Is Social Media Changing How We Tell Stories?

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I read this post and it got me thinking. Obviously social media is changing the way we tell stories. We can now share what’s happening to us, as it’s happening, with video and/picture proof. There’s no planning ahead. There’s no deep thought on the best way to share a story, or looking forward to telling it the next time you see someone. With a couple of clicks of your smartphone, tablet or the old school laptop and everyone who knows you knows exactly what happened.

There’s no saving a story for the next family get together – they read all about it on Facebook. There’s no go to anecdote for parties – they saw it on Twitter and retweeted. They re-pinned the picture we took of the dog and pinned on Pinterest. They saw the crazy cat video you posted on YouTube.

Where are the stories we save and savor telling our friends or family? Where are the great icebreaker stories that we prepare for awkward social encounters (fulling willing to admit, this may just be me)? What do we have to talk about at dinner tonight when our every move is posted, pinned, tweeted and shared as it happens?

I’m curious. Has social media, and the instant gratification that it brings, changed the way you tell stories? Do you still relate the stories of your day when your out with friends or sitting around the dinner table with your family? Has social media helped you start conversations because people see what you posted and prompt you for the full story?

Answer the poll and share your thoughts below.

Presenting Your Story or Death by PowerPoint

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a meeting or at a conference when a speaker gets the front of the room and says, “I’m going to go through these slides fast so I can get through all 172 in my 20 minutes.” Cue the groans from the audience. Most the folks I know call it, “Death by PowerPoint!” While it maybe a little dramatic, they aren’t wrong.

There are lots of presentation experts out there with their own ideas on the perfect way to present information. Two of the biggest “rules” are not to put everything on the slide and don’t read the slide. I am a big fan of this rule. I want to hear you talk about what you’re there to talk about it, not listen to you read about it.

This is your chance to tell me your story! Tell me why I should care about what you have to say. Share with me what makes you and your organization or product different. Give me a call to action – make me want to do something after I’ve heard you speak. You don’t need a lot of slides, but you do need to talk to me.

One of the places I’ve worked told us that our slides should tell a story from left to right and top to bottom. In other words, if you lined up all of your slides and just read the title of each one would it tell your story? If you read each slide from top to bottom, does it tell or support your story? If not, then try again. They knew people make a connection with the story. That people could identify with your message if you have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

You can’t underestimate the power of having someone stand in front of you, no matter how nervous, and having them tell you their story. I think that’s one of the greatest things the TED Talks do. They put someone with a compelling story on stage and they let them tell it. The fact that they have amazing stories helps, but it’s not the only reason. Being willing to share that little part of yourself is very powerful.

Conference season is in full swing, and so is the march through slide presentations. The next time you cue yours up take a minute to ask yourself if you’re telling me your story or if you’re presenting at me. I know which one I’ll remember.

Storytelling and Instructional Design

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I believe that storytelling is a big part of learning. Just think back to the best teachers and professors you’ve had and chances are they made the content you were learning come alive for you. There’s also a very good chance that it’s because they used some sort of story to ties the pieces together or make your care about what you were learning. Even your earliest teachers – your parents, grandparents and other family members – used stories to help you learn the culture, morals and behaviors of your family and your community. Storytelling was used as an instructional tool long before the written word.

So why is it that so many instructional designers seem to focus on the pushing content out to learners and spend so little time focusing on telling a story that will help the learner become involved and remember the content? I’ve actually had people tell me that it was bad idea to try to tell a story with serious content intended for an adult learner.

I was thrilled to read Connie Malamed’s post on The e-Learning Coach talking about a conference she attended that included a session on storytelling. She used some of the ideas from the session to create 10 reasons why storytelling needs to be part of learning. It’s a great list and Connie makes some great points. I urge you to read the post whether you work in learning or not. The points she makes can be applied to marketing, branding and many of the other categories people put communication into.

It boils down to this. If you want people understand, relate to, and walk away with the message you’re sharing with them, you need to share it with them in a way that is interesting. A way that is memorable. A way that makes them care about the message and want to remember it. Help them connect the dots and give them a reason to want to take that message to heart. It worked when you were in school, why wouldn’t it work for the people you’re communicating with today?

Who Are You Telling Your Story To?

