Storytelling for Creators

Meeta Malhotra, Founder, The Hard Copy, shares a framework to ensure the story you are telling is a blockbuster and not a bomb.

This is a summary of a workshop I ran at YourStory’s Future of Work event. The workshop ends with participants playing the different roles to understand how framing can change context dramatically.

You work long and hard on a piece of creative work – it could be design or content, a new campaign or even a new strategic plan.  You take it to your leadership team or client. They shoot it down and say they can’t go ahead with it right now.

I have seen this demotivating scene play out over and over again  – in agencies that are presenting to clients, as well as internal teams presenting to their management.  Let’s set the quality and context for the work aside and focus only the dynamic of the negotiation between you and the other side.  Here’s a simple framework to maximise your chances of success. (This is based on a famous model called the Karpman Drama Triangle).

The Players

In every story there are at least three players:

  • The Hero: The good guy who fights the villain and / or rescues a victim
  • The Villain: The bad guy putting obstacles in the victim’s path
  • The Victim:  The person who suffers at the hands of the villain and must be rescued by the hero
Exhibit A: A framework for presenting creative work, derived from the Karpman Drama Triangle

Here’s the important part: Even though you don’t realise it, YOU are the casting director. You assign these roles to the players in the room and therefore influence the outcome.

My Creation, My Hero

Almost every presentation plays out like this:

  • You start by listing all the problems with the current scenario / design
  • You then show how your work is much better and solves the problem

Pause here. Think about the players. Who do you think is the hero in this scenario and who has been made the villain? That’s right. Your creation is the hero swooping in to correct problems created by ….. the client or leadership who is responsible for the current situation.  In other words, your work is the hero and they are the villain.

How Did You Make Me Feel?

Maya Angelou famously said “I’ll forget what you said. I’ll forget what you did. I’ll never forget how you made me feel”.

There are two primary hormones that determine our state of mind, when presented with new information

Oxytocin: The ‘happiness’ hormone that makes us feel like we have a bond with the people around us

Cortisol: The ‘danger’ hormone that puts us into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode when we feel threatened.

Exhibit B: Reduce the cortisol and increase the oxytocin by talking possibilities and not problems

While this is certainly not an attempt at pseudo-neuroscience, I’m using Exhibit B to illustrate the broad objective we want to achieve.

At the end of the meeting, you want your audience’s brains to be flooded with oxytocin. You do not want cortisol flooding through their veins and putting them in a high-alert, danger-sending mode. If you start with a long list of problems, however, the latter is far more likely to happen.

If the decision-makers are feeling threatened by your presentation, what do you think the outcome is likely to be?

Show Them the Possibilities

When we were presenting this framework at a recent workshop, my colleague, Deepak Gopalakrishnan, reminded us that this construct is well demonstrated by the famous Amazon press release format.  Jeff Bezos requires that any new product or feature be presented in the form of a press release, worded as if it is discussing the launch of the product / feature. By assuming that the product has had a successful launch, it is starting from a place of possibility, not from the lens of problems.

Instead of starting with problems, start with the possibilities. Paint a picture of what you could achieve together and then present the place that your solution has in that bigger picture.

Try using this framework at your next presentation and let us know how you get along.

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