Discover more from Adventures in Storytelling
#143 - How your self-involvement is killing your business
And my thoughts on the Barbie movie
This is Adventures in Storytelling your weekly note with resources, insights, and actionable tools for better communication through storytelling. Enjoy.
“You talk about yourself too much,” is not an accusation that is likely to be directed at me. At least not by anyone who’s known me long. Because I want to know about you, your story, your experience of the world. I’m more comfortable asking questions, than answering them. I’m nosy. And proud of it—it makes me a better storyteller.
Today I want to share one of those strange lessons that can sometimes be hard to teach, but can make a huge difference in your communication. It is an essential mindset to make the story you share better. When you’re presenting to a group, writing the copy for your website, or creating an ad or social media post. But it doesn’t come naturally to a lot of folks in a world dominated by the weird conflagration of pervasive individualism and social norms induced insecurity. A world that tells us we have to prove ourselves and show how great we are in all we do in order to have value. A world that kind of encourages us to be self-involved and loud about it. Think of any noisy billionaire on the internet and you’ll have an extreme example of what I mean.
In that context, it’s hard for folks to understand that often in communicating with others, especially when it comes to storytelling, it’s not about you. If you’re trying to connect with a new audience, or get someone to hire you, or give an amazing speech, making it sing means ensuring it’s not about you.
Think about the last great Ted Talk you watched or listened to. Or essay you read. Think about how it made you feel and what the storyteller did to engage you. Yes, they may have shared stories about themselves or their lives—that’s essential—but in the end was your takeaway about how amazing THEY are because of those stories or were they about what YOU learned through their stories?
It's not about you, it’s about what you can share, how you may help, what your story can do to connect ideas, provide insight, and shift perspectives for folks. It’s one of the hardest things I work to teach my client. If you get up on stage and just tell us what happened in your life, and don’t connect it to something a bit more universal and useful to your audience, you’ve lost and so have they. It’s a wasted opportunity to connect that you’ve chosen to just make about you.
There are times when I encourage selfishness, actually only one time: when you’re establishing your brand foundations, but even then your audience has a role to play. Because, truly, when you’re done sharing, at the end of a given moment, it’s really about them.
For example. When we present Re-Work workshops, we invite storytellers to share their experiences of different elements of our framework for re-imagining work. We invite people to talk about their experiences with rest, creativity, play, etc. And each time, we take time to coach our storytellers before a workshop. I work with them to focus on elements of story creating and sharing I also share here, but we’re not trying to make them all tell their story in the same way—that’s no fun. I actually spend most of my time listening to their story through the lens of the audience and getting them to think about what they want the audience to leave with.
What is the point of your story? What do you want its impact to be? Who is your story for?
These are questions I encourage them to consider and I want to encourage you to consider too. Because it shifts the telling in such subtle but essential ways. It becomes less about putting a spotlight on you, and more about being of service through your story. Whether it’s showing your customers how your brand story and product benefits them in your advertising or not just sharing your life story but expressing the value you bring to a hiring manager through it.
I’ll come back to this one, I think. Because it involves a lot of nuance. It requires stepping a little out of your ego and insecurity (which we all have, myself included), being a bit vulnerable, and asking yourself how can my story (my product, my experience, my life) help these people? How do I show them a different way in through my story?
Let me know what you think of this idea. It is what has worked for me in a lifetime of storytelling, and what has worked for my clients.
A Story Well Told
Like any other marketer curious about the payoff of a massive, long-term, culture-influencing marketing campaign, I went to see the Barbie movie this weekend. When other folks are building campaigns around your campaign, you know you’ve done something right. For better or worse, it was everything the marketing campaign promised: fluff and absurdist fun. I had fun watching it. The only place it went wrong was the choice to actually try to take on real world issues—that is the patriarchy. Unfortunately, at least for me, that fell a bit flat. It didn’t have the nuanced reading and critical lens over the issue, and completely ignored the role of capitalism and white supremacy with which the patriarchy is so inextricably interlinked. But it is a movie about a sometimes-controversial doll funded by its makers, so you get what you get. It was fine though in some ways a testament to the ways in which storytelling can be used to normalize a status quo and not challenge it. Bottom line: Ryan Gosling deserves an Oscar and it’s worth seeing if only to stay in step with the zeitgeist. No feelings were hurt in the making of this film. BUT. The story well told for me, was also this critical reading of the movie shared with me by a friend on Instagram:
If you’ve seen the movie I would love to hear your thoughts.
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this newsletter and want to support you have options(!):
Subscribe if you haven’t already (hit the button below and include your email)
Forward this post to a friend or colleague and encourage them to subscribe here: https://ramsayandco.ca/subscribe (it’s especially for business owners, marketers, and anyone looking to share their stories and communicate with impact)
Reply to this note and tell me what worked for you and what you’d like to see more of. (Or comment below if you’re reading on the site or substack app)
Thanks for reading Adventures in Storytelling! Subscribe for free to receive weekly insights and resources for better communication through storytelling.