Telling it your way
Storytelling is being pushed as a tool of branding and marketing. Not all of us are great talkers, but we can still convey our message in our own way.
TELLING stories is the new pitch. From the process of selling personalities to products, we are incessantly accosted by storytellers pressing to be heard. Never mind whether their stories are coherent or cohesive, let alone interesting.
Yet seemingly at every talk, in each forum and across media, we are exhorted to tell our stories: to network in narrative, build tales around our brands and to chronicle our CVs in, well ... urban myths.
On the radio a couple of weeks ago I heard a national elevator pitch champion expound on the importance of how to tell stories to sell products. I did not even know that such awards existed for people who can – in the time it takes to ride an elevator – sell their idea to a willing listener.
In the interview (that took longer than an elevator ride by the way), the champion covered conversational devices, how to be real and authentic, as well as persuasive selling strategies.
He certainly had the hook, elevator pitch and target audience down pat, yet while he stressed the necessity of sincerely connecting, his pitch was all about “speech-fying” someone into buying. In other words: “To keep talking until the money comes out.”
If only it was as easy as that, I’d have to contest. For the issue with the storytelling bandwagon is not only that so many are scrambling to get on it, but that they ALL want to tell their stories, too.
Don’t get me wrong. Like everyone else, I do love a good story. Nothing is more satisfying than listening to a great tale woven by a compelling storyteller. The ability to engage listeners is an art, as it takes skill to gain their attention (or reel them in with the right bait) and finally, succinctly deliver the catch with an irresistible ending.
Telling a story is a form of expression, using words just like sculptors, architects and gardeners use their chosen materials in their work. I believe that, while you can learn to put a story together, it takes a certain talent to make that tale memorable in the telling.
Similarly, not everyone with a smartphone is a photographer. Just because you have an Instagram account doesn’t mean you are an artist. Neither are you a designer because you can sew on a button. Just because you are able to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, that does not make you an outstanding raconteur.
Either you have the talent to tell a story or you don’t. Of course, we can all learn to tell stories better, but not all of us are going to be heralded as the storyteller of the year. Or elevator pitch champion.
What makes a story compelling to me is the passion that the teller exudes. If they truly believe in what they are saying, the tale will sometimes spin out of their control. It’ll be fluid, full of energy often furthering the story beyond its intent.
I was reading about one of Paris’ most sought-after architects and interior fashion designers who designs for fashion stores, luxury hotels and trendy restaurants. The Business of Fashion site introduces Joseph Dirand as one who “likes to live fast and furiously.”
He interprets his job – when working with luxury fashion brands – as relating a story, framing the globality of the brand, interpreting it like a resume of its entire history. Almost like a film, he adds, to resonate more deeply and create a compelling customer experience.
Dirand advises aspiring interior architects to be as relentlessly hungry for life and to engage in its pleasures as enthusiastically as he himself does. “Be curious, in the sense of being sensitive to everything – food, cinema, music. Try to expose yourself to things that give you pleasure. Pleasure is essential.”
Stories become less pleasurable to listen to when they are not real, when they harbour a commercial motive instead of a sincere desire to relate a tale. As Turkish author Elif Shafak stated in a 2010 TED Talk,
The Politics Of Fiction, stories begin to lose their magic if and when they are seen as more than a story.
I have nothing against people telling stories. But each of us has to find our own way of telling our stories. Be it in art, photography, accounts or law, if that’s where our passion lies, then our story will be real. Stories can’t be forced just because the bandwagon is hitched and ready to set off.
A photographer I worked with for many years recently passed away.
He was not particularly trendy or prone to tantrums. He just took pictures. In the days of film, we pored over contact prints together, choosing the best image to accompany a story. He was even-tempered, extremely accommodating and unusually quiet. Thus he would amusedly indulge writers and their antics, shooting the pictures they wanted, no matter how outlandish.
The unassuming Danny Lee was not a great storyteller, writer or painter, but his photographs were the domain where he, silently and gently, wove his tale with others, in the process capturing the essence of people.
Everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone can tell a story. So, find a form you favour and perhaps your story will tell itself. That’s my pitch – inside or outside an elevator.
It’s an art: This Storytelling Workshop by trainer Cassandra Wye at the British Council in Kuala Lumpur back in 2011 was meant for teachers, but storytelling is now essential for modern marketing and branding.
A young contestant tries to set a new mark for storytelling in the MalaysiaBookOf Records.