Chapter 2: Disney doesn’t own everything by being bad at storytelling

Jade Tipping

Stories are powerful in themselves but how the story is performed magnifies an audience’s personal engagement with not just the material but the storyteller too – the art of storytelling.

The whole of the entertainment industry has come about from telling stories in new ways: folk songs and stories around the fire, books and poetry, plays, puppet shows, kabuki, dance, music, musicals, films, video games… the list goes on and on. When stories are told well, it creates a followership that can lead to financial dividends (see: Disney and Pixar). 

In the words of Judge John Hodgman, the host of one of my favourite podcasts: “specificity is the soul of narrative”. When a story is told with a few thoughtful, specific details, it allows the story to be personalised to both the teller and the listener. The engagement is not just with the story but strengthens the connection between teller and listener/reader. When you read a Marvel Comic then go to watch a Marvel film adaptation and you find Easter eggs referencing the comic – are you not delighted with Marvel and their choice to include it – even though its not part of the main story? This applies to any other pop culture phenomenon, maybe read Marvel as Star Wars, or any other series you enjoy. You may be able to tell as a reader of this blog, that this storyteller particularly enjoys and immerses themselves in TV, Film, Podcasts (and Audio Books)… and whether you agree with the content or not, you’ll remember you have read a blog about storytelling where the author is a fan of TV.

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To you, I may be a complete stranger – why would you take on board what I have to say? The answer is you probably wouldn’t, but this is why stories land best when told or shared by someone the listener knows (and trusts). Wouldn’t you prefer as a child to be sung ring a ring o roses by your parent (fun game!) compared to someone you don’t know (scary and weird)? I predict that the first readers of this blog will be people that personally know me, followed by people that know those people and cascade out like a (small) ripple effect.

The same stories are often recycled again and again – but we buy into them all the same because people already know the essence of the stories (repetition) but we tell them in different, new and innovative ways: funny voices for different characters in bedtime stories, live action remakes of classic cartoons into film, formulaic sequels, new characters or details etc. Granted it is more difficult to imagine in office settings but even the quarterly financials are being presented in new, more engaging ways – from flipcharts to slide projectors to PowerPoint and perhaps in future – through the medium of interpretive dance. Maybe not.

The most important feature of storytelling is to ensure it is appropriate to the audience(s) and their level of understanding. This is what makes the story immediately understandable. One example is the use of age ratings in entertainment media. Though this doesn’t stop storytellers

from using creative techniques like innuendo to hook into other audiences – like naughty jokes in children’s films as a secret nod to thank parents for their time.

Get in touch to discuss how storytelling could be used to inspire and motivate or achieve change in your organisation. Jade Tipping is a Senior Consultant in the People & Culture capability at Sysdoc. When she is not working with clients to achieve transformation or cultural change, she is a voracious consumer of TV, film, podcasts and audiobooks. You can contact Jade at [email protected]   

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