Storytelling: Crafting an Origin Story

Let’s say that you’re a consultant. Or a salesperson. An executive. A teacher.

Someone who starts tomorrow at a new job.

What do all these activities have in common?

At some point, you will introduce yourself.

Now, you might think that is as simple as saying your name. But that’s not so; after all, there’s no second chance for a first impression, so if you botch it, you’re already losing some power in the eyes of the beholder.

Worse, it might not be what you say, but how you say it. So many people mistake a particular cadence and pronunciation for intelligence and expertise. Yes, a mistake, but one that will color their perceptions of you.

Luckily, we have access to a particular type of introduction that, repeated until it faded into the background of our mind, has power: the Origin Story.

There’s a reason Marvel, DC and Universal keep pushing new hero movies, with the Origin Story at the forefront: often it is both the most powerful, defining and profitable use of their highly focused storytelling.

How can we leverage this into our storytelling practice?

There are two ways that I teach to do this: a simple way and a more involved way.

Let’s go today with the simple way. This is based on our storytelling practice at IBM, which is heavily based on Shaw Callahan’s Putting Stories to Work. This way is a variation of the Solution Story Archetype and it is told within 3 minutes, so a pretty quick intro.

It goes like this:

1-The Idea: This is the beginning of the story. We should mention your name quick, but in passing, you want the audience to focus on your particular characteristics, which don’t include your name. Focus on a dream, an idea, or something that makes you stand out.

“Hi everyone, my name is Ivan and from a very early age, I was into meditation. I read as much as I was able and spent some time in a Zen temple.”

2-The Fight: any superhero worth their salt needs some conflict. Be careful not to over-emphasize this, but frame the conflict around your idea.

“But when I worked at office jobs, everyone thought that the same meditation, which made me happy and creative, was basically a hippie thing. I was at a Fortune 500, but every time I tried to take a break, it was non-productive time. This was a significant source of unhappiness to me.”

3-The Leap of Faith: at some point, you took action. You took that which made you different and had the courage to move ahead. Now, be gentle here: you need to let the actions speak for themselves.

“So I had to choose: follow what my experience told me or what I was told day after day. I quit my job and created the first consultant firm for Corporate Wellness in the city.”

4-The Payoff: this makes people interested in you. It should be something relatable. If your story is becoming an academic in an obscure field, people will struggle to connect to it. Make it simple.

“So now I can work at the same companies that before, but on my terms, making the office space better for everyone; by doing what I love.”

It’s easy, right? 1-2-3-4.

There are some tricks to it.

Before rolling this out, please do:

  • Start by writing it out. It can be larger than the example, but remember: only 3 mins of spoken lines in a relaxed voice.
  • Once you have it, edit it and try it out.
  • Keep the tone light and friendly. Get a joke or a smile when you can, don’t force it.
  • Time yourself telling it. Record it and listen to it.
  • Now, once you have a story that you think is good enough, practice it. You want to practice it to the point you can tell it off-the-cuff. You never know when it is going to be your turn. They have invited me into meetings “just as a listener” and suddenly I was telling who I was to boards of Directors. You don’t want to fumble or change the story once you’ve started. A confident rhythm and delivery is key.

This is a very simple, pre-made general Origin Story. We’ll cover soon the more complex, customized to your audience story.

Hope that this helps and go craft your story!

#storytelling #origin #branding

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