Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Writing a book in Seven Days - Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Principles of Storytelling

“Analysis might excite the mind, but it hardly offers a route to the heart. And that is where we must go if we are to motivate people not only to take action but to do so with energy and enthusiasm”

Stephen Denning

We have all picked up a book and given up on it halfway through. Or been told a story and had to repress a yawn.

Have you been at a conference and heard a bunch of Senior Manager’s getting excited about the company direction yet all it has done is left you flat and bored?

I have.

So what is it about some stories that keep you engaged and some that turn you right off?

If I am to really understand how some businesses use storytelling so effectively, I have to find the answer to this conundrum first.

So being from an HR background, I started to look at learning theory for inspiration. Yes. Really.

There is the school of thought that goes like this; not all people learn in the same way and to communicate knowledge the teacher has to take different learning styles into account.

Anyone who has picked up a training book from the CIPD will have read about all the different theories on how learners learn. But in truth, try as I might, when I pulled my old course notes out of the filing box, I just didn’t get all that excited by the Sunbury model of democratic education or David Kolb’s experiential learning framework.

Then an email popped into my inbox. From Innocent Drinks. It intrigued me and I went on the website and had a look at their blog. And a wonder it was to behold.

Full of anecdotes, pictures, jokes, videos, recipes and product information, it was amazingly engaging. I especially liked the bit about The Big Knit – where they get their customers to knit hats for their bottles and 50p from each hatted drink sold goes to keep old people warm (101,246 hats knitted so far!).

Have a look for yourself at www.innocentdrinks.com.

But what is it about the stories that they tell that make them so compelling – why did I want to keep pressing hyperlink after hyperlink and have found myself writing about it now?

After many hours of happy surfing I have found some key principles that they employ and that you can apply to any story you tell.

They are passionate about what they are talking about – fruit to them is the most exciting thing in the world.

It has a great tone of voice – there is a real Innocent style – quirky, friendly, and personal

It has a context – whether it’s about “what Alex did this week” or World Peace Day, there is a reason they are telling their story. To call readers to action – to make a difference – to make us more healthy (oh, and to sell smoothies)

It is collaborative – the stories are full of anecdotes from, and about, their staff and customers. There is a chance to join in and have some fun along the way.

So that is how Innocent Drinks make their stories so engaging.

Then I remembered my English Degree at Goldsmiths’ College. I, rather pretentiously, had chosen a Classics Module (I say pretentiously as this was also accompanied by Anglo Saxon English Translation and the poems of Milton – I could have decided to study Modern American Literature).

Were the hours spent pouring over Plato and Homer going to finally prove useful in life? Well, the answer is Yes.

I remembered that the fundamental principles of storytelling are contained in Aristotle’s Poetics.

For those of you who haven’t read it – hands up – here is a quick summary.

Aristotle says that every story must have a beginning, middle and an end. It must have characters and a main protagonist. There must be a unified plot, with spectacle and surprise. And finally there must be a reversal of fortune or a discovery, with a lesson learnt

He says

“ A good plot progresses like a knot that is tied up with increasingly greater complexity until the reversal of fortune, at which point the knot is untied until it reaches an unknotted conclusion”

Now that is a lot of knots!

So next time you are writing a speech or creating a power point presentation, have a think about Aristotle and Innocent.

Are you demonstrating your passion for this subject?

Does your story have a beginning, middle and an end?

Is your story coherent?

Is there a lesson to be learned?

Are you involving your audience?

Is there a call to action?

There you have it. Storytelling from the old and the new Masters.

Apply those principles to a speech or presentation and you will have them begging for more in aisles.

1 comment:

  1. Kirsty Lewis

    story telling: should be authentic, from the heart, relevant.
    dont be afraid to open with a story, leave it hanging through a presentation, workshop, speech and use it in the close!