Friday, October 28, 2011

10 Habits of Good Public Speakers

(Note: I wrote this for another website that wanted a quick article with this title. I'm sharing it with you, too. Maybe there is a tidbit or two within it for you?)

Public speakers can motivate, educate, challenge and entertain audiences. The best public speakers can do all four at the same time. A good public speaker is flexible and enjoys the diversity that each audience presents. It is an honor to speak with an audience and the best public speakers never forget that.

Always strive for excellence when you are speaking in public. In no particular order, here are 10 behaviors that public speakers should incorporate into their professional conduct.

A great public speaker. . .

1. . . .meets the audience.
When I speak at an event with other presenters on the schedule, I am always amazed that the speakers congregate backstage and away from the audience. While some prep time is always needed before an event, make it a point to go out and casually mingle with the audience, doing more listening than talking. You will meet some great people and more of the audience will feel like they already know you when it is your turn to speak on stage.

2. . . .knows their subject matter.
Speak about what you know and subjects that capture your energy and focus. You should know your subject well enough that you could spontaneously speak without notes in any situation. Be devoted to the subjects you speak about.

3. . . .uses sound equipment.
While it may seem more casual to ditch the microphone, I am seeing and hearing many speakers in my coaching work that insist they do not need a microphone. Making your audience strain to hear your words is not respectful. Any group gathering that cannot fit around a conference table will require a microphone.

4. . . .dresses comfortably for the audience.
Keep your clothing choices just a step above the casual or formal dress of the group. For example, if you are expecting an audience filled with blue-jeans casual, you might choose a business-casual attire.

5. . .listens to other speakers.
Just as you want to meet an audience before events, it is important that speakers participate in those events. In particular, make it a point to hear the speakers that are before you on the schedule so that you will be able to make good tie-ins with the group's experience.

6. . . .incorporates learning styles.
Not everyone in your audience can learn from a singular presentation stytle. Mix your presentation with audience activities, slides, stories and your direct input.

7. . .uses good speaking mechanics.
Are you using first-rate nonverbal techniques? Vary your pacing, tone, eye contact, gestures and movement as your presentation progresses. Be interesting to watch.

8. . .customizes presentations.
It was popular advice a few years ago that you should be a speaker who developed a single presentation and presented that to every audience. In addition to being arrogant, it is rude to your audience and is a way to guarantee you will not be rehired. Tweak your presentations for each audience.

9. . .uses appropriate humor.
While the days of the "start with a joke" are well behind us, it is still good to use your own natural humor- staying away from traditionally sensitive topics such as religion or politics. Rather than try to be funny, simply share things that are funny to you and let the audience decide what they will laugh at.

10. . .shares good stories.
Good stories, used to illustrate your points, can help an audience remember your presentation. Be on the lookout for good stories from your own life and literature that can be used for future presentations. Learn good storytelling techniques to adjust each story for your audience. In my "Storytelling 101" Eworkbook, you can learn how to develop and present stories in a step-by-step manner. You can learn more at http://www.storytelling101.com.

Use this list as a place to start, but I encourage you to develop your own list of habits that will make you an excellent speaker.

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Sean Buvala is a "hard-core how-to-do-storytelling coach" working and teaching internationally since 1986. He has served variety of clients with big names down to the smallest one-person business. An award winning storyteller, he's able to help you develop and fine-tune your business speech. To set up your coaching session with Sean, fill out his contact form on his website at http://www.seantells.com.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Frosted by Storytelling: False Storytelling Sighting

Slightly tongue in cheek, but not much. . .

In a rare moment of casual TV watching, I stumbled upon one of these ubiquitous cooking challenge shows. The contestants were making cakes and trying to prove them to a line of random judges.


As the judges came to one table, the cook chef, said something like, "I have here for you today a chocolate cake that has three kinds of chocolate bits in both the cake and the icing. Enjoy."

The judges tasted. The judges pondered something highbrow to say.

And then, further proof-that-storytelling-is-now-a-fad fell from the judge's lips, "This is delicious and the chocolate pieces really tell a story." Without further comment other than everyone nodding their heads, the judges walked away.

