Advice for Corporate Storytellers
More emotion will help your storytelling efforts
“Memory is necessary for all operations of reasoning.” — Blaise Pascal (c.1658)
It’s tough living in the future, isn’t it?
There’s so much focus on the latest platform, trend, or technology. Are you on threads? What’s your video strategy? AI is going to kill us all!
But true storytellers know that the medium isn’t the message.
What matters is how you relate to your audience.
“I think technology really increased human ability. But technology cannot produce compassion." — Dalai Lama
We have so much of ourselves to share in the personal and corporate stories we tell, today and in the many tomorrows to come.
Speaking of stories, some of the best jokes are told like stories. Did you ever hear a good joke?
Like a really good joke, where you said to yourself, “Wow — I’ve got to remember this, so I can tell my friends and make them laugh as hard as I’m laughing now.”
Then, you see your friends and make an attempt to retell the joke. And your attempt falls flat.
You aren’t bringing it to life the same way. Maybe your gestures are off, the accent is different, or the embellishments aren’t as detailed.
Whatever the differences are, you still manage to hit all the points of the joke, but when you deliver the punchline, it just falls to the floor a lies there, helpless, looking up at you, wondering what it did to deserve such an awful fate.
What just happened?
There’s something missing in your story.
“The old wheel turns, and the same spoke comes up. It's all been done before, and will be again.” — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887
The Remembered Past
I’m a student of history and literature. When I admit this to my clients in the executive suite, it usually strikes them as odd, since so many of them expect consultants and advisers to come in quoting the latest platform trends.
I watch the trends and understand their utility just fine. But I also study human behavior, which over the course of recorded history, has been remarkably consistent.
While history doesn’t repeat, it does rhyme. And when we ignore the successes and foibles of those who have come before us, we not only fail to learn from them, but we also show our ignorance.
“Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child.” — Cicero
Why is history important? In Varieties of Cultural History, Peter Burke cites the ancient Greek historian Herotodus, noting that historians are guardians of memory.
A collective memory is important in society — one that we’ll come back to in future editions here.
But he also pulls out a long-lost official title: Remembrancer.
It’s a beautiful term and an apt description of what historians and storytellers do:
If you want to be a good storyteller, then you should read a variety of materials for inspiration.
Personally, my sources are eclectic, but they inform my view of the present and future. It gives me an outside perspective.
In the “Memory” issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, Lewis H. Lapham wrote a piece on memory called “The Remembered Past” in which he discerns between the recorded past and the remembered past:
The recorded past is a spiked cannon. The remembered past is live ammunition — not what happened two hundred or two thousand years ago, a story about what happened two hundred or two thousand years ago. The stories change with circumstance and the sight lines available to tellers of the tale. Every generation rearranges the furniture of the past to suit the comfort and convenience of its anxious present.” [Emphasis ours - Ed.]
A story about what happened.
Why Should Companies Care?
When it comes to corporations, why does it matter that we share stories about the facts rather than just the facts?
Lapham got me thinking about how many companies tell stories, whether they're through press releases or feature-filled ads: they’re largely about getting all of the facts out there — what happened.
It’s like trying to awkwardly retell a joke: simply checking all of the boxes on the elements of the joke doesn't necessarily result in a hilarious outcome.
Telling people what happened is easy. More difficult is telling them how it happened. Or why it happened.
But first and foremost, you need to make them care about it.
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