Curious how improv techniques can help?
To explore how collaborative storytelling can help you create engaging or interactive content, I interview Kathy Klotz-Guest.
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The Social Media Marketing podcast is designed to help busy marketers, business owners, and creators discover what works with social media marketing.
Kathy explains why collaborative storytelling encourages your audience to engage with and share your content.
You’ll also discover how to turn ideas from a collaborative story session into awesome social media posts and videos.
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Kathy became a storytelling expert after working in technology and communications for 15 years. Although she worked in the tech and marketing world during the day, she was also telling stories on stand-up and improv comedy stages 5 or 6 nights per week. When she left her day job, her goal was to share how concepts from improv can help businesses.
Improv is short for improvisational, and improv comedy is all about a team getting suggestions from the audience and building a scene based on those suggestions in real time without a script. It’s collaborative, and Kathy thinks business storytelling can work this way, too.
Specifically, because improv encourages the audience to participate and collaborate in the experience, the audience is incredibly engaged. As the improv team tells stories, people are at the edge of their seats. Also, with the audience’s input, the stories go in amazing directions.
The improv model is a huge contrast to the boring old models of storytelling in business. These models aren’t collaborative. They’re focused on the business instead of the audience. By bringing to companies the improv concepts of creating together and collaborating with audiences, Kathy thought businesses could create stories with their customers and partners, and have more fun.
At first, Kathy tried these tactics in her day job running marketing and communications for a technology company. Then the birth of her son was a catalyst to move forward with her idea. That was 8 years ago. Today, she works with companies on their storytelling and communications.
Specifically, Kathy helps companies identify where their communications aren’t effective or collaborative. Many companies can improve communications among both internal teams and with their audience. To do that, she helps them rethink the entire storytelling experience so they listen to and include their audience. She calls this mix of improv-meets-narrative strategy collaborative storytelling.
Listen to the show to hear Kathy discuss how the show Whose Line Is It Anyway? is a good example of improv.
The Benefits of Collaborative Storytelling
When you create stories with your customers and have more interactive experiences, you have higher engagement, better ideas, and a better sense of what your customers like and don’t like.
This collaborative effort begins internally. Teams often have untapped capital. However, because the team isn’t communicating or maybe just doing the same things over and over, the team isn’t developing fresh ideas.
Another part of this collaborative style is reaching out to customers by asking them to finish a story, share what they like about it, or explain how they’d make it better. When you co-create a story with your audience, they’re going to share it because people share things they help create. When you create with your audience, you increase their emotional investment in that outcome.
Also, when you collaborate with your employees, customers, or partners, they may finish the story differently than you and make it better. They can help you identify a gap in your story or envision a more powerful ending you never would have thought possible.
Listen to the show to hear Kathy discuss how breaking the fourth wall (speaking directly to the audience) relates to collaborative storytelling.
Tips for Beginning a Collaborative Story
Kathy shares some basics that can help any team or business get started with collaborative storytelling. She shares an example of how you can start a story and ask your audience to finish it. She also explains how the “Yes, And” concept from improv helps keep ideas flowing and how you can map a session so you have a record of the ideas a collaborative session generates.
Ask the Audience: To begin a collaborative story, you can ask your team or audience how they would improve a piece of content. Or create a story with a beginning and a middle, and ask people how they’d end it. For instance, years ago when IBM stopped making PCs, they asked their partners to help them write a new story for IBM. The result was the IBM Smarter Planet initiative.
For a smaller business like Social Media Examiner, Kathy might ask people who attended Social Media Marketing World what they did differently after attending the conference. Ask attendees to make themselves the hero of the story. As attendees write their stories, they can help the company write its story, too, because the company learns how it helps people do better in the world.
To ask for attendees’ stories, you might begin with the company’s own story, following the format of “Everything was great. Then, this disruption happened. We grew.” Explain how people needed different things, the conference added programming, and now more people come back every year. Then say, “We want to hear your story. What has Social Media Marketing World helped you do?”
Another part of this request is to encourage your audience to take that story, make it their own, and share that content with their own audience. You can also include your staff in the process because they’re part of the company’s story, too.
“Yes, And”: The concept of “Yes, And” is the heart and soul of improv. It means that when you’re telling a story, you don’t deny or block what someone adds to the story. By constantly integrating the new ideas each person adds to the story, the story takes unexpected turns.
To demonstrate this, one time on stage, Kathy’s character was a mom, and then somebody added werewolf to the character. She then endeavored to become the best werewolf mom this side of Silicon Valley.
