Stories and social media; At the roots of success

My grocery-aisle encounter with a master of story-telling

by Peter Watts

My shopping list did not include a cardboard carton full of recycled coffee grounds, that if spritzed with the little water-spritzing thingy (included), would yield fresh crops of oyster mushrooms within 9 – 10 days.

Why did I just buy one?

Because somebody told me a story.

Meet Evan:

Evan accosted me as I raced around our local grocery store. After the briefest of product descriptions, he leapt into telling me the story of the company he works for. A company called Back To The Roots.

It was a story of entrepreneurship. Of being a young business with fierce environmental passion and community vision. It was a story that hit just about every button. Not only did Evan succeed in selling me my very own kitchen-counter mushroom kit, he captured my interest sufficiently to get me checking out the Back To The Roots website.

That website has links more intricate than a coffee bag full of mushrooms. Wherever you click there are elements to take your attention. Back To The Roots have designed a web hub that propagates their corporate story and vision across just about every Social Media engine you can think of.

Click here and there is a Facebook contest. Click there and you find yourself on Pinterest. Click someplace else and you’ll find yourself watching TV clips about the product or Video-Blogs from company staff, including their “Office Ninja” and their “Community Happyness Guru”.

Selling, presenting, and social media are all increasingly wrapped-up in each other and Back To The Roots are a case study in the perfect 21st century product pitch.

It’s about story telling and engagement; the ability of company representatives and product ambassadors to be compelling story-tellers in the flesh before handing-off to a Social Media backbone that is captivating enough to convert initial engagement into longterm followership.

An awesome story makes people want you to succeed.

Stories, anecdotes, and diversions

by Peter Watts

Anecdotes, stories, and diversions bring a presentation to life.

When we add something personal to a presentation, it is a gift from ourselves to the audience. It paints colour into our words, sharing our passion for the subject.

The secret is to not leave the anecdote to chance. Plan it carefully. Know at what point you are going to introduce it, and most importantly, ensure you know how to link back into the presentation afterwards.

This week I have had the privilege of working in Istanbul, and the even greater privilege of having a small portion of leisure time. During that day off, I found myself walking down one of the city’s principal streets.

All the usual suspects were there. Well known designer brands sat beside Starbucks outlets. Recognition of familiar branding gave me a feeling of being somewhere I knew. Rather like the main theme of a presentation it was easy to navigate.

Numerous smaller streets sat between the western chains. I took a diversion, and headed down one.

Familiar stores were replaced by street markets. The area around me had come to life. THIS was Istanbul. Like a good story or anecdote, my diversion bought me not just the colors of Istanbul, but it’s sounds, and smells, and textures, and tastes. All the senses engaged at once in a full memory locking experience.

I so much enjoyed my diversion, that I wandered further, following the twists and turns. My initial experience so pleasant that I was encouraged to wander deeper.

When we tell a story, the audience sits forward. Interest peeks. We are encouraged to keep going.

Before long, I became aware that the streets were becoming distinctly narrower and more neglected. Time to go back. The problem was that as I traced what I thought was my route back to the street, I realized that I was going in circles. I had passed the same fabric store three times. The store keeper was starting to recognize me. Hopelessly “lost tourist” had to be scrawled all over me.

If we haven’t planned a story thoroughly, before we know it, the walls can start closing in, and we struggle to find our way back to the main theme in a way that the audience start to recognize as a “lost presenter”!

I made it back to that main thoroughfare, and resumed my walk. But I was so disoriented by this point that I started walking in the wrong direction, and five minutes later found myself back-tracking in the heat over places I had already been.

If we become lost in an anecdote, we are so relieved to rejoin our main thread that we then become lost all over again.

My detour into the backstreets of Istanbul was the most memorable part of my day, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. In just the same way, a well placed story will be the most memorable part of your presentation.

For it to be a success though, make sure that you know how far into it you want to go, and have a clear idea of how to find your way back out.

Halloween Storytelling: Presenting the Fireside Roots of Public Speaking

by Peter Watts

Through story-telling we express history, we express culture, and we construct the metaphors by which we understand our world. Two festivals lend themselves to the art: Halloween and Christmas. Both should involve spine-tingling tales to bring tribe and family tight together around the fire. It’s public speaking in the raw, and this week I’ve been reminded of this in two ways that I would like to share:

First, my fellow blogger and presenter, John Zimmer (@zimmerjohn) posted this wonderful article via his twitter-feed: “The Psychology of Storytelling” “The Psychology of Storytelling”

Second, I encountered “Beyond the Pale”, a project to consolidate and redistribute the great radio horror stories of the 1940’s and 50’s. You can hear all about “Beyond The Pale” with WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook by following this link. The show is about an hour long, but does include generous clips from Halloween horrors past; Seasonal listening should you find yourself at an audio loose-end while carving the pumpkin.

The tradition of the spoken word and storytelling returns us to public speaking in it’s most native form. What more pleasurable way to practice our skills than by deploying a well chosen tale to raise a scream, this Halloween.

Trick or treat!

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