What do you do when your opponent consciously decides to
stir things up by launching attacks that are just this side of inciting a lynch
mob? Or, because on this blog politics is viewed as a test bed for broader
communications strategies, your company’s chief competitor launches a viral
rumor campaign against your flagship product?
The best response is a calm and trusted voice that can set
things right. It could be a CEO who steps forward (the Japanese are
particularly adroit at that) but an endorsement from an outsider whose
voice is broadly trusted by your target
audience is much, much better.
This radio ad, running now in the battle ground state of
Virginia, is a micotargeting
masterpiece. And the music in the background ain’t half bad neither. Don’t miss it.
A very big thanks to Kathy G or at The G-Spot for putting
this up. Click over to her website and check it out. She has a lot more of Ralph Stanley’s music posted. My
favorite? “Man of Constant Sorrow” which pretty much covers how many folks will
be feeling when they open up that envelop and see their 401K statement latter this
If like us you have spent hours searching the malls for the
perfect gifts, you will be happy to know that you are going to get all that
time back! At least that is the statistical result of recent studies that show generous
giving is a positive survival trait in humans. One reason may be the neurotransmitter
Oxytocin is stimulated by such things as touching and being
trusted and is shown to facilitate the bonding of mother and child. If you are building
a brand, this is the stuff you need your customers producing when they hear
your name. And it is clearly connected to giving. A report published by the
journal, ONE, shows that giving test
subjects Oxytocin made them much more generous. It seems to be a two-way
street, so the act of generous giving gives you a shot of this hormone as well.
And Oxytocin is a gift that keeps on giving – to you! The hormone is known to
reduce heart rate and blood pressure, promote wound healing, and reduce the effects
The best gifts to give are the most personal. Giving of your
own time trumps all the rest. A review of over thirty studies on the subject done
by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that people who
volunteer time to help others have lower mortality rates, function at a higher
physical and cognitive level, and are less likely to be depressed than others.
You get more benefit if you are older, and if you give more than 100 hours a
year. We’ve said before that one of the smartest career moves you can make is
to find and support an important social cause at work. Now it turns out it
might just save your life.
If you have been a regular reader of this blog you noticed a
stunning transformation a few weeks ago. We suddenly went from being a bland
off-the-typepad-shelf way to post words, to being an actual blogsite designed to
tell a story. The change involves more than just new colors and buttons. It
involves a whole new point of view. The Hero responsible? We owe it all to Amy
Lenzo, Creative Director of Clear Light Communications.
If you are a very long time reader you will remember Amy’s
website Beauty Dialogues. We raved
about it in one of our very first post because Amy’s photos are such stunning examples of images as stories. But in
the intervening months (has it really been that long?) she also has added written
content that is not to be missed.
Her thinking on the link between design, the Internet and
community is profound and, yes, beautiful She tells a great story. She knows
all the facts and wraps them in such good-hearted emotions that we are
compelled to see things differently. And the more we work with Amy and Clear
Light the more we know “we ain’t seen nothing yet.”
We often tell our clients that story is not a marketing
add-on – something you come up with after you have a good idea to sell it.
Story is how you have that really good idea in the first place. This is
particularly true of design stories. Great design, the type Amy does, doesn’t
just present information, it reveals the stories underneath. Great designs are acts of
discovery. Check out Amy’s website and discover for yourself how design can help
build a living web community. You will really thank me for this link.
Why read my opinions about the candidates when there are plenty of people with more inside knowledge pushing their own points of view? Well, the unique five-element story model explained in Elements of Persuasion for one thing. And not being actively engaged in the game gives us at FirstVoice the breathing room for fresh insights (Awareness=Air in our model). My charming prose is just icing on the cake. But if you are handicapping a horse race it makes sense to listen to the guys who spend their lives hanging around the track. Many White House Operatives are now hitting the public sector. Few are being very free about their views on the current Repub candidates. An exception is Dan Bartlett, Mr. Bush’s former counselor and one of GW’s closest aids.
Jim Rutenberg over at the NYT gives a synopsis of a talk Mr. Barlett gave to the U. S Chamber of Commerce that quickly cuts to the chase. But if you are a real political junkie why not see it for yourself here. It is well worth a long careful listen.
My work as an executive coach grows out of my career as an acting coach, and that comes out of my experience as an actor. One of the great perks of acting professionally is getting to hang out with some very talented people. 20 years ago Lilly Tomlin, a friend and mentor, helped me deal with my enormous stage fright. Seeing the blood drain from my face at the mere mention of stepping on stage, Lilly comforted me with a casual aside “Bobby, don’t worry about your audience too much. It doesn’t take a lot to stand out in a mediocre world.”
Lilly wasn’t being arrogant. At the time she was the toast of Broadway, selling out her one-woman show. I had watched her rehearsing for months and knew arrogance was the furthest thing from her mind. She was teaching me one of a performers most important lessons: Don’t Give Your Audience Too Much Power.
You are there for them, but they are there to experience new possibilities. Many are living in a world where they must play it safe, are P.C., and keep their heads down for fear of being criticized. They are hoping that your presentation will lift them into a place of vitality, wonder and joy. There is no hope of you doing that if you are too worried about how they will react. Don’t give up you power before you walk into the light.
Max and I have talked about using the 5 elements to build successful stories. Creating a story is like making a stew. The elements need to be balanced. Too much fire and the stew is burned. Not enough fire and the stew is cold and indigestible.
When I started my coaching business FirstVoice ten years ago, I worked with authors, helping them improve their pitch stories to the media. I was invited to attend a large book fair where many authors were speaking. My intention was to pick up a few new clients by critiquing their talk. I was sure that all the authors would be dying to get my comments.
