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Improving communication in business; see what Tinsel Town can teach us about storytelling

By 17th August 2021February 24th, 2023Blog, Sharing your big picture
Woman Watching Movie

With lockdowns easing, comes cinema reopening. There’s a backlog of blockbusters bursting onto the big screen this year, from Bond and Top Gun to the Matrix and, another remake of the classic, Ghostbusters.

We love nothing more than to catapult ourselves into a great story and nobody tells them better than Hollywood. Its stunning ability to engage audiences is unrivalled. So, as we re-immerse ourselves in the cinematic experience, perhaps there’s something Tinsel Town can teach us about telling more blockbusting stories – and communicating better – in business.

What we can learn from the central character

The main character usually begins life as a ‘normal’ person because that makes them relatable – they speak like you and me. Whether we’re at the cinema or in the office, we want to see those like us in a story. It’s much easier when we can relate the story to our own experiences and the film’s hero or heroine tells it using everyday language.

Ever noticed that no matter the genre, there’s never too much technical jargon used in our favourite films? That’s because jargon excludes an audience. Can you imagine a real-life ‘Top Gun’ pilot speaking at an aviation conference? I’d guarantee that talk’s littered with jet jargon – making it difficult to follow and much less engaging.

Then there are those buzzwords and catchphrases that are so overused in communication, they send our brains to sleep. Common examples include:

  • Thinking outside the box
  • Low-hanging fruit, and
  • Deep dive

These are terms so generic no one knows what they mean yet they are much abused. And, unless you are watching a spoof, you’ll be unlikely to find any of them used in Hollywood dialogue.

What we can learn from story structure

Let’s look at the bare bones of a Bond story. There’s a huge threat. It’s putting the world at risk. Bond needs to apply his unique talents to eliminate the threat and save the day.

At that most basic level, is that so different to what we’re doing every day in business? Overcoming problems and challenges to come out on top?

Admittedly in business it takes more than a lone 007. But as long as we all understand where we are in the story, know what end we’re working towards and have the skills and strategy to get there – we can all rally around achieving it.

While many great stories layer on complexity and sub plots, at their basic level they are simple enough for everyone to understand and retell.

What we can learn from ‘moving’ images

We’re drawn to pictures, particularly moving pictures. Yet when it comes to telling our stories at work we bury, baffle, and bore our audience in an ocean of words that even Jaws would get lost in.

When using words to communicate, metaphors work well because they paint pictures we can visualise and become emotionally stirred by. These work better still when reinforced by actual images – for a picture paints a thousand words. This proven and powerful combination is the foundation of Axiom’s Big Picture approach, which businesses like Astra Zeneca, Mölnlycke and Pfizer have used globally, when partnering with us to great effect.

Yet when it comes to sharing business stories – be they visions, strategies, projects, or plans – many presenters’ communication efforts die in a hail of PowerPoint bullets.

PowerPoint can be an amazing visual aid, but it should be ‘visual’ and used to ‘aid’ the telling of a business story. There’s a reason Lord of the Rings film director, Peter Jackson, didn’t simply replicate the book’s 1,000+ pages as an animated series of bullets on a PowerPoint slide. So, to avoid ‘Death by PowerPoint’ think like a movie director… in pictures.

What we can learn from the action

Great movies grab our attention from the outset with action. It’s easy to see that in an action-packed opening like Bond or Bourne but even the 1984 original Ghostbusters, which seemed to open relatively gently, built intrigue and tension in less than a minute and got to the action in two.

We want to do the same with business storytelling; bold openings that surprise, hook an audience from the get-go, and keep them engaged throughout.

But even the most action-packed movies (the good ones at least), have a point to all the action. In business storytelling that’s called a golden thread. It links the action (what we’re all doing day-to-day) with the outcome our organisation is trying to achieve. It gives our actions direction and purpose.

What we can learn after a good movie ends

“What did you think?”
“What about that bit when…”
“Can you believe X did Y?”
“Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could…”

Yup, great movies energise us, inspire us and get us talking.
Brilliant movies get us advocating for others to go see them.
And when someone asks:
“Why should I, what’s it about?”
They can easily explain the premise. Good stories are easily retold, so can spread throughout a business like wildfire.

The power of storytelling holds true whether you are in the medical, travel, finance, retail, energy or movie industry. You start by thinking about what you want your audience to think, feel, and do. Then find the story you need to ensure your audience walks away inspired – and, in the case of business, ready to give award-winning performances.

So, if the second half of this year sees you needing to communicate something complex, like strategy, think story. And, if you’d like a hand putting ‘everyone in the picture’ and helping your leaders become better storytellers, we’d love to partner with you.

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