Short and Sweet

When I worked in a university I used to crack jokes about the PhD academics.

I’d say they were lost to the world, delving so deep into the their specialty they could only talk, think, and act in a way that didn’t much relate to the day to day world. They were lost in space.

But there were a few, a very few, who would rise above the verbiage and diatribe of their speciality, and become wise, and in fact succinct.

I used to admire those people, because at the essence of any specialty or expertise, is clarity and simplicity.

So too when it comes to stories and language. It is the simple things we remember.

It is the proverbs, the one liners, the quotes from writers, poets, leaders and experts, and song writers.

We have so so much information today we get lost. So it is no wonder that we are developing more and more forms of what I am calling MicroMacro Media.

Twitter, texts, You Tube Clips, and Sound Bites, One Minute Films.

Masters of MicroMacro Media tell short but deep stories.

There is an art and a science to telling stories in a short space of time.

The science shows us that great stories, and they can be very very short, hit our brains on at least three levels, in a primal way, an emotional way and an intellectual way. That’s why we remember them.

The art is in the love of the telling; the quelling of the ego, the play and the courage to leave stuff out.

Short and sweet.

Templates, Boilerplates and Smashed Plates

When I left mainstream journalism and public relations, I tried to stop being cynical and sarcastic. My children always hated it when I was ‘sarckie’, and nasty with words. It came naturally.

So I’ve largely eradicated my cynical side, and hopefully replaced it with discernment, and critical analysis.

But I am only human and there are some things that really get my goat! (Really funny expression that with no clear origin, strange how I end up using it)

And it’s cliches and jargon that make me snort. I came across a new one in PR yesterday. Boilerplates for media releases.

Ok so now we move from templates, to boilerplates, and the difference is???? And who cares???

And this got me to thinking about how often I now hear talk about templates and frameworks. It is almost obsessive.

I find myself using these terms endlessly in business.

” We need to set up a template.” ” We have to get the framework in place.”

Ok so this is the need for order in a complex world, I get that.

But what goes inside the templates, boilerplates and frameworks ?

My point is, particularly in communication, is that there is no depth. There are superficial statements about frameworks and templates with very little substance.

No patina. No backstory. Just a proforma template like plastic boxes on a production line.

Apparently a boilerplate is stock standard language that doesn’t get changed. It comes from the anal world of legal contracts.

Now I find myself hearing the same professionals rolling out templates, boilerplates and frameworks, say in the same breathe: Content is King!

So who is doing the content?

Where is the compelling story? I like the image of a Greek Wedding with Smashed Plates. Drama, story, excitement, engagement, content.

Great content is about contrast, juxtaposition, some drama. Smash it up, mash it up, so we don’t have to snore through boilerplates, templates and frameworks with no ‘guts’.

Walking Talking Stories

My main form of exercise is walking the dog. I really resent it sometimes, especially if the dog has been doing a real stand over at home, in my face, throwing the lead across the floor in my direction etc. Not subtle.

But over the last couple of years I’ve started to really appreciate the space, some thinking and reflecting time and some much needed exercise. There is even a Canine Charter for Human Health

But that’s not really my point. Walking the dog does something to my synapses, my mind starts to think differently, making links, connections, creating ideas.

Yesterday I conducted a mentoring session on the phone while walking the dog. It had a flow, that I am sure if I had recorded would be a very interesting set of stories. The dog walking helped the process hugely.

I have a friend who sometimes comes and walks the dog with me, and we have a mentoring session on route.

When I was a radio journalist I used to interview farmers for a programme. They were shy men often. The best way we found to interview as to walk across the farm, side by side, rather than me confronting them with the microphone.

Being on the move helps generate great stories.

Its a great antidote to sitting in front of a blank screen, stuck in our head.

Story, Breastfeeding and Sex

Researchers are continuing to plug away at working out why stories are so powerful.

They are finding a range of reasons why stories stick, from the fact that they trigger some primal impulses through to nailing what sort of hormones are stimulated when we listen to or read or see a story.

Jessica Marshall, writing in her blog, Empress of the Global Universe talks about the research of Paul Zak from Claremont Graduate University, California. He thinks the key story hormone, thinks the key hormone is oxytocin, produced during feel-good encounters such as breastfeeding and sex.

As a pioneer in oxytocin research, Zak has developed various ways to stimulate its release, including orchestrating situations where the subject of his experiment is trusted by a stranger. But the most potent so far is an emotionally charged story.

“Of all the stimuli we’ve developed that release oxytocin, this one was the best,” says Zak.

Getting volunteers to watch a 5-minute video telling the story of a 4-year-old boy with terminal brain cancer increased oxytocin levels by an average of 47 % compared with others who saw an emotionally neutral film about the same boy going to the zoo (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol 1167, p 182).

“People were very engaged in the movie,’ he says. “The change in oxytocin correlated with their degree of empathy.”

Many indigenous people have long known that oral traditions and stories are fundamental to education and survival. But some how the western world relegated story to a pass-time. Now scientists are taking an interest in story, perhaps it will start to become taken more seriously in the mainstream arenas of business, government and leadership around the world.