After I heard one struggling author finishing her short talk, I bolted up to the front of the room with her book in hand. She smiled up at me and reached out to sign my book. I said I’m not here for that. Instead, I gave her detail after detail of what she did wrong. Her smile turned to the look of a sad little girl. I saw her deflate yet I was too passionate to stop. She nodded meekly at my comments. I thrust my card into her hands and suggested that if she ever wanted to get better she should call.
Boy I felt great. I was filled with a religious zeal. I knew I was making an impact. Now all I had to do was wait. She would be calling soon. She never spoke to me again. On reflection I was lucky to have left the convention without being attacked. I had passion and fire in the belly. But I forgot about listening to see if my potential client wanted to hear my story.
Bob and I just had a book signing in Los Angeles. Robert, a dedicated magician came by and brought along five copies of our book The Elements of Persuasion he pre-ordered from Amazon. He plans to give them to his fellow prestidigitators. Robert believes the biggest problem facing most semi-pro magicians isn’t their tricks, but their patter – the stories they tell as part of misdirecting the audience’s attention. He sees the five-element story model as the way to make sure your patter doesn’t fall flat or worse, seem outright creepy.
If you think about it every magicians trick follows our story pattern – from capturing the audience attention (Passion) through changing the silk scarf into a living dove (Transformation) – but it is controlling the audiences Point of View (Hero) that makes the trick possible. Controlling point of view is what a good story does best. And it works as well in the boardroom as it does on stage.
We advise our corporate clients to “leave the lying to professionals” and above all, to be authentic when doing business, particularly in public. But there are times when you need a little presentational slight of hand to keep a deal moving forward or to defuse a potentially negative comment. In those moments nothing beats having the right story handy and knowing how to tell it. How can you make sure that you have that? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall, “Practice, Practice, Practice.”
At FirstVoice Bob and I aren’t in the politics business. We are in the story/communications business. But politics is a good place to see how mass media stories work. Right now, today, Gore’s campaign story is the strongest one out there.
Why? His has all five of our political story elements fully developed. Well, four and a half anyway, and we’ll get back to Passion in a minute.
As the Hero of his story he owns one of the major issues of this election – energy and ecology. Any other issue can be seen from that Point of View. That is his territory – the ground he stands on – and the worldwide Live Earth concert last month shows how broad a political base that potentially is. His Antagonists (big oil, big coal, Haliburton) are wildly unpopular and already strongly associated with the opposing party. Awareness is covered. Contrary to Washington conventional wisdom winning an Academy Award for his slide show “An Inconvenient Truth” proves Gore can be inspiring on the stump. Best of all, having been away from Washington for eight years allows this once ultimate insider to now very legitimately run as an outsider – an agent of Transformation – which is what most voters say they want. Staying out of the current endless cycle of cable debates actually reinforces this outsider image. So it all comes down to his Passion. Does he really WANT to be President?
I don’t know. He might not know. Thomas Jefferson denied he wanted the job almost until Election Day. He still won. He still did a great job. And passion can be borrowed. It is visceral. Stand next to it and you have it. Just pair Gore with a passionate VP. Say Obama. Gore/Obama might be unstoppable. But the same can be said about the Hillary Clinton machine. We will talk about her story next.
The five-element story model we use at FirstVoice is based on the five elements of the ancient Greeks (fire, earth, water, air and space). This makes it extremely adaptable. In our book The Elements of Persuasion, we introduce the pneumonic acronym PHAAT and describe the five story elements as: The Passion with which the story is told; the Hero who allows us to see the story from a particular point of view; the Antagonist or obstacle the hero must overcome; the moment of Awareness that allows the hero to prevail; and the Transformation that results. PHAAT.
These words work, but sometimes it is helpful to go back the elements and find different words that fit better in conventional debate. Describing the political stories of the current crop of candidates is one of those times. In political storytelling Passion describes the famous “fire in the belly” that makes a candidate need to run. Hero is the candidate themselves, but also “the earth they stand on” – their consolidated base of support. Antagonist is their opposition, which they themselves define. Awareness is the ability of the candidate’s story to inspire us and see the world in a new way. And of course, Transformation is how they want to change things once elected. In coming days we will be looking at how the various candidates – Democrats and Republicans – are using the five story elements to get their message out. Just a teaser: as it stands now Al Gore has by far the best story going.
At FirstVoice, we
define a story as “A fact, wrapped in an emotion that compels us to
take an action that transforms our world.” In our book The Elements of Persuasion,
we use the story “All Gone” to show how infants use story to react to
an empty bottle and transform their world. How strong is the connection
between food and story? Does the food on your plate meet our story
criteria? The answer, unsurprisingly is “Yes!” The FACT is an uncooked rack of baby back ribs. The EMOTIONS
are added by the cook (sauces, spices, presentation); if those baby
backs are being served at our favorite rib joint, Mr. Cecile’s on Pico,
they truly make your heart sing. When they arrive at the table we are COMPELLED to chow down and so TRANSFORMED.
What started us thinking about this, is the work of Hugo Liu, a rising
star at the MIT Media Lab. Dr. Liu developed a computer “cookbook”
named Gulp Fiction which custom creates recipes not only by ingredient
and cooking technique, but also includes emotional and aesthetic
factors. At your next dinner party it could create a main course that
is “whimsical”, “primal”, and somehow relates to “Popeye”. The program
is currently behind a fire wall at the Media Lab, but you can see its
recipe for Ceremonious Ice Cream, and visit Dr. Liu’s website. We find his work inspiring (connected to our element of Awareness)
but incomplete. We’re beginning a thread here that deals with food
across all five of the story elements. Stay tuned and contribute. And
check out Hugo’s website, it is more than worth the click though we
have to say that anyone whose website begins with a quote from
Nietzsche and who isn’t also sporting a tasty set of prison tats loses
a certain amount of philosophical street cred with us.