The art of storytelling is something most of us occasionally stumble upon by accident. This book compels us to take it more seriously.
I use the word compel as Paul Furlong writing makes me take storytelling seriously rather than the book demanding it. He does so in a way that gets into your subconscious. Since reading Rule the World, film and book reviews make so much more sense.
I haven’t consciously been trying to focus on analysing the impact of stories. It’s more that I’ve become sensitised to their flow and the elements involved in good storytelling; I blame Paul! The full title is the key – Rule the World: Master the Power of Storytelling to Inspire, Influence, and Succeed. It’s about successfully gaining influence through being inspiring.
The introduction got me thinking about the importance of good storytelling from the get go. I was intrigued by the quote from the Greek philosopher, Plato “Those that tell the stories rule the world“. Paul emphasises Trump’s storytelling against Clinton’s facts, figures and politics approach. I think he somewhat underplays his own story in the book though. Contrast Donald Trump winning the US election with the ‘Make America Great Again‘ slogan, and Hillary Clinton losing with her contradictory ‘Stronger Together‘ and ‘Stick it to the man by voting for a woman‘ slogans.
The problem was Clinton’s demonising of sections of the electorate whilst pompously elevating herself above them. The clip below encapsulates the problem very well. The Democrats would benefit from reading this book and making the electorate heroes in the story rather than demeaning them.
The importance of Story and understanding your audience
Paul Furlong starts with the human history of storytelling and weaves in psychological processes at work with well crafted stories. The connection isn’t just logical or wordy, nor with films just visual or auditory. It’s also emotional at a physiological level. Memories involve complex processes, but they are a crucial element in good storytelling as they become intertwined with the present. Making connections with memories and triggering contextual comparisons can be a very powerful and visceral thing.
The story of Paul pitching to an energy company around an animated advertising campaign for LED lighting is superb. Paul explains the importance of knowing your target market to decide how best to tell a compelling story to them. With a focus on the target audience for the LED light bulbs and using the knowledge of the company trying to sell to that market, Paul subtly substantiates the claim he’s making about his role as industry expert and sage.
Paul teases out the difference between wants and needs, through the detailed example he uses of The Lion King. As you learn your audience’s wants, you become better placed to take them on a journey from where they are to where they, and you, want to be. The needs of your audience are different to what they want and probably more internal and personalised, but it’s their needs that tie in with the product, service or story you aim to connect with.
The section on preferences on learning styles through looking at the VARK learning style model – visual (V), aural (A), read/write (R), and kinesthetic (K) is fascinating and so important to consider. Additionally, the DiSC personality profiles – (D)ominance, (i)nfluence, (S)teadiness and (C)onscientiousness – offer a way of making the process conscious.
AIDA and Story Structure
Paul introduces the AIDA format midway through the book – Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Referencing scenes from films, he illuminates the need to set expectations, grab attention and lay out the scene of the story. The connection with the audience’s emotions and interests, through words, is delightfully established in this section. It builds on the different ways in which your audience is likely to respond to your presentation. We should never underestimate the need to test how your audience’s attention can be held, reflecting their desires in order for them to act in the way you want.
I loved the Matrix film. In analysing the structure of stories, Paul makes sense of films like Matrix by analysing its structure. How could I have missed so much from a film I loved at the time of watching. The structure of stories has a long history in the making and dependent on cultural embedding. I may not have understood everything in the film at the time, it made some sense and stimulated unconscious thoughts. These sections in the book are about refining the writing, words, structure and components that are familiar.
Paul introduces the role of the hero at this point. He then layers the protagonists to think about onto a whole new level. Most people, who haven’t studied film or literature, may never watch a film in the same way again. That’s a good thing though, as it means we should be developing our storytelling more thoughtfully now. At least we will begin to appreciate that we need someone who understands all this to assist us.
Not what the ship needs but what the ship is
To avoid becoming too comfortable, Paul introduces a discussion about features and benefits of products and services. These then have to match with the audience’s priorities. Themes of preventing pain points or achieving your goals is considered in some compelling depth here. To emphasise the point he quotes Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, saying:
“Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs. But what a ship is… what the Black Pearl really is… is freedom.”
The importance of storytelling as a relationship does begin to make a lot of sense at this point.
The chapter on emotion starts to bring the elements Paul has examined up to now together and starts to drill down into having the impact you want. Described very well here is the emotional engagement of the audience and pitching of the storyline to connect with them. The example used is that of West Wing’s Season 1 Episode 10 (Christmas episode). The episode is a great example of the changing emotions in the storyline, through pace and mood, managed through clever humour.
Examples to illustrate the points Paul is making are very useful. Success tasks, including watching films and TV series segments ensure you get the most out of the book. It becomes a practical activity for developing a marketing campaign in a business context.
Heroes and Sages
The section on Heroes and Sages unpicks the role of participants in the storyline in detail. Video and website content is often disatrously written by business owners who put themselves at the centre of any story. A more powerful way of telling your story is to make someone else, the audience, the hero of the storyline and position yourself as mentor or helpful sage.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass” playwright Anton Checkov, is quoted as the opener to a chapter entitled circumstance. It is a chapter that delves deeper into the visuals and soundscape to increase the impact of words to key into the audience’s imagination. The craft of blending words, sounds and visuals is an art form that those focussed on their own industry techniques need to be mindful of, and this book helps develop that sensitivity.
Emphasising the Hero
Returning to Trump’s success at the US election, I think many miss the key component in commentary on The Donald getting elected. I think the key component to the Democrat’s losing the election is in part due to a lack of empathetic storytelling. This though comes from years of distancing themselves from the electorate in favour technocratic managerialism of politics. The problem isn’t unique to the Democratic Party in the USA, nor even just the USA. After all, the Republican Party had become such a hollow shell that Donald Trump could become their candidate.
Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again‘ offering connected with a large section of the US electorate, because they wanted to be at the centre of developing their own story. Large sections of the electorate demanded better than being cast aside economically, and then demeaned with a ‘phobic‘ label by career politicians. The joy of Paul’s book is that it comprehensively explains how and why we need to put our audience at the centre of the stories we tell. They need to be the heroes. It’s essential reading for those in business wanting to tell their own story. Hillary Clinton would do well to read it too.
Click on the link to buy Rule the World: Master the Power of Storytelling to Inspire, Influence and Succeed from Amazon.