Browse Tag: storytelling

Mixed Message

Mixed Messages Screw Up Your Story

Mixed Messages Ruin Good Stories.

I had a friend at university who would lose his tiny temper halfway through a film because the film has shown a different plane landing to the one that had taken off earlier in the film. We all thought he was just being ridiculous and annoying – as well as interrupting the film – and he usually got abuse and a beer bottle thrown at him. But for him the inconsistency of that tiny detail screwed up the whole story.

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TEDMED Changing How Doctors Approach Curing Patients

Curing Patients can be improved by changing how Doctors think

Changing how doctors approach their job of curing patients is never going to be an easy job. That is part of why this talk at TEDMED 2014 in Washington D.C. by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz is brave, to say the least. She has something important to say and it potentially tweaks the nose of an entire – and very articulate – profession: Doctors. And she is giving the talk for the benefit of people like you and me.

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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.


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

communicate new ideas

Communicating for dreamers – crafting messages to communicate new ideas

Last night I got petrol in my tank by being part of a discussion dinner co-hosted by Dr Pritpal Tamber  and addressed by TEDMED speaker coach Denise Graveline. Denise asked what people wanted out of the evening. Themes included how to communicate new ideas and concepts, how to get a minority view across, how to be seen to be influencing within an organisation, how to pitch to a VC and how to make a distant possible event relevant to an audience used to thinking conventionally and in the present or immediate future. One person said that they had no communications issue but wanted to meet interesting people. I meet interesting people every time a client walks through the door – but last night I met a whole table full and it was great.

I don’t know if Chatham House rules applied so won’t mention names – but I was excited by the people. There were lots of titles, doctorates and serious jobs around the table including TEDMED and IGNITE speakers – but that wasn’t what created the buzz.

Everybody there was trying to achieve something – often reframing whole “things” into new categories rather than just tweaking existing solutions to acknowledged spaces and problems. There was an excitement and an eagerness and an almost revolutionary spirit co-hosting the great food and the intoxicating “what if” thoughts. Many of the people there had left great and well paid jobs to DO stuff. New stuff is often hardest to describe and communicate because it doesn’t fit tamely into our lazy mental filing and classifying boxes of “Ah, I know what you mean – that’s A or B or C.” New ideas, new vocabulary, new thought processes and new concepts…new thinking.

Conservatives are often accused of being backward thinking – and some are. Conservatives are at their best when they keep testing and pushing the status quo, and then combine CONSERVing that which is good and solid and sound and being revolutionary about that which is not.

George Bernard Shaw said “Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”  Last night there were loads of dreamers at dinner.

It is more fun being with dreamers and doers. Some may laugh at the thought of taking dreamers seriously – but then they will probably also use a laptop or a tablet and post updates on Facebook. Both of which few would have dreamed of a couple of decades ago. Perhaps, we Conservatives should test the status quo and the “givens” more rigorously, conserve less blindly and think more like revolutionaries. Looking back at our past, the great leaders of our country are those who have done just that.

Personal Branding. Good for You. Good for Your Job.

Personal branding is how we market ourselves.

Personal branding is a new word for an old truth. Perceptions are reality. And often almost instant. How we are perceived by others does impact on how they treat us, how well we are paid and can limit or unleash careers.

Individuals do not have logos, brands and taglines (necessarily) but we all do have  a brand. People love to gossip and they give people tags – you will have heard people refer to other people as ‘the gossip’, ‘always late’, ‘a workaholic’,  ‘fun’, ‘quiet but clever’, a ‘drinker’, ‘really successful’. Some say it is even worse to trigger the response:  ‘Who?’

These tags come from the behaviour, or the perceived behaviour, of the people they are describing or slurring. These tags soon become The Established Truth. By their nature and by definition, we can influence what these tags are. We would be stupid not to try and influence them if they are not what we want. In some cases this may mean changing our behaviour because the negative tags reflect the truth. It is not rocket science but it does require a plan with reviews and testing.

Perceptions are reality. The truth is irrelevant.

Just like a product branding process, you need to define who you are, who your audience is and establish your message. The most important thing you have to do is to make sure that your behaviour reflects the brand that you are trying to project. Then you need to test that your “message” is being received and believed. This can take time.

What do you want to be known for? What do you want to be remembered for?

In my case, I am interested in being, and being perceived as being, discreet and effective in storytelling and personal branding/corporate branding for individuals, politicians and businesses. In the spin-filled circles where I work it is really important to be what you claim to be – but the same is true everywhere. This impacts on how I act and speak and how I operate with my social media and in real life.

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