Week 2: Can You Hear Me Now?

Growing up, my mom used to always say that we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. She said that we need to listen more than we talked. I have used that skill while working as a consultant. I try to let my clients talk and share information and then perspective before talking and assuming I know their business problems.

This week, I learned that listening takes more than two ears. It takes hands, feet, heart, soul and an open mind. Evelyn Glennie’s Ted Talk really made me think differently about the definition of listening. In her talk, she challenged the audience to think about what “baggage” they bring into a music hall and how that impacts them watching the show. As someone who loves musical theater, I appreciate the challenge and will do a personal inventory before attending my next performance.

For the first time EVER, I listened to a radio show…a story without pictures! AMAZING! When I first read this assignment, my initial reaction was that it seemed kind of silly. However, after listening to two episodes of The Truth, I was hooked. The two episodes had the elements that we’re learning about – the beginning, middle and end plus the unexpected twist. I found myself engrossed in the stories and using my imagination to paint the pictures of what the characters looked like and what they would do “next” after the story ended.

Then, I took what I learned last week and deconstructed a commercial. As a marketing person, I LOVE commercials. I picked one of my favorites – Hank the Horse who wants to be a Budweiser Clydesdale. The commercial speaks to me because I am someone who doesn’t have a lot of athletic ability. BUT…I’m super determined and work really hard. Although I have seen the commercial a dozen times, the activity really did make me think about all of the components and why I like this commercial so much.

I also thought a little more about my final project. I always joke with my family that they have their way of traveling and I have MY way. In thinking through final project ideas, I thought about potentially writing about that.

Finally, I had an opportunity to review the blogs of my classmates. I was really impressed with the sites that I reviewed. People were really creative in their naming/taglines and open in their thoughts and feelings.  



Final Project Idea: Life at 50,000 Feet

I travel about 75% of the time so I spend a good portion of every week on an airplane. Most people think my life is like the George Clooney movie Up in the Air. In a lot of ways, it is. BUT…in a lot of ways, it isn’t. When I’m on campus recruiting, I often get asked how I manage everything. I want to provide instructions on how I manage, especially after navigating airports and flights after one of the snowiest winters on record!

The story spans across basic logistics to relationships.
Airports: Which ones to choose; which ones to avoid
Flights: Which ones to choose; which ones to avoid
Flight Alternatives: What are the options when logistics don’t go as planned
Packing: What/how do you pack
Relationships: How do you maintain balance and perspective


You Can Do it Hank!

The commercial tracks closely to the viral experience architecture discussed in this week’s reading as well as few of Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling. The story unfolds with Hank, a Clydesdale horse, who isn’t picked to pull the Budweiser Cart. The element of surprise is introduced early on in two forms: 1.) When Hank isn’t picked for the hitch team and 2.) He gets an unlikely coach, a Dalmatian.

The Original Video

The Plot Play-by-Play

Below is a summary of the plot using the Story Spine.

•(0:00 – 0:05) – The Budweiser Team announces that the final horse for this year’s hitch team is Thunder. [The Beginning]
•(0:05 – 0:10) – In an unexpected twist, you realize that the main character, Hank, doesn’t make the hitch team and gets a skeptical “maybe next year Hank….” Sad music starts to play. A dalmation is looking on in the background. [Once Upon a Time…there lived a horse named Hank who wanted to be a Budweiser Clydesdale]
•(0:10 – 0:15) – You see Hank look at the selected horses and go off by himself. As Rule #15 states, “If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.” Hank’s reaction is very similar to a human who isn’t selected for something. [And every day…Hank has had this dream – and may have even tried out for the team in previous years]
•(0:15 – 0:20) – Hank is approached by the same dalmation who excitedly barks at Hank. The video shows a close-up of Hank who no longer looks sad but has a look of understanding and determination on his face. [The Event]
•(0:20 – 0:25) – You see the two walk off so you know that an agreement/decision has been made. [Until one day…Hank gets a coach]
•(0:25 – 0:30) – The theme song from the movie Rocky starts playing and you see Hank and his coach training. [The Middle]
•(0:30 – 0:35) – The training continues as you see Hank attempting new training exercises like pulling a flat bed train car. Pixar’s Rule #1 comes into play: You admire Hank for trying more than for his success. [And because of this…Hank trains]
•(0:35 – 0:40) – Hank continues with the training, this time during a winter scene, so you know that his dedication has spanned several months. [And because of this…Hank trains some more]
•(0:40 – 0:45) – As the Rocky theme song reaches its climax, the video shows Hank pulling a full