Growing up in rural Ontario meant life without cable TV (the cable lines didn’t reach out to where we lived and satellite TV was still off in the distant future). Of course we had the movies, but even those were a drive into town away. When I set upon the path to becoming a professional video producer, the question did cross my mind: How could this hayseed, isolated as she was from TV and film, find success in the world of moving pictures. The answer came to me quickly: I loved – and understood – the art of storytelling.
The bug bit early. With eager ears bent toward tales of hardship, happiness and hilarity, woven by visiting aunts, uncles and grandparents, I enjoyed a childhood rich with oral tradition. Even my parents went all out. No simple bedtime stories for me. Everything was acted out, in-character; and dinner time could be characterized as 10 per cent eating, 90 per cent arm-waving, top-o’-the-lungs Shakespeare in the park!
Now I realize that every visit with my parents’ for tea is another experience in rural language peppered with regional colloquialisms and expressions. From early on they taught me to appreciate the power and allure of a unique voice. An understanding of the value of this crystallized early in my video career in Toronto, far from the rolling green hills of my country upbringing. More than once a CEO with a curious smile would ask me, “where are you from” as if I’d arrived at the boardroom table from a magical place in a far off land. After the first few times this happened, I realized that the very thing that sets you apart is also the thing that breaks the ice, engages a stranger and starts a conversation. These friendly business people and their curiosity about me cemented the importance of story and character in my mind; and I realized that good video is really nothing more than good storytelling delivered with artistic and technical competence.
What’s your story? Because getting to it is the key to creating a compelling voice. Here are the three essential ingredients for better storytelling for corporations:
- Every company, organization, or charity has their own distinctive style of communicating: unique sayings, expressions, and lingo that set them apart. Use this language to support your culture, but don’t forget that you tell stories to real people first. Not employees or numbers. People respond to honest, simple, humble and heartfelt language. So lose the bureaucratese and clichéd corprorate bla-bla-bla. Instead, embrace a conversational voice that is authentically you. Your audience will find you genuine, interesting and approachable.
- Stop being obsessed with youth. Great storytelling comes from a life lived: experience. You wouldn’t seek out the youngest child in a village to learn about the history of the place. You would instinctively scan for the respected elder for sage tales of toil and triumph. Where there be wrinkles and wisdom there be the stuff of amazing stories! The older – ideally exuberant – expert is who you need to tell your story. You have these people in your company, and more often than not they are willing to go in front of the camera. They will have long outgrown the petty self-consciousness that may constrain the young whippersnappers, and they will be flattered that they’ve been asked to share their knowledge. They speak from the heart as they have nothing to prove. Give them an audience and they always amaze.
- Humour is the great unifier. Throughout the years I’ve spent swooping into corporate settings to tell their visual stories, I have learned that, more than any other force, laughter unites co-workers and sets managers at ease. Something as simple as eliciting an on-camera smile can transform a dull, lifeless CEO into a warm, confident coffee-companion.
No one knows your culture better than you; so you know what lines you can’t cross. Know your limits, loosen up, and let the walls down a little. A sense of humour conveys that you are confident enough about your professional capabilities to relax and have fun. Humour is also interesting and infectious. Interesting is what gets attention in the land of corporate storytelling. As for infectious, that’s the key to good social media and a video-marketing happily ever after.