better_storytelling

by Mike Yearling, VP of Video & Broadcast

(Excerpted from “Becoming Better Storytellers,” our new presentation for clients looking to improve the impact of their communication efforts.)

This could have been an article about general trends in video production – affordable 4K cameras, leaner crews, video drones, etc. – but here’s the truth about those trends: none will lead to an ounce more of breakthrough work in the world. Because as smart and aesthetically compelling as they are, none of these things push people out of their comfort zones creatively. They’ll happen, we’ll embrace them and that’s the end of that.

There are trends, however, that are leading directly to more breakthrough work. And they all begin with a certain human quality: courage.

New feedback mechanisms in the world – video view counts chief among them – are bringing into the harsh light of day a painful truth: that corporate communication efforts (videos and events) are often boring, inauthentic, too long and just plain too old-school. Especially when compared to today’s hallmarks of engaging media: TED talks, social media videos, a fun BuzzFeed quiz or a good New Yorker magazine article.

(View counts, you ask? One of our new clients had recently implemented YouTube-style view counts on all their internal videos. What did they learn? No employees watched their videos.)

But why would fixing this problem be an issue of courage?

If you truly want to resonate with people, if you want to authentically move their hearts and minds, breakthroughs are needed. You have to break through your corporate clutter in general and their BS meter in particular. You have to break through their left brain, their right brain and their heart.

Just because you employ people doesn’t mean you can force them to care about a message. You have to earn their affinities. And that doesn’t happen without taking creative risks, however small and well-managed. Ask any filmmaker, TV producer or kid who ran a successful student council election.

Or ask our most innovative clients who are breaking through every day. We did just that and what emerged were six surprisingly consistent themes of corporate courage:

The courage to humanize leaders. Over the past two years, we’ve had at least five clients come to us asking for help in making their leaders more accessible to their people… more “real,” approachable and human. After all, the 40,000 foot qualities that make leaders so good at their jobs can also create distance between them and the front lines.

Our solutions the this problem were as varied as the companies. Some clients started speaking about their business from their hearts instead of the teleprompter. We followed others through a day in their life, capturing it all on camera. We shot funny videos that brought one of our client’s dry sense of humor to life in understated and charming ways. Yet another executive went even deeper, sharing his life influences with surprising candor.

What happened? Trust, loyalty and commitment rose almost immediately in every one of those companies.

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The courage to be authentic. It’s weird how easy it is to produce highly professional videos that somehow lack a certain authenticity in the end. Sometimes it’s the script, sometime it’s the actors, and sometimes it’s because we’re asking regular associates to deliver canned lines to camera rather than just be themselves. Our original motivations as professional communicators are noble – we want to control the message. But what comes out feels inauthentic to viewers, leading them to question whether we truly ‘get’ their world.

This is why we’re trying to infuse our projects with more authenticity these days, by capturing the powerful simple nobility of great people doing great work every day and letting them speak for themselves rather than parrot corporate lines. We don’t have to make everything so perfect and polished either, bringing the bonus benefit of faster production cycles.

These kinds of unplugged efforts resonate and build trust with audiences. They also make for far better branding when you think about it, because everything feels a little less, well, cheesy.

The courage to focus and reject. This could also be called "the courage not to cram" or "the courage to convince peers and management that less really is more."

Script

Many scripts begin with a focused message, few messengers and – above all – an astute understanding of video’s strengths in capturing emotion, telling stories and visualizing things not possible in print. Not to mention an understanding of the weaknesses certain videos may have.

It often goes south from there. Stakeholders start to think more is better … more content, more interviewees, more “important points” to sneak in to the script. Length increases, emotion disappears and retention plummets, along with any hope of achieving your communication goals, which is ironic to say the least.

It takes courage to focus your message, and it’s pretty cool that more of our clients are saying no to content creep these days. They actually see it as an issue of audience respect. Today’s audiences are smart enough to get a lot of information quickly. Don’t give them a 1982 newsletter, give them a tweet. They’ll get it.

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The courage to embrace the most important element of any great story: the blood, sweat and tears part. We in corporate America are trained to be rosy with our audiences, as if everything happens brilliantly and effortlessly. In the same breath, we are also touting the power of storytelling.

Here’s the problem: our desire to smile through the pain completely breaks one of the core tenets of any dramatic arc – that to resonate, you have to show the struggle. You have to show the trying, the failing and ultimately, the triumph. Otherwise the triumph doesn’t feel that, well, triumphant. When Rocky is screaming “Adrian!” you’re screaming Adrian too by then. Ask yourself why.

Our clients who truly embrace storytelling understand what it means to go all in with the concept. Call it perfectionism if that helps. Bellerby and Company make cool-looking globes but their story of what goes into them will make you want one even more. As bencollete.com says, “it’s not what it is; it’s how it’s made.”

The courage to tell stories about people who care deeply about their craft. Our world values the courage it takes to stand out. Don’t just do yesterday’s talking head video with a shorter script. Or yesterday’s PowerPoint with fewer words on the slide. Push yourself to bring higher concept thinking to the table. Push yourself to be more artful than that. It’s time for the rubber to hit the road in the form of better creative.

One of our clients recently reimagined their year in review PowerPoint as a live “performance” piece where key people reviewed 2014 via scripted readings. It was the same basic content but no PowerPoint slides, charts or anything you’d expect from a business presentation… just wonderful impressionistic mini-stories woven together into a powerful narrative. The difference was amazing.

One of our clients recently reimagined their year in review PowerPoint as a live “performance” piece where key people reviewed 2014 via scripted readings. It was the same basic content but no PowerPoint slides, charts or anything you’d expect from a business presentation… just wonderful impressionistic mini-stories woven together into a powerful narrative. The difference was amazing.

Courage_to_tell_authentic_stories

This brings us to our last and most important point: Find the people in your organization strong enough to lead you to higher creative ground. Give them true power to make it happen and total accountability if they don’t. After all, the day will soon come when they’ll have to say, “Sorry but we’re not adding that content because we have goals to reach,” or “We need to try something new here.” Not only will they need to have the authority to make that happen, they’ll also need to have the respect of their peers in the process… a critical prerequisite to courage.

And when that awesome day comes, none of us will ever make this video again.

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For more information, please contact:
Mike Yearling
Mike Yearling – Vice President, Video & Broadcast
P: 614.777.9933 • E: myearling@mjp.com

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