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Let me tell you a story: using stories about people to spread your message

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Many marketers have been inspired by Storytelling guru Andy Goodman. Canadian communications pro Kelley Teahen takes Goodman's theories and adds both a Canadian spin and more "how to" information on how to create effective stories to share with and influence your audiences.

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Let me tell you a story: using stories about people to spread your message

  1. 1. Let me tell you a story Using stories about people to spread your message K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  2. 2. About Kelley Teahen • Working for nine years in higher education • Previous career in print journalism • Winner of five Ontario Newspaper Awards for writing • Five years running the media office for the Stratford Festival • Developed and taught “writing for public relations” course at Western University • Taught English 210H (arts writing) at St. Jerome’s University and English 408A (media writing) at University of Waterloo K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  3. 3. A photo with basic information… K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  4. 4. But this one tells a story. Why? K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  5. 5. Best communicators tell stories “The most powerful thing you can hear, and the only thing that ever persuades any of us in our own lives, is [when] you meet somebody whose story contradicts the thing you think you know. At that point, it’s possible to question what you know, because the authenticity of their experiences is real enough to do it.” Ira Levin quoted in Andy Goodman’s Storytelling as Best Practice K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  6. 6. Andy Goodman, storytelling guru Goodman tells us that narrative is powerful because of: • History: for thousands of years, humans have captured and passed along information in stories: We look for narrative identifiers: “the primate who tells stories.” K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  7. 7. More Goodman wisdom • Memory: story is the string that holds the beads of facts together: we remember stories more than facts alone. • Identity: We create identity by the stories we tell. Think of the 10 stories you tell most, about yourself… • Culture: We are also part of a larger, cultural identity and that culture’s stories K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  8. 8. Reich’s Tales of a New America Four American (U.S.) iconic stories 1.The Mob at the Gates 2.The Triumphant Individual 3.The Benevolent Community 4.Rot at the Top K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  9. 9. What are Canada’s iconic stories? Nature, friend or foe: our spiritual home, and a threat • Survival (Margaret Atwood) • The Garrison (Northrop Frye) “The two solitudes” (conflict and isolation) • French/English • Aboriginal/European • rural/urban K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  10. 10. Iconic Canadian A new model of society for the world • The Cultural Mosaic • The Honest Broker (Lester B. Pearson); Canada as “Fifth Business” • “Peace, Order and Good Government” (BNA Act) K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  11. 11. What are your “iconic stories?” What stories reflect your organization’s attributes? Who are the “heroes”? If you haven’t been through a branding exercise that has produced identified “attributes”, get together a group to brainstorm ideas. K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  12. 12. Jumping-off points for brainstorm • Pull together some old magazines and quickly identify images that, to you, represent your organization’s identity / attributes • Have everyone come up with three adjectives to describe your organization as it is, and three adjectives to describe the organization as you aspire to be, then share and discuss – Are you modern, cutting edge, traditional, iconic? – Is the organization’s work / product about fun? Safety? Adventure? Security? Invention? Healing? K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  13. 13. Who embodies your attributes? • Look at the organization’s history, its founders, its pioneers • What are the key stories and who were, or are, the key players? • Authentic connections: e.g., clients, customers, who benefit from what you do • Paid “spokespeople” or icons: you buy a story to attach to / align with your brand K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  14. 14. Who embodies your attributes? • Using a personal story to represent something more complex common in media and journalism: – e.g., federal government budget explained as it impacts one family • For communicators working for organizations, need to move beyond statistics, mission statements and “PR speak” and bring your story alive by telling it through an individual’s journey K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  15. 15. Moving from theory to practice • Be it agreed: Stories convey messages more effectively than any other way • We need to recognize which stories create and support our identity • But now, how do we tell those stories most effectively? How can we improve our storytelling skills? K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  16. 16. Rule No. 1: Audience comes first Apply the W5s to figuring out your audience: • Who are you telling this story to? • What do they want to know? • Why would they care? • Where, when, and how will they hear your story? Communications is foremost about audience. Always. K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  17. 17. Who relates to your audience? What heroes, what stories from your organization would connect to: • A high-school student • An urban entrepreneur • A retired couple You intended audience also helps focus your medium of communication: Facebook? Printed brochure? K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  18. 