An Unconference takes people, ideas, quirks and agendas and mashes them all together to find a structure to be enacted for the day. Everyone follows a path, but every path is unique. In many ways, the unconference process is similar to the process of creating a story. We start with a mosaic of concepts and we converge them into structure. The cool thing about an unconference is that everyone creates his or her own story for the day. This year at the MassTLC Unconference, about 30-40 of us had the opportunity to talk about Stories and Storytelling, but it almost did not happen, because facilitator Jay Batson hesitated at my pitch. Perhaps, my hook was not strong enough. But he took a chance, which led to a great story circle. (Here I am on deck behind a tall guy.)
I started the session by explaining that I have realized more and more over the past 5 years that people focus a lot on talking information instead of telling stories. Sometimes, they cram so much information into a run-on sentence that it sends your head spinning. And then what? That information swirls around and around then disappears like the water in a toilet bowl, never to be seen again. Clearly, that’s not what was intended to happen.
From an educational standpoint, we teach kids to learn information and present information. That’s what standardized tests do. They’re all about information. Progressive educators believe in the power of storytelling, and they are finding ways to implement it into the curriculum. More on that in a future post.
So we began by discussing what a story is and how we use stories in our lives. We decided that a story includes:
- a beginning with a hook
- the art of persuasion
- expression of an explicit objective targeted to a specific audience
- words intended to move a person
- the combination of words that touch on logic, emotion and ethics to persuade the reader / listener of something (Aristotle)
That quickly led to using storytelling in business, and in particular for Marketing and Sales. I tried to steer the conversation towards storytelling in product design, but it seemed to want to stay on Marketing and Sales. Someone mentioned that some companies are purely built on stories instead of innovative products. An example given was the Dollar Shave Club. People love their ads and stories, but the products are just commodities sourced from China. I would say there is innovation in moving the buying process to a tech-based subscription, but there is clearly a great draw from the story.
We all agreed that the best stories are retold over and over, partly because they are clever or unique and partly because they are simple and easy to remember.
As a final question, I asked the people in the room, “Who is better at telling stories, Marketing or Sales?” Without missing a beat, the Salespeople jumped in and said that Sales is better at storytelling… BECAUSE they are in front of customers all the time, constantly telling their stories and refining them based on feedback. After some thought, the Marketers in the room explained that they craft and tell internal stories of the company and provide them to Sales to tell to the customers. Great marketers are like journalists going out and seeking the stories to write about and retell. The conclusion from the room was that both sides needed a constant feedback loop to keep the stories fresh, memorable and targeted to engaging the customers. Without this constant feedback loop, they are not as strong.
So how did my Unconference story develop? I was hooked in by the first line that it would be “a one day experience like no other”. I met 1-on-1 with people who gave me new ideas to think about related to my company, 30hands Learning. I listened to VCs discuss funding and make VCs actually seem like real people. I talked with a room full of people about stories. Then, like an obsessive design thinker, I rehashed the day over a beer with some of the cohort I had created. The story from the Unconference is not yet complete. Like an artist’s painting, it is taking shape, but it will keep on reshaping as it tries to make an impact on me, my company and the stories we tell.
Resources from the session:
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