The shapes of stories

Already in 2015, I wrote a blog post about the five elements of a story. Almost all novelists and movie directors rely upon character, setting, plot, theme, and style to ensure a consistent story, allow the action to develop and let the audience emotionally engage.

A few days ago, a tweet by Dutch mathematician and science communication professor Ionica Smeets brought a video under my attention with a lecture about the shape of stories.

The presentation is given by the American writer Kurt Vonnegut (1922-1977), probably best known for his controversial – the book was banned in various US libraries and schools – anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five. A graduate student in anthropology at the University of Chicago from 1945 to 1947, Vonnegut’s master thesis about “The Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tasks” was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun (as he wrote in his autobiography “Palm Sunday”).

In this brilliantly funny talk, the writer draws a graph on which any story can be plotted. The vertical axis represents the good and ill fortune the characters experience, while the horizontal axis represents the timeline from the beginning to the end of a story.

Have a look at the video and enjoy the lecture…

For those interested (or provoked, surprised or intrigued), there’s also a recording or a longer version of the lecture on YouTube.

Playing at a theater near you

In this week’s post I’m writing about what was probably the most impactful, but certainly the most fun business presentation I delivered in my whole career. A genuine example of transmedia storytelling, even before the concept and the term were widely used.

In 2005 –in-between the burst of the internet bubble and the demise of Lehman Brothers– when there was still corporate money to spend on single-customer marketing campaigns, my company (at that time pre-merger Alcatel) organized a solutions showcase for a major UK customer. To generate interest and create an upfront hype, we organized it as a private event near the customer’s London headquarters and promoted it as a Hollywood blockbuster movie: “The Convergence Factor”.

tcf

The Convergence Factor theme was chosen to highlight the effect that the availability of broadband technologies and the convergence of telecom services (fixed and mobile, voice and data, communications and entertainment, …) could have on people’s every day lives. Consequently, the script of the showcase was emphasizing on the business value of these converging technologies, the opportunity to create new applications, and the unprecedented user experience they were enabling – rather than doing a sales pitch on our products or solutions.

A tagline “Life Held Them Prisoner, Until Convergence Set Them Free” complemented the title to suggest drama, and intrigue and engage our target audience. All campaign elements such as direct mails, teaser trailer, web portal, event signage and give-away gadgets were also branded with the Convergence Factor identity.

The presentation itself was delivered as a transmedia mix of three distinctive, on-stage narratives with live demos, interspersed by tailor-made Hollywood-style movie trailers produced by Twist & Shout, a UK-based communications agency.

Instead of doing one single performance in front of a plenary audience, we decided to present intimately to groups of 5 to 10 people, who could freely register for a session depending on their availability.  As such, my colleague and I gave 15 presentations over a period of 5 days, and reached out to an audience of almost 150 customer executives.

Have a look at the trailer and the movies, and try to imagine what the presentation might have been like. I’m sure our customer still remembers…