The Power of Storytelling to engage audiences and shift mindsets
Anne Conroy and Michelle Playoust
‘Legends, myths, gods and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. Many animals and human species could previously say ‘Careful a lion!’. Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo Sapiens acquired the ability to say ‘The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe’.
We can weave common myths such as the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states. Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers.
Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind.
Yuval Noah Harari
In conversation with acclaimed filmmaker Paul Clarke
We recently, hosted an evening with acclaimed Australian filmmaker and friend, Paul Clarke, who is highly regarded for his social history documentaries which invariably tap into the often-buried storylines of our culture, giving life to myth, yarn and ballad. Paul’s career has allowed him to get up close and personal with many of his heroes; figures who’ve really impacted Australian society; the big guns in politics, music and the arts and along the way, Paul continually honing his craft as a storyteller at heart.
Paul seemed like the perfect fit to open proceedings for us and get discussion the moving on the power of storytelling and how it can be used to great effect in business.
‘It’s about being curious for a living. It’s about building trust in the people you’re working with, focussing on a common goal and then going for it’.
– Paul Clarke.
Trust is vital
Paul began with a short clip from ‘Between A Frock and a Hard Place’ with British actor Terence Stamp discussing his role in the film ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’. In the interview Paul was able to get Stamp to open up and relate his fears and anxieties about accepting a role that required him to completely abandon the brooding, very macho persona that had underpinned his entire career … he had to embrace a massive change and it was nerve-wracking, but in telling this story, he hooked us. Paul’s accompanying message refers to his fascination with bringing about a shift in attitude via storytelling and watching it happen.
‘I’m particularly interested in change – what made us change as a culture. There’s a lot of humour to be had in the way we used to look, the way we used to act … we’re also passionate about being inclusive – finding the way to tell the story that evokes an emotive response, makes people feel it’.
– Paul Clarke.
There was consensus in the room that trust was one of the vital elements needed to bring people along with you, to get them on board, to invest and believe in the story being told. This dovetailed into the next film sequence presented by Paul which came from his documentary series ‘Blood & Thunder’, the story of AC/DC.
Paul was able to contextualise his process for us by describing how initially resistant the Young brothers were to the project … the shutters came down and they were immovable. It was a process of finding a story that was different, that they felt compelled to buy into. The dual narrative of the two migrant families – the Youngs and the Alberts – and the unlikely bond they created was so different that Paul and his team gradually earned the Youngs’ trust by bringing the entire Albert family on board to begin building the story around them. The Youngs saw the trust being formed by the Alberts and they gradually bought in to the series.
Authenticity is a must, so is finding the unexpected and ‘new truths’
Paul discussed the importance of finding the truth in a narrative and how the truth is sometimes found in the most unexpected places. In his series Bombora, he revealed to us how Australia became addicted to the ocean as a playground during the 20th Century, but it was a little-known fact that it took the Melanesians and Polynesians to show us the way. Following that story, Paul’s team found stories largely unknown to the public; stories that resonated with a broad audience, reaching far beyond the surfing world.
In wrapping up the discussion, Paul used the example of Bob McTavish in Bombora to demonstrate how important it was to find ‘a believer’ and natural storyteller; someone who could bring people with them and deliver the message better than others. The clip of McTavishshowed how his sincerity just cuts through; as he tries to relate the euphoric sense of freedom that he felt as a young man hooked on surfing and how he went on to devote his life to the pursuit of that freedom. The simple message that McTavish articulated, almost singlehandedly captured the spirit and truth of the whole story behind the Bombora documentary and finding just the right person to convey their story with authenticity was key.
What is the value of storytelling in business?
The group discussed industry figures who are great communicators – Alan Joyce, Gail Kelly, Brett Sutton. The question was posed – ‘What do you do if you haven’t got a natural storyteller on your team? … the answer was simple … you find one!
It was decided that stories aren’t always required – sometimes people have to hear the hard facts. But the narrative of what is said and delivered is always important. Swift consensus was also reached that storytelling was not always appropriate, for example, when delivering bad news.
Why is Alan Joyce such an effective communicator? Apart from being Irish 🙂 the room conceded that it was his authenticity and working-class roots that helped him cut through.
Gail Kelly was brought up as well for her skill as a brilliant galvaniser and ability to bring people along with her. Again, authenticity was regarded as a common theme and key to the success of good storytellers.
Complex situations regularly call for new narratives that a team of people or the public at large can relate to. Often, they combine at a particular moment in time and this has to be reflected in the framing. The best change leaders are the people who can talk to the moment and lead people with a narrative that captures the present and the future.
In closing, we watched the final segment of Karen Eber’s fantastic TED Talk: Why storytelling is more trustworthy than presenting data; as we reflected on some of the key ideas discussed in using the power of storytelling to engage audiences and shift mindsets (see our 3 key takeaways).
Our heartfelt thanks to Paul for his entertaining and enlightening insights into storytelling and to all of our guests who helped make the evening so incredibly engaging and enjoyable.
– Mike and the Mozaic Team.