Browse Category: storytelling

Lessons on storytelling and campaigning from unlikely places – Dementia Friends

Dem-friendA Guest Blog By Peter Botting staffer Sam Nolan.

It was the first day at Conservative Party conference and there was little to do. The speeches had not yet started and the bar had yet to open. The conference centre had a hushed silence, a feeling of waiting for something to happen. So I found myself marching around the ICC, wasting time and looking for something to do. Flicking through the conference guide developed little inspiration within me – a panel discussion on housing, something titled “Unlocking Community Potential”, a talk about public services in Manchester and a fringe event hosted by the Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia Friends.

I shrugged to myself and went along to the Alzheimer’s Society event. I knew shamefully little about Alzheimer’s or dementia, nor had I every had an inclination to look into it and educate myself. I have been fortunate enough to never had to face such issues in my personal life or among my immediate family. Yet on Sunday afternoon at party conference I found myself in a small room with around twenty other people waiting to hear about Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

The session was framed as an information event. Expecting to hear a volunteer discuss complex ways in which the disease effects people – I was very surprised.

The speech was astonishing. There was a mix of anecdotes and stories. The complex issue of dealing with dementia was explained in terms which everyone could understand. The complicated disease that effects different people in different ways, with different intensity was boiled down to a simple analogy of a bookshelf. With dementia being seen as a force nudging the bookcase forcing the top books to fall out – those representing the most recent memories. The analogies were not condescending or patronizing with a subtle roll of the eyes to anyone who did not understand dementia.  Instead it was clear and concise.

The presentation incorporated stories of people suffering from the disease. These were not anecdotes but real stories. They were not sob-stories but stories of real people being treated and understood. The stories were not used to get people to donate or volunteer or even to feel sorry for the suffers or thankful to the organisations helping them. The stories were used as they should be – to help regular people understand the point you are making.

Not only were the use of stories and anecdotes impressive but the whole campaign is one to take note of. The charity Dementia Friends have a clear campaign. They have five simple points they want people to understand about dementia and Alzheimer’s. They have a clear and achievable aim: to reach a million people by the end of 2015. And they finished the session with a call-to-action, whether it is telling two people about dementia, promoting the scheme on twitter, signup to volunteer or simply being more patient with somebody who may be suffering from dementia.

It is a very rare phenomenon when you go into a presentation expecting to be bored and come out feeling inspired. Dementia Friends is an incredible example of a campaign done well with a clear message, achievable aims and a call-to-action. Any campaign, whether it is political, corporate or charitable, could learn a lot from the Dementia Friends campaign.

You can find more about the Dementia Friends initiative here.


In Front Of The Camera


Monday was unusual. Even by the random standards of my life. It was film day. For me. I was going in front of the camera. Usually I prepare other people to go in front of the camera or on stage. I am the backroom guy – the guy in the green room giving advice, holding your hand, cheering you on. But not Monday. I have been told repeatedly that my website needs a video. Of me. That I am the product, the service, the package. The coach. So prospective clients need to see me and hear me. So today was filming of me.

I am the speaker coach – so this better be good! Scripts were written, rewritten, edited, shared, collaborated on. I think the final doc was called Script Final 9 or Script Final final final 5. Then I set a deadline, a date and we were off to London. I cancelled. Or postponed. That was last week and I was just back from the US, I had loads to do and my head wasn’t there. Plus I hadn’t learned my lines. The film guy understood. He said.

So this Monday dawned. The team of 5 assembled in Canada Water near the Hilton on the Thames walkway. We were south of the river with Canary Wharf as the backdrop. The weather was perfect. The film crew of two were cheery. Sam and Danny work for me and were excited to be out of the office and doing something different.

I still hadn’t learned my lines.

The film guy said he had every confidence in me. I hoped he was better with his camera than he was at deceit.

I was “miked up”, the lighting was checked, the serious professional camera sat on a huge tripod, a light panel explored every wrinkle on my face. I tried to remember my advice to my clients on how to keep calm.  My young team were reassuring even if some of their jokes were off-colour! The film crew reassured with their words but I was sure they were thinking “Another wally who hasn’t learned his lines!”

We were ready. Or at least everyone else was. The “talent” wasn’t. Not a word came to me. Blank. Totally. Nothing. Nada.

Sam read out the script I was supposed to have learnt. That I had spent 3 hours learning over the weekend. The script that I had written and approved. That we had agreed and shared with the film team. I hated it. Too clunky, too braggy, too long. Not. Fluent. At. All.

Eyes furtively rolled. My team smiled encouragingly willing me me to win. I cursed myself.

