I spent a brilliant time with a group of corporate leaders in the Autumn. Having organised a pitching competition, they wanted a little storytelling help, so I came in to enjoy their company.
Now I must tell you, this was a very analytic division of quite an analytic company. Being much more at ease in the creative business environment, I work with people who like to ping ideas from obscure places, spin them round a planet, occasionally bringing them back to Earth. This is not always practical, but it days make for a very good time. However, it can make bridging the gap between thinking styles difficult. This is a problem not individual to me, but shared by anyone working creatively in environments that require sharp rational analysers.
I knew that we needed to connect some how and a few tactics helped. Firstly, I gave them a clear structure. Often I work intuitively and create the day as I go. This demands a lot more attention from the listener, but in this case it was not going to work. We needed handrails – firm concepts we could cling to. Secondly, I embedded these concepts in a metaphor. No longer were we going to deliver a pitch, we were going to blow a dam. It helped to frame our journey and also give an idea of intuitive shape that a story can do with.
Thirdly, I had imagined myself going in as something of a whirlwind. ‘Creative outsider takes on researchers and wins’ ran the headline (I make up headlines for almost everything I do, drinking coffee and trips to the shops take on mythic proportions as a result). But when I arrived, I noticed the participants were understandably terrified. The pitching had been set up as part of an elaborate game. These guys were being trained in pitching, then being briefed on what they were going to pitch, and then stand up in public. It was not the kind of pitch that has been prepared days or weeks beforehand. They were doing this on the fly – in such heat and intensity great storytellers are born. But they needed gentle encourage and small steps to begin with.
Storytelling is like a muscle. It doesn’t work well with tips and how-tos, but seems to flourish with certain kinds of practice. It quickly became apparent that the descriptive analysis many of the participants were at home in sharing was not going to make any hearts in the audience sing.
I needed a way to switch their way of thinking, to get them inside of the situations they were describing. Luckily, what leapt to my hand were….
Images hold a great deal of psychic content. It’s the reason we speak in metaphors and why a picture speaks a thousand words. In the act of speaking, if we are holding an image inside of us, our speech becomes richer – as if the image itself is communicating through us.
By getting my analysers to think in images not concepts, the conversations become more emotional. For minds adept at drawing conclusions and synthesising experiences into broad concepts, they now had to take the journey back and become specific again. We used images of their customers using the products that these guys worked on. They needed to get inside the images and say what they found inspiring. It had an almost alchemic effect.
Once this image-based, emotional switch was triggered the tone for the workshop was set, and we could cover the material with ease.
The pitches I think went very well. “It’s amazing how personal your propositions were”, said one of the judges. The use of image, you see, somehow allows us to emotionally closer to who we are talking about as well.
“Storyteller takes on analytic minds and becomes submerged in the pathos” ran the headline in my head.