Send in the clowns

This morning, when I traveled to work, I was confronted with a huge billboard displaying a super-sized clown face. Well, at least I think most people would describe the character on the advertisement a clown. It was promoting a film called “It: Chapter Two”, which appears to be the sequel to a 2017 big screen adaptation of Steven King’s novel about Pennywise, a bloodthirsty clown with a red balloon. As I don’t like the horror genre, I’m not a Stephen King fan either. Though I understand that people appreciate his novels. But, honestly, I’d call this poster perverse (as I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I’m not going to give any appreciation about them). It is showing a horrible mutilation and commercialization of a childhood hero character of mine.

It-Antwerpen

You may call me a sentimental old fool – I’ll gladly accept it as an honorary title, except for the ‘old’ adjective – but clowns rather belong in a circus ring than in a horror movie. They are among us to provide comical and emotional relief. Just think of the cliniclowns or clown doctors that bring hope and humor to thousands of hospitalized children, or the “red nose day” fundraising campaigns in countries around the world.

In The Comic Toolbox (a book on which I wrote in an older post) John Vorhaus says that “every comic character begins and ends with his strong comic perspective – a character’s unique way of looking at his world, which differs in a clear and substantial way from the normal world view.” Clowns, if not by definition then by perception, have this comic perspective. They are well fit to be a prominent character in many stories. There need to be protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains, characters that make you laugh and make you cry. Or both at the same time. As Vorhaus also writes: “A character’s humanity must be a real part of his character.” As such, I don’t want characters make any audience feel frightened or horrified. Neither with nor without a red balloon.

So, where are the clowns? There ought to be clowns. Send in the clowns. The kind, nice and funny ones, please.

Related posts:

B.Y.O.C.

In an earlier entry on this blog, I listed the character as one of the 5 key elements upon which novelists, movie directors, as well as professional presenters rely to let their audience emotionally engage.

The character is the individual (or several of them) that the story is about. The answer to the “who?” question. Many narratives introduce protagonists and antagonists – respectively the main characters of the story and their opponents.

Introducing one or more characters is often a great way to personalize your message and add “what’s at stake?” tension to your story. Depending on the topic of your presentation, the protagonist may be you, your company or even your product, while the antagonist could be a competitor, a demanding customer or even an unfavorable market condition.

As such, I have enriched many of my business talks and blog posts by telling about what happened to “a friend”, “a colleague”, or “a customer of mine”. Characters may be fictive, but you’ll feel more confident and earn more credibility when talking about real persons. Of course, you don’t have to mention their names – particularly when the protagonist or the antagonist appears in a not-very-flattering situation or gets involved in an embarrassing incident.

If you’re a frequent visitor of this site, you may remember the posts below, in which I used the exploits of my colleagues for introducing notorious do’s and don’ts of giving a business presentation. Though names and characters have been anonymized, all these stories report on real-life events that I witnessed personally:

This weekend I walked into a French LEGO store. For more than 80 years, LEGO toys have engaged kids in creative play, encouraging them to imagine, invent and explore (see for example the 1970’s letter from Lego to parents below.) That’s why their flagship store always is a good place to breathe the air of creativity – and in this case, get inspiration for a new blog post.

lego_letter

(click to enlarge)

Incidentally, I stumbled upon the Build-A-Minifigure bar. By combining a broad variety of heads, torsos, legs, hair, hats and accessories, everyone can design and purchase his/her own LEGO character(s).

Lego_store_BAM

It made me think about another article I wrote about “creating personas for audience-centric story design,” in which I explained how defining personas may help you to tell a better story. Putting yourself into the shoes of (some in) your audience will help you better understand what they think, believe, do, feel and need.

Suddenly, while having an Aha! moment at the Minifigure bar of the LEGO store, I figured out why I had intuitively borrowed a LEGO image to illustrate this old blog post.

And, then I realized that I might have run into the perfect tool for fleshing-out personas of my audience, and for synthesizing the protagonists and antagonists of my story.

B.Y.O.C. = Bring (or Build, or Buy) Your Own Character…

Lego_store_minis

Five elements of a story (and how to use them in a business presentation)

Storytelling is the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination. — Definition by the National Storytelling Network

Most novelists and movie directors rely upon 5 key elements to ensure a consistent story, allow the action to develop and let the audience emotionally engage: character, setting, plot, theme, and style.

five_elements

And, though “telling a story” is often associated with delivering fictive content, the same components can be explored by business presenters too.

  1. The character is the individual (or several of them) that the story is about. The answer to the “who?” question. Many narratives introduce protagonists and antagonists — respectively the main characters of the story and their opposites. Note that a protagonist does not necessarily represents the “good guy”, though it’s always the one with whom the reader can identify himself or herself.
    Depending on the topic of your business presentation, the protagonist may be you, your company or even your product, while the antagonist may e.g. be a competitor, a demanding customer or even an unfavorable market condition.
  2. The setting is the “where? and when?” of a story. It is the time and place during which a  story takes place. This can be in the past, the present or the future, and in an imaginary or a real-life location.
    Introducing a setting with which your business partners or customers are familiar, e.g. a specific technology configuration or a market segment, can help them to better visualize the story and feel connected to the plot. As such, customer testimonials and case studies may be good means for setting the scene for your presentation.
  3. The plot defines the structure of a book, movie or talk. The sequence of events and (inter)actions that make up your storyline. Many good plots are centered around a conflict or a problem (the “what?”), the ways in which the characters attempt to resolve the problem (the “how?”), the actual implementation of the solution (a.k.a. the climax), and what happens with them when the conflict is no longer existing (“they all lived happily ever after”.)
    As mentioned above, characters do not necessarily have to be human. So, explaining how your products or services have been applied to solve a specific customer problem may prove an excellent plot for a business presentation.
  4. The theme is the main idea, the central message,  the answer to the “why?” question(s). It’s what the writer, the director, or the presenter wants his audience to learn from the story.
    It’s the umbrella statement of the message house you’ve prepared, that will translate into the conclusion and/or the call for action at the end of your discourse.
  5. And finally, there’s a style element in each presentation you deliver. “How?” do you want to get your message through? How will you tap your audience’s imagination? What will be the tone of your words? What mood or atmosphere do you want to create with them? Is the evidence you provide factual or anecdotal?

A few related articles (though most posts on this blog touch upon this topic):

I have also created an infographic that summarizes this post. You may download the file by clicking on the image below (or hitting the download tab on top of this page).

Elements of a story infographic L1