The film guy’s assistant interrupted. She hadn’t been part of the pre-briefing. She asked me what I did. I told her. She said – “Say that – talk like you have just spoken to me.” Which is the sort of thing I say. But I needed someone else to say it to me.

I pulled myself together. I instructed Sam to make sure that all the key components of the script were covered. He was anointed Chief Prompter for the day. This meant he read out what needed to be covered – I made a mental note of the essential points, shut my eyes like a diva, assembled my thoughts, mentally walked through what I was going to say, then said “Am ready”. And the film crew sprang into action – or at least pushed the button.

Theory. Of course the film crew wasn’t always ready just because I was. Background noise interrupts (i.e. stops) filming and there were planes and boats and cyclists and waves and even helicopters all joining in and laughing at me. So it took a little longer than it should have. Double the time at least. But in the end I was happy with the words and it was nearly a minute shorter. Everyone else was smiling too. We hadn’t moved on from a clip until all 4 of my “audience” were happy.

Midday isn’t great for filming apparently (says the thirsty film guy!) because of the light. So we went for lunch. In a pub – I think the crew deserved and needed that.The film guy seemed much happier after that!

After lunch we went to Westminster, again south of the river, by Lambeth Palace. This was shorter – we didn’t need to film so much and I had learnt my lines by now. And the next day we did some close up work shots on my desk at home. The film will be coming out soon – hopefully this weekend. Danny found some music for it. Graeme, the film guy, has edited out my stumbles and gaffes.

Film is powerful. But it has to be done well. 2 minutes clips are part of the internet culture – but they take ages to make in preparation, production and post-production. The investment is significant – but the end product is well worth having. Or at least I think so. When I publish the video you can decide for yourself.

Lessons and tips about filming promotional video

  1. you must know what you HAVE to say
  2. preparation and preparation time are mega-important – they are part of the investment you make
  3. get a film crew you like and who can work with and who will put up with you
  4. it takes longer than you think on the day
  5. it takes much longer than you think in preparation
  6. post-production is seriously important – be nice to the editor!
  7. working with, listening to and getting feedback from professionals is mandatory
  8. getting feedback from those who know you well, and care about you, is important too  – it keeps you real




Miliband’s attempt at Storytelling falls flat.

Miliband’s attempt at Storytelling falls flat.

I am a firm believer in the power of storytelling. In a political speech a real-world story from the heart or personal experience, when delivered well, can have a huge impact. Storytelling can change the image of a politician from a suited Westminster type to a more relatable individual. A good story in a speech can convince the public that the speaker understands them and their issues, can help them have faith in the proposed policies, and can make the speaker seem more electable.

Ed Miliband today failed to achieve these storytelling aims. He used stories which attempted to be comical, but fell flat. He tried to tell stories from the heart, but they felt made-up. He tried to use them to sell polices, but there were unclear connections.

The stories he told had the ability to develop into a deeper and more compelling idea, but it did not. There was the cleaner from Scotland who didn’t feel that she was being paid enough, but Miliband did not know how she voted in the referendum. There was the woman who worked in a pub who didn’t like politics, Miliband thought this problem needed to be solved. There was the couple he met in the park who told him the country was falling apart. There was the guy called Gareth who thought the system only benefitted a few.

But this was the problem with the speech, there were too many stories. They were all glanced over with a pathetic amount of detail. The stories lacked any sort of emotion or appeal. They felt stale, dull and possibly fictional. These stories of “real” people did not inspire anyone to vote for Labour or accept any of their proposed policies. The stories were a wasted opportunity.

There were some good parts of the speech as well. Miliband supposedly was doing the speech note-free and without auto cue, which is impressive – a skill only mastered by the top orators*. The speech was also not short of policy detail, after years of delivering empty speeches.

But the speech lacked drive, passion and emotion. This was not the speech of an opposition leader before an election.

*Update – it was later revealed that Miliband forgot significant parts of his speech, including the economy and the deficit – a good reminder that note-free is not always the best option


Video and image courtesy of the Labour Party

How to keep your cool during a job interview

ID-100159170A big job interview can be one of the most stressful things you will do in your professional life. So much is riding on such a short amount of time. However being able to keep your cool, and stay calm and collected is vital. Being able to express yourself clearly in a confident and relaxed way will give you the greatest chance of getting the job.

Here are some tips on how to keep your cool during a job interview:

  1. Come prepared

Research the company, the industry, and the job role. Brainstorm some possible questions and your answers to them. Consider some strong stories to back up your points. Write out some questions to ask your interviewer. Coming prepared to your interviewer is key to feeling confident.

  1. Arrive early

Get to your interview early and collect your thoughts. Go through your research and notes. Take a deep breath and concentrate on what is to come. Arriving late you cause yourself to become even more stressed and will give off the wrong impression.