It is a good thing that the TV universal remote controls are just $5 at Walmart. I keep breaking them throwing them at my television as I hear awful uses of the word "storytelling." I have no doubt that the producers of the TV program were in over-the-top joy over as someone placed into the show's dialogue the latest business catchphrase, "storytelling."

Sorry. Storytelling was taking place in the chocolate bits? A story was not even present in the chocolate as expressed during this program. The flavor wasn't storytelling. Here are four reasons why:

1. Storytelling requires words.

Chocolate bits cannot speak. Chocolate bits could represent something in a story, but the bits themselves are not storytelling. Only people, using words, do storytelling.

2. Storytelling is a spoken art form and business communication tool that needs the audience and the storyteller together, live and in person.

Chocolate bits do not speak. If the chef had said, "These rare chocolate bits in the cake are the last remains of hand-made chocolate my immigrant grandfather brought over from Germany. My family insisted that you, worshipful judges, be the last ones to savor them," we might have had the anecdotal start of a story. If I had heard something like this on the cooking show, then I could somehow forgive the judge for his error in the misuse of "storytelling."

3. Stories have arcs.

Taste alone is not the beginning, middle and end of a narrative. I do understand that flavors can remind the taster of a story. However, that is not what the judge said. He grabbed the word-of-the day and stated that these three flavors "really told a story."

A singular moment cannot be a story. The moment needs to be placed within the story arc in order to be called story. "My mother used to make a cake with three kinds of chocolate in it and…" That would be the start of a story.

4. Not every idea is (yet) a story.

Sadly, we no longer pay attention to our words. Every breath, uttered word, idea and fleeting thought is now called "story." There is only one answer to this: the power presence of "story" and "storytelling" has been completely diluted in the modern world. Flavors, utterances, insights, conversations are now all labeled "story" or worse "storytelling."

So, how do we fix these issues?

1. Develop some discipline in how you approach language
.

Say what you mean. Know that words have meaning. Walking is not Running even if both are ways to move. Eating is not Storytelling even if both, are, well they aren't the same thing. Definition and understanding empowers us to do great things with them.

2. Stop cheating with the story tool.

Storytelling cannot be done on film alone. It cannot be done by paint itself. It cannot be done alone by chocolate. It can only be done with people. If a client says to me, "We want storytelling in our company but can't commit any training time to it," I will tell them then that they can't have storytelling in their business. They will need another way to communicate their story, even if it is not as buzz-worthy as "storytelling." Recapping: People are for storytelling and chocolate is for eating.

3. Spend the time to learn how to tell a story.

In the least, learn how to make a true story from your great ideas. I know, your communications consultant may have told you that storytelling is easy and cost-free. You have been misled. Maybe you are assured that everyone in your organization is a storyteller. They are not, no more than every cook is a chef. I do have some hope for you: it is easier to become a good storyteller than it is to become a good chef. Both becomings take work and focus.

4. People count.

There may have been a great story to go with this chocolate-bitsy cake. To find the storytelling within, I would have to peer over the top of the cake, crumbs trailing on my lips, look into the eyes of the chef and say, "So, how did you become expert enough to make this cake I'm eating? How did you come across these fine chocolate bits?"

In that response, I would probably find the real story behind the chocolate. I might even find a storyteller within the chef.

That (you knew this pun was coming) would be the real icing on the cake.

P.S. The cake in the picture was one my 12-year-old made for the 24th wedding anniversary for my wife and I. It had one type of chocolate. It was delicious.

***
Sean Buvala has been storytelling for 25 years and is the author of the book, "Measures of Story: How to Create a Story from Floats and Anecdotes." Get your copy at Amazon.com or come by http://www.howtocreateastory.com to learn more.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Unboxing StoryPlay Cards

When I am not busy making the business world safe for storytellers everywhere(dramatice pause as I am flipping my cape back and staring deep off into the horizon), I still am the director of Storyteller.net. In one of our latest fun things, we take a look at storytelling card game for families and kids. Review here. Video below.




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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

New Book! "Measures of Story"

I've released a new book! For the next few days, you can get the book (Ebook or Kindle), a free teleseminar and the audio version of the book for just $6.97. Yes, that's just about giving it away. To get the teleseminar and the audio book, please order by the 11th. Details on the site.

