Monday, March 03, 2014

Storytellers: Who's Your Audience—NO REALLY!!!

James Gregg, Staff Photographer, San Diego Union-Tribune [Fuji X-E2, XF 55-200mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4.8, 1/10]
All photos from the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference

Every conference I am attending today there is a passion for “Storytelling” and “Giving a Voice to the Voiceless.”

I don’t think this is really all that new, but what is new is the focus on moving from bullet lists on a PowerPoint presentation to telling a story instead.

We have always done this, but now we are more aware of the power of an authentic story.

However with all this emphasis I am still not feeling the stories that people are sharing. The reason I am not feeling it all that well is pretty simple. The storyteller forgot all about me.

You see I can tell they got lost in the story and the subject and forgot all about the audience.

I am sure there are many ways to connect with the audience, but let me talk about one that I believe is the most powerful way to connect your audience and subject in a way that truly is engaging.

Andrew Silk, lecturer at California Baptist University [Fuji X-E2, XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.2, 1/200]

When I am preached to, I am turned off. When I am lectured to about what I need to be doing I am not being appreciated.

Here are what I think are three elements you need in the storytelling to engage an audience.

Tension—You need to have the audience asking the question about the outcome for the subject. The narrative of your story must incite the audience to really want an answer. Many of a screenwriter talks when a story is not moving you along that you need a “dead cat.” You are missing tension and then there is no need for the audience to need to read the story.

Unpredictable—I think of Disney’s latest movie Frozen and how the ending has a twist so different than all the other princess movies I have seen. This twist has people talking and loving this movie. As a visual storyteller I sometimes will use the visuals to help create the unpredictable. The unpredictability should be full of suggestion, foreshadowing and recall. Not gimmicky shots and tricks, rather the video should be strategically designed to tell a story in a way that is not predictably sequential.

Personality—The salesperson sells himself before they can sell the product. The narrative must have a style that is warm and inviting and not boring and dull.

Mike Martin, pastor [Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 2800, ƒ/10, 1/2000]

The last one on personality is often where the subject reveals their flaws.  The best stories are where the main subject is flawed and not a perfect Barbie Doll or Ken Doll.

Too many people will go to a church revival and they are moved by the testimony of someone who had a terrible life. They were on drugs, they were beaten or even raped and this power of their story is often thought to be how terrible their life was.

I often hear people say I wish I had a story like that. They even may jokingly say they wish they had a drug addiction. They feel like they don’t have a story, because they don’t have a “dead cat” in their story.

I know of people who are the most attractive people you could imagine that appeared to have it all who attempted suicide. The key is not that they attempted or thought of suicide, but the power of the story comes in the authenticity of why they thought their life was not worth living.

Giraffs at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center [Fuji X-E2, XF 55-200mm, ISO 200, ƒ/4.5, 1/200]

You see they compared themselves to their siblings or someone else who had what they thought was a successful life. They maybe had older siblings that were star athletes or straight “A” students. In their eyes they are a failure.

The key to this person telling their story is not in how bad they thought they had it; the power is telling the story of how they are a broken vessel.

I think great leaders are the ones who do share a little of their humanity and not trying to appear that they have it all together.

Every person feels in adequate. They all feel they are not as good as those around them at some level. Even those who are the most successful in life struggle sometime during their day as missing the mark. Learn to connect to the audience on how this story you want to tell is similar to their story.

When we tap into the audience and where they are in life we will have a better time engaging them into the story. Nonprofits can tell their story as long as they connect to the struggles of the subject and how the audience can make a difference. But to do this they must establish how and why the subject cannot do it alone.

They must show how the audience can make a difference and connect the emotional part of the story to the message.

[Fuji X-E2, XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/7.1, 1/25]
The more you know about the audience before you work on the story can help you find those emotional connections between the two.  Appealing to an entrepreneur to help support micro loans or even macro loans to help another entrepreneur achieve their dream changes the world. They must just establish why they cannot get a traditional loan.

If your organization is struggling I would guess that one of the major reasons why is they forgot about whose their audience.