  1. Have a conversation

Think of the interview as a conversation between two people, not an interrogation. This will make you feel more relaxed and confident. Remember that the interviewer wants you to do well; they are on your side.

  1. Take your time

Do not rush to answer every question immediately. Take a few seconds to think about what you are going to say before answering. A good answer said slowly is better than a worse answer said quickly.

  1. Don’t let mistakes trip you up

In a high pressure, high stress situation like a job interview mistakes are inevitable. Interviewers understand this. If you make a mistake correct it immediately and move on, try to forget about it and carry on with the interview. A perfect interview is rare, if not impossible.


Image courtesy of ddpavumba /

Overused words and phrases in job interviews

ID-100101765Overused words and phrases in a job interview bore the interviewer. Being original, interesting, and engaging will make your more memorable and more employable.

Here are some overused words and phrases to avoid using in job interviews:

  1. “I don’t see a problem with that”

Enthusiasm in a job interview is good, as is being flexible with what you are able to do for the company. But showing that you have considered what is being asked of you is a better trait to show during the interview.

  1. “I want a job where I can develop and grow”

Who doesn’t? This just sounds like corporate jargon and does not actually explain anything. Instead tell your interviewer in which ways you want to develop and grow and why that job will help you do that.

  1. “I want a job where I can use my skills”

The interviewer probably thinks you have the skills to do the job, otherwise you wouldn’t be offered the interview. Instead of saying this, explain which skills you have and how these skills will help you do the job effectively.

  1. “What an interesting question…”

This is an obvious stall for time to think, and is quite transparent. Instead of trying to stall for time, just take a couple of seconds to think about your answer, before vocalising.

  1. “I’m very hardworking”

Who would say anything different in an interview? Back this statement up with some evidence. Use storytelling to demonstrate a way in which you have worked hard at a project in your career.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

The purpose of brain-teaser interview questions

“How many people are using Facebook in Los Angeles at 5:30pm on a Thursday?” Google

“How many planes are currently flying over Kentucky?” Best Buy

In many industries brain-teaser interview questions have become the norm. Mostly used by creative, innovative, or tech-savvy companies, they are believed to be used to find out whether a candidate is able to think creatively and on their feet. It may show that a candidate is able to problem solve in a logical, timely, and coherent manner, all while under the pressure of a job interview.

But do brain-teaser interview questions actually help find the more qualified candidate for the job?

Trying to answer a near-impossible question where there is no right answer is not a pleasant task for a job candidate. It can make it seem that the candidates are being set-up to fail, with the interviewers demanding impossibly high standards. Often all these questions do is pile more nerves onto an already nervous person, denying them the ability to clearly explain why they are best for the job.

But it is also an opportunity for the interviewers to see if you are able to think creatively and on your feet.  Often a candidate will go into a job interview with a pre-prepared script of what to say. Asking the same routine questions allows a candidate to stick to their prepared piece. This can make it less of a conversational interview, and more of a one-sided presentation.

If ever faced with this question, take your time and consider it carefully. In a situation where ‘Don’t know’ is not an option, interviewers are looking for creative, unique and entertaining answers.


Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG /

What to do after a bad job interview

ID-100255301 (1)Coming out of a job interview feeling like it just all went wrong is a terrible feeling. Nothing comes close. Having a bad job interview, being told you didn’t get the job, or not hearing anything at all can be demoralising. But remember success can only come about after failure. That’s how we learned to walk.

Here are some tips on what to do after a bad job interview:

  1. Think

After a seemingly bad job interview take some time to consider what went wrong. Maybe you didn’t manage to get your message across successfully and clearly, or didn’t answer a question as well as you think you could have, or maybe you feel that you weren’t able to connect with the interviewer. However the interview bombed – work out why. Clinically.

  1.  Learn

After realising what went wrong you can learn what to do differently. Maybe you realise that you need to research the company more, better explain your strengths or work on providing convincing examples and stories to explain your point. If there are specific questions you messed up, prepare for them! If you went into the black hole – get coaching.

  1. Follow up successfully

Writing a follow up thank you letter (or email) has several advantages. Not only does a follow up letter help you stand out above the rest, it also allows you to include something you may have missed out in the interview. And may give you a second chance! Stranger things have happened!

  1. Move on

It is possible that the interview went better than you imagined it. The important thing to do is understand what wrong, how you can improve it and look forward to the next interview. Look at job hunting like a process, not a one interview lottery. After each job interview your performance will improve and you can only get better. Dwelling on a bad job interview will do nothing.


Image courtesy of luigi diamanti /

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