Pixar Storytelling – It Starts With An Idea

If you haven’t seen a Pixar animated movie, I’ll assume you have been living on a (nearly) deserted island. Their first feature film was Toy Story, released some 25 years ago. After 22 films, $14 billion in box office revenue, and an acquisition by Disney, they’re still creating films that touch our heart and change the way we think about the world.

You can read more about the fascinating history of Pixar, but in short, they are master storytellers. And while it’s doubtful that your personal story will end up in a Pixar movie, the process they use to create their films can teach us a lot about the craft of storytelling – characters, plot, emotion, wisdom, life.

It all begins with an idea.

It’s the first thing I ask someone who says they have a story to tell. What’s the idea, or the point, or the message that is driving your story. If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there?

Luckily, the creation of your story is not as complex as the Pixar process – no need to hire any simulation technical artists – but a takeaway from this welcome video is the need for revision / editing along the way. Nothing comes out perfect the first time. It’s an iterative endeavour that enriches your story, bit by bit.

The power of story is that it has an ability to connect with people on an emotional level.

Even when creating a fictional story, the writer needs to put an element of themselves into the narrative as a way to convey how they’re feeling. The same holds true in your story. It’s not just a sequence of events. That’s rather boring. The audience needs to know how the experience felt to you.

Check in next week for another glimpse into the world of Pixar storytelling!

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

The Three Dimensions of Public Speaking

Humans have been making public speeches for thousands of years, but until recently, the number of folks doing so has remained rather small, in single digits percentage wise. Unless you were a politician, business leader or social activist, you were in the audience listening, but much has changed in recent decades.

With the advent of venues such as Creative Mornings, the TED Conference and TEDx events now held around the world, as well as storytelling podcasts such as The Moth or The Narrators, and story conferences like the Future of StoryTelling or The Power of Storytelling, the cachet of storytelling has never been greater.

More importantly, public speaking / storytelling skills have become fundamental attributes for any employee working in the commercial and/or nonprofit sectors. If you can’t tell your story, as well as the stories of your organization, customers and stakeholders, you’re at a disadvantage. So what makes a speaker impactful?

There are many factors that go into crafting and delivering stories that inform, enlighten, even challenge a listener, but here are three dimensions that form the foundation of public speaking. (p.s. they’ve been relevant for a few millennium)

The Three Dimensions of Public Speaking

Often referred to as the KLT Factor, the marketing world has long touted the idea that consumers buy products from someone they know, and like, and trust.

But if we traveled back to ancient Greece we might hear Aristotle speak about rhetoric and his take on ethos, pathos and logos (ethics, emotions and logic) as key attributes possessed by great speakers and found in moving speeches.

The discipline of business decision making often refers to the combination of head, heart, and gut (intellect, emotion and intuition).

As you can see, these parallels point to a speaker’s credibility or trustworthiness, combined with a story’s ability to touch us emotionally, and for the narrative to make sense. It’s the combination of all three that creates story magic.

To see how it’s done, take a moment to spin up Robin Steinberg’s TED Talk that explores the bail system in America – how it works, what’s wrong with it, and her solution to the problem.

Robin’s personal story establishes credibility on the topic, as it’s her profession. She also spends time explaining how the system works, or doesn’t, and uses the experience of someone who was victimized by an unfair system to bring out the emotional side of the story. Thus, we come to believe her, and her argument.

As you craft a story of your own, make sure you address each of these critical dimensions. Will an audience place their faith in you through a bond of trust? Will they feel your story in a way they can relate to? Will their intellectual side be satisfied with the logic of your proposition? If one of these factors is missing, their confidence in your idea will be too.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Three Reasons We Don’t Tell Our Story

Some folks are eager to tell us their story. They know their message is one that others could benefit from hearing, and they’re always looking for an opportunity to share their ideas, their wisdom, or the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Whenever I meet one of these people and mention that I used to produce TEDx events, they quickly shift into pitch mode, expressing a desire to be on stage. They’re not the least bit shy and their storytelling passion is front and center.

But I also meet a lot of folks with powerful stories worth sharing, yet they’ll come up with reasons to avoid telling that story to an audience. They’re resigned to remaining silent as I hear them say something like the following…

  • I’m not a great public speaker, and I’m not a professional
  • I just don’t know how to make my story sound interesting
  • I might make a mistake, or even forget what I want to say

Sound familiar? Well, you’re in good company, but I’m here to tell you that none of these reasons should stop you, or even slow you down. So let’s address them, and get you motivated to begin sharing your important stories with the world.

You were born a storyteller

That’s the first thing I want every potential speaker to know, and to embrace. As babies we learn about the world around us by watching and listening. And it doesn’t take long before we learn to speak and begin telling our stories. Simple stories at first, but stories that gain in confidence and complexity day by day.

Think about the thousands of stories you’ve told since – to your family, kids in the neighborhood, and your classmates at school. You’re always telling stories. That said, we’re rarely taught how to tell a story designed to impact others – a story that’s very intentional in its wording, structure and delivery – a story with meaning beyond recounting past events.

Like any other skill that we wish to master – playing an instrument or a sport, for example – we must spend a lot of time and effort to make that happen. The more times you speak in public, and the more effort you put into writing and rehearsing your stories, the better you will get at it – so you don’t need to be a great speaker (yet), or a professional, you just need to be you to tell your story.

Create an interesting story

While we’ve spent our lives telling random stories to each other, stories told to an audience are more intentional, and structured to express an important idea or convey a specific viewpoint. So there are a number of skills to be mastered.

I approach the story process using three steps: ideation, narration, presentation. Before you write a single word of your story you need to define the main message that will drive the narrative and represent the gift that you’re giving the audience. The proverbial pearl of wisdom.

Using a classic marketing mantra, ask three questions regarding your audience:

  • What do you want them to think?
  • How do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them to do?

Will the essence of your story shift their perspective, teach them something new, touch them emotionally, challenge preconceived notions, or inspire them to act? Ideally, your message is original, imaginative, one they haven’t heard before.

With clarity on your subject, look for story elements that will support your view. Check out these Story Blocks for examples of how you can create a compelling narrative. Utilize elements that will be of interest to your audience, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a captivating story.

Mastering your narrative

Telling a story that includes specific elements – events, observations, feelings, thoughts – presented in a specific order to maximize impact, requires practice. Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse some more. Rehearse by yourself, then do it in front of friends to get feedback. Do they understand the intent of your story?

Take advantage of your phone, tablet or laptop by recording your talk. When played back you will hear yourself saying words you wouldn’t normally use in conversation. Editing at this stage will result in a more naturally sounding talk. Next, capture your presentation on video. Note your body language and facial expressions. Words are always most important, but delivery can add emphasis.

You don’t need to memorize your entire talk (more on this at a later date) but you should know your opening and closing by heart. Starting strong gets the audience engaged, while closing strong will make it memorable. You also need to remember each element of your story, and the sequence of presentation. Delivering your narrative out of order will often confuse the listener.

As to making mistakes, the audience doesn’t have a copy of your talk, so in most cases they won’t even notice if something is missing. But if you do catch yourself saying the wrong thing, such as stating a wrong date or quoting an incorrect number, pause for a moment, take a breath, and correct yourself. The audience will appreciate your honesty.

Conclusion

I could spend hours going into each of these subjects at length, but the bottom line is that there’s a strategy for dealing with each one and you should never allow them to get in the way of sharing your story with a larger audience – your story can change the world!

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Creating a Vivid and Continuous Dream

John Gardner was an accomplished author, literary critic and university professor – a rather rare combination. He was one of the best teachers of fiction writing, and his two books on the topic, The Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist, have helped thousands learn the craft.

If you read my previous blog posted titled The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but?, you’ll know that my approach to personal storytelling is to stick to what’s true and not delve into the world of fiction. That said, we can still learn much from the methods used to write fiction, which is why I’m sharing a few quotes from Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist that apply equally to nonfiction.

…the best stories set off a vivid and continuous dream…

We’ve all been there. Reading a book that you can’t set down or watching a movie that has you leaning forward, barely breathing. When you get lost in a compelling story, the ‘real’ world has a way of disappearing, replaced by the narrative at hand. It’s a common experience with great fiction, but is also happens when we see a speaker live on stage that has everyone in the theater spellbound. While there are many factors at work in such situations, word choice and an eye for detail are key elements.

…one sign of a writer’s potential is his especially sharp ear – and eye – for language. The better the writer’s feel for language and its limits, the better his odds become.

As with most talents, this comes naturally to some, but most of us have to work at developing this illusive skill. The good news is we can learn it with practice. Noticing cliche words and phrases, or those lacking imagination or specificity. Our story’s first pass often contains a lot of safe language. Words that easily come to mind, and work okay, but we can do better.

We need only to figure out exactly what it is that we’re trying to say – partly by saying it and then by looking it over to see if it says what we really mean – and to keep fiddling with the language until whatever objections we may consider raising seem to fall away.

Writing and revising is tedious, but it’s the only way to move from just okay to excellent, from a general to a more specific meaning. If the goal is to give a speech, as opposed to writing an essay, then the process will involve rehearsing and editing so that the words don’t just read beautifully, but sound superb. How do we do that?

Read more

De Oratore by Cicero – Book 2 – The Emotions of Oratory

In addition to being a lawyer, politician and philosopher, Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero) was also a preeminent Roman orator. Drawing on the teaching of Greek rhetoric and the craft of oration in Roman times, he composed De Oratore to highlight the principles he believed were at play whenever someone planned to speak on an important topic.

While political speeches and legal proceedings were at the forefront of public speaking during this time, the concepts presented here are valuable in the drafting of any nonfiction narrative. Written in 55 BC, and comprised of three books, De Oratore is a dialogue that is set in 91 BC.

Cicero shares a dialogue, reported to him by Cotta, among a group of excellent political men and orators, who came together to discuss the crisis and general decline of politics. They met in the garden of Lucius Licinius Crassus’ villa in Tusculum.

Lucius Licinius CrassusQuintus Mucius ScaevolaQuintus Catulus
Marcus Antonius OratorGaius Aurelius CottaPublius Sulpicius Rufus

Marcus Antonius speaking to Catulus:

For mankind make far more determinations through hatred or love or desire or anger or grief or joy or hope or fear or error or some other affection of mind than from regard to truth or any settled maxim or principle of right or judicial form or adherence to the laws.

It’s common to believe we make decisions based on logic first and emotions second – does it make sense, and then, do we like it – but sadly the reverse is our reality. Our choices need to feel good first, and if they do, then we look toward the facts as a way to seal the deal.

It’s the same process in storytelling, as well in storylistening. Too often a speaker will want to offer information as their narrative’s foundation, layering on the human elements afterward. I encourage clients to change course and give listeners a reason to empathize before engaging their brains. As I see it, information invites judgement, while emotions invite connection.

Antonius then offers:

The feelings of the hearers are conciliated by a person’s dignity, by his actions, by the character of his life; particulars which can more easily be adorned by eloquence if they really exist than be invented if they have no existence.

While the previous passage dealt with two elements of Aristotle’s rhetoric; Pathos (emotions) and Logos (logic), in this case, however, Antonius is addressing the mysterious nature of the third element – Ethos (ethics).

What is the audience’s gut feel about the speaker? Do they feel he or she is honest, authentic and trustworthy? Some speakers will stretch the truth a bit, embellishing their abilities and track record as a way to impress the audience. But in such cases the audience will usually see through a smoke screen of eloquent delivery.

Keep these observations in mind as you think about the sequence of your story blocks. If the audience believes what you’re saying, then finds their heart touched by your words, and the logic holds up, you will maximize the impact of your story.

[De Oratore excerpts from Delphi Complete Works of Cicero, Translated by J. S. Watson]

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved