I spent some time reflecting on the the Messiah story…to listen click here: Xmas 2012
I spent some time reflecting on the the Messiah story…to listen click here: Xmas 2012
Stories get told when extra-ordinary events happen, and these change relationship only when they feel personal. Read on….
During a recent visit to Austin, I met a ring-tailed tooter named JoAnn. As true Southern ladies, we got to know one another before mentioning anything tacky like the property I called to discuss. We shared our personal histories in two minutes and I found out, among other things, that JoAnn’s husband was a Texas politician during the 1960’s and 70’s when when John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas turned Texas’ own Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) into the U.S. President overnight.
This is just one of JoAnn’s stories. Yes, Texas stories can be heavy on the hyperbole…but I think this one is more true than not.
When LBJ was first in Washington, legislators lived in dorm like facilities. They didn’t bring their families and set up homes like they do now. They shared bathrooms just like any dorm with long lines of sinks with shower stalls in the back. They were all men at the time, (of course). In the morning, the men wandered around in their underwear, lining up at the sinks to shave, brush their teeth, or tend to their coiffure.
LBJ knew that you don’t get bills passed without relationships. He was new in Washington and he needed to develop his relationships. He used an ingenious strategy. He kept track of the early birds and the men who slept in. When the first early bird stood at the sink, he was there with his tooth brush. He was also there – perhaps shaving this time – when the next important contact stepped up to a sink. Not every time, but often enough they’d get to talking. It really didn’t matter. Standing next to someone in your underwear bleary-eyed, preparing for the day family style creates a bond of familiarity. According to JoAnn, when he had the opportunity he spent whole mornings in his underwear working the sinks.
As JoAnn put it, “It’s hard to keep your defenses up when you are standing there in your skivvies.” Lyndon B. Johnson started life-long relationships that held firm as he championed historic advances in social and civil rights. Telling stories is only half of our storytelling practice. Living stories, creating stories that live in the minds of others is perhaps more important than the telling. LBJ created opportunities for mutual stories to happen. By the time he became President, enough people knew him – not in the Biblical way, but in the underwear way – sort of like a Texas cousin.
Experiences are the best teachers, right? We need to create experiences, maybe not literally hanging out in our underwear with customers, contacts, political leaders, funders(unless you can organize a camping trip!) but we can certainly drop our agenda long enough to metaphorically “hang out in your skivvies” and together live a story worth remembering. Biographer Robert Dallek, in Portrait of a President (2004) summarizing Lyndon B. Johnson’s career called him a “tornado in pants.” I guess he never saw him in his underwear.
P.S. I was happy to read Jim Signorelli’s new book Storybranding because he makes a strong case that story telling requires that your story happens, first. Same thing.
I have to confess I never liked the word “contacts.” I have always preferred to make friends but social networking warmed me up to the word: contacts. I probably don’t know you personally, but I appreciate you because you and I ARE connected. I wish I knew you better, knew some of your stories. And it could happen. In the radio interview link below, that’s exactly what happened between Debra Condren and myself.
Debra interviewed me about storytelling, how to find the story so you are the one who wins, when “Whoever The Best Story Wins.” During the interview you can hear how “give a story/get a story” works in several spontaneous exchanges. Best of all for me, this interview demonstrates how exchanging stories shifts two strangers, two “contacts,” to two good friends. I think you will find it a delightful and instructive audio download (50 minutes) to listen to during your commute time.
Listen online or download the radio interview:
William Deresiewicz’s essay “Empty Regard” delivers a punch while illustrating that overuse of the term “hero” has drained the word/story of it’s true military meaning and worse, out-right accuses embarrassed team-players of grand standing. Online replies from members of the military tell their personal stories that will silence and liberal or conservative hoping to wag a finger in the air. What happened happened, an important specific symbol was generalized into meaninglessness. [Read more…]
“How true does a story have to be?”
I puff up with pride and can barely muffle my “told you so!” when well told stories take a meaningless object and give it enough meaning to register in dollars and cents! Whoo hooo!! The project raised money for writing programs, until is was shut down. I suspect the project was suspended because technically they were committing fraud. Oops, no harm meant. Adding a sentence: “even if they knew it wasn’t true” can’t fix the fact that eBay tests do not show any substantive disclaimer like, “This story is false.”
My philosophy is being tested here:
“People don’t want your information, they want faith..that you know what you are talking about, that this is a good product, they will be happy they listened to you…”
Faith that you are telling the truth, in other words. I want to focus on this point, not because I’m all uppity about the ethics, but because this is a critical crossroad where your choices make you a good storyteller or a brilliant storyteller.
I deeply believe all stories should be literally true, or transparently metaphorical or fiction – movies, folk tales, etc.
Untrue stories (particularly those that could have happened) are still untrue. Lying to your customers is bad business. And, I use this inflammatory word not to insult anybody, but to grab your attention.
Two reasons I recommend you keep working until you can tell it a true story.
1.If you have to invent a story, you aren’t doing your homework.
Either, you haven’t been talking to your customers, or you haven’t tested your product yourself in real situations…whatever it is. Needing to invent a story – to take that kind of short cut – reveals a much bigger problem in that you don’t know a true story that is worth telling. If the product is actually good, and you know your audience, then why do you need to make something up? I think it is a warning sign.
2. Customers generalize.
If I discover you told me one untruth, I will doubt everything. In today’s market trust is incredibly expensive to create and maintain. The ROI of untrue stories can’t be high enough to compensate for the risk of losing trust. Maybe it is a small risk, but Toyota having a jammed gas-pedal was also a tiny probability.
In the case of the eBay items, the fictional backstory seems harmless enough, unless it encourages anyone to tell untrue stories for any reason other than entertainment.
At least, this has been my personal experience:
One time, in New Orleans I began a keynote at a great hotel by saying, “I love this place, and I am extra happy to be here today.” I followed with a story (big surprise) about how the last time I was in that hotel I was a child, it was Easter and I was with my mother and father who had decided to take a trip to New Orleans. I remembered that trip so vividly because in the lobby downstairs were bunnies!
Bunnies not just for show, but bunnies I could hold and pet. I was in heaven. There was a circle of colored corrugated cardboard and I could reach in and just pick one up. As an adult, I’m sure there was also a hotel staff member who managed that process. But I don’t remember that, I just remember burying my face in the neck of a warm soft bunny.
Later, at the client’s evening event I felt a vise-like grip pinch my elbow, I turned and a woman tugged my arm down so she could reach my ear.
“Was that true?”
“Was what true?”
Whatever it was, her tone indicated she believed it was not true. After asking a few questions I realized she figured the bunny story was adapted to lots of hotels. to unfairly suck the participants into liking me.
I didn’t blame her. I hate it when people make up stories. I feel demeaned and betrayed if I find out I smiled or cried or felt a strong connection – when the story wasn’t even true.
Conversation on Twitter at #TRUorNOT