Telling Tall Tales — Quotidian — 385

(Transcript of video originally posted on 7 Apr 2022)

There was this movie titled “Vikram Vedha”. Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi. Good guy. Bad guy. Good circumstances. Bad circumstances. “Shall I tell you a story…, sir?” The business of storytelling, and storytelling.. in business! Let us learn more about this!

Namaste!

In the 267th Quotidian, we learned about the art of storytelling. Yearn for a Yarn, was the title! In the context of business, in an organisation, one can use “Storytelling” to achieve much and have a great impact. When you spin the narrative, you can empower the workforce, take them in a group direction, .. and there are many books that talk about this, many famous personalities have given advice. They have given speeches. When you dig around, you will notice that there are these seven items… standing individually, standing out from the rest, clamouring to you “Do this.. Do this…!” I am going to distill those seven items and present them before you today, in this Quotidian.

The first thing is, it is not enough if you tell a story.. you need to be a conduit for the rich exchange of stories between teller and listener. You have to make it collaborative. It is not one storyteller telling his or her story to everybody who is ……. aaaaah (openmouthed wonder!) listening. It has to be collaborative. If you want me to take a stellar example for this, I again go to Apple. A website called www.folklore.org! I am still amazed at how lucky they got, when they registered such a domain name for themselves! Traditional ancient word-of-mouth stories and anecdotes, dot org! If you step inside, there are some hundred and twenty five plus stories by employees, customers, partners, visionaries, founders of Apple. Including Steve Jobs himself. And, their hard work, their creations, their launches, the trials they went through, the challenges they faced, the politics, the fights, the chemistry, the successes, the failures, everything intertwined and woven into an amazing tapestry!

Look at that sentence. It is a website devoted to collective historic storytelling. Every company needs a website like this. At least on its intranet. Because as people join the workforce, they need to know about the antiquated history. If they are doing something today, it is because they WERE doing something yesterday. And that is because, they STARTED doing something twenty-five years ago! That is important!

The second little nugget that you will unearth when you dig around about storytelling in business, it is to make it Engaging. Engaging? Yes, the medium can make or break the message you want to convey. There will always have to be a grounding to what you already know. But, there is no point in repeating what everybody already knows! There has to be something new. It can’t be completely new! You will be mind-blown. There has to be familiarity! There has to be a little-beyond-reach.. some unfamiliarity. There was this movie called “Turbo”. A snail… it immediately conjures up images of slow movement. It is an animal. Going slowly. But, this animal has a desire.. A dream. I want to win in the races someday! I must be a Racer Snail. There is a story that is spun around it, just like the radioactive spider that bit Spider-Man, here, it falls into the exhaust of a car, gets infused with Nitrous Oxide, and… in a believable manner, they give an extension, and that is how you engage an audience. And, once you engage, you can give them your indoctrination!

The third little thing is… there has to be structure! The moment you saw these four letters, I am sure you have started wondering what the four-letter word I have placed here in a random jumble is, … you must have arrived at CAKE as the answer. But, it was a little hard, wasn’t it? The end goal is to get to CAKE, but what is the structure you are going to provide to them?

If you give them just this… they may try a multitude of combinations… including perhaps C K E A, and finally, they may arrive C A K E, the right sequence!

But, imagine you give them a visual aid, like this. As you form the letters, the beautiful plate and that cylinder of that cake assist you in forming the right word. You cannot form “C A K E” in any other manner. If you form it, it will look ugly. This makes it so simple and easy that it becomes child’s play!

You can take it even further! How about this… You cut the jigsaw, the piece, so that they will only fit in the right sequence.. The more structure you provide, the more they will stop bothering about.. hey, is this the end, is this the beginning, in what part of the story are we currently, .. when is the interval… they will stop bothering about it.. and they will start paying attention to the message in the story. If you try stunts like in Virumaandi, or plan your plot like the movie Vantage Point, or script your stories like Rashomon (Kurasawa), the Japanese director, people will take too long to first understand where the story begins, how it is proceeding, and they may miss out on the essence under the message! Careful!

The next item is Performance. Anybody can just narrate a story. But, every storytelling moment is an opportunity to perform. A performance doesn’t just mean you stand on the stage and deliver something. It is about the words you use, it is about the body language, it is about the tone, it is about the tempo, the timing, the props you use… look at.. Look at Steve Jobs. 2002. A coffin. On a stage! He is burying something. An OS! “Mac OS 9 was a friend to us all! Please join me in a moment of silence, as we remember our old friend, Mac OS 9!” A rose to boot! He basically RULED the day! Users were clamouring not to retire the version 9! At that time, by telling a story like this, and along the way, criticising Microsoft for something, criticising software pirates for something, … watch the video in full! I have chopped off a few parts. The way he used those props, and the way he rallied the audience to empathise with him, and commiserate about what is happening. That was beautiful. So, every storytelling moment is an opportunity to perform magic. Remember that magician on stage.

Then, it has to be tangible. Tangible? Something that you can touch and feel. See by eye, hear by ear, the sense organs get suffused by the input… That is why many people don’t like the television much. Or watch it in a theater. They want to watch a drama instead. Why? In a drama, there is a three-dimensional depth involved. In a drama, I can see, I can touch, I can feel. Watch this performer on stage. His name is Tom Sligting. He is… a global speaker. And, one of the things he does on stage to engage with the audience… is…

Catapultiser! For Q and A! So, it is a fluffy toy, a squeezy toy, so it can take a fall. It has got a microphone embedded inside. So, people can actually hold the toy close to their mouth and they can actually speak out their question. “Can I have the mic please?”, “Wait, the mic is coming!”, … nothing of that sort! Compare with this! Such a beautiful performer — I have seen him live twice till now, and Tom Sligting has figured out … that tangible storytelling. He is implementing it perfectly. Not only tangible! He is also collaborating. Because he is making the audience participate too! He is creating a great confluence of thoughts and narratives! That is TWO out of SEVEN!

Then, it has to be fun! What is fun? You need to mock somebody. Somebody must be the brunt of that joke. Could be we ourselves! Could be the person with us. Or, could be somebody else outside, elsewhere. Fun is also, if you dig deep and analyse it, you will realise, it is the slight bending of rules. A person walking, should continue walking… But, why is that person falling? Well, there is a banana peel on the floor that he didn’t see. So, a little fun! Bending of the rules of gravity. Watch this movie. We all know Shrek, the green monster! We all wait… Anticipating she will turn into a beautiful princess.. She has fallen. She is turned the other way. She gets up. There, we get a lesson! You are beautiful to my eyes, just like I am handsome in your eyes! So, it is a sense of expectation, that suddenly deflates, or suddenly takes a completely different direction. It is a great way to introduce a little fun. They would have all laughed, when they watched this particular scene. The moment this is done, a nice philosophical lesson… “Hey, She looks good to me, and that’s what matters!” A great storytelling strategy!

And finally, it has to be realistic. The moment I say realistic, I am reminded of that waterfall in which Baahubali performs a death-defying stunt. He will jump into empty space, turn 180 degrees, shoot an arrow, the arrow will carry a vine, it will get knotted up into a tree, and then he will… A little realism is useful. It has to be plausible. It has to be applicable. Yes, it can be a little out of reach, but it has to be believable. There used to be this rumour about Rajini Kanth, that he had acted thus in a movie. I came to know, later, that it wasn’t Rajini. San Basilio — a Filipino movie. Came out in 1981. A scene in that movie rolls thus! A bullet.. only one bullet remains. Two people running. This man uses a knife to slice the bullet in its path… and hits two different people. By the way, … Mythbusters have tested it… and after testing it, … have declared that this is actually possible! You CAN actually aim a bullet at a knife.. The knife doesn’t even need to be too sharp or strong, because of the speed at which the bullet is coming, it can actually be split in two.. But, it is still not believable, is it? If you are going to tell us a story, ground it. Make it believable. Then, push it just a little beyond that envelope. That is how you master that art of storytelling for business empowerment.

So, let us quickly summarise those seven items. It has to be collaborative. It has to be engaging. That is very important. It has to be structured. Where is the head. Where is the tail. It has to be performative. Remember Steve Jobs. It has to be tangible. I should be able to touch, feel, probably even smell, whatever.. Those sense organs, it has to impact. It has to be fun. And finally, hey, make it a little believable.. Introduce realism into it. Thank you!

Oh, we will meet again on the 13th of this month. Bye bye!

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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani

Business Solutions Evangelist at Zoho Corp. President at The Zoho Schools Of Learning.