WordWrite storytelling presentation to IABC Heritage Region 2009


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In the 21st century, the traditional cookie cutter approach to communication is dead. In a world inundated by competing information and messages, the audiences you want to reach are hungry for meaning, yet they struggle to find it. You can provide meaning by telling your story, if you tap the ageless power of storytelling. This session will employ relevant examples from well-known business cases to illustrate how storytelling is directly related to business success.

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  • How do you begin a presentation about storytelling? See if you can picture this, hear it somewhere in you. See if it feels familiar: Once upon a time, in a bed far, far away, a young child lay soft and warm, snuggled under the covers, eagerly listening for the bedtime story whose pictures danced behind eyes shut tight. And that story was . . . (Ask) One of my early favorites was The Three Pigs. Every one of my houses since has had at least some brick. This little exercise illustrates my message for today: there is something about storytelling that engages the audience you want to reach in a way that no other business communication approach can. Storytelling paints pictures. It sets a tone that we long to hear. It wraps us up in an experience. Stories are the ultimate human communication tool -- they transcend culture, language and time to share universal truths, much like Caravaggio's painting on the screen (ask if anyone knows who it is) Yesterday, it was all about your brand. Today, it’s all about your story. And triple that if you are a business to business enterprise. At WordWrite, we’ve learned that if stories are good for bedtime, they are great for business.
  • What is it about stories that makes them work? Whether it’s Wall Street or the wide screen, there are some common ingredients. What we’ve learned about successful storytelling in business is that these ingredients create memorable business stories, and those stories can define an organization’s success — or failure. First, there are the roles that define the drama. We know what a villain looks like, how he sounds, what it feels like to be around one. The same is true of a hero. Great stories have both. Second, something remarkable happens in a great story — a transformation that leaves a lasting image, a tone, a feeling. This is true in business, not just literature. I’ve never met a business leader who wants Enron’s story, yet they can remember its sights, its sounds, the experience. The same is true of great business stories. Most business leaders know the Southwest story, and they want it. Most businesses, though, have a current story that’s not as great as Southwest’s. And they do not want their story to come like Enron’s. They are more like Whole Foods, which we’ll come back to in a few minutes.
  • First, let’s define a good business story. At WordWrite, decades of experience in journalism and public relations have taught us to identify three key characteristics: First, your story must be authentic. What does Johnson & Johnson do? They make baby products. That is the “authentic” core of their story, one that has allowed them to shift the majority of their business to pharmaceuticals without suffering the public backlash of other pharma companies. The authentic story has historically enabled J&J stock to trade at prices above its peers, even when its financial results have not been as good. A recent national study of incoming college freshmen ranked J&J one of the brands they trust most. Second, a good business story is shared by someone people want to hear. Who is this man? Lee Iacocca “saved” Chrysler. Part of what qualified him for that job was the first great story he told. You can see it behind him, the Ford Mustang, which he championed through Ford to help create an entire class of cars that continues today. Finally, a good story is continually measured and adjusted to deliver its message in a way the audience wants. The late Luciano Pavarotti is one of the greatest operatic tenors of all time. He saw that his group, The Three Tenors with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, had to take opera out of concert halls to stadiums and public venues where millions who knew little of opera heard its beauty and experienced its power in person.
  • Let’s return to the three companies we highlighted before for a little storytelling. Once upon a time, in a gleaming city built on money, a small investment company announced that it had cracked the code and figured out how to make more money for investors than any before it. Kings, presidents, journalists and celebrities flocked to bask in its story and invest their cash. Unfortunately, Madoff Investments was a lie, and a parable of how NOT to tell a business story. First, despite the glowing “power picture” cultivated by CEO Bernie Madoff, the story was inauthentic. Second, time and again, even as the story was falling apart, the storyteller lied. We now have tapes with Bernie’s voice, telling others how to scam SEC investigators whenever they saw something that didn’t sound right about his immense claims of great investment results. Finally, instead of engaging his audiences, Madoff abused them. One example, of course, is how he handled the truth when it came out. He disappeared as tens of thousands lost hundreds of millions invested with his company. Madoff’s failure to engage may well have made the ending of his story worse than if he were contrite or forthright, as David Letterman was when he was blackmailed over his sexual relationships.
