Archive for February, 2010

Storytelling 140 Characters at a Time … Not

twitter and storytellingI’ve got the Twitter religion.

I’ve experienced its power in the form of crowd sourcing, research and new connections.

But Twitter is not a platform for storytelling.

Mark Drapeau who pens the blog Cheeky Fresh makes this very point in Microstorytelling Overkill and the Conundrum of the Exciting Event (must be nice to not have to optimize headlines for SEO).

He tells the story of the U.S. State Department sending an eclectic delegation ranging from Esther Dyson to Ashton Kutcher to visit Russia with technology as the conversation driver. But the collective tweets didn’t exactly add up to Tolstoy:

… I was thinking about the way in which the story of the Russian Tech Delegation (#RusTechDel) was being told primarily through Twitter. (Some activities were livestreamed through Kutcher’s UStream channel, as long as his iPhone had battery power, that is.)

At some points, some participants were tweeting something every couple of minutes. And in some cases participants were retweeting other participants. What’s the “right” number of tweets? Everyone has to decide that for themselves. But for me, as a member of the audience, I found this somewhere between confusing and annoying.
And not terribly entertaining, I might add.

Drapeau goes on to say:

The #RusTechDel “exciting event story” is just one of many examples of recent experiences I’ve had with social media storytelling, or attempts at it. A year ago, few people used tools like Twitter, and so only one person might be live-tweeting an event – making their information rare and valuable. Now however, we often see modest or extreme versions of Paul Carr’s “Look at me, looking at this” syndrome, in which people feel compelled to drop every thought they have into a tweet, with almost no regard for the audience they are presumably trying to reach.

I agree.

The reader shouldn’t have to work to extract the story.

Plus, you can’t develop pace in 140 character bursts.

Cruise through the following tweets as a mini experiment:

Hard luck fisherman, old I might add, paints solitary figure alone in his skiff #noluck
Think there’s a boy with the fisherman
No, the boy was only there the first 40 days; old man has been there 84 days
Thought the old man had been there for a good 90 days
Could swear the old man spent some time in Motown via @cheech
I heard the boy’s parents made him leave #toughlove
The boy’s parents liked the old fisherman, but saw opp for boy to catch another ship which landed three good fish the 1st wk #bait
It’s terrible that you can’t eat fish without worrying about the #mercury levels. #protest
One could argue that it’s downright cruel for parents to make their kids eat fish
Check out SCAT (Stop Cruelty Against Tuna) on Facebook.
You have a better chance of getting hit by a bus than dying of mercury in the bloodstream.
The boy still cares about the old man
I don’t know. The boy seems pretty happy in his new “ride.” #pimpmyride
I’m telling you- the boy is big-time sad each day when he sees the old man return empty handed.
Here’s another proof point- the boy always goes down to help the guy carry his coiled lines.
I saw the sail … pathetic #tiger.
I agree with @ernest- saw the boy help carry the gaff and harpoon and even the sail furled around the mast.
Pathetic but functional #rachelray.
If it’s pathetic, it’s not functional. If it’s functional, it’s not pathetic. That’s my deep sea thinking for the day
From what I could sea (clever), the sail was patched with flour sacks; looked like the flag of permanent defeat (think Duvall in #ApocalypseNow).
@Rachel_Ray Just uploaded a rice pilaf recipe on my Yum-O site that is pathetically functional

That’s what the first paragraph of “Old Man and the Sea” looks like tweeted.



Even Mr. Hemingway’s famed economy with language fails in a 140-character frame.

I rest my case.

Twitter doesn’t work for storytelling.


One + Magazine on Storytelling for a Business Audience

cinderella storytelling

The title says it all, “Storytelling and Your Quest for Business Success.”

It’s rare for a magazine to examine the power of storytelling in business. This particular article comes compliments of the trade book One +, which caters to more than 30,000 meeting planners.

Before you scoff, consider the plight of meeting planners in matchmaking an organization with a venue. No doubt, if you’ve seen one convention center, you’ve seen them all (only the dimensions change).

Enter storytelling as a means to grab the audience by the scruff of the neck.

Writer Jason Hensel bravely kicks off the piece with a cliche that works as a stage setter:

One upon a time. Need I go further? You know you’ve entered a story. Perhaps you prefer something a little more straightforward: “Call me Ishmael,” “I am an invisible man” or “Mother died today.” The simple act of telling a story demands attention whether it starts with the fantastical or the concrete. It’s the difference between academic and business-speak and barroom banter.

He had me at “Ishmael.”

Hensel spoke with Pat Lencioni, author of several popular business books including “Death by Meeting.” Hard to argue with the writer behind “a cure for the most painful yet underestimated problem of modern business: bad meetings,” who shares:

I think that people today are more distracted than ever. People are looking for something that captures their attention and provides an enjoyable experience.

Thank you.

Splattering a screen with a mind-numbing array of charts and graphs is not an enjoyable experience.

I was also pleased that my perspective on the importance of context in storytelling found its way into the narrative:

“Take the movie Rudy. If you jump to the end of the movie and see Rudy finally going into the game to play for Notre Dame, this has zero meaning. Instead, one needs to understand he originally got rejected, parlayed a [junior college] stint into admissions, walked on to the team as an undersized player, etc.

This is a big part of storytelling and especially relevant in markets of complexity like technology. Too often companies want to jump right to the innovation instead of providing context of how this was accomplished before. It’s the delta between what was and what is that delivers the drama.

And I like how Hensel puts a bow on the piece in closing:

The stories may all begin and end differently, but they all have the same core—we are one. The human story is the only story there is, and when you understand that, you’ll be able to move freely in any world, from barroom to boardroom.

happily ever after storytelling

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What Can Tiger Say to Diffuse the Crisis?

Tiger takes center stage tomorrow to publicly share his mea culpa.

Every pundit and his brother has weighed in with a view. The local NBC affiliate was in our office today to interview our crisis guru John Radewagen.

So I’ll keep my view brief.

The statement on Tiger’s Web site doesn’t lead me to believe that tomorrow will have a happy ending:

Tiger Woods will be speaking to a small group of friends, colleagues and close associates at 11:00 a.m. EST on Friday at the TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Tiger plans to discuss his past and his future, and he plans to apologize for his behavior.

It sounds like he’s hanging out with the guys over beers.

I also think it’s the wrong move to not field questions after he speaks.

Yes, I understand as articulated on his Web site that “Tiger feels that what happened is fundamentally a matter between him and his wife.” By not fielding questions he hopes to control the tawdry side of this ”little” crisis.

His quandary is that the more he strives to control tomorrow, the less likely he’s going to come across as sincere and truly apologetic.

Because a Q&A session forces Tiger to be Tiger.

You can’t script questions.

There is one move Tiger could make that would absolutely show remorse.

If he shared that he continues to need more time to focus on his family and, as a result, won’t be playing in the Master’s this year.

That would show the man’s serious about rehab.

There’s nothing more precious to Mr. Woods than winning more major titles than Jack Nicklaus.

If he was willing to give up a shot at the next major, the making of “Tiger, The Sequel” could begin.


Moes Takes: Communicating with Compelling Language II

good writing quotesI introduced a regular feature called Moes Takes last month.

As a refresher, I worked with Rob Moes who was VP of marketing for Philips in the mid 1980s. During an interview at COMDEX, a reporter pressed Moes for projections on how many CD-ROM drives would be sold looking out five years. Rob responded “That’s like asking Mrs. Magellan how many lunches to pack.”

That’s why I call these fresh quotes culled from recent publications “Moes Takes.”

Here’s Round II.

“If you’re going to climb Mount Everest, you can’t do it with gym shorts and sneakers.”

Alan E. Salzman, Chief Executive, Vantage Point Venture Partners
Venture Capitalist Dick Kramlich’s Last Stand
BusinessWeek (January 21, 2010)

It’s not enough to be clever. Accuracy counts too. I challenge anyone to find a photo depicting Sir Edmund Hillary in gym shorts and sneakers.

Dulled-down version:

“If you’re going to address a major challenge, it’s important to prepare properly.”

Thank you Amy Gooch for sending along the following:

“Instead of bobbing around like a cork in water David Cameron should level with the British people.”

Lord Mandelson, British Politician
Tory policies would strangle recovery at birth
The Guardian (February 1, 2010)

If there’s one place the proletarian can visualize the bobbing of a cork in water and recognize something dodgy has transpired, it’s the UK.

Dulled-down version:

“Instead of changing his mind, David Cameron should make and communicate his decision to the British people.”

