Back in 2011, then-Pixar story artist Emma Coats tweeted a series of guidelines she learned from her more experienced colleagues on how to create appealing stories.
Having rediscovered them again recently, 10 years later, it’s remarkable how so many of them still hold up – underscoring the fundamental nature of great storytelling! As a corporate storyteller, I might also add that some of these apply to telling one’s company narrative as well, especially the ones highlighted in bold:
You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Which ones spoke to you? Which ones do you think could be co-opted in building one’s company narrative?
Given the Trust Barometer’s findings that the general public is (re)turning to the business sector to solve “big problems” it might not be surprising to discover that having the right focus matters for both a business and its leaders, for action impacts trust. 45 percent attribute a business’ contribution to the greater good as the reason that their trust in business has grown. Conversely, of those whose trust in business decreased, half cited a business’ failure to contribute to the greater good as the main driver.
I think there is a strong impetus for brands and organisations today to tap deeper into their brand purpose and corporate narrative – and communicate this through their leaders and employees. The Barometer’s findings reinforce this: The public is responding positively to CEOs trying to realize the dual mandate of profit and societal benefit, as CEO trust has risen substantially in the past five years to 48 percent.
At the same time, organisations and leaders need the help of their employees, whose trust levels (52 percent) are on the rise. Respondents are more likely to trust an employee compared to a CEO for information on treatment of employees (48 percent versus 19 percent) and information on business practices and crises (30 percent versus 27 percent).
A strong brand purpose and corporate narrative is also valuable for internal engagement and morale. When business—and more speciﬁcally when the CEO—is involved in societal issues, employee advocacy and engagement increases. When a CEO is engaged in addressing societal issues, an employee’s motivation to perform escalates by 22 points. Similarly, an employee’s willingness to stay working for the company climbs by 22 points, and inclination to recommend the company as an employer grows by 25 points.
According to Kathryn Beiser, global practice chair of Edelman’s Corporate practice, “Business can be a big part of the solution because it is apolitical, fast, and tracks its progress. Now is the time to lead from the front with the support of their employees and passionate customers. No longer can business leaders focus on short-term goals. The new model CEOs are taking action by addressing the issues of our time, and taking a personal interest in the success of society. Stakeholders expect business to have a solid and steady focus on financial returns, but also on actions around key issues such as education, healthcare and the environment.”
I was drawn to highlight this video because I thought it was a great example of how to present a smorgasbord of numbers in a compelling, captivating way. Having recently presented on statistical findings, I know there is a huge challenge in conveying data point after data point while trying to avoid “death by PowerPoint”: riddling one’s presentation with bullets or blinding people with slide after slide of charts.
Here, the Wealth Inequality in America excels, kept to three important principles:
Illustration – The main idea was conveyed very powerfully through illustrating just how much inequality existed. When it arranged the depictions of wealth into comparative stacks of cash, one could clearly see just how far apart the wealthiest Americans were compared to the poorest.
Storytelling – Yes, it is entirely possible to convey statistical data through effective storytelling! In the case of this video, this was particularly true when it highlighted the vast difference between what a CEO makes compared to its average employees.
Simplicity – Above all, the video sought very hard to keep things simple. You could see how the video tried to “make sense” of the numbers by illustrating them using terms that people could easily grasp and understand.
By using these three principles, they created a video that powerfully conveyed its message. Coupled with a format that was particularly effective to share from – they had a very share-worthy video.
It’s not always easy, but done well, it’s very effective!