  • Once upon a time, in a state where everything is big, a small company dared to think differently about its heavily regulated industry. That small company is today a giant, worth more than most of its major competitors combined. Southwest Airlines was a good story from the beginning and has stayed true to its roots even as its story has evolved. This is a snippet of the New York Times story written two months after it began flying, positioning Southwest as a David fighting Goliaths. For most of its history, Southwest’s story has been told by a true personality. When Herb Kelleher retired as chairman two years ago, the airline’s pilots dug into their own pockets to buy a full-page Wall Street Journal ad thanking him. As I said earlier, Southwest has stayed true to its story. While today it can’t make the claim that is a David fighting Goliaths, it can still make the claim — with humor, wit and a lot of edginess — that it still thinks differently about its industry. Here is a recent print ad Southwest ran as its competitors began charging fees for just about everything on a flight.
  • Once upon a time, in a funky college town with great barbecue and hot music, a college dropout and his live-in girlfriend had a dream to feed the world with safe food. They survived eviction, floods and other challenges in pursuit of a dream. Today, we know this company as Whole Foods, organic grocer to the world. We also know, though, that while its roots are organic, its approach isn’t as authentic as many organic foodies expect. Author Michael Pollan’s best-selling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has an entire chapter on Whole Foods, which he brands as “industrial organic.” This is NOT a compliment! John Mackey, the college dropout who is still CEO today, is, unlike a Lee Iacocca or Herb Kelleher, often invisible, and as we’ll see in a few moments, when he does make an appearance, it often doesn’t help. The company has a deep commitment to its mission and demonstrates that commitment with efforts such as its Whole Trade guarantee of quality. Yet it has been out of step with its audience -- because of criticism by Pollan and others, it has been forced to create local farmers’ markets at its stores in response. This is an example of how a company has allowed someone else to write its story instead of continually reading its audience and thus, keeping control of its story.
  • At WordWrite, we’ve learned that the ability of most companies to share their story puts them somewhere between hero and villain. This is true even though all companies have the raw material to sketch their great story, be heard by their audiences, and create an authentic experience. Whole Foods, for example, has the roots of a fantastic story, and much of it is out there. Yet the company continues to suffer self-inflicted wounds in sharing its story. For example, John Mackey’s attempt to anonymously attack the company’s largest competitor on Yahoo message boards, which led to an SEC probe. Or his statements on health care reform, which are out of step with most of his customers. The best measure of a truly authentic story, well told and repeatedly recalibrated for the market, is to do well even when everyone in your business is not. And that is the Southwest experience, as this Wall Street Journal article notes. Why don’t more companies have stories like Southwest’s? Certainly, a company’s operations, financial performance and other factors are key. Yet all other factors being equal, as the Johnson & Johnson example and many others illustrate, the right insight and experience in telling your great story can deliver tangible results, financial and otherwise. Few companies have a Steve Jobs to tell their story. Yet our experience shows that all companies can afford to invest in the storytelling resources that help uncover, sharpen and tell their great untold story.
  • How does that work? Here’s what we’ve learned at WordWrite. First, your story at its core should transcend culture, language and time. That’s what an archetype does. What kind of story was Southwest at first? David and Goliath. David and Goliath stories play out over and over in business. What kind of story is Dirty Harry? The vigilante or true believer or reformer is common in business, too. At WordWrite, we’ve learned that every story must include six key elements for success. Here’s a graph from our StoryCrafting process showing how one company’s story stacks up on these six factors. We’ve developed a process we call the “Five Burning Questions” to help uncover these factors. I have some copies of three handouts here today that provide more information. They are also available on the conference web site, along with this presentation. We can talk more about these later, if you like. An authentic story built on a strong archetype, which includes these six factors, must be delivered by a fluent storyteller. That doesn’t have to be the CEO or a rock star. It does help to have both. That’s the case with Indra Nooyi, the Indian-born CEO of Pepsi, who transcended culture and language in her life to become the face of Pepsi. Finally, telling your business story is a matter of employing the right methods, which you will know if you are reading your audience from the beginning. Remember Pavarotti. You may need to sing in a few soccer stadiums if that’s where your audience wants to hear you.
