Lessons from running social media training
If you wanted proof that cat videos have taken over the Internet, you have to take a look at the Internet Cat Film Festival took place in September. Finally, the foolproof way to take the guesswork out of marketing. Cute cats doing the improbable, preferably with a total loss of dignity. Here’s a film that pushes the litter tray a little further courtesy of an ad agency in New Zealand.
The reason for my kitten healing? Well, I’ve just been training a number of large organisations, helping them develop their social media. It’s been a real eye opener (Not dissimilar from Puss in Boots in Shrek).
There is an excitement but also a fear of what social media can offer in terms of marketing and customer relations.
The social media waterfalls
The fear seems to come from the idea that social media is something that people can’t control. For many organisations, with centralised authoritative structures, that’s understandably scary. But, it’s also due to the fact that many of the people, senior enough to need to use social media don’t feel equipped to be able to understand it. There’s a stomach-gnawing feeling that the younger generation has turned on a waterfall that is sweeping away their elders.
There’s also the assumption that the organisation they’re working for is afraid of social media. Even when they appreciate the benefits, staff feel that it’s impossible for them to change what feels like, and probably is, giving up control.
On the plus side, when you work through various practical case studies and exercises, the ease with which people pick up the right way to use social media is breathtaking.
What was particularly uplifting was how people from these very large and risk-averse organisations took so naturally to creating social media content (Instagram images, YouTube videos etc) that captured the spirit of social media without stamping all over their organisation’s corporate guidelines. On one occasion, the content even included a mock suicide and getting trapped on a train. And all in the best possible taste.
GSOH essential. Period.
When you show people some of the most successful campaigns from the last year or two, it won’t surprise you to learn that what they picked out as being essential for great social media campaigns are almost identical to what make good stories. So, for example, the element of surprise is always there. It’s so unexpected that organisations respond to ordinary people’s sense of humour with a sense of humour themselves, it seems to delight us. As it happens so rarely. However, from a large organisation’s point of view, the opportunities to be able to use social media to gain great publicity and build strong relationships with its customers is actually an easy win. Take a look at this ad from Bodyform. Not a company known for its self-parody. And, possibly because of this, the film had 3 1/2 million views on YouTube within the first six weeks of it being released.
The evidence seems clear. Matching customer’s tones of voice, particularly when light-hearted, appears to be more important than the organisation preserving its own.
Some anniversaries you look forward to. Some you avoid like men with pens in their top pockets at parties. Some take their shoes off, tiptoe up behind you and bite you in the arse. I’ve just realised that it’s exactly ten years since I first branched out from acting into training. A decade of focussing on other people’s communication skills and careers rather than my own. I’m not suggesting that makes me a not very likely combination of Alasdair Campbell and Mother Theresa. Just that it’s odd where some paths lead.
Particularly odd in my case, as, ten years ago, I thought the last thing I’d end up up to my neck in was training people. Being rude about people training people, yes. But not actually doing the thing I was poking fun at. Because following a number of years writing sketch comedy at the BBC, I had decided to write a sitcom. About trainers. Specifically life coaches.
One of the unlooked for joys of acting is the number of other things you do ‘in between’. It gives you a chance to lift the bonnet on various businesses and industries that you otherwise wouldn’t touch with a proctologist’s glove/have a chance to explore (delete as appropriate). And having done time in a number I was struck by the observation that most organisations seem to be inversely good internally at what they’re supposed to be doing for their customers and clients. So, if you work in advertising, no-one talks to each other. In law firms, staff are hideously (if borderline legally) exploited. In management standards’ firms, you guessed it, the management make David Brent look like Tom Peters. Call it Simon’s Law.
So, if you wanted to write a sitcom about people whose lives were disintegrating while they maintained a micro-veneer of zen-like calm, life coaches would have to be at the top of your wish list.
But with one of life’s delicious ironies, my training people tuned out to be rather more successful than my savaging trainers. The script is safely in the bottom drawer (or whatever the Mac version is), while I’ve continued to enjoy training people.
Obviously, given Simon’s Law, my life must have descended into an alcohol-drenched pit of misery and self-loathing. It hasn’t. But then I’m an optimist. Perhaps it will in the next ten years.
Click the link to see the film:
No matter how much we believe in what we do, sometimes somebody comes along and reminds us why we continue doing it. Whatever IT is. Last Saturday, I was running a workshop at the Institute of Education on how to tell compelling stories to children to excite them about learning.
One of the teachers, Daniel told the group of how he told a ghost story to his class while on a trip to Wales. They were enthralled, including one of his children, Ted, who has ADHD and rarely sits still or concentrates. On their return to school, Daniel tried to get Ted to do a piece of writing (always a struggle and Ted never writes more than four lines). Ted pleaded with him instead to tell him the ghost story again. Daniel, sensing an opportunity, said, “Why don’t you write it?”. To his surprise, Ted did exactly that, producing two full pages rather than his normal four lines. When it was assessed, it was two levels above Ted’s usual standard. Effectively he had made one year’s progress in a week.
There is almost nothing more important than exciting children about learning and increasing their chances in life. So here at Infinite Space, we’d like to set up a ‘story bank’ for teachers, to help spark ideas on how to use story in different subjects to inspire children. We’d love your thoughts.
I was encountering some resistance on a recent workshop. The perception was that training your voice or changing it in any way could be fake and inauthentic.
‘We don’t want to end up speaking like the Queen.’
I couldn’t agree more. The Queen’s voice works for her because that is her authentic was of speaking. But it wouldn’t be authentic for most people.
When working with people to develop their voice it’s all about drawing out their real voice which often is locked in by tension and bad habits.