I have a free chapter to read, a free chapter to hear, the table of contents to download all on the new website for the book. No registration is required for the free reads or audio.

Come grab your copy of "Measures of Story: How to Create a Story from Floats and Anecdotes." Features include:

*Explore the differences between stories, anecdotes and floats.

*Replace your archaic “elevator speech.” Understand why real stories make better communication tools.

*Learn the most overused floats that aren't the stories you might think they are.

*See how these anecdotes and floats become stories with examples for the personal and business world.

*Create your new stories with Sean’s “Take Action!” activities.

*Discover more online resources to help you learn to share convincing stories with associates, friends, students or family

Learn more:
http://www.howotcreateastory.com

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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Falling from the Roof on July 4th




One particular July 4th* sticks in my mind. My best guess is that I must have walked too close to the edge of the roof, but I don't remember falling.

But first, the Aesop story:
A young man was in the midst of a long journey and, on the second night, found himself exhausted and fatigued. As night fell, he found a deep freshly-dug well and drank fully from it. He then laid down to sleep right next to the edge of the well…
I think I was 19 years old and for employment, I was managing a restaurant. Somehow or other, I was able to get enough of my work done to take the evening off, leaving the assistant manager to handle the final few hours the store would be open. As any of you who have worked in the food industry know, major holidays are not vacation days for food workers.

It was a July tradition to climb up on the roof to watch the fireworks. This was not the first time I had been up on the roof. All previous adventures up top had been without incident.

What was different on this July 4 was the short amount of time I was on the roof. I remember climbing up the ladder and taking a few steps around. Then, my next memory was that I was painfully on the ground. It seems my falling was not a problem but in the landing I busted my right ankle. This was not much of an injury but enough to leave me wearing one of those plastic and Velcro cast-like contraptions for six weeks.

Aesop Continues…
As the young man slept, the Goddess Fate came to him and shook him to wake up. She said to the young man, "Wake yourself up before you fall into this well. For if you do, other mortals may blame Fate for your troubles rather than seeing that the blame truly lies with you. Move away from the well before your own folly causes you harm."
Some holidays are more memorable than others are. Falling off the roof is really a way to remember the 4th of July. Silly me. It must have been my "Fate" that led me to my fall. Now, I live in two-story home so the viewing of fireworks is done through an upstairs window, where Fate cannot push me off the roof.

Happy 4th to you all.

(*For my international friends: July 4 is the U.S. Independence Day celebration, right in the middle of the Summer season. Food, family and fireworks are traditional parts to the holiday celebration.)

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The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Mythology of Business Storytelling, Part Two

In the last post, I gave some background to these "myth" thoughts. Read the part-one posting before you tackle this post. Consider these two posts as one continuous chat. By the way, I am not suggesting that any "Storytelling expert" who has hopped on the Storytelling bandwagon of late is trying to deceive. I believe there sure is a lack of understanding of story and storytelling.

Myth 4. Storytelling has no rules. Story is whatever you want it to be.
Not every conversation is storytelling. There is a difference between a story and an anecdote. Storytelling is an oral art. Writing a story is not storytelling.

Let me switch gears and be the BEST STORYTELLING CONSULTANT(TM) (giggle) you could ever have: "Hey, why constrain the everybody-make-their-own-reality freedom? Whatever you want is the most important thing here! Go on, storytelling is whatever your company tells me it should be. Thank you for hiring me. That will be $2,500, please."

Would you hire an accounting consultant that thought like that? Would you hire an Internet Security consultant who just wanted to make things easy for you?

Let me share my adaptation of a Hungarian folktale.

Once there was a little bear who loved to sing. However, when she sang the song was awful. She could not carry a tune. While her family loved her, her singing was so bad they had to cover their ears when she would break into song.

One day, the little bear asked her mother a question. "Mother, do you not think that my singing is the best in the world?"

The mother bear gave her daughter a hug and said, "Well, I love you very much, but the truth is that your singing is not very good. It hurts the ears of all who hear it."

The little bear was undisturbed. "Why, then, if you don't like my singing, I shall go out and find others that think my songs are the most beautiful of any." And with that, she walked out the door.