To avoid blocking someone’s idea, it’s helpful to remember that you don’t have to build or fund every collaborative story your team generates. If a story is off-brand or doesn’t fit your future plan, that’s okay. Deciding what ideas will or won’t work comes later.
When you can let go of the urge to block ideas, people are free to build on each other’s ideas. The beauty of “Yes, And” is that your story may include some unusual ideas you can’t use, but because you listened and continued building with “Yes, And,” you also generated ideas that you just never saw or imagined possible.
When you use “Yes, And,” listening is important. It’s human nature to think about what we’ll say next or where we’re eating lunch. However, when you’re truly listening, your gut may not like an idea, but you’re present enough to see the idea in the spirit of “Yes, And.” With that mindset, you can respond positively with an idea that builds upon it or a question like, “Can you tell me more about this?”
If your team is struggling with “Yes, And,” it’s helpful to bring in an experienced facilitator. For instance, when Kathy was working with a very technical team whose members were total beginners to this concept, someone on the brainstorming team said, “Yes, and that idea sucks.” Everyone laughed, and Kathy was able to correct the issue and ask the team to start again.
To help teams new to the concept of “Yes, And,” Kathy typically starts the session with an introduction such as, “We’re going to generate some great ideas. I want to do something a little different and try some new things. If you’re not familiar with this type of stuff, just go on faith. We’re going to have a positive ‘Yes, And’ session.” She then explains what “Yes, And” means.
Next, Kathy leads a very short “Yes, But” exercise, which reflects how most people operate. They might agree or say they like an idea, but then focus on why the idea won’t work or why their idea is better, which invalidates everything that came before. By asking people to intentionally “Yes, But” each other, Kathy helps everyone understand why the “but” keeps ideas from going anywhere.
After the “Yes, But” exercise raises everyone’s awareness of how they shouldn’t communicate and why, Kathy leads a “Yes, And” exercise. She reminds people that they don’t have to make a commitment to the idea. They simply need to experience the idea flow and notice how amazing things happen when you hear somebody out. Kathy finds that this approach eases their way into “Yes, And.”
Group Size: Kathy recommends a group of four to six people. With just two people, the story-building can be too hard. With more than six people, the sessions can become a bit tricky because the group is thinking in a different way.
With four to six people, the process is manageable. You have enough people to develop interesting story branches and ideas. But the group is small enough that pulling people back into the flow if needed is easier, and everybody can feel heard.
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Record or Map the Session: Kathy encourages people to record collaborative story sessions or have a graphic facilitator who maps out the ideas visually. These sessions produce amazing ideas that you never would have thought possible, but if you don’t record those ideas, you’ll forget some of it.
This record helps both during and after the collaborative story session. When you map ideas on a whiteboard, you can backtrack to the most viable ones during your session and create additional branches for a story. Also, even if you don’t use an idea right away, a record helps you revisit an idea after the session ends.
Listen to the show to hear how collaborative storytelling differs from brainstorming.
Content Creation With Collaborative Storytelling
To explain how to use collaborative storytelling to create content, Kathy offers a few examples. In her first example, you can identify a piece of content that has been successful and use collaborative storytelling to generate ideas for repurposing that content. For instance, say you have a SlideShare about 10 ways to use Instagram. With the collaborative storytelling model, each person uses “Yes, And” to add to each other’s ideas.
To illustrate how this works, Kathy and I do a brief collaborative storytelling session using her example:
Kathy: “How about 10 ways to help people grow their Instagram business?”
Michael: “Yes, and we create it as a brand-new 2-minute video for Instagram TV.”
Kathy: “Yes, and we create a traveling show where we visit small businesses and ask them on our IGTV how they’re using Instagram.”
Michael: “Yes, and while we’re there, we create an Instagram Live of the actual experience.”
Kathy: “Yes, and while we’re creating a live experience, we have people tell their stories and ask how they might tell somebody else’s story differently.”
After this first exercise, I’m fascinated and note that continually building on someone else’s idea is where the process becomes tricky. On one hand, actively listening and building on someone else’s idea is what makes the dialog interesting. But eventually, it’s hard to see how to take the idea one step further. I ask if Kathy recommends always building on the previous idea.
Kathy says if someone’s idea sparks another idea you’re excited about, that’s the thread you want to pursue. Changing the direction is perfectly okay. You don’t judge somebody else’s idea or yourself. Follow the thread that’s most interesting to you; however, stay with the most recent idea and share your connected one.
