Why Objects Matter

Stories are all around us. They're part of our DNA. From our earliest childhood, most of us can remember the sound of Mom or Dad reading stories to us. Stories of superheroes, folktale legends or just simply stories about some pretty wild and wacky characters entertained us for hours on end. The best childhood stories were able to draw you into a plot and world quite different from your own. Worlds where the good guys often won and imaginations ran free.

As we grew up, stories took on a whole new meaning. The books we read and films we watched reflected our "coming of age." As we struggled to find our place in the world, we hoped that stories would help us find meaning in our somewhat confused and chaotic lives. Sometimes we relied on heroes to provide a path through darkness to light. At other times, stories were just a means of escape, a way to temporarily leave the present world to experience a new one in print, on stage or on screen.

While enlightened companies are waking up to the fact that stories can help their brands better connect to consumers, stories can also be of great personal significance when they're a reflection of the objects we own. These objects, artifacts or "Narrative Assets," tell the story of our lives and as a group, can even reflect the story of an entire culture or nation.

Every object, or artifact has a story. Not only does it have a particular meaning for the owner, but it can also have broader implications as well. People are naturally curious beings. Just look at the popularity of museums, art and photography exhibits, antique fairs, movies and social media. We all like to share stories about what's important to us in our lives. Artifacts are one way to help us understand our place in the world.

By relating a story to an object, we're able to connect with others on an emotional level who may or may not have gone through a similar experience. Humans are naturally curious beings and are drawn to objects. What does an object represent? Who owned it? What's it made of? How old is it? and "What's its story?"

Artifacts taken from the site of world changing events can be an important source of reflection. For example, artifacts gathered from Ground Zero were placed in a museum honouring the heroes of that dark day in our history. Artifacts can represent stories that invoke either good or bad memories, but their significance to an individual or to society in general is equally important in that they serve as connecting points to our own community - or to the world in general.

Perhaps more than anything, objects and artifacts have the amazing ability to transcend time and space. When an object is passed on to another generation, that generation bears the weight and responsibility of keeping its memories alive. It's as if the original owner passes his or her story down to future generations through a particular object of great personal importance.

This blog will attempt to find meaning in otherwise everyday objects. In some cases, they may have little significance to the reader - but by adding a story the purpose of the object and its emotional relevance will become clear and generate a life of its own. So whether you're a company looking for innovative ways to showcase your brand, or an individual curious to hear or share some really cool stories, I invite you to take and share in this journey through the fascinating world of "Narrative Assets." Feel free to post your own stories and pictures along the way. I hope you enjoy the adventure.

Objects-tell-human-stories-real-things-connect-people-to-ideas-14-638
(Image from http://www.slideshare.net/Timmilne/make-objects-tell-stories)



 

 


Middle Age Is For The Birds

Recently my husband and I have become proud surrogate parents of numerous birds in our area. Years ago we would have called people so enthralled by birds well, a little “old and boring”, but after being entertained by watching squirrels and birds surround the feeder of a family member we decided to take the plunge.

I put the feeder on my Christmas wish list and lo and behold - there it appeared under the tree. It’s a very cool unit – a well-known industry brand by Brome that is designed to be the ultimate in squirrel proof design.

We were told that it would take a couple of days for the neighbourhood flock to find our new feeder. Eager to make the right first impression, we stuffed it full of high quality pre-shelled sunflower hearts. The feeder was probably out there less than two hours and was already inundated with birds. I swear you’d almost assume the creatures were all connected on social media (cue the obvious Twitter analogies). Sparrows, chickadees and cardinals (Mr. and Mrs.) continue to be regular users of our free fare.

The process can be quite entertaining when a squirrel decides to attempt the feeder. Less so when you return to refill in the morning and find the feeder violently thrown off its hook and lying on the ground after having been vehemently attacked by a very tenacious racoon.

While the feeder is a “feel good” item and can provide some entertainment, it also occurred to me that in a way and from a middle-aged perspective, a bird feeder can also be a metaphor for life.

10 WAYS A BIRD FEEDER CAN BE A METAPHOR FOR LIFE

  1. While much of the process is predictable, you never really know what will show up and when
  2. To get the most out of the experience, you have to constantly refill it with nourishment
  3. From the perspective of the little guy, it’s always nice to depend on someone
  4. Life is really more enjoyable when you’re able to share it with other beings
  5. Invest in high quality ingredients and life will be less messy on the outside
  6. Sometimes the simplest things make you the happiest
  7. There’s wonder all around you
  8. We’re all in this together so you might as well share your resources
  9. If you fall down, just pick yourself right back up and try again
  10. Food is the great unifier

 

Brome

 


The World Needs More Good Writers

As a professional business writer, I’m constantly amazed at the lack of quality writing out there. I don’t mean just in the business world, but in virtually all areas of society. In the age of the computer, even spell check seems to be a bit lonely. There’s really no excuse for bad writing.