A few blocks down the road she ran across another bear. She looked at him and said, "Do you like to sing?"

He replied, "Yes, of course! Here, let us sing a song together."

The two young bears began to sing a song so off-key and so acoustically jarring that dogs began to howl in pain and even the birds in the tree overhead flew away as quickly as they could.

"Now," the boy bear asked of his newfound friend, "what do you think of my singing?"

She immediately answered, "I think your voice is the most pleasing thing I have ever heard. Tell me, what do you think of my amazing voice?"

"Your voice," he announced, "is satisfying like cool water on a hot day. Come, let us sing for everyone we meet."

And so they did, raising their voices in song to whomever they met. To this day, they continue to sing their outrageous songs, but they find that fewer and fewer of the other animals will listen.


Myth 5. Everyone is a storyteller.
Let me be direct here. Not everyone in your company should tell stories or be required to create stories. "Yeah, but Bob in Shipping tells the funniest jokes in the lunch room." Telling jokes is not storytelling. There is an art and discipline to seeing story as it happens in your company. Yes, train everyone about business storytelling, but do not require that they immediately start to tell. Begin the story biz process slowly in one area of your company and let the enthusiasm spread. If everyone is a storyteller, then no one is a storyteller.

"But, Sean, we have a schedule to keep. We need 100 stories by Tuesday. Everyone must tell their company story." I am sorry, but that will not happen. If you force people to create stories, you are going to get piles of….fake stories.

Myth 6. "Just tell your real story. That'll win 'em over."
I once had a loose-lipped colleague who said his grandmother always chided him, "Don't tell everything you know."

I see this myth often when dealing with small-business or personal coaching consultants. I agree with the ideas of transparency. We should be "real" with our clients and let them know we are human. However, use caution. There is a fine line between sharing with your audience the struggles you have overcome or just dumping (or bragging about) your life on your listener. Sharing personal tales takes (here I go again) discipline and crafting of the story. Ask yourself: Does my self-exposure invite the listeners to move forward with their needs or does it make them like (or feel sorry for) "me" more?

So-
With both Part 1 and 2 of this "myth" series, I have written about some of the problem areas I see with the current corporate storytelling movement. Story and storytelling make up a strong world-mind that we all share as human beings. However, even something as transcendent as sharing our stories can be diluted by hype and noise. As you explore story for business, take a deep look at the understanding you may have about its power. There is so much good to be had if we keep ourselves focused and on track.


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The is official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Illustration in this blog post comes from www.gapingvoid.com and is used under his Creative Commons license. See Sean's storytelling training workbook at www.storytelling101.com

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Mythology of Business Storytelling, Part One.

The backlash against any business fad begins slowly. Hype buries the good ideas that are contained within a business movement. For example, when people discover that you can't manage people in just one minute or that there really isn't much fun in throwing stuffed toy fish around the office, the genuine value (read that "the work") of a concept gets abandoned with trappings and hype.

Storytelling and other forms of story expression can work well in business and non-profit organizations. I have seen this played out repeatedly since I began this journey of coaching and training back in 1985.

Of late, I am seeing the rumbling of hype-backlash in the discussion, teaching and preaching of business storytelling. Here are the first three types of buildup of which I think we all need to be aware. I will take on more in the next post. I have gathered these myths from personal experience, social media, blog posts and email.

By the way, "a myth" does not mean "a lie." Myth is truth covered in an agenda.

Myth 1: Storytelling is instant corporate relief.
In tough economic times, everyone is looking for that quick fix to make business work or to grow donations to a non-profit group. The challenge with story, and especially delivery via storytelling, is that it actually takes real work to develop. It takes training to do it well. When you look at how storytelling is being discussed today, do you often see a discussion about the amount of focused work it requires?

Is there a return on investment (ROI) when using storytelling? Yes, there is, but it comes slowly and requires a long-term commitment. (I have written before about what storytelling won't do for a business.) A one-off dive into story work is represented via such slogans as "This year, our company training focus is 'Storytelling!'" Short-term investment reduces the authentic stories of your real customers and employees to gimmicks. Gimmicks have no genuine ROI.

