Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Richard O'Neill, a storyteller colleague of mine, sent me this and I wanted to share it with you...

'How to Command Attention Through Storytelling' by Doug Lipman

"In the last decade or two, many new forms of communication have arrived. Email. Cell phones. Computer bulletin boards. Chat rooms. Instant messaging. And more. So why would you want to use storytelling, the ultimate low-tech form of communication, when you are surrounded by so many hi-tech channels?

It's Getting Harder to Communicate, Not Easier
Paradoxically, our information-rich lives make communication more difficult. Sure, we have more and more ways to reach people. But that very surfeit of communication channels overloads us. We struggle to keep up with the incoming messages and are expected to respond immediately to all of them. Thus, the average length of messages gets shorter and shorter, while the frequency and urgency increase. As a result, communication becomes more and more fragmented. Our ability to convey complex or detailed messages in such an environment is actually reduced. What about those we need to communicate with? Bombarded with messages, they have so many demands on their attention that they can scarcely focus on what we want to tell them. In the past, we could usually succeed just by bumbling through a conversation until we were done explaining ourselves. But now, people who aren't immediately interested in what we are saying, are likely to turn to the next thing that grabs their attention - whether we're done yet or not. It doesn't much matter what field you're in. For example, suppose you're in sales or are promoting a non-profit cause. It used to be that you could shoot the breeze, take 15 minutes or more to get acquainted, and establish a sense of familiarity before you had to mention what you're promoting. Those days seem to be gone. Now, you need to grab people's attention and imagination in record time.

When We Can't Command Attention, We Fail
Unless we can command and hold the attention of our listeners, our lives suffer. We make fewer allies, sympathizers, or sales. Our students lag behind in learning and test scores. Our children or grandchildren tune us out. As professionals, we work harder to find clients and do our jobs, with less to show for it. We end up with more pressure, more tasks, and still less time in which to do them. In fact, our whole society suffers. Because we have been taught to use only bullet-point communication - without the complimentary, effectiveness-enhancing skills of story-communication, we have been set up for failure. Further, we are faced with the prospect of a society in which children take in only the best-packaged messages, and therefore miss the messages that are the most nourishing. We are faced with a downward spiral of always attending to the most glitzy messages coming at us and having little ability to control internally where our attention goes.

The Attention Race
The problem with all these methods is that they create an arms race. For example, in the early days of television, a scene might last 3 minutes before a camera change. Within a couple of decades, the scene or camera angle would change within one minute. Now, in most prime-time shows, the camera angle changes in less than 30 seconds, often every 10 seconds. In commercials, it changes every 1 to 3 seconds! Why is that? In the early days, TV itself held our attention because it was new. When the novelty began to wear off, it took faster changes to keep our attention. But we got used to those, so the techniques escalated: ever faster changes, ever more use of violence, humiliation and shock. No one ever wins an arms race. They can only gain a temporary advantage until their newest weapon gets into the hands of everyone else or is rendered useless through a new defensive strategy. In time, the other side always catches up.

Beyond the Flashing Lights
Storytelling, that ancient, "obsolete" form of communication, can succeed where these "flashing lights" strategies fail. Why? It engages different parts of people's brains. We are hard-wired, since before the advent of the most basic technologies, to imagine story - to invest story with our own experiences, predilections, and emotions. When you engage people in story listening, they stop responding merely to stimulus. You activate a channel that connects to an ancient part of their minds. They now do the work of imagining the possible benefits of your product or service, or the piece of information you want them to absorb. You teach them not by bombarding them with ever faster stimulation, but by engaging their own internal sense of imagination.

Mutually Respectful Communication
That is why so many people are discovering the ancient power of storytelling. It is not a magic bullet, but it is a form of mutually respectful communication based on cooperative imagining.
Unlike watching reality television, reading our email, or surfing the web, storytelling slows us down, connects us, and encourages us to cooperate with a live human for our mutual benefit.
Storytelling is a form of interaction that never grows old, that people don't grow out of simply because a new form of stimulation arises. Storytelling is more important now than ever - not in spite of the electronic age, but because of it."

A brilliant message from a great storyteller. If you want to read more and find out about the programmes Doug runs you can visit www.storydynamics.com/index.php

No comments: