September 17th, 2013
THE CONNECTION STORYMAKER WORKSHOP
SYNOPSIS: Think of a story. This is a workshop that will help you make that story more concise and compelling. At the core of the workshop is our new WSP Model for broad communication (one Word, Sentence, Paragraph) presented in our new book, “Connection: Hollywood Storytelling meets Critical Thinking” by Randy Olson, Dorie Barton and Brian Palermo, and in our new Connection Storymaker app. The workshop consists of two parts — a large public presentation followed the next day by a 3 hour workshop with 10 participants. The presentation is interactive, involving numerous storytelling and improv exercises with the audience, culminating with the presentation of the WSP Model. After the presentation the participants download the Storymaker app (made available for free for participants) and enter a story they are working on which is then brought to the workshop. In the workshop the participants (up to 16 per group) present the Word and Sentence of their stories, then two are selected for further development by the group using the Paragraph template. The Storymaker app serves two purposes — as a tool to organize and structure stories, and as a long term means of developing stronger story sense, which is the essence of effective broad communication. The other part of the workshop is an hour of improv exercises which help make stories more relatable and offset the channelizing tendencies of templates.
THE CONNECTION STORYMAKER APP. This is the centerpiece of the workshop. It is the tool that all workshop participants use to craft and develop their story. It is easy to learn (takes less than a minute) but lends itself to endless complexity. And with the LIBRARY function you can store all the stories you’re working on for later development.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE WSP
We’ve been running our Connection Storymaking Workshop for 3 years, but suddenly it’s a whole new world. From here on, everything is “pre-App” and “post-App.” And when we talk about the app, we’re really talking about the WSP Model. So here’s how the new version of the workshop goes.
OUT OF SIMPLICITY ARISES COMPLEXITY
The Storymaker App is incredibly simple. You can learn it in less than a minute. That’s not commentary on how “light weight” it is. It’s commentary on how profound it is. As I say in the book, quoting Walter Isaacson, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Simplicity is also the key to effective broad communication.
Last week a friend downloaded the app, played with it for a few minutes, then wrote to me asking, “Is that all there is to it?” I meant to send her a lecture on simplicity and complexity and blah, blah, blah. But before I could, she wrote back saying…
“I played with the WSP and the ABT in relation to a famous painting and an interesting thing happened. I now have a new paradigm for what I see when I look at that picture. For me, this has implications beyond the “simplification” model that you are working on. What about the next level where it invests someone into a work of art or any abstract topic in a very personal and concrete way. What about a tool for teaching art in a very personal way where the student becomes truly invested through their own imagination, not just an analytic mind trip about light and shadow. All kinds of interesting possibilities here. You’re definitely on to something.”
Bingo. That’s what we’re talking about here. Out of simplicity can arise complexity. Don’t be surprised or disappointed with how simple the app is. Simplicity is what you want and need.
THE GOALS OF THE CONNECTION STORYMAKER WORKSHOP
The IMMEDIATE goal is to help you with stories you are currently working on. The ULTIMATE goal is to strengthen your “story sense” — which means your intuitive powers of narrative structure and storytelling. Malcolm Gladwell talks about needing 10,000 hours to move from the cerebral to the intuitive. Our workshop starts you on that journey for storytelling.
Let me put it this way — one of the readers of an early draft of our book said to me, “The writing in your section is at it’s best when you’re telling stories.” She meant that I go through some facts which are okay and “interesting,” but then I say, “Let me tell you the story of a non-storytelling President who was saved by a story …” and it all gets A LOT more readable and interesting.
That’s it in a nutshell. You slip into narrative mode, the audience draws closer. Ronald Reagan used to tell stories. Audiences loved it. Obama doesn’t tell stories that much. He’s a little boring by comparison. People love stories. And not false, fabricated, incorrect stories. They just like their 100% accurate facts to still be wrapped inside of a narrative structure. This is a fact. And this is what we work on with the Storymaker workshop.
DAY ONE: THE BIG SHOW
We begin the workshop with a big presentation by Dorie, Brian and myself. We call it a “presentation” because it’s definitely NOT a lecture. It’s lively and interactive with the audience. I do a bunch of storytelling exercises that we have created — like the “start a story” exercise and the “ABT game.” Dorie does “crowdsourcing a story,” and Brian does a number of improv exercises with audience members, as well as just doing his normal improv work having fun with the audience in general.
Last week in Kansas people were howling with laughter and three 14 year olds stole the show when it came to creating original stories (they were sci-fi lunatics who crafted a story about a “bi-species planet”). It was huge fun. And it also introduced the fundamentals of storytelling that we use in the workshop on the following day.
But keep in mind this isn’t just silliness. The whole idea of what CONNECTION is about is bringing a more critical perspective to the telling of stories. There is a SCIENCE to the art of storytelling which is the “science” of narrative structure. This what we are conveying through our partnership of a former scientist (me) with two actors (them). THAT is the connection the whole thing is titled after.
DAY TWO: THE WORKSHOP
It’s not absolutely required that the workshop be a day later. It could happen on the same day. But I think for all future versions of the workshop I’m going to do my best to ask that it happen at least a day later, in part because of what we saw last week in Kansas.
By the end of the big presentation the audience was very inspired, charged up (how could you not be with Brian barking at you!), and full of new thoughts. The next morning when they showed up for the workshop, literally THREE of them told me they had trouble sleeping because their heads were so filled with new ideas. I’m not exaggerating and I wasn’t surprised.
The WSP Model can do that. If you’ve never had anyone expose you to this process of using two simple templates to structure your stories, it can easily fill your head with new ideas. It’s very powerful. Particularly now packaged in the Storymaker App.
So we ask everyone to have a story that they want to use to convey an issue or major point. We want them to show up saying something like, “I want to tell a story that will convince people of the need to protect wetlands.” They could have a long list of facts on why wetlands need to be protected. But one powerful story can do the job better. So that’s our goal.
We ask that the story be broken down already, using the app, into the WSP elements (one word, one sentence, one paragraph).
PITCH, IMPROV, PARAGRAPH
That’s the basic 3 part structure of the 3 hour workshop. In the first hour all the participants (ideally 16 in a group) “pitch” their story using their one sentence structured with the And, But, Therefore template. I also ask them to offer up their one word if they have it (sometimes it’s hard to find the right word). Then everyone votes for three of the pitches based on which ones they think will make the most interesting and compelling story. The two with the most votes are selected for “development.”
For the second hour we bring in the wild man, Brian Palermo, to run a series of improv exercises that are accompanied with his detailed explanation of the purpose of each exercise — how the process teaches you to LISTEN, to be CREATIVE, to be more HUMAN and RELATABLE. He is really the secret sauce in our process. It’s one thing to present the WSP Model which almost speaks for itself, but without Brian it would be easy to slip into a robotic direction. You have to keep the storytelling alive, human and relatable. He makes sure that happens.
In the third hour we split into two groups. Each one takes one of the selected pitches and sets to work on it using the paragraph function of the app, which is the logline maker. Together we hammer out the 9 elements of the heros journey to the best of our ability. And in so doing you begin to discover the power and basic properties of each element — like the fact that TAKING STOCK is actually one of the most interesting and compelling parts for the broad audience (i.e. the decision making process), or that it is most powerful if the LESSON LEARNED is related to the FLAW in the protagonist.
Basically a whole bunch of elements that light fires in the minds of the storytellers. And cause them to lose sleep eventually because they are so inspired and full of new thoughts.
I know this probably sounds like rabid salesmanship, but just look at what our host last week, Dr. Steve Case of the University of Kansas had to say about the whole workshop.
“Kansas was startled into awareness of STEM literacy by concerns about evolution in the Kansas K-12 Science Education Standards. If we had been unaware of the need for science literacy we quickly discovered, through international humiliation, that our communication to the public of what we do and what we know, was abysmal. In the wake of the Connection Storymaker Workshop we have people with entirely new perspectives on broad communication, plus something that was left behind — the framework embedded in the Storymaker app combined with the narrative work the participant’s created means they now have a set of their stories saved in their individual libraries on the app. I’ve never seen a communications workshop have this big of an impact on the participants.”
FINAL QUESTION: SO WHAT ARE WE LEFT WITH AFTER THE WORKSHOP (ANSWER: THE APP)
People can get so cynical about communication. They love to complain about “we run these workshops, everyone gets inspired, then they’re over and it seems like we’re left with nothing.”
Well, for this workshop you will at least be left with the app, which is a communications tool that needs to be put to use on a daily basis. For every presentation, every story, every case history it’s worth at least doing a quick run with the WSP Model just to make sure you’ve thought through the structure.
This is one workshop that won’t leave you empty handed.