  • Once upon a time, in a cold, hotel ballroom not far away, a group of professional communicators gathered to learn more about how to employ the passion and success of storytelling at their companies. They learned that storytelling works, financially, and certainly, in terms of awareness and recognition, as this annual list illustrates. The “100 Best” Fortune companies all have great stories. They learned that every company, including their own, has a great story to tell. And they left asking themselves a very important question: How can storytelling help MY business? As I said, I’ve got a few handouts for you today that I hope can help you start down the road. Review these documents yourself, or with your leadership at work, and see how you would respond to each of the six factors that are essential to a great story. I’d be happy to review your answers with you. I’d also love feedback on our white paper, which we published earlier this year.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, I can’t size up your company, or listen for its tone, or feel its shape and determine TODAY what the happy ending to your story might be — My hope is that this presentation starts you thinking about how your story might look, how it would sound to your audiences, and how it would excite those audiences. I’d be happy to chat with you about that later. I CAN tell you today that if you employ an authentic storytelling process in your business, you WILL find the happy ending to your company’s business story. Thank you.
  • WordWrite storytelling presentation to IABC Heritage Region 2009

    1. 1. Tales Worth Telling: How the Ageless Power of Stories Delivers Business Success Paul Furiga WordWrite Communications LLC Conference 2009 IABC Heritage Region International Association of Business Communicators Oct. 20, 2009
    2. 2. What makes stories so memorable? <ul><li>Characters you can’t forget </li></ul><ul><li>A challenge or triumph </li></ul><ul><li>A message that engages the audience </li></ul>Villain Hero
    3. 3. The elements of a story worth telli ng <ul><li>It must be fully authentic, rooted in the reality and purpose of your business. </li></ul><ul><li>It must have context and be communicated by fluent storytellers. </li></ul><ul><li>It must “read” the audience at multiple points and incorporate feedback. </li></ul>
    4. 4. Madoff: A business parable <ul><li>The story was inauthentic </li></ul><ul><li>The storyteller was a liar </li></ul><ul><li>The audience was damned, not engaged </li></ul>
    5. 5. Southwest: A business legend <ul><li>A real “David versus Goliath” tale </li></ul><ul><li>A storyteller for the ages </li></ul><ul><li>A message tuned and re-tuned to its audiences </li></ul>
    6. 6. Whole Foods: The middling story <ul><li>A somewhat authentic tale of heroic intent </li></ul><ul><li>A storyteller who’s often absent and inconsistent </li></ul><ul><li>Yet passionate commitment to customers </li></ul>
    7. 7. We find that most companies are . . . <ul><li>Like Whole Foods </li></ul><ul><li>But they want to be like Southwest </li></ul><ul><li>And they lack the storytelling insight and experience to achieve this goal </li></ul>
    8. 8. WordWrite’s insight: StoryCrafting SM <ul><li>The Archetype </li></ul><ul><li>The questions all stories must answer </li></ul><ul><li>Identify your Storytellers — then make them fluent </li></ul><ul><li>Employ the right methods to tell your story </li></ul>
    9. 9. Storytelling: Your opportunity <ul><li>Storytelling works </li></ul><ul><li>What is your great, untold story? </li></ul><ul><li>How can storytelling bring business results for you? </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.wordwritepr.com/iabc.php </li></ul>
    10. 10. Tales Worth Telling: How the Ageless Power of Stories Delivers Business Success Paul Furiga WordWrite Communications LLC Conference 2009 IABC Heritage Region International Association of Business Communicators Oct. 20, 2009