As I was telling you yesterday, I came away from Infusionsoft’s ICON conference with a burning desire to focus on one specific thing.
That thing was storytelling…
Ever since I was small I’ve written stories that keep people’s attention. I’ve always written emails that tell some kind of story. I’ve even told primitive stories in Google ads.
I’ve seen that stories work, in different ways and across different media…
But I always thought storytelling was a dark art; not something I could systematise or teach. Plus I don’t have a background in story. Beyond A-level literature I never studied it formally. Whenever you’re about to pivot into a new area, a small inner voice ALWAYS pops up to question your credentials.
“What qualifies you to teach that?” the voice demands.
As usual, it turns out that didn’t matter…
I had been following Sean D’Souza for a few years. I would listen to his Three Month Vacation podcasts on my walks around Sheffield. One week Sean announced he was running a storytelling workshop in Amsterdam, so I booked to go.
Within five minutes of arriving at the venue, Sean gave me this sideways look. “So… you’re an introvert, right?” he asked.
‘Oh man. Is it that obvious?’ I thought, completely taken aback.
There were around twenty delegates at the workshop. We mostly arrived as writers in some capacity. What became obvious was that Sean had a process he was able to teach, and it wouldn’t have mattered if we had arrived as physicists or mathematicians. We’d all have made the same mistakes, and left with the same skill.
A few things really struck me about those three days. The workshop itself was carefully structured; but also fun. There was music. We had breakout time. We went out for lunch, and dinner in the evening. There was a good mix of learning, doing, and space to just work stuff out.
Most importantly, you came away with a skill. One of Sean’s goals, he told us, was for us to teach what we had learned.
When I got home I combined Sean’s storytelling process with some of my own ideas. I scoped out a seven-week email storytelling course. I put up a basic sales page. This wasn’t a big, flashy launch. I just needed to work through the process with a small group, and three students signed up.
Each week we met online to work through a particular aspect of storytelling technique. Halfway through the course I said to the group: “off you go… write me an email…”
… And virtual tumbleweed blew across my screen.
I could see furrowed brows and worried expressions through grainy webcam images. All three students were overwhelmed.
I thought about this for a few days. Eventually we created an extra step called the Speedy First Draft. Later on we added a second draft stage. We ended up with seven steps in the process rather than five, but now nobody was stuck or overwhelmed.
I had broken down the process of writing a story-based email to a series of doable steps, but still something was missing. Some connection or insight I had missed.
In my head I was like, “I know this matters. I know I’m onto something. But I can’t see the full picture…”
Shortly after that a friend recommended Christopher Booker’s book The Seven Basic Plots. In the final part of the book, Booker explains that great stories are always about a broken or flawed character becoming whole, by undergoing some kind of personal transformation.
As I read those words, a penny dropped…
Most of my clients deliver some kind of transformation that is difficult to explain.
Perhaps story was the missing ingredient.
We’re all broken or flawed, in some way. You can use that to build connection. Or you can ignore it, and pretend you’re perfect.