What would you say if you could share one thing with the world?
We had the amazing opportunity to speak at the Social Innovation Summit hosted at the United Nations in New York.
I had 10 minutes to talk to an amazing group of people, but what did I want to say?
In ten minutes you really want to get to one big idea. So what was it? Our one big idea that we wanted to share with people. I knew that if I tried to say too much I’d end up saying nothing at all.
One big idea to give to a room full of people: CEOs or heads of social corporate responsibility for companies like JetBlue, Chobani, Google, and Microsoft and a few hundred more.
As we thought about what we wanted to share, we realized that there is one storytelling secret that we think everyone should know.
Heidi McKye and I put our heads together to co-author what exactly we might say on behalf of Stillmotion.
This is what we came up with. Our one thing, as shared with everybody at the Summit.
I have a confession to make.
I am utterly obsessed with human behavior. With what makes us tick, makes us feel, what makes us move.
There is this universal art form, a universal structure, that is incredibly effective at shaping our behavior; story.
Story is in the fabric of everything around us. It’s how we connect with each other and it’s how we connect to the universe.
We tell our children stories to help shape and guide them to lead the lives, that we wish for them.
When we find a friend in despair, we bring them a hopeful story.
And when invited to speak in front of hundreds of colleagues today, it is a story that I bring to all of you.
By trade I’m a filmmaker. I’m a co-founder of Stillmotion out of Portland, OR. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to tell stories for companies like the NFL, AT&T, and CBS. Through all of these journeys, the one thing that always sticks with me are the stories of the people we’ve met.
Stories like that of 74 year-old Danny Webber who had pancreatic cancer. Danny was a life-long Colts fan but never had the means to see a game in person.
One day he shared his dying wish with his nurse – he want to see a Colts game live at the stadium. Those words resonated throughout the community and when the Colts heard, they sent him tickets to the next game.
We got to follow Danny to that game. He was brought in in a wheelchair with his oxygen tank strapped to the back. As the team ran out into the field and the game began, Danny’s eyes filled with tears and he stood for the first time in months to share a standing ovation with his life-long love, the Colts.
Those moments, those stories…they never leave you.
Now you may not be connected to pancreatic cancer, or to football, but I do believe that everybody here (and everybody reading this) has something they care deeply about. That thing that sets them on fire.
Here’s the problem. It’s not enough to have a great idea, product, cause, or organization – there is just too much noise out there.
To cut through that noise, to really have people connect to what your doing, that is what a story can do for you.
We believe that a well told story can truly change the world. But it does need to be just that ‘well told’, not just any story will do.
So today, when asked to share the biggest thing I’ve learned in nearly 10 years as a filmmaker, it would be this;
Speak to the heart to move the mind.
We need to make them feel before we ask them to do.
Emotions evolved as a way of quickly summarizing our experience, what’s around us, and without needing to think about it, help guide our actions.
As it turns out, without our emotions choice can be incredibly difficult. This seems counter intuitive. That analysis not emotion should guide choice. But recently we’ve discovered, that’s just incorrect.
I heard a story on NPR a few years ago, a story about a man who had a brain tumor removed. The removal of the tumor was life saving but as a side effect, all connection to his emotions was severed. Simple things such as signing his name would take 30 minutes just to decide whether to use a blue or black pen.
Emotions are a vital part of our choices and our behavior. We need stories to connect. To feel. But how do we tell stories that connect with people and make them feel?
To start exploring that, we need to look at what makes up a story.
There are four P’s, four facets, to story; people, places, plot, and purpose.
- People are the characters in our story.
- Place grounds a story in reality, it’s where the story lives.
- Plot is beginning, middle, end, the conflict and the journey.
- And purpose is why we are telling the story, what we want it’s impact to be.
The P that we lead with, that we prioritize and hold above all others, will fundamentally change the story we tell.
- Lead with plot and you have an action story (or film).
- Lead with places and you have a travel show.
- Lead with purpose, which is what most of us do, and we end up with a commercial.
There is an amazing opportunity to lead with People. Put people first. As people, we connect with people.
People give us the incredible ability to create empathy, to connect, and to make our audience feel.
Last year we heard the story of a 9-year-old girl using lemonade to fight child slavery. We drove down to meet her in person, thinking we could use our talents as filmmakers to amplify her voice. When we met her, we realized this was so much more. With that, we embarked on a journey across the world to make a film that would explore slavery.
Now, I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried this, but slavery is not so easy to talk about. Bring it up at the dinner table and just see what happens.
We certainly could have made a movie that led with purpose. One in which we interviewed all of the experts and explained the what, when, where, why, and how of slavery.
But here’s the problem – not a whole lot of people would want to watch that movie, not unless they were really interested in global issues or a topic like slavery. That’s the challenge in leading with purpose, it will most connect only with those that share that same purpose.
Instead, we led with people. We told the story of one 9-year-old girl (Vivienne).
Here’s the real difference.
By leading with people, we get the audience to fall in love with Vivienne. We then show you what she desires, what she wants – to free 500 children using lemonade. Regardless of whether your connected to slavery, if we’ve connected you to Vivienne, you’ll go on that journey to see if she can reach her goal.
And along the way we’ll educate you about the what, when, where, why, and how of slavery. If we do it right, you might just leave feeling inspired and empowered to get involved and do something.
I want to finish with a short story that really brings this all together.
We screened #standwithme in 30 cities across North America. In Wilmington, Ohio, as the credits started to roll, we came up on stage and opened up the floor for any questions the audience had.
In the front row a small hand shot up.
Lilly, age 11, asked “Do you think if all the kids in Wilmington stood with Vivienne that we could free all of the kids in the world?”
It was an incredibly touching and powerful moment.
But let’s take a step back for a moment.
Had we made a movie on slavery, there was no way that her parents were taking her to the theatre that day.
Now, had she been wandering down the street and just happened to stroll into the theatre while the film was starting, she may have lasted 5 minutes watching a film on slavery.
And if she was strolling down the street, ends up in the theatre, and we strap her to a chair for the entire film, there is no way she stands up at the end and wants to rally all of the kids in her community.
Instead, we made a story that led with people, a wonderful 9 year-old who made a stand.
And on that day in Wilmington – her parents did take her. She stayed for the whole film. And she was inspired.
She has even started to gather kids in her community to do something about slavery.
That is the power of a well told story.
While I was the one that stood there and spoke that day, the ideas in the talk are one of the things Stillmotion does best; a collaboration.
Marshall, who got us an introduction to the Summit. David, who helped craft a much stronger hook and overall focus. Heidi, who co-authored the talk and what we teach about story, hashing out ideas with me long after she should have gone home for the evening. Justin and Amina, who I’ve built Stillmotion with, and without whom our stories never would have evolved to the place we are now. We’ve explored story together for years. And Grant and Joyce (and the rest of the Stillmotion team) who buckled up for the entire ride that has been #standwithme.
They speak to my heart on a daily basis, even when I don’t deserve it. And that has certainly moved me to be more than I ever thought I could be.
At the end of the trailer, as I stood there on a stage at the United Nations building, the crowd rose to their feet for a standing ovation.
That too, is a moment that will never leave me.
One that I wish I could bottle and share with all of my wonderful friends in the studio and beyond. Since they couldn’t be there, it’s this story that I bring all of you instead.