18. First storytelling step: research Effective profiles begin with learning all you can about your subject by: Online research: Not just Mr. Google, but media databases Self-reporting (biographies, CVs, websites) • Consulting/interviewing friends, family, colleagues: going from monochrome self-portrait to one painted from a broader palette K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  19. 19. Brush up your interview skills Talk to your subject, in person if possible • Start with the easy stuff, like confirming spelling of a person’s name • Prepare questions, but don’t be a slave to your list • Closed versus open questions • The “mirror probe” technique to clarify information • The “clearing house” question at the end K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  20. 20. Should you record interviews? A good idea if you are not able to write the story right away However, also good to take some notes during the discussion: They will remind you of highlights and you can just transcribe particular quotes, rather than the whole interview A good resource: NewsU, Chip Scanlan, Poynter Institute interview training course K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  21. 21. Open your eyes, follow the clues • Check out the room: décor; art; bulletin boards; books; photos. Ask questions. Get the stories. • Write down descriptions, impressions: you won’t know what you might want to use until you go to write your story. • The interview subject: check out jewelry, clothing choices, any obvious affiliations or symbols. Ask. • You’re not being “nosy”: you’re being “curious.” K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  22. 22. Other interview tips and tricks • You want your profile subject to be comfortable – can you find a common hobby, passion, or interest to discuss to animate the conversation? • Don’t be afraid of silence. • If anything seems unclear when you are writing, call back and clarify. • Even if you aren’t going to write your story for a while, schedule enough time to transcribe or fill in notes immediately after the interview K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  23. 23. Interview is done; writing is next Follow Luna’s example and pause for moment K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  24. 24. Shape your profile: craft a story • “Pyramid”: most important fact first. Think of rushing home and saying “guess what?” The usual “news” story shape. • Profiles often take a different approach: something interesting, compelling, first. • Often, one person is representing a larger story or theme: start with the individual, then set the context. K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  25. 25. Common profile story forms • Narrative story form (start at the beginning: “Once upon a time”) • Hourglass story form: Summarizes the news, then shifts to a narrative. The top delivers the news, the turn acts as a transition, the narrative tells the story • “Nut graf” story form: anecdote first, summary nugget (“nut graf”) then more details K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  26. 26. Selecting details for your story • If you observe and interview well, you will have far more material than you can use. • Type out your notes, or review written notes: highlight anything that stands out. • Focus: what is the purpose of your story or profile? What will be of most interest to your target audience? • Some details create and reinforce the “main impression” but contrasting details add texture and depth. K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  27. 27. Your most important sentences are: • Your lead: bring the reader in • Your “closer:” wrap it up with a punch • Kelley’s rule: never end a story with an attribution (“he said”; “she said”): tuck it in K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  28. 28. The art of the headline • May be the only thing a person reads on a “skim by” • Important to spend time on crafting it well • Use “turns of phrase” wisely: “Measuring what comes out of the mouths of babes” • Alliteration is good, when restrained: “Don’t slack on the salmon” • Use effective verbs: “Probing the history of fat”; “Plugging together energy solutions” K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  29. 29. Back to Andy Goodman • Good stories have a beginning, middle, and end. They are about people. • There is a protagonist (sometimes a hero): the world is in balance but something (“an inciting incident”) pushes it out of balance. • The protagonist has to overcome barriers. The more barriers, the more interesting the story. (“Superman without kryptonite is boring.”) K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  30. 30. Goodman on story structure, cont. • Stories need conflict, something to go wrong and overcome, to keep them interesting • We follow the hero’s journey (“the rising action”) to a conclusion • How can we avoid “came, saw, and conquered” stories (i.e., the boring ones) in our publications? Corporate instinct is to never admit struggle or conflict: but perfect-happy does not a compelling story make K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  31. 31. Using words your audience gets • Once you’ve chosen your medium to share the story, also consider the reading level of your writing • People generally read with ease at 3-4 grades below their educational attainment – Love You Forever by Robert Munch: Grade 3 – Average reading level in U.S.: Grades 6 to 8 – Newspapers in Canada: Grade 9 – A university alumni magazine: Grade 12 K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  32. 32. Find reading level via MS Word • Go to Tools – Spelling and Grammar – Options. • Under “grammar”, click “readability statistics” • Run the Spell Check • The magic gremlins will calculate the grade level of the writing passage selected K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  33. 33. A final thought on storytelling “Good journalists [and communicators] share a common ground: They are driven to learn about life, to ask hard questions, to listen to the answers, to report the news, and tell stories of our times.” Chip Scanlan, Reporting and Writing Basics for the 21st Century K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
  34. 34. Happy storytelling! Twitter: @kteahen Email: kelleyteahen@gmail.com K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S

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