Yet everywhere I look, I see it. Misspelled words or names. Sentences that don’t make sense. Just this week, I read a report by a medical professional regarding a consultation. She misspelled the name of another physician so badly that I didn’t even recognize the person. If a respected medical professional can’t get that right, why would I trust them to perform a medical procedure? To me, detail is kind of important in an operating room.

As someone who is in daily communication with professionals, not everyone misses the mark. Yet I continue to see mistakes on websites, corporate communications materials, in emails and articles. Every day, I see errors watching the headlines on television in the spelling of basic words or names.

Now I know everyone is busy. We all have deadlines. I get it. But at least take the time to verify that a name is spelled correctly.

If you can’t take the time to run your content through spell check, then why would I trust that you or your brand would take the time to address my problems?

It seems that in an effort to guard the bottom line, many companies sacrifice quality for quantity. With so many experienced writers out there, there’s really no reason you can’t have the best of both worlds.

So the next time you’re looking for a professional writer, don’t hire the cheapest one. Or that referral from Uncle John (unless they fit the other criteria!). Hire someone who has some experience and really understands your business and your audience. Hire someone who has the ability to move an audience through words. Someone who can motivate people to take action. Just think about what impact that would have on your bottom line.

In our new and wondrous technological world, writing shouldn’t have to be a lost art. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to run my post through spell check!

Writing-cycle

(Photo courtesy Katherine Firth https://researchvoodoo.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/narrative-outlines-are-a-better-way-to-plan-chapters/)

 

 

 

 


Searching For Meaning at 102 - The Timeless Appeal of Stories

Mark Twain once said that “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Just as family artifacts are passed down from generation to generation, people too can be a vessel for all sorts of stories that are passed on to future generations. Older people (let’s call them “seasoned” due to their wealth of world experience) can be an infinite source of wisdom and guidance in a world often full of conflict and chaos. Even making it to your senior years in this day and age is a source of inspiration!

Listening to stories from members of the older generation can be a fascinating glimpse into the past – and offer hope for the future. A well told honest story coming from the heart can even convince us that, in spite of all the advances, perhaps nothing much has changed in the world over the years.

One of my most recent writing projects (outside of my usual corporate work) is to help a 102 year old lady write her memoirs through a series of short stories – perhaps even adding in a novel or play. At 102, she still has all her “faculties” and is sharp as a whip. So much so that (as many seniors do), she still manages to find a way to correct me at several points throughout the dictation process. Her life could have been plucked straight from a Hollywood movie. A strong and independent thinker, she ran her own adventure travel company for over 40 years offering tours throughout the world. During that time, she also acted as an agent of sorts and recruited speakers and celebrities from around the world to speak at various locations in Toronto. One of her most famous speakers was Sir Edmund Hillary. Yes, the Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Everest fame. At the height of her career, she also hosted dignitaries and made the rounds to numerous celebrity parties and events.

She was married to an engineer and moved many times as her husband was offered jobs in different cities. My point is this. Stories often help us find meaning in our sometimes confused and chaotic lives. They offer a temporary means of escape. A good story engages us, draws us in – and in the best case scenario can also teach us something.

And what better way to help us understand our place in the world, than to listen to someone who has experienced just about everything life has to offer?

In life, we’re often told to take “time out” to smell the roses. Yet it’s just as important to take time out of our busy schedules and really listen to the stories that encapsulate our world.

I hope my story sessions will continue and very much look forward to my visits. In a way, I feel as if I’m talking to a sage of sorts. A sort of human search engine plucked from the ages whose goal it is to ensure her experience, wisdom and adventures don’t go unnoticed.

So far, she has been able to weather just about every storm life could throw at her. Yet somehow, looking ahead, I get the feeling that the best part of her story is yet to be written.

 

 

 


Selling Emotion In Advertising: The Psychology of Effective Ads

The advent of non-traditional distribution channels brought on by advances in technology has raised a number of issues for advertisers. The consumer marketplace has become a dumping ground of sorts for a bevy of messages from companies telling us to buy more - and buy "better."