Next up:

“I am certainly not an acolyte or even a fan of the Holy Church of the Carbon-Free Atmosphere or its leader, the Reverend Al Gore.”

T.J. Rogers, CEO, Cypress Semiconductor
CleanTech: Silicon Valley’s Next Great Wave of Innovation
San Jose Mercury News (January 30, 2010)

T.J. Rogers knows how to turn a phrase, which explains a profile that belies niche semiconductor status. I haven’t seen him bust out the religious terminology since ’96 when he publicly crushed a nun for questioning the diversity of his board.

Dulled-down version:

“I do not support the initiative for a carbon-free environment or the leaders of this movement.”

And last, from the sports world:

“They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but what if the tree is on a hill?”

Jim Irsay, Owner of the Indianapolis Colts
A Jam Session with Jim Irsay
Sports Illustrated (January 25, 2010)

I like this one because it shows how you can take a cliche and make it fresh by adding one simple twist.

Dulled-down version:

“According to the saying, sons are like their fathers, but there are exceptions.”

If an extraordinary quote catches your attention, please e-mail it my way (lhoffman at hoffman dot com).

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Storytelling Beyond the Gold at the Winter Olympics (Online Press Rooms)

olympics media coverage

Alexandre Bilodeau winning Canada’s first gold medal in the men’s freestyle moguls on Sunday got me thinking.

Every Olympics reveals terrific human interest stories such as Bilodeau and his inspiration coming from his disabled older brother. You certainly don’t need a media kit to write up Team U.S.A.’s historic beat-down of the Russian hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

But these high-drama moments don’t occur on a daily basis, which begs the question:

How is the Vancouver Organizing Committee, affectionately dubbed VANOC, facilitating storytelling at the games beyond the athletes?

For answers, I took a look at the media centre on the official Winter Olympics Web site and was greeted with the words:

These resources help tell the story of the 2010 Winter Olympic games.

Encouraged, I pulled up the “Quick Facts about the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games” (under media kits)  expecting compelling information, anecdotes and perhaps an obscure tidbit or two. Instead, nine pedistarian facts came to the fore:

  • 17 days of Olympic Games events
  • 10 days of Paralympic Games events
  • 5,500 Olympic Games athletes and officials (projected)
  • 1,350 Paralympic Games athletes and officials (projected)
  • 80+ countries participating in Olympic Winter Games
  • 40+ countries participating in Paralympic Winter Games
  • 10,000 media representatives
  • 3 billion worldwide television viewers
  • 75 million visits worldwide to (projected)

Of all the documents in the media centre, the one with the most promise proved to be the backgrounder on ice making, which started:

The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games will see the world’s best winter athletes compete on the coolest fields of play: ice. Making great competition ice is not an easy task. It requires the world’s top ice makers, known as ice meisters, as well as state-of-the-art ice making equipment and a dedicated team of specialists whose job is to maintain perfect surfaces for figure skaters, speed skaters, short track speed skaters, curlers, wheelchair curlers, sliders, ice hockey and ice sledge hockey players.

I had no idea the temperature of the ice varies depending on the competition.

For example, figure skating ice is the softest of the Olympic ice surfaces at −3° C which helps skaters dig in for jumps and spins. In contrast, speed skating ice can be as cold as −9° C since it’s all about speed as opposed to grip.

Good stuff.

I also liked the concept of ice meisters. The backgrounder goes on to identify the ice meister for speed skating, the ice meister for curling, etc.

With that said, they could have humanized the story by sharing how each of these ice meisters came by their gifts. Perhaps one was a prodigy, complaining about the density of ice cubes in his or her soda pop at a young age.

In spite of this deliverable, the vast majority of content in the media centre is a tad dry.

VANOC did work out an arrangement with the AFP news service to feed stories to the site under the News section (not technically part of the media centre). This means for every drab release on how to clear security or the revenue generated from Olympic swag, we also get stories such as “Women Lugers Bemoan Abnormal Child’s Start:”

“It’s not a ladies’ start, it’s a kinder (child’s) start,” Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger blasted after training.

“We trained the whole summer and we are strong and fast and now the fastest starters are slow. It’s not good for us. It’s not fun.”

Still, the VANOC Web site doesn’t exactly give writers a running start on the storytelling.

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