How to Tell A Story…Watch This And Be Inspired

B2B marketers feel challenged to create compelling content.  We blindly pursue writing headlines that makes potential buyers drop everything to click on our links or give us a call. Or we chase the two-sentence value proposition that magically opens the door for our sales guys.

What we miss sometimes is the power of a story to get our message across. 

Humans love stories.  We learn from them.  Stories are part of our DNA: ever since we evolved from grunts to language, we have sat around campfires — or dining room tables — and told stories that share experiences.  Storytelling is a profound way to convey information to others in a form that is easy to remember. But B2B marketers get caught up in explaining why what we offer is better, cheaper, faster, more exciting, or more innovative. We lose sight of how a simple story — told by another customer or an employee with real, first-hand insight– can make our message come alive.

Since March, I’ve shared a few of my experiences managing the Xerox TEDMED sponsorship. I’ve talked about my new adventures in corporate sponsorship, messaging to healthcare, developing advertising, and surprising delegates with something unexpected.  All of which flexed new marketing muscles in me.  Now I want to share a TEDMED moment that will affect you in a profound way.  

Watch this video from TEDMED 2012. It will change your life and strike a deep emotional chord. I know this because it did to all the people who listened that day. In this video, Ed Gavagan tells a gripping tale about the medical expertise that saved him after a random violent encounter. It’s 12 and 1/2 minutes and worth every one.

So watch it and don’t be tempted to bail out after the first minute or two.  Because, as presentations go, this one has a few flaws.  Ed stumbles around in his speech a little. He stands in one place. He seems a bit uncomfortable. He doesn’t make a lot of eye contact with the audience. He doesn’t use slides. He doesn’t have props.  He doesn’t use gestures a lot.

But what he does well is tell an amazing story.

At the risk of ruining the moment, here are 3 things every B2B marketer can learn from watching how Ed tells a story:

1) Be authentic. While the presentation doesn’t look rehearsed, it is. However, Ed tells his story from the heart and with rich details that make you feel what transpired deeply. You connect with his story at a very basic level. Transparency, honesty, and realism count so much more than polish. If you need to spend time on your content, do it on the former not the later.

2) Surprise your audience. Using a flashback as the main part of the story is an unexpected twist that draws you into the action. Sometimes not following a linear progression, doing the unexpected (like the way Ed inserts humorous moments into the talk), and challenging your audience’s preconceived notions create the most memorable moments.

3) Tie it all back together. There is no obvious “in summary” or “let me review my key points” in this talk. Yet Ed elegantly draws all the storylines back together at the end to thank an audience made up of many medical professionals for being who they are in the world.

Watch the video and let me know what you see in Ed’s storytelling that B2B marketers should follow.  Share your thoughts. 

And if you really want to experience something poignant, listen to the 25 second Q&A at the end of the session (the shortest one of TEDMED 2012) where Jay asks Ed to explain the real reason why the surgeon didn’t cut his long hair…

6 Responses to “How to Tell A Story…Watch This And Be Inspired”

  1. Laura Ramos Says:

    Tim, so good to hear from you on this post. Hope all is well at StoryQuest.

    TEDMED, as a spinoff of TED, continues to hold true to the spirit of telling really compelling stories to inspire innovation and get the community to imagine a different future for health and medicine. Ed’s story was a true example of this intent fulfilled on the stage. Your comments are right on — it’s the story that makes the pay off memorable. Otherwise it sounds trivial — or like a platitude.

    I’m thrilled and grateful to see you and StoryQuest continuing to have a leading point of view on why “stories” matter in B2B content. Keep up the good work!

  2. Tim Keelan Says:

    I love this video – never saw it before … thanks Laura. Your comments regarding all the things he got wrong are spot on … no pun intended. Authenticity, emotion – these pull anything but really bad story to be good or great. Applying this to B2B – a study from Optify here – http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/interactive/successful-content-must-be-eng
    aging-and-compelling-say-b2b-marketers-23897/ – adds some stats to the power of storytelling.

    What always amazes me … for all we talk about how short content needs to be is … look at the ratio between the length of the story and the length of the moral or pay off. Ed does not lead with his moral or point. Rather he Ed spends 12:10 sharing a personal story. The moral or lesson is delivered in the last few words and seconds. Without the full context and passion of Ed’s story, his final comment about skill and luck pushing back against chaos … well they would have been just a good idea or platitude. The story and Eds passion drive 12:10 seconds and allow for the last 4 seconds to sink in.

    Thanks again …

  3. The Power of Story | Jeremy Floyd Says:

    […] want to thank Laura Ramos for getting me stirred up  with her post about how to tell a good story. Laura turned me on to this wonderful TEDMED video where Ed Gavagan stitches together a number of […]

  4. Laura Ramos Says:

    It’s back to class week. @StephanieTilton, one of the Savvy Sisters at Savvy B2B Marketing, mentioned (and Tweeted!) this post as one of the “best, brightest, and most thought-provoking” posts for marketers to read and sharpen up those marketing skills. Thanks Stephanie! http://www.savvyb2bmarketing.com/blog/entry/3409593/week-in-review-august-31st

  5. Laura Ramos Says:

    Jeremy – thanks for watching – your analysis is spot on. It was truly one presentation with the most impact that I have ever experienced. Not uncommon for a TED-Talk, however. Looking at it on video, it’s easy to see tiny flaws. But the story is such the genuine article that you could not take your eyes away from him after about the third minute. Sounds like your upbringing with a dad in federal law enforcement helped to build in you a deep appreciation for a great story.

  6. jeremypfloyd Says:

    Man, what a great story to pick for your post. Ed is truly a gifted storyteller.

    Growing up, dinner time was story time. My father was an FBI agent and most days had stories better than the crime dramas of primetime. While my dad spoke, the phone dare not ring, as kids we adapted to \”point for the butter pass\” as to interrupt the story, and lest one wanted the story to stop, we dared not interrupt.

    I think you say it with \”surprise,\” but the classic element of a great story is to set the tension and build to climax. It was nice how Ed put out a variety of strings (i.e. the subway ride, the couple tying, the professor, the gang, the Belize anesthesiologist). Then he nicely weaved them together to form the rich tapestry of the story–although I was hoping he would loop that back in later.

    Nice post.


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