To reach us, ad agencies have tried numerous tactics including: cool graphics and effects, gorgeous models leading globetrotting lifestyles (who are not an accurate representation of "Joe and Jill" average), and promises that the product will deliver and meet our needs on numerous levels. Billions of dollars are spent delivering the message, but is the message really getting through?

When I think back to my days as a corporate sales representative, my business challenges were not unlike those faced by advertisers today. How do I come across as being "different" than my competitors - and succeed at having my product stand out amongst others that deliver similar experiences?

Looking back, the clincher to my biggest and most successful sales was based on an emotional element that I was able to add to the selling mix. Customers could have bought a similar product elsewhere, but they bought from me. If I was selling toys, then I would be able to use the "cute and fuzzy" factor as a lead-in to the sale. Key sales decisions were always a combination of both rational and emotional elements.

Emotion is important in selling because it leads to ownership and involvement. Remember the breakthrough success of the pet rock? Why else would anyone pay money for a rock in a box, other than the "cool" - and pride of ownership factors? The fact that the rock came with a handbook increased the emotional attachment of the rock to the owner. The success of the mood ring was based on similar principles. The product was even able to "predict" emotion through a display of colour on the owner's hand. We all knew it was a crock, yet we all bought it. In some strange way, we became attached to the idea that the ring could actually predict or reflect our mood. The experience became personal.

Just as in selling, the most effective ads reach us through their emotional appeal. By targeting our emotions, we are able to identify with the characters in the ad. Their story becomes our own.

When I think about great ads, I think of ads that struck a key emotional chord. There was something universal and "human" to the story. Examples of ads that catered to our emotions include:

The key to customer awareness and engagement can be found in this simple truism...people don't buy from companies - people buy from people.

What other ad campaigns can you think of that used emotion as a way to sell the product? Do you think this is an effective way of reaching consumers? Why isn't it used more often in advertising today?

  Marlboro


To Learn Something New...It Pays To Look At The Old!

With all the advances in technology, it still amazes me how many people are forgetting the basics when it comes down to understanding key principles of human interaction.

When I started my first job in territory sales with NCR, we had no email or Blackberry or cellphones. I made my quotas the old-fashioned way - I spoke to people! I knocked on doors, took the time to understand my customer's needs - and sold lots of stuff!

NCR trained us through their office in Dayton, Ohio. They had a great sales program, and we all graduated thinking that if we followed a few basic and proven principles, we would come out on top of the sales echelon. They emphasized old-fashioned principles such as hard work, persistence, honesty, follow up and planning. They told us to have faith and confidence in ourselves in that if we made a solid plan and stuck to it, the sales would come. And they did - in spades. I made the Century Points Club every year with NCR, and continued to set records in business development in future sales jobs.

In a fast-paced and often unforgiving world, it's not always the fastest and flashiest who win. It's often the person who shows the human touch who is able to break through the clutter and stand out as someone who truly cares. So next time, instead of text messaging - try the human approach. Drop in and see how someone is doing - or give them a call. The benefits might just last a lifetime.

What "old fashioned" values do you still believe in? Is it possible to succeed in today's fast paced world and still believe in these values?

NOTE: When I Googled NCR, the company description came up as "NCR is a global technology company leading how the world connects, interacts and transacts with business." Connection - interaction and transaction...the technology may have changed, but the principles sure haven't.


"Oh Mama! Please Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Writers and Directors!"

Like many, I had an average middle-class upbringing. My parent's professional lives and beliefs were submersed in academia. My father was a teacher, and my mother worked in a University. For a while it seemed as if our careers were all mapped out. Marks were all-important, as they would be a ticket to University and gainful employment. All four of us kids ended up in one of the professions - Business, Science, Medicine and Engineering.

Looking at our lives now it's easy to say we did well. But I wonder what would have happened had we chosen a different and perhaps more creative path? I had a talent and passion for languages, yet was told that job prospects would be better if I studied business. My brother had a passion for writing and acting, yet there was no way he would be allowed to follow that dream - at least until he finished the requisite degree.

Many families have the seemingly universal thought that a career in the Arts is just not "acceptable." We still see the scenes in movies and television where distraught parents utter the words..."Agh! He/she wants to be an actor!" Why is there still the stigma that a career in the Arts is an automatic ticket to a life of virtual poverty?

When I see what's happening in the world, I feel what's needed are more people who are able to inspire us through film, theatre and writing. We need more people like Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Capra and Jim Henson. Actors, directors, writers, playwrights - they all have a story to tell, and their words are of just as much value as those used in the more traditional and "noble" professions. They are valuable because they move people and, in some cases, are able to motivate people to change their lives in a positive way.

We need to motivate and inspire more young people to consider the Arts as a career. If we move to think outside the box, an artist doesn't even have to be an 'artist' in the traditional sense. A businessperson with a visionary idea can build a company with the same talent and passion as a painter who strives to communicate an idea through a paintbrush. A public speaker who is able to inspire an audience to action is a true artist.

It's time to place more value on people's ideas and abilities to inspire and motive others. If you have a passion early on in life, follow that dream - and don't let anyone tell you it's impossible.

What stories can you share on a similar subject? How many of you are sitting in jobs right now wondering what would have happened, had you followed your instincts and gone against the advice of others?


From Hollywood to Bay Street: Success is Defined By The Story You Tell

Hollywood1Recently I purchased a book called "The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters." The book is different from others in its genre as it doesn't just look at what highly successful people DO, it digs deeper and looks at how they THINK.

What's striking about the content in the book is its similarities to challenges found in the business world. Whether you're an aspiring screenwriter, entrepreneur or corporate CEO, your challenges are quite similar. At some point in your career, success will depend on how well you can sell your story to people prepared to buy it.

David Brown, a renowned Hollywood producer, once said that "Nothing counts as much as the story, because it is the story that will attract the director, the actors, the studio, the money. The story is the thing." It's the same in business. If you're the CEO of a public company, you better have a compelling and engaging story to attract shareholders and investors. Money begets money, and one way to get it is to have a good story. People tend to gather around a good idea, so make your story compelling and find an innovative way to help solve someone else's problem. Make yourself indispensible and they won't be able to get enough of you.

From the glitz and glam of Hollywood to the driven financial core of Bay Street, success is defined by the story you tell. You have to have something of importance to say, something that's different and cuts through the clutter. You have to tell your story in an engaging way, and develop nerves of steel and dogged determination to be sure your story is heard by the right people, at the right time. Your career will be full of rejection, but successful people are able to take that criticism and constructively use it to get their own story heard.

So take your talent, and hone it through intense dedication to your craft. Feed your passion, and develop the skills needed to effectively present and sell ideas to people who can benefit most from those ideas.

Don't give up. The world is waiting for a good story. Let yours be the one everyone starts talking about and your world will open up in ways you never dreamed possible.

What other similarities do you see between the challenges faced by people in creative industries - and those faced by people who work in the corporate world? Do you think all successful people share the same traits? If so, which ones?

 


Selling Your Story: The Art and Science of Media Coverage

Tminthenewsteaser_2Selling your organization's story to the media involves a combination of both art and science. It's an art because you have to find a creative way to capture the attention of people who are bombarded with similar messages on a daily basis. How your message is crafted is also important, so design is key.

The scientific part is nothing new to selling. Selling is a numbers game, and the more qualified people you contact, the better the chance of getting your message out there.

So...what can you do to increase media coverage for your company?

1) Do your research. Figure out who you'd like to reach, then contact the editors of media outlets and publications who cater to this demographic. For example, if you produce a cool new line of outdoor furniture suitable for cottagers, contact publications geared to cottage owners to see if they might do a feature article or review on your furniture. You could also contact your local TV station to see if they might cover your product on a morning show. Keep in mind that many media outlets plan for events well in advance, so get in there early to be sure your message is a timely and seasonal one.

2) Tell an engaging story. Everyone loves a good story, including the media. A well told story that has both rational and emotional appeal will catch the eye of the media. Let them know why your story would be of interest to their readers, and how it would help them maintain their profile as providers of innovative and engaging content.

3) Look into both traditional and non-traditional forms of media. Today, virtually everyone offers online editions of print publications, and if someone doesn't publish your story in print, they may well accommodate in their online edition.

4) Get to the right person. Journalists are very busy people. If you sell design services, don't bother the editor of an antiques magazine. Unless you design a cool new system for antique dealers.

5) Make it personal. How has your product or service impacted your life (or the lives of others), and why would it interest someone else's audience?

6) Be persistent. Calvin Coolidge once said that nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Selling a story is a numbers game, and the more times up to bat, the better the chance of scoring that home run.

7) Don't forget to follow up. The world is littered with people who take great pains to design campaigns, and then don't follow up.

So go out there - and sell your story. Let your voice be heard!

What techniques have you used to successfully sell your story to the media? What worked - and what didn't? Why?


Want To Get Creative? Think Like A Kid Again!