You can also go back to the base idea and start a new thread. To illustrate this process, Kathy and I do a second collaborative story that begins with a blog post of 10 Instagram tips:
Michael: “Let’s create an article about each tip so we have 10 articles.”
Kathy: “Yes, and let’s create videos of each of those tips where we go into more detail.”
Michael: “Yes, and let’s republish those Instagram videos on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.”
Kathy: “Yes, and let’s connect those to some fun images and turn those into Facebook posts.”
Michael: “Yes, and let’s make sure that those Facebook posts tag people in our influencer crowd to help us get reach on those posts.”
Kathy: “Yes, and let’s ask those influencers to join in and create their own tip.”
After working in this way for 20 minutes, a team can generate several ideas for new content. The next step is to review the record of your session and identify which ideas are viable. Then decide which ideas you can implement in the short-term versus the long-term. The short-term ideas likely have more branches, so keep working on those. The long-term ideas you save and come back to later.
Next, Kathy shares how a traditionally conservative bank used collaborative storytelling. The average age of the bank’s customer base was in their 50s, and the bank was trying to attract Millennial customers. The initial “Yes, And” session with the bankers generated the idea of making a group of Millennials the board of directors for a day and interviewing them about what they wanted.
Then Kathy facilitated another “Yes, And” session with a group of Millennials. Over a 2-hour lunch, the group pretended to be the board of directors and discussed what they’d like to see. Their ideas included a day for bringing your pet into the bank and accounts that helped support charities. As a result of this session, the bank developed new content and new types of accounts.
When Kathy worked with a ride-sharing company, the “Yes, And” session focused on how the company’s content could reflect the passions of its audience. Once the session got rolling, the ideas focused on the audience’s love for pets because a high percentage of this company’s audience has multiple pets.
As the team members listened to and built on each other’s ideas, a funny campaign for bringing your pet to the car-sharing service led to a funny video about a ride-sharing service for pets. From there, the ideas developed into a video that parodied how people use the service: Your pet wants to go to a doggy birthday party and uses the car service to get there.
Listen to the show to hear Kathy and me do our “Yes, And” example sessions.
How to Sell Collaborative Storytelling to Your Boss or Team
For anyone who wants to try collaborative storytelling in their own organization but isn’t sure how to get support from their boss, Kathy suggests starting small and getting a proof of concept. If you work in a small office, you can start to “Yes, And” your co-workers. Or find a small group that agrees to do a “Yes, And” session on their own. The session doesn’t have to be perfect.
After you generate some ideas, start testing these ideas in a low-risk environment. You might test a small piece of content online or run it by a couple of your ideal customers who’ll give you honest feedback. After you see what works and have a proof of concept, you can float the idea up to management and scale from there.
You can also try this on live video with whoever shows up. Kathy does this on the Yes, And Brand Show all the time. People call and ask live questions, and they brainstorm. The show also expands on concepts from improv. Kathy talks to influencers, artists, and anyone doing cool stuff about where they said “Yes, And” along their journey, and how that led them to where they are today.
However, you don’t need a show to do collaborative storytelling via live video. You can simply host a live video, do this type of brainstorming with your customers or audience, and see what interesting ideas come from it.
Listen to the show to hear Kathy share more about the Yes, And Brand Show.
Discovery of the Week
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iA Writer takes up the whole screen of your computer or mobile device so nothing appears in the periphery. Also, you can use iA Writer on macOS or Windows for desktop computers, or iOS or Android for mobile devices. If you use any combination of these devices, you can sync your work. So if you write notes on mobile while you’re out and about, they appear on your desktop version, too.
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Listen to the show to learn more about iA Writer and let us know how it works for you.
Key takeaways from this episode:
- Learn more about Kathy’s work at Keeping It Human.
- Read the tips and tricks for teams in Kathy’s book, Stop Boring Me.
- Watch the Yes, And Brand Show on Facebook Live or see past episodes on YouTube.
- Follow Kathy on LinkedIn and Twitter.
- Discover how the IBM Smarter Planet initiative sought ideas from partners and clients.
- Find out how a graphic facilitator creates a visual map of ideas.
- Focus on your writing with iA Writer.
- Watch our weekly Social Media Marketing Talk Show on Fridays at 10 AM Pacific on Crowdcast or tune in on Facebook Live.
- Download the 2018 Social Media Marketing Industry Report.
- Learn more about Social Media Marketing World 2019.
What do you think? What are your thoughts on collaborative storytelling? Please share your comments below.