A FRIEND SHARED WITH ME HIS EXPERIENCE attending the musical “Buddy” at the Queen Anne Theatre in London’s West End. In two acts, the play tracks the rapid rise and sudden demise of 22-year-old music icon Buddy Holly who perished in a plane crash during a snowstorm along with J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens after a rockin’ event in Clear Lake, Iowa in 1959 …
He told me how Act I had set the stage, so to speak, for the rest of the story to play out after a 20-minute intermission. While theatre-goers were grabbing a drink or a quick bite, the stage was being reset, lighting and sound adjusted, props put in place, and projected décor elements focused on the walls of the theatre. In mere minutes, the environment was transformed.
Once guests were re-seated, lights lowered, and the curtain rose, the audience discovered the unexpected switch. In theory, they’d been whisked back in time to February 3, 1959 and “cast” as concert attendees in the Surf Ballroom that fateful winter night. Performers entered from the back of the house, singing, dancing and engaging with the audience as they made their way down the aisles to that mythical Iowa concert stage.
“It was magical,” my friend said, “in Act 1, you were in the Queen Anne Theatre in London watching a play about Buddy Holly. In Act II, you’d time-traveled to that night in early 1959 and you felt like you were actually watching Buddy Holly live in his last-ever performance. It was so easy to let your imagination run with things, I’ll never forget it!”
Through the effective melding of theatrical technology and creative storytelling, the audience was suddenly swept back to the real-world, long-ago experience and could feel the energy and excitement of the concert itself … and the horror that followed shortly afterward when word spread of the plane crash.
Bells & Whistles Are Cool, Great Storytelling Is Much Cooler
In today’s world of corporate meetings and events, we could really use a renewed emphasis on the timeless art of great storytelling. These days, we’ve got so much cool new technology – lighting, audio, interactive devices, image mapping, digital stage sets, etc. — at our disposal that it’s sometimes easier to lean on the tricks and toys of the trade and lose our focus on powerful, lasting messaging that comes from outstanding storytelling.
That’s why Jesus taught in parables. And why Aesop used fables to deliver life lessons. They knew how to create a memorable experience – if only in the mind’s eye – that resonated with followers by telling a great, engaging and inspiring story. The best novels and Hollywood productions move an audience by triggering emotion and pulling them into the story as if they were a participant or a first-hand witness.
But to accomplish this, we must get out of our own way. Focus on the story and let technology be the supporting cast. A recent online article entitled Technology as the Supporting Character in Storytelling was spot-on. The writer stated: “Technology … should be there to enhance a show or performance and not be the main character.”
I couldn’t agree more. But where do you start?
By focusing on the audience and their needs and desires … balanced with your stated business goals and objectives.
A Room Full of Aspiring Heroes
To do this, we must be crafty and creative, using our desired business outcome [post-program] as our divining rod. Draw each person in and allow them to feel like the hero of the story [much like the show directors did with their audience the night my friend attended Buddy].
A truly immersive experience comes from great, carefully crafted storytelling that allows your audience to enter a state in which the boundaries between reality and imagination are blurred in order to significantly impact their emotions and shift their behaviors towards new and better ways of doing things.
We must facilitate the audience’s ability to let go, suspend belief and let their mind’s eye envision and their imagination frolic a bit. This elevates your business gathering from a one-way presentation of facts and data to the loftiest levels of true, 3-dimensional, immersive experience with a great story at the root of it all.
It creates “stretch thinking” and catalyzes the audience’s thought processes: “Hey, maybe I can do that. I know I can … and I will!” When you’re standing before a ballroom full of sales professionals, how impactful do you think that kind of reaction would be to your company’s bottom line?
The aforementioned article goes on to state: Whatever the goal of the conference or event may be, achieving success requires grabbing the audience’s attention. It requires presenting to them the core message and the story in an amplified way that is digestible but also helps create a sense of togetherness.
Your senior executives and/or your meeting host[s] must be part of the development process; not drive the process but bless the message, the storytelling and the creative approach. Buy-in at the highest levels will till the soil for a successful audience experience.
Have you got a story to tell? Of course, you do. Let us know if you’d like a complimentary creative session to help you create an impactful experience at your next corporate meeting, event or incentive with your great story at the root of it all.
Summertime is reading time.
Speaking of storytelling … long holiday weekends, vacations and a generally slower travel season for corporate folks allows us to chill for a bit with a great book. Here are suggestions from four genres you might want to consider:
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
Phil Knight borrowed 50 bucks from his Dad in 1962 to sell cheap shoes out of his car trunk and went on to build a $30 billion powerhouse brand. The man behind “the Nike swoosh” has generally been a mystery. Now, he tells his whole story, including the many risks, daunting setbacks and mega-successes along the way … with perhaps a kiss-and-tell nugget or two.
The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple — by Admiral William McRaven, USNA
From retired William McCraven, a 37-year Navy SEAL and the author of Make Your Bed, comes a book that parabolizes leadership lessons and wisdom gleaned from an illustrious career serving his country in the armed services and later in higher education.
Fictional “Beach Read”
Beach Read by Emily Henry
What better beach read than a book entitled “Beach Read”? A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rough spot engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily-ever-afters. Polar opposites in every imaginable way, they live in neighboring beach houses for three months, each suffering from writer’s block. How will they help each other climb out of their respective ruts?
The 5Ls, the Gift of a Balanced Life by Sal LaGreca & Mike Mannix
Based on their combined seven decades of work/life experience, along with wisdom shared by interviewees, the authors lay out real-life learning lessons based on The 5Ls – Love, Laughter, Labor, Leisure and Leave. Individually, they have purpose. Combined, they have power. Managed well, you can achieve that ever-elusive work-life balance we all talk about but seldom achieve.
Happy summer, everyone!