 

Ptru12896561t130   Potato_3

As a writer and speaker, people are always asking me where I come up with my creative ideas. If I could give one bit of advice it would be this..."Think like a kid!"

Remember when you were a kid? Didn't everything seem worth exploring? If you ended up getting your feet wet during your adventures, did it really matter? Growing up can and often does have a negative effect on our creativity. At a certain age, our dreams can be squashed as we're told that our imagination is nonsense. How sad - and how far from the truth!

Without a sense of wonder, life would seem so grim. Nothing would be fun anymore, and we would worry too much about what people think. To keep those creative thoughts flowing, here are 5 tips to keep you on top of the creative game:

1) Rediscover your sense of play. If you have kids, watch them at play. See how they interact. Join in. If you don't have kids, walk through a toy store and get nostalgic as you rediscover all your favourite childhood toys and memories

2) Rediscover your sense of wonder. As we get older, we tend to lose our enthusiasm for things. Take a walk through the woods, and look at all the wonders of mother nature. Watch an airplane soar through the sky, and wonder why it is the thing never falls down. Take a look at a full moon, and imagine what it must have been like to walk on its surface. Imagine yourself walking on the surface. What would you be thinking?

3) Rent one of your favourite childhood movies, and discover what it was you liked about it in the first place. There must be some reason you remember it now

4) Jump in a puddle. Don't forget to wear rubber shoes or boots

5) Imagine yourself as a superhero. Who would you be - who would you save - and why?

Rekindling your creativity by thinking like a kid doesn't have to take a lot of effort. It just takes a willingness to step into a place where everything was new again. A place where possibilities were endless, and every day held something to treasure.

What steps have you taken today to rekindle your creativity? How has your creativity been squashed as you worked your way through life? What movies,  books or toys remind you of the best times of your childhood?


“Trumped”: Get Your Narrative Right and You Could Win the White House

Love him or hate him, few would disagree that Donald Trump is a master storyteller. Politics aside, Trump was the true underdog both within and outside of his own party.

Obama and many others skewered him in public. The media would often sway between sensationalism to downright skepticism in their reporting of all things Trump. Yet what the skeptics didn’t know or understand was that Trump was playing right into the hands of the American electorate.

People love the underdog story. Most can identify with what it’s like to be the outsider. It seemed that no matter what Trump said or did, he couldn’t lose. And people want to support a winner.

Perhaps even Trump himself was surprised that he was able to win over America to claim the highest office in the land. The fact is that Donald Trump is a genius at getting inside the zeitgeist of a population and in reading what it is exactly that people want. And it was time for change. Fed up with the status quo and their place in life, Trump gave his supporters what they wanted to hear. Like Superman rushing to save the screaming masses from a burning building, he was their hero and promised to fix things if they gave him a chance.

Many underestimated Trump. What his opponents and skeptics did was fail to see that through his storytelling and ability to read the current narrative playing out in America, he was able to tap into something so deep that no one else was able to reach it.

While there were many reasons that led to Trump’s victory, from a story perspective he hit all the right buttons.

Here’s what Trump did right:

  1. He tapped into people’s emotions and took them on an emotional journey. Great stories are built on great characters and he was able to create a persona for himself that instinctively drew people to his rallies by the tens of thousands
  2. He focused on what was really going on with the American people in a way that more seasoned politicians just failed to see. He read the narrative and followed the script. America was fed up and wanted to be great again. Trump offered a way out and his unconventional personality was able to draw people to his ideas
  3. His journey had many similarities to those experienced by heroes in the classic book by Christopher Vogler “The Writer’s Journey.” It’s almost as if Trump’s actions followed those in a dramatic movie script. There was a Call to Action, which led to the Hero’s Journey. Along the way, there were antagonists (or one key one – Hillary Clinton), tests, allies and enemies. After numerous challenges the hero crosses the threshold and returns with the ultimate prize – the White House

To quote Campbell, “Every storyteller bends the mythic pattern to his own purpose or the needs of her culture. That’s why the hero has a thousand faces.”

Great stories are mythic in nature and speak directly to the human spirit.They tap into a mythological core that teaches us something about ourselves.

From a storytelling perspective, Trump nailed it on all levels. Add to that his brand of authenticity yet unseen in the world of Washington politics and he proved to be a worthy opponent.

For Donald Trump, his final act is yet to be written. In the meantime, there will be more tests, allies and enemies along the way as he leaves the ordinary world and prepares to enter the brand new world of politics.

  Trumpfinal

Source: CTVnews.ca