Most of us understand the concept of developing our muscles if we want to run faster or be stronger. The voice is the same. A group of muscles that need to be exercised and warmed up and which will become stronger and more effective.
It is possible to speak more clearly, loudly and with more expression and still be ‘you’ It just means after some training people will be able to hear you and won’t get bored listening to you.
I was watching the managing director of a large company making a speech and I was reminded how we were constantly told at drama school to ‘centre’ ourselves. I realise now how valuable that was.
In acting terms, this meant to be physically and mentally focused and balanced. This was more difficult than it sounded, particularly when you were very nervous.
The MD I was watching was making a fairly good speech, but I was very distracted by his dancing around from foot to foot, and side shuffling. His body language was distracting from his message.It made him look a bit apprehensive and unfocused.
Learning to centre yourself is key to developing presence and to controlling nerves. Learning to breathe slowly and deeply combined with either standing still or deliberate movement, avoids the fidgeting that can take away from your presentational impact.
Have a look around at people who are ‘centred’ and notice the difference in their impact. Louis Walsh isn’t. Gary Barlow is. And I know who I would listen to should I be planning to start a career in the music industry.
You really need to convince somebody of your argument. But they’re really stubborn. Wouldn’t it be great if you could climb inside their brain and rewire their synapses?
Well, actually, you can. And without years of training to be a brain surgeon. It’s very simple; it’s in how you choose language. A friend of mine told me a great story of a trainer she was working with. She was puzzled. He was good, but the scores that he got from people who trained were excellent. Five out of five. And more than that, the adjectives that people using to describe him were, embarrassingly complimentary. She asked him what his secret was. He laughed and explained that it was just simple auto suggestion.
“It works like this”, he said. “The scoring system goes from one to five, five being the highest you can score. At the end of the training, I remind people of the five sections I’ve trained them on. Also, the training ends at five o’clock, which I happen to mention. I then give them the forms to fill out. And, lo and behold, I seem to score rather a lot of fives.”
Does your training focus on what’s coming out or what’s going in? You can probably answer this question most easily by looking at who’s doing the training. Are they academics, actors, teachers, or psychologists?
Why is the question even important? Well, depending on where they come from, they will bring with them baggage. It’s probably useful, but baggage nonetheless. Their baggage will carry the learning that they’ll pass on.
The academics will bring a lecture; the actors will bring an interactive and role play style; the psychologists will bring Maslow, Myers Briggs personality tests and a whole host of fascinating and well researched theories. But all of them will have squeezed the learning to fit the shape of their baggage.
And unless an enormous amount of effort has gone into remaking the baggage, it’ll result in an output rather than in take approach. The focus will actually be on the trainer’s or coach’s learning style than on the styles of the people they’re supposed to be helping.
We’ll hold our hands up here and reveal our acting heritage. However, when we set up Infinite Space, we were determined to create an approach that brought together the various examples of best practice that we’d encountered working with other learning and development organisations. It’s how Stuff That Sticks was born.
So one of the things we’re going to be trialling over the next few months is a brief but helpful ‘Sticky’ questionnaire that we’ll send out and get back before our programmes. The aim is not to categorise people, but instead to discover some of the things, values and experiences that are important to them. It should help us frame our workshops in a way that directly engages people and ensures that the outtake is much more important than the input.
We’d love to get your feedback on this.
Yesterday a client asked a surprising question. We were talking about how storytelling could help his organisation make huge leaps forward in the cultural change programme we’re designing for him as part of our Greenhouse Principle approach.
And then, out of the blue: “Can you tell a story that doesn’t have an ending?”
In bed with Philip Larkin and Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard would argue not. He had a lovely take on storytelling, remarking wrily that “a story needs a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order”. Philip Larkin suggested that the classic formula for a novel had “… a beginning, a muddle and an end.” And certainly a classical view of storytelling would suggest that we have to have a destination with a story even if we may not be clear where that destination ultimately is. In fact, in terms of fiction as opposed to organisational storytelling, knowing the ending normally takes much of the pleasure out of the journey.
A dangerous, organisational vision?
However, in organisational terms, when it comes to storytelling, shaping a vision, developing a business plan, however one likes to frame it, we prize the destination above all and reject the idea of an ending-less journey as being naive, amateur, even dangerous.
What captured my imagination about our client’s question was the insight that an organisation’s story might more closely mirror that of, what one might describe as, ‘pure story’. What would be the implications of creating an organisational story that has no clear destination? Must it always be naive, amateur, even dangerous?
In a banal sense, of course, we never know the ending; all we’re doing is guessing. The quality of the guess depends on the evidence and that thinking we apply. The more the evidence and the better the thinking, then the more likely we are to call that guess judgement. With this particular client what made his question all the more intriguing was that he had buckets of evidence and that he had analysed it thoroughly.
Public sector blues
His problem is this: he’s leading a team in the public sector whom he needs to motivate, but he’s getting no clarity from the senior leadership and their political masters. What’s he to do?What story can create with his team that will prepare, engage and enthuse them for their unknowable future?
The story solution
Having wrestled with this, I feel that this is where stories really prove their worth. And they do so for two main reasons. First, they engage people emotionally in a way that strategic visions and scenario planning rarely do. So the prospect of embarking on a journey where you’re uncertain where you’ll end up can be made engaging, even exciting. You become explorers, pioneers, revolutionaries. What’s important is the role you play and how you approach the journey, rather than the endpoint.
Second (and this is linked to the first point), an essential part of good, motivating story is the bumps along the way. The story “Once upon a time they all lived happily ever after.” doesn’t hold our attention for long. In a story without an ending, these bumps and obstacles are what motivate people, so long as the story has been framed in a way that empowers them as explorers, pioneers and revolutionaries.
The end. Or, perhaps, just the beginning.