Myth 2. "You must believe in your story."
I have seen variations of this on Social Media more than once, with the emphasis on the word "believe" as an otherworldly transcendence into the metaphysical. Your IT and accounting departments are most likely filled with people who are not going to buy this whole "storytelling" thing. Throw in some Matrix-movie-like dream-world discussion and you will lose both departments. You do not have to believe in metaphor or transcendence in order for a corporate story to be effective.

Your corporate stories must be true and sincere, but they do not have to be magical. Storytelling, done well, creates "deep listening." Many people think that deep listening must be magical. The reality is that in our instant-everything and low-imagination world, we have forgotten that people used to listen like that all the time.

By the way, I do understand the attraction. It sounds like fun to tell stories instead of doing marketing or selling! It is fun to talk about the transcendent nature of storytelling and the stories used within storytelling- but do not make acquiescence to those ideals as a requirement for corporate storytelling. I do not understand 25% of what my technology-guru brother is talking about in regards to computers, but I sure know how to use this word-processing program.

Myth 3. "Storytelling in business is a different type of storytelling."
Like all myth, this has truth at its core. The truth is that every time you speak to a different audience, the experience of the story you are telling changes, even if the teller and the story are the same. I can tell the same story to an audience of entrepreneurs and an audience of 12-year-olds and the experience will change.

Where this myth is false is not understanding the "mechanics" of all storytelling. All storytelling uses the same skills, such characterization, pacing, crafting and gestures. For example, while my characterizations in a story for 12-year-olds might be much broader than the same story told for business leaders, characterization still is used. Knowing how and when to use gestures is as important in a presentation to your nonprofit supporters as it is to "Mother Goose Story Time" in the public library.

Finally, all business stories must be properly crafted in order to be impactful on the listener. It is not enough to just want to use story and storytelling- you must spend the time to construct the story. That crafting process is the same for any setting.

Remember, not every conversation you have should be labeled as storytelling. Sometimes small talk is just small talk. Sometimes a call to customer service is just a phone call, not an epic journey.

I am already at what looks to be the world's longest blog post. I will post part two sometime over the weekend.

PS. I have been asked, "Sean, who died and left you in charge of storytelling?" All I am opining on is what I see from my unique vantage point of experience and practiced approach both on and offline. I could be wrong about all this. Do not believe everything you read on the Internet.

Or, I could be right.

(Read Part Two at this link now.)
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The is official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Illustration in this blog comes from www.gapingvoid.com and is used under the Creative Commons license. See Sean's storytelling training workbook at www.storytelling101.com

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Grid of Storytelling

Over on her very interesting blog, Limor Shiponi is struggling to create a visual interpretation of storytelling. It's worth looking at the post, the diagram and to read through the comments on all three parts of her postings on this. While I have tried to impart a definition to storytelling before, she is deeply into this process. Here are my comments on the process so far.

I like what you are doing. What I enjoy more is watching folks “talk” through this. Below are just my thoughts, in no order or fully expressed ideas:

1. There are no solid lines between story, storyteller and audience. The lines are dotted or dashed. The flow of each of these parts plays with and against each other at all times. If the lines are solid, then this is acting and not storytelling.

2. Doug Lipman has done some of this triangle work already in his book “Improving Your Storytelling.” It's on page 17, to be precise. While I disagree (with complete respect) with Doug that the teller does not influence the interpretation of the listener/witness, I do find that his model makes it very clear for the beginning storyteller (which most “business” storytellers are these days) that the creation of a storytelling event requires all three pieces of the puzzle. I usually use his model (with attribution) when working with neophyte storytellers.

3. I think that most “(Some Super Adjective!) Storytelling” phrases these days are primarily for marketing purposes. There was a time that we could just say that we specialize in storytelling for business, but not any more. The field is too crowded with piles of marketers all trying to stand out, thus we get all those adjectives you refer to in your post. This is all part of the mythology that is developing about “Biz” storytelling. I hope to have my first post about these myths up later this afternoon.
Just my two cents here.


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This is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Stories and Cocktails: "Is Storytelling Always Like....This?"

The Woman stopped the Storyteller on his way out of the main room.

"Is the storytelling always like…this?" The Woman asked, wrinkling up her face in a type of "smells bad" nose-pose and pointing to the front of the room where the Slam had just earlier finished that evening.

"What do you mean?" asked the Storyteller.

"Well, these stories don't sound like things you would hear, you know, if you were out with friends having cocktails and sharing stories. I think that is the best storytelling." she replied.

He answered, "Everybody has their favorite type of storytelling. As well, there's a big difference between telling stories on a stage in front of strangers you don't know and telling intimate stories over drinks with a few good friends."

"Like how?" inquired The Woman.

"If you are out with friends," he answered, "then you are dealing with an audience that you understand well, I hope. You might be freer with descriptions, glossing over the parts you already know that they would know and spending more time on the parts that would be of interest to them. When you tell 'cold' on a stage with a group you just don't know, you have to be more responsive to how they react and be able to make lightning-fast changes to your delivery."

"I don't see how it would make a difference," she responded, "I mean you get your story ready and then you just tell it."

The Storyteller shook his head in disagreement. "As a storyteller, I never 'get my story ready' and put it into a singular form. Every time I am with an audience, three parts of the experience are constantly changing. The storyteller, the audience and the story are involved. If I have memorized how to tell my story, then really I am just acting."

"I never thought of that," she said as the nose-pose she had been holding softened.

"In fact," added The Storyteller, "we might have seen some of that tonight. Most of the storytelling was pretty good. But, we had storytellers who are so used to telling their story 'one way' that it didn't work here tonight with a much more casual crowd and distracting atmosphere. Then, we had people telling to a room of 70 people as if we were all across a nightclub table from them, talking too fast and dropping their sentences. Too uptight or too casual are both signs that the storyteller is not reading the audience."

The Woman thought a bit as sparkles of recognition danced across her forehead. "So, a storyteller has to be able to 'go with the flow' and be ready for audiences that might be stuffy or an audience of friends who are going to be silly. It's not all the same all the time."

"Yes," he laughed, "a good storyteller is constantly adjusting their telling as they tell."

"I think I will have to learn more," replied The Woman as she shook hands with the Storyteller, waved and walked away.

"Hmm, I think we just wrote my next online post" the Storyteller thought to himself as he walked on, looking for where the rest of his car companions had gone.

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Photo courtesy of Fotolia.com. The official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Every Word Is Not A Story

I've been engaging in a fun (friendly, non-flame) conversation with big-thinker Trey Pennington over on his blog. He related an incident where his daughter used good negotiation skills to convince Trey to put some items on her Christmas 2011 list. In May of 2011.

His blog and comments are a good read and you can find his blog here. He believes that his daughter used a "story" to convince him of how reasonable her request was. In the comments section I noted that while she did use great negotiation techniques, she didn't use story.

In friendly disagreement, Trey's response, among other comments, was to state the definition of story: "What the tool looks like, feels like, behaves like, might very well be different depending on the hand that holds it."

I've responded:

I'm not nearly as much of purist as some believe, but if it's "everybody into the pool" then those who deny it's water are going to drown.

So, the answer is, paraphrased, "(Story) is whatever you want it to be?"

Nah.

You'll have to excuse my lack of PhD in trying to explain this, but I will do my best with my tiny storyteller brain. (LOL)

If I call you about your car you have for sale, I know that a "car" means at least four wheels and some type of enclosure where passengers sit.

You assure me that you have a 2001 car for sale and I should come take a look at it.

When I get to your house, sitting in your garage is a 2001 Motorcycle. I am not happy as you've wasted my time.

"But," you say, "isn't the truth of what car is really in the hands that hold it? Silly Sean, you're such a purist. You should be completely happy with this two-wheeled, open air contraption. After all, I think it's a car. Look, over there in the corner is a car that has two wheels and you use your feet to pedal it. I will even throw in the bell on the handlebars at no extra cost."

::Insert giggle here::

My clients would be pretty sad if they booked me to teach them story, storytelling and public speaking only to have me arrive at their doorstep and say, "So, what do you think story is? Here, let's paint the side of your building with this geometric design."

Story has form and substance: a narrative with a beginning, middle and an end.

By the way, please note that I am not defining "storytelling" here. Storytelling uses story but they are not the same thing, just as fertilizer isn't the same thing as the shovel used to move it.

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Photo Credit to Fotolia.com.The official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The "Business Storytelling" Warning Label

Nowadays, it seems we have warning labels on everything.

Yesterday, I purchased one of those mesh-fabric laundry bags. It looks something like fish netting, but it is cloth, very soft and full of holes.

There is a huge warning sticker strongly attached inside the bag. It reads of dire warnings of how children should not play with this bag and there could be terrible consequences if the bag were used for anything other its intended use.

Shudder.

I have been thinking a lot lately of the happy-go-lucky approach to business and non-profit storytelling I have seen of late. It is like 1973 all over again. By that, I mean 1973 was one of the birth years of the often-cited Renaissance in oral storytelling in the USA. Sound bites abounded and they might have been such as “Everything is possible with storytelling. We are going to change the world with our stories! Mountains will be razed and valleys will be raised up.”

Groovy.

Nobody was talking “business storytelling” back then. However, we sure are talking about it in the last few years. “If you only believe in your story, your company will be recreated.” “Customers only want your story, not your facts.” “Story is now your unfailing Brand builder.”

Many of the messages about storytelling aren't true. Maybe we need to attach a warning label to storytelling. Here is is what I might write:

! Warning !

This is not a toy. Story, via storytelling, will leave permanent marks on everything that it touches. Off-label uses may include stains you would rather not have.

Business Storytelling must be only be used with the "Intentionality" activator. Untrained employees or well-meaning volunteers should not tell every organizational Story they think they know. Do not allow your company or nonprofit group to attempt Storytelling as a company-wide mission unless your CEO is willing to be the most active storyteller.

Do not use Storytelling as a replacement for all Story. Storytelling should only be used as a person-to-person, live-action, unique and singular experience of Story. For best results, use a blend of personal, business and world-tale Stories in your Storytelling. Other methods used to share Story, such as digital or written word, carry their own warnings. Read those carefully as well.

Misuse of this Story and Storytelling can result in a toxic substance known as “Manipulation.” Manipulation is always fatal to your organization. Storytelling should not be used to replace "Integrity" in any level of your organization.
Yes, I know I am being silly. Or…am I? Proceed with caution.

Check the label.


P.S. I've written before about what storytelling won't do for your business or nonprofit.

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This is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Story for Business Nay Saying.

First off, go take a look at a very good article by Kathy Hansen on her blog: "Not Everyone Thinks Applied Storytelling is a Good Idea." (Note: Dr. Hansen consistently supplies excellent commentary on story and storytelling and should be on your "surfing" list.)

I agree with the issue she's presenting and have added my comments:

How about this article on "10 Things Storytelling Won't Do for Your Business."

You can find it at: http://seantells.com/storywont

Backlash is to be expected at the moment. Sadly, we have gobs of storybiz philosophers out there right now that can comment eloquently about the "why" of story but few comment well about the "how" of story. What we are left with is a pile of people who are energetic about the concept but have no way to really make it go. I've actually seen business people (who should know better) breathlessly say (or Twitter or Facebook) that we have to "believe in" the story for it to work. They're using the word "believe" in the same way that Peter Pan tells the audience that clapping your hands and believing will bring Tinkerbell back to life. No, you don't have to "believe" your story but it must be true, it must be honest and it must have relevance. Story is not cod-liver oil or any panacea.

Another issue is that folks are replacing facts with story. Story frames the facts, it does not replace them. Story carries Truth- not replaces it. For example, there is a reason that XYZ company lost money last year and they need to look at those figures. What story can do is frame the experiences of loss and recovery. As another example, if you have bullies in your elementary school, the simple act of storytelling alone will not solve the problem. Done wrong it will actually make it worse.

I am pre-reading yet another book on biz storytelling before it comes out this Spring. It's full of stories but has no content. Lots of people are going to pick it up and be very disappointed. Those folks will put the book down and abandon storytelling as fluffy cocktail-hour bragging- when it could have made a huge difference in their organizations done right and in context.

I'm pro applied story and its various deliveries, but I am deeply aware that the message often sounds like a 1970's peace-and-love TV commercial to many folks. You'd like to buy the world a Coke? That's great and your vision inspires me. Now, how are we going to pay for it?

The official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.