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Once Upon A Time, The Storytelling of Marketing

Posted By: Randy GageMarch 3, 2009

I wrote this column from a rehearsal room, six levels down in the complex underneath the Bastille Opera House in Paris.  It’s a walk through rehearsal for The Magic Flute, the first time the lead actors are meeting the stage director.  It’s the kind of event never seen by the general public – one I’m experiencing as a guest of the lead tenor, special dispensation from the Director, and the VERY begrudging approval of the security desk.

This will be a production of the Young Artists Studio, a scholarship program the Opera provides to the most promising young stars from around the world.  These artists, the next generation of Opera Superstars, come to the Bastille to learn from the finest coaches, Directors and Maestros the world has to offer.

I’ve arrived here to spend a few days with Juan Carlos Echeverry (the tenor), coming by the Chunnel train, after conducting a one-day Marketing War College in the U.K.  That War College came just 48 hours after I had conducted by four-day, 17-hour-a-day program for professional speakers in LA.

After crossing too many time zones and the absence of any meaningful sleep - the contrast of cultures and convergence of experiences have conspired to provide me an insight into life.  Which, as is my wont, I immediately translate to marketing.

The convergence of experiences…

The first of these were the “Showcases” I critiqued with Steve Siebold at my speakers program.  In these a volunteer comes on stage and delivers a short section of his or her speech.  We then critique for them how they can better connect with the audience and get their message across.  If there was one theme we came back to over and over, it was “tell a story – make a point.”  (Which of course, was the mantra of the legendary Bill Gove.)

Simply assaulting your audience with facts, statistics and information will never create a bond.  You are simply a human computer, downloading data at a much faster rate than the average person can process.  Give a speech on the “11 Steps to Success” and quiz the audience 30 minutes later.  You’ll be lucky if they can name one or two.

But tell them a story of something that happened to you that illustrates a point – and they’ll often remember the story (and thus the point), five years later.  The speakers who are extraordinary communicators never download facts – they have a conversation with the audience.  They become campfire storytellers.

The second experience that lead to my intriguing insight was the work I did coaching attendees on their copywriting skills.  We worked together on crafting compelling, gut-wrenching stories that would capture the emotion of the situation for the prospect.

Contrary to popular belief – elite copywriters and world-class speakers share many more similarities than they do differences.  At their ultimate level they both speak to the soul of the recipients.

One of the insights I wanted the speakers to get was that they must bring more than their message to the audience.  Their message must be heartfelt, in the moment, and spoken directly with their audience.  Yet there still is an element of show business – a necessary element if they are to “get over the lights,” and share their message in a way the audience hears it, connects with it, and actually resonates it.  You can’t do this with facts and figures, but you can do this with stories.  And when you do it right – the recipient will not hear the story, or read the story – they will experience it!

I got to practice this personally, 48 hours after the speakers program.  This time I was the speaker as I shared my “Shattering Your Self-Limiting Beliefs” keynote to a typically stoic audience outside of London.  The British “stiff upper lip” is not a myth.  Speaking to a U.K. audience, you’ll notice a definite reduction in facial expression, laughter and interactions.  There were times in the talk that I wondered if I was really getting through.

Yet when I finished, a long line of people lined up to shake my hand, look in my eyes, and tell me how moving and life-changing my message had been.  It took almost an hour to speak to them all.  And all the time I was thinking, “If it meant this much to you, couldn’t you have told your face?”  I thought I was dying, but my message had been getting through.

The idiom and accents between us was quite different – not to mention some of the audience members were from Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy – yet the message of my stories transcended all.

Now as I sit in the rehearsal room, nested under Place du Bastille – I am watching the same process unfold.  The Director, the pianist and one of the women sopranos are all French.  Juan Carlos is from Colombia, the dramatic soprano is Greek, and the metzo is Russian.  They communicate in a convoluted mélange of French, English and German.

They don’t share the same native language, the Director knows very little German and English, and the metzo speaks almost no French.  Yet the Director communicates the story he wants told and the manner in which it must be done.

