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.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INBOX - by JAC­QUE­LINE PEREIRA De­light­ing in dead ends, Jac­que­line Pereira seeks un­ex­pected en­coun­ters to counter the out­moded. Find her on Face­book at Jac­que­line -Pereira-Writ­ing-on.

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.

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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.

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