Forty-five minutes later, the second speaker talked about largely the same industry topic, but addressed it from a technical regulation perspective – with lots of acronyms, jargon and details. During his speech, he made at least five references to the preceding presentation, acknowledging the trends, challenges and opportunities earlier listed by his competitor. But he forgot to mention his own company, and neglected to talk about the products and solutions they were building and selling.

Both keynotes were interesting, complementary and well presented, but IMHO speaker #2 made a few notable mistakes:

  • By taking a dry regulatory stance, he missed the opportunity to inspire the audience and position his company as a thought leader and market leader in the domain;

  • By making so many references to and confirming what was said by the previous speaker, he provided free publicity for his competitor;

  • By not explicitly mentioning his own employer and their solutions, he missed a great opportunity to promote them to a large audience or potential buyers.

Although I am not a fan of hard sales talk (particularly not at public events), the first keynote speaker certainly did a better job in selling his story, his employer and his products.

plenary

More keynote presenter advice may be found in this blog post by Mike Brown.