Last week our planning group at R/GA hosted an AAAA event with The Moth. It featured storytellers Andy Christie (pictured) and Ed Gavagan, Andy Borowitz as host, and The Moth's executive director Lea Thau on Q&A. There were nearly 100 attendees in all. Planners mostly. AAAA executives and our group of around a dozen planners.
The way The Moth lines storytellers up is very similar to a stand up comedy routine. There is a stage, a mic, a host, and acts. Here are some examples of stories. I've listened to a few. They're compelling, human and very emotional. Not something to just listen to in the background. Oh, and they're becoming quite popular as they were the second most listened to podcast on iTunes in 2008.
To me the most valuable part of the evening was the Q&A at the end. Lea has been with the organization for years and has heard and coached probably hundreds of storytellers. She also helps The Moth in consulting gigs with corporations. One example she gave was that they helped a pharma company tell more compelling success stories of some people who used their drugs.
Here are a couple things I took away from the event.
Be present with your story
Above all else, the storyteller has to be at one with their story. In other words, comfortable in their own skin. This brings home the overriding importance of being oneself. A story well told is not recitation but sharing. It's incredibly personal and you have to leave all masks behind.
She talked about how this is challenging for some people like paid actors who think it would be cool to go on stage and tell stories for The Moth. They sometimes need a bit of coaching to leave behind their acting and simply be a regular person.
Don't confuse facts with truth
A set of facts do not make a story. In fact, a set of facts do not necessarily tell the whole truth. Great stories take a set of facts (who, what, when, where) and bring them to life, perhaps with a bit of embellishment, to reveal a bigger truth that the facts alone do not tell.
An example one of the storytellers gave was about his skydiving tale. In it, he had told what was going through his mind as he looked down at the houses and power lines below, seemingly careening toward them without a chute. He imagined the horror of being bisected by a power line. In reality, he admitted, he did not remember exactly what was going through his mind during the jump many years ago. But he did remember what he saw and how he felt. He imagined what would have been going through his mind.
So as he retold it his story took on some embellishment but ultimately a greater truth. Truth about our fears, about how we reconstruct events, about how we share life events with each other. But more importantly, it became a better story.
Stories are uniquely human
Stories are such a natural human impulse that it almost seems funny or sad to me that there is an organization in place to do what we should naturally be doing... sharing stories with each other. But these are the softer human needs that often get pushed down by more urgent deadlines and priorities in our lives. And in a place like New York they seem to need a venue of their own.
The timing of this workshop couldn't be more appropriate. We are in the midst of a great recession. Clients and agencies are laying people off like crazy. Budgets are shrinking. We are being asked to do more with less. The beauty of a good story is it's free. It stands on its own. And when times are tough, people love 'em.
Far from simply spinning a good yarn, the reminder to marketers is about authenticity. People sniff out fake storytelling very quick and will know whether your brand is telegraphing some core truth, or simply a mask. It's much more about revealing truth rather than concocting a story. About peeling back the layers until you get to the soft center.
Put another way, a good brand story is a uniquely human competitive advantage.
Heard any good ones lately?