What Can B2B Learn From TED Talks? Turns Out a Lot….
Can B2B tell a gripping narrative? Can an ad, case study, blog post, or customer testimonial be compelling? Absolutely. (I great place to see this done expertly, is Lou Hoffman’s Storytelling Through a Business Prism blog ishmael’s Corner. A blog dedicated to the real world application of B2B storytelling.)
While it is harder to weave a tell with dry business details, you can if you go further and connect with the people behind that story. What is their journey in human terms? TED and TEDx talks are all about shining a bright light of insight onto the seemingly ordinary to uncover the extraordinary. So, how do you capture a little of that magical quality when creating your own stories?
Awhile back I was asked to join the senior executive team for TEDxSanJoseCA, a localized TED event, and manage demand generation and social media outreach. Jumping in gave me a behind the scenes view of what it takes to put on an event of that caliber. More importantly, I saw how the TEDTalks sausage was made. Here are the shared principles I gleaned from watching 21 speakers develop, practice, and give their talks.
Set the Stage. Tell Your Origin Story. Put Flesh on the Bone
Stories are how we’ve learned and taught for millennia. A story takes people on a journey of challenge, discovery, and emotions with salient sights, sounds, tastes, textures, smells, and even pain. Think of the opening as a mini story. It gives the listener a place to start.
Consider Doug Dietz’s journey. He begins by describing the thrill of seeing the large, shiny diagnostic imaging machine he designed in the field. As an engineer seeing his creation in real life was a thrill. That is until he saw the little girl. She was a very young patient with cancer who was there for her scan. He watched as she entered the room, saw the machine, and became distraught at the idea of lying inside the noisy, ominous machine. The experience, and idea that his design work caused such stress on sick children, left Doug heartbroken.
The Hero’s Journey: What’s Next?
That opening propels the audience into the crux of Doug’s story: the quest to find an alternative design. The middle is where we learn the challenges our hero faced, how they fail and succeed on that road, and the lessons and setbacks the hero encounters to create an experience that children found enjoyable, not frightening.
Then he shares how he “killed” the loud scary monster, flourishing the story with rich detail. The journey’s end is when Doug’s scary big machine is transformed into a forest with painted trees, leaves, rocks, and streams. Now young patients joyously cross the painted stream that cut across their path to the machine by stepping on the rocks to arrive a machine now decorated as a tree house.
A small patient enters the new room and rushes to the edge creek on the floor, ready to cross the strone path, turns to her parent, “Daddy, be careful or you’ll get your feet wet.” Doug teared up in the retelling, and most of the audience did too.
When it comes to TED talks, you always hear about passion. No one ever says what that means, which is unhelpful when you’re developing a brand story that you need to persuade.
Passion is conveyed by going on an emotional journey. The speaker needs to share how key events touched and changed them. When obstacles seem insurmountable, passion drives the hero forward. Many speakers just share the facts believing the audience will “get it.” That never works.
Be Emotionally Messy
My advice is absolutely counter-intuitive for most B2B companies: Brutal honesty – the kind that we rarely share even with friends – is required. Just like Doug, you must answer, “How did it make me feel, and what did I take away from that experience?” Share the experience, even when it doesn’t show you in the best light. While this can be hard, and uncomfortable, this is where you can nail that human connection.
Those moments open us, and the listeners, up so we can learn. Allow yourself to be human. Threaded throughout TED talks are those personal failings, wins, and losses. It forges a deep connection with the audience.
Your story needs to be tight. As you develop the story you will have to kill your darlings. Those little nuggets we want to share, but really clutter the narrative. TED speakers often ask for more time than the 18 minutes allotted. No one is given more time. Usually people try to talk faster and touch on the ideas quickly. This fails big every time.
You have to cut mercilessly. Have 9 key points? Cross out 3. Can you make those 6 work in a pinch? Kill one more.
Keeping your story simple, emotionally truthful, and creating a clear vision of how good it can be, you just might inspire others to help change the world, too.
The original blog post that this is based on was published on Oracle’s Modern Marketing Blog.