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Secrets of StoryBuilding: #2 Entertain with emotion

It seemed like a crazy thing to do. Crawl into a cage with four huge tigers, past the signs warning:

Danger. Do not put anything in the cage. Especially fingers or hands.

Our tigers are hand reared and very well trained. But they are wild animals and so need to be respected. They are often playful and may want to play with you. They do play rough though, and so could bite when playing.

Do not touch and please stay away from the head, face and front paws. Approach the tigers from behind. Do not provoke any sort of playful behavior.

And then pet them like house cats. But when in Chiang Mai… Besides, there were other people there. Could this company really stay in business if their tigers regularly bit or mauled customers? There was really only one way to find out.

So in I went. Approached a large reclining male from behind. Cautiously, very cautiously, laid my hand gently on his side. His eyes shot open. Unblinking. And he made a sound that sounded a lot more like a growl than a purr.

My heart rate skyrocketed, causing me to wonder if a heart attack would be more or less painful than a tiger attack. I whispered quietly to my friend outside the cage: “Take. The picture. Now.” He responded with what I thought of as rather cheeky photo direction: “try to get closer and put your other hand on him too.” And when I did, I felt a solid smack on the side of my head. The tiger had clubbed me in the face with his tail! My photographer started laughing. No photo taken. The tiger growled again and smacked me again with his tail. Like getting hit with a bag of mangoes.

Finally coming to the realization that I was in a cage, in the middle of a Thai jungle, with an irate 500 pound tiger, I slowly backed away. And then watched as a handler came into the cage with a sharp stick and poked at the giant beast until it scurried through a gate into a separate enclosure, saying “he can be temperamental, probably hungry.” So he was just hungry and angry. Good to know. And as I went to pet another tiger, I heard my friend mutter something that sounded an awful lot like “slow learner.”

Tell stories and stand out

In business, storytelling is a valuable skill. It’s useful for explaining, persuading, and inspiring. Best of all, everyone can do it. Even if you don’t think you can. Because storytelling is an innate skill, one that we hone throughout our lives. You also can improve your storytelling skill by understanding what makes a story work, and what makes it fail. And by practicing. The best stories are told, polished, and retold many times.

Adding emotion makes factual summaries entertaining and turns them into stories. Emotion can be expressed by the storyteller or evoked by the events. The goal is to connect with the audience and feel a sense of shared emotion. Recent neuroscience studies like Paul Zak’s show how character-driven stories, that sustain attention by developing tension, cause our brains to release oxytocin which makes us bond with the characters in the story and want to help them.

The tiger story works because it engages immediately (Secret of StoryBuilding #1). It builds and releases tension. The characters are authentic and flawed. Essential details are highlighted and a logical flow is provided. The narrative is descriptive and the juxtaposition of fear and humor is stimulating.

Communicating with stories in professional settings (including interviews and networking meetings) will make your voice heard and your opinions more thoughtfully considered. While facts and figures are forgotten, stories are remembered and retold. Be the memorable one.

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