Looking authentically Bohemian in chinos, turtleneck and tousled hair, he paces like a lithe lemur in a tight cage, as he sketches out the facial expressions, motivations and emotions of the scenes.

“Project your intention with your eyes!”
“The play comes from the silence.”
“You finish the sentence, but not the intention.”
“The emotion is here!” (pounding his stomach)

At the level of skill and training these students possess, they can, at the snap of a finger, hit and project a note like you expect to hear from Patti Labelle or Joe Cocker as they belt out their climatic finale. (All while they’re sitting down in a rehearsal room holding a water bottle, playing to an audience of one.)

In the storyline they’re rehearsing today, the three women rescue our tenor from a deadly serpent.  They have never seen a man before, so they are a palpable mixture of awe, curiosity and sexual tension.  A harmonic argument ensues over who will remain with the man while the other two go to alert the queen.

One sings, the second follows, and the third replies.  The brilliant Director teeters on the edge of his chair, turning to each as they solo.  His wide open eyes dance with electricity, his mouth is agape with joy, as he caresses each soloist with energy as he coaxes the emotion from each of them.  He scowls, stomps his shoe and snaps his fingers when they must be angry – he breathes hard, emotes and waves his arms when they must show more excitement.  “Exactament!” he exclaims when the magic of the moment is captured.

You need not speak the language to feel the passion of the story.  No matter your age, your country or your culture – the spider web of the story ensnares you in its trap.

And weeks from now, when the production is performed, Mozart’s story will come to life once again.  Thousands more will follow the lure of the magic flute, and be projected to a different place and time.

So what’s the marketing lesson for you?

Tell a story.  Make a point.  Make the story your point.  Whether you’re the lead in La Traviata, speaking to an audience of 5000, or writing your next sales letter, blog post or website – your critical, overriding responsibility is to connect with your audience on a soul-to-soul level.

The medium may change – the pianist with her keyboard, the singers with their song, or you with your pen on paper – but the end result must not.  You must reach each person, one at a time.

Even if your mail piece or e-zine is going to 250,000 people, they are going to read it one person at a time.  The more stories you tell that the prospect will relate to, the more likely he is to continue reading and get your message.

And they live happily ever after…

-RG

14 comments on “Once Upon A Time, The Storytelling of Marketing”

  1. WOW Randy, this post from you couldn't have come at a better time for me! I am recently starting my blog, and yesterday I was thinking about the style I wanted to portray in my writing.
    My idea is to make people reflect about the current situation and think of ways to make it better....

    I guess I need to figure out stories that give the same message.

    Enjoy Paris!

    Federico Ruiz

  2. Oh! What an amazing opera surprise: I know Juan Carlos from 1992. I met him here in Colombia in the opera and also in Los Andes University. WOW!

    You gave me such a gift! The Magic Flute! Love it!

    And totally agree with your point!

    How lucky to be à La Bastille, Randy.

    Au revoir

  3. Great! Our e-zine reaches about 8,000 people - but we make it personal as we can and still offer benefit to our readers. Our e-zine and website http://www.TheSecondAdam.com work together, and our personal stories that make us REAL PEOPLE - bring real people to us. Thanks Gage!

  4. I do Improv Comedy here in New York, where a lot of people say they do that too. However, most of them think that improv is about thinking of the next joke as quickly as possible.

    They are wrong.

    The REAL secret to doing improv, or making a movie or theatre, is to always work on forwarding or deepening the STORY. It always comes down to story.

    Thanks for the reminder Randy!

  5. You were in London and I didn't know?

    You were in Paris and I didn't know?

    Sacrilège! I thought I was on all your lists.

    I cut a personal story out of a sales letter I put online yesterday... I'm off to rectify this right now.

    Thank you for the great post (story!) to make your point. (I could see myself there.)

  6. Great stuff as always Randy. Timely too!

    I have a speech to give tomorrow and that's helped me tremendously.

    Thanks.

  7. I could say like Yan Vernier, you were in London, and then Paris and I haven't seen you !...

    For me too, the timing is perfect. I have received today a workbook recommended by Russell Cooper, your Senior Director, and my sponsor.
    the subject is also : how to write and tell a compelling story.
    What I will need now is transfer my gift to "touch" people when they come to my surgery for help, into something that will guide them to better health and serious wealth at the same time.
    thanks for your inspirational example.
    domdock

  8. Hi Randy

    Is there a copy of your schedule on your website, or anywhere else available for access because I would love to go to one of your events to hear you speak live and in person. I cant believe you were here in London and I missed it.

    Best Wishes
    Ari

  9. Dear Randy,
    What a lovely blog! Love the way you put your point accross! Winand and I are great lovers of opera and have been around many places: from Covent Garden to Verona to the Met, la Scala, Bayreut, etc. and also love to attend rehearsals. Used to be easy years ago in London.....
    Lately we have been following you! around the US (LA) and Australia. We would have loved to see you in Barcelona end May. You have such "dramatic" stage quality, quite a privilege to be part of the audience......
    We are off next week to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for an art project......
    Warm regards, Francoise and Winand, Agel Barcelona

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  • 14 comments on “Once Upon A Time, The Storytelling of Marketing”

    1. WOW Randy, this post from you couldn't have come at a better time for me! I am recently starting my blog, and yesterday I was thinking about the style I wanted to portray in my writing.
      My idea is to make people reflect about the current situation and think of ways to make it better....

      I guess I need to figure out stories that give the same message.

      Enjoy Paris!

      Federico Ruiz

    2. Oh! What an amazing opera surprise: I know Juan Carlos from 1992. I met him here in Colombia in the opera and also in Los Andes University. WOW!

      You gave me such a gift! The Magic Flute! Love it!

      And totally agree with your point!

      How lucky to be à La Bastille, Randy.

      Au revoir

    3. Great! Our e-zine reaches about 8,000 people - but we make it personal as we can and still offer benefit to our readers. Our e-zine and website http://www.TheSecondAdam.com work together, and our personal stories that make us REAL PEOPLE - bring real people to us. Thanks Gage!

    4. I do Improv Comedy here in New York, where a lot of people say they do that too. However, most of them think that improv is about thinking of the next joke as quickly as possible.

      They are wrong.

      The REAL secret to doing improv, or making a movie or theatre, is to always work on forwarding or deepening the STORY. It always comes down to story.

      Thanks for the reminder Randy!

    5. You were in London and I didn't know?

      You were in Paris and I didn't know?

      Sacrilège! I thought I was on all your lists.

      I cut a personal story out of a sales letter I put online yesterday... I'm off to rectify this right now.

      Thank you for the great post (story!) to make your point. (I could see myself there.)

    6. Great stuff as always Randy. Timely too!

      I have a speech to give tomorrow and that's helped me tremendously.

      Thanks.

    7. I could say like Yan Vernier, you were in London, and then Paris and I haven't seen you !...

      For me too, the timing is perfect. I have received today a workbook recommended by Russell Cooper, your Senior Director, and my sponsor.
      the subject is also : how to write and tell a compelling story.
      What I will need now is transfer my gift to "touch" people when they come to my surgery for help, into something that will guide them to better health and serious wealth at the same time.
      thanks for your inspirational example.
      domdock

    8. Hi Randy

      Is there a copy of your schedule on your website, or anywhere else available for access because I would love to go to one of your events to hear you speak live and in person. I cant believe you were here in London and I missed it.

      Best Wishes
      Ari

    9. Dear Randy,
      What a lovely blog! Love the way you put your point accross! Winand and I are great lovers of opera and have been around many places: from Covent Garden to Verona to the Met, la Scala, Bayreut, etc. and also love to attend rehearsals. Used to be easy years ago in London.....
      Lately we have been following you! around the US (LA) and Australia. We would have loved to see you in Barcelona end May. You have such "dramatic" stage quality, quite a privilege to be part of the audience......
      We are off next week to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for an art project......
      Warm regards, Francoise and Winand, Agel Barcelona

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