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Stanford Smith makes some great points this post about “preaching to the choir” if you will. And he’s right. It’s great to have the support of like-minded people, but if the right people aren’t getting your message the right way, you’re getting nowhere. I’ve talked before about how it’s important to know your audience. And, whether your marketing a university, developing adult learning content, or producing a killer video, you need to make sure the audience you’re creating your story for is the audience that gets it. It happens all the time. We write a marketing piece in a way that appeals to our executive, but is it written in a way  that will appeal (and sell to) your audience? Will your learners love the content as much as the other instructional designers do, or will the be confused and turned-off by it? Those special-effects and artistic edits are awesome, but are you doing it to show off your favorite skills or to reach wedding and corporate clients? It’s so easy to study your audience and develop something for them but do it in a way that appeals not to the audience, but to ourselves or our peers. I think we’re all guilty of it from time to time. I’ll be the first to admit that I have. I’ve done promos and videos that I thought were great but missed the mark with the audience because they just didn’t get it. But, I’ve also done videos that I didn’t really connect with that were exactly what the client and the audience needed to see. I challenge you to go back and take an honest look at the stories you’re telling. I have and I’m going to be doing a few rewrites on a project I’m working on where the target audience is very different from the people involved. I did a pretty good job in the beginning, but I can see now that I lost that edge a bit. Now that I’m aware I can make it right. If you’re in the same boat I’m in, here are a few suggestions to help you stay on track:

  • Get out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to the interests and environment of your audience. Remind yourself where they’re coming from. Don’t assume you know.
  • Do a focus group or have an informal chat with folks from your target audience. What story do they want to hear from you or your client?
  • Look for outside experts. Don’t just listen to the usual people get opinions from, find someone from outside your circle to give an objective opinion.
  • I’ve been known to put up signs up around my desk to remind me about the audience I’m trying to reach.
Take a minute. Think about the stories you’re telling now. Are you telling your story in a way that will move, excite or affect your audience? Is your story being told in a way that’s too “inside” your environment to reach that target audience out there?  Are you telling the right story, the right way, to the right audience?
The answer to those questions are the difference between telling your story and selling your story.

Miss Communication – Sometimes it IS what you said

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I recently posted that sometimes electronic messages aren’t well received because they can’t communicate things like sarcasm. But  that’s not the only time when you can be misunderstood. The words we choose for each email, tweet and blog post tell a lot about who we are. Words can help us make a great first impression, or a really REALLY bad one. The words we chose when we communicate can change the way other people feel about us, the product or company we’re marketing, or the story we’re telling.

They say that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can never hurt us. Anyone who’s survived junior high and high school knows that isn’t always the case. Words may not leave a mark on the body but they sure can bruise the heart. Words have power. It’s up to each of use how we use that power.

It’s very easy to get upset and send off an email, or reply to a post, or text message without thinking about the words we use. Choose the wrong words and you might just find yourself in hot(ter) water. But, choose the right words and you can change the situation. You can win people to your way of thinking and sway them into listening to your message. Don’t believe me?

Think about all the news coming out of Washington D.C. The news is filled with each side’s opinion and spin on each and every situation. Sometimes they are talking about the same thing but they words they choose change the context completely. Politics is poster child of carefully chosen words. Words that admit to nothing but implicate everything. Politicians – and the people who craft their messages – know the power of words.

To be a good communicator, whatever the medium, you need to think about the words you choose to convey your message. Make sure that the words you choose help you convey message and persuade your audience to your way of thinking.

Telling Your Story

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Memory (1896). Olin Warner (completed by Herbe...

Image via Wikipedia

Think back to when you were a child, and some of the most important lessons you learned. Chances are there was a story involved in teaching you that lesson. Now think about some of your favorite memories and how you would share that memory with me. You’d probably tell me a story about something that happened. The things that we learn the most from and remember the best usually involve a story, so why don’t we do that when we’re trying to reach people?

So much of the marketing I see and the videos I watch are trying to sell me something. Or influence me. Message after message directed towards me and talking at me. Sure the idea might be new or creative, but they aren’t sharing a story with me.

I believe strongly in power of storytelling. Whether it’s in a video or a pieces of instruction, or a marketing campaign, there is a story there. Everything we record, teach or sell is part of a story, and if we want to reach the deepest parts of a person’s being we need to connect with. I’m not the only one who feels this way.

It’s our jobs as the creators of content to decide what the story is and the best way to tell it. Should it be an article?  A press release? A video? An in-class exercise? A Tweet? There are lots of ways to tell a story, but the most important part is to actually tell the story.  If you don’t you run the risk of alienating your audience. They could feeling that they’re missing the inside joke, or even worse, that they can’t connect with what you’re saying and lose interest.

Before you do anything else, figure out what the story is you’re trying to tell is and make sure that everyone on your team is in agreement. When everyone is agreement everyone involved can make sure that whatever they are saying is part of the greater message. Every presentation slide, every tweet and every post to your organization’s blog will be part of the story you’re telling.

Keeping your story in the forefront might just be the thing that sets you messaging apart and creates a memory for your target audience.

Video Marketing

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It seems like over the last week or so I’ve been overwhelmed by discussions on video marketing. To be specific, using video as a marketing tool. I totally get it and agree 100%. A video can help put a product into context in a way other mediums can’t. I’m right there with you people! But, I disagree a little on some of the finer points.

Like what exactly is a video. I guess I’m old school. In my mind a video would be something that involves, you know, video. It also includes animations, graphics, motion graphics and images, and so on. I’ve seen other uses a slide presentation set to music and exported with a video extension as video. I have to say I have a hard time with that…I suppose technically anything that runs on YouTube is a video. But do slides, no matter how nicely done put together and awesome looking (and some of them do look awesome) really count as video? Maybe it’s just the video purist in me, but that’s something I have to get used to.

The other point is that anyone can use the above technique, or any number of free or cheap software programs and a couple of hours to make a video that will win them lots of business. In my mind this goes to quality. I’m not saying that you need to spend thousands of dollars making videos. I don’t believe that’s the case at all. I think you can make some really great high quality products with a pocket friendly budget. But as I’ve discussed here before, sometimes you get what you pay for.

I do think that there’s room for all kinds of video (even if I’m partial to actual video kind of videos), but I also believe that people need to look before they leap. Nothing beats planning. A video should make sense to your marketing campaign. It should have a purpose and not be a video just so can say that you did one. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, do a video because it is the best way to reach your audience not because everyone else is doing them. That will be the fastest way to video marketing success.

5 Reasons to Consult a Professional

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While I’m all for people grabbing a camera and whatever video editing software they can get their hands on and going for their best video productions, there’s something to be said for professionally produced videos. Professionals have learned the hard way – and are usually quick to share what they’ve learned. The fact of the matter is that there’s a lot of good reasons why you don’t need a professional to shoot and edit your video. But before you grab that camera of fire-up your laptop, here are 5 reasons to do a little research and consult some video professionals.

This photograph shows a man operating a steadicam

Image via Wikipedia

  1. Biting off more than you can chew: You’ve dreamed big. Too big. You’ve come up with an idea for an outdoor shoot at night, with a slow trip around a local landmark. Great! You don’t have lights, a steady cam or dolly? Time to consult a professional. There are ways to do the shoots on the cheap yourself, but it just may come out looking… well…cheap. A local production company may be willing to give you some ideas, as well as price out the cost for them to do it. In the end you might just find it’s better to pay to have the people with the right equipment do it, than to spend the time and money yourself creating a shot you can’t use.
  2. It’s got to look good: you’ve spent months, maybe even years  badgering, pushing convincing your organization for months, maybe years, that video is the answer to a number of problems. You’ve even told them that you can do it yourself with your own camera and software – a real cost savings! Now that you’ve got the green light you’re not sure what to do next. Consult with professionals, on-line if not in person, before you start to shoot. This blog and this one are just two of the professionals you can find on-line willing to share their experience. Look around your area and see if there are any video networking groups that you can join, chances are that you’ll find at least one professional to answer your questions. Talking to a pro before you start to shoot can save production nightmares down the road.
  3. OOPS!: You’re feeling great about the video you shot, until you get back and start to edit. Maybe the color is wrong, or the focus, or the lighting, or the audio or…well let’s just say there’s a lot that can go wrong that you don’t catch while you’re in the field. Hit the internet my friend. I recommend visiting places like Creative Cow, where you can get tips from the pros. If you’ve networked with local production folks you might just find someone who will be willing to sit down with you and show you how to fix the problem. Or you discover that you don’t have the capabilities to fix the problem. Maybe you’ve even tried to re-shoot without any improvement. It’s time to call in a professional. It might cost you some money (and pride) but if you need the shot, and it has to be right, then call on someone who knows what to do.
  4. Just not professional enough: So your nephew – or your boss’s niece – is in film school and is looking for something to cut their teeth on. The price is right (free) so why not? They could the next Coppola or Scorsese, but they’re not there yet. If you need a video done in your place of work with the least amount of disruption possible, and needs to be delivered on time to a very difficult client, this budding director may not be the best choice. Talk to some local production companies, you may even be able to arrange for the legend-in-training to do an internship with the professionals (and a lower cost for you by helping to provide crew). Remember, one video might be great for a class project, and not so great for the boardroom.
  5. You just don’t know how: There’s no shame in not knowing everything. Maybe you’re the best darned widget person in the country, but just because you know all about those widgets doesn’t mean that you know all about video. And who says you should? Going to someone who lives and breathes video production has its advantages. Yes, it’s going to cost you, but you’ll have someone who (hopefully) knows what they’re doing to walk you through the process. In the end you’ll have learned something and gotten the kind of product you’re looking for with far fewer headaches.

Even if you don’t hire a professional production company to work on your video, you can learn a lot from the pros. It’s some of the “trade secrets” that can turn your project from just another video to your organization’s show piece.

One last thought. Remember, you get what you pay for. Uncle Bob maybe great at shooting and editing the kid’s birthday parties, but do you want the first wedding he shoots to be yours? He’d be more than happy to do it for free, but chances are the finished product will look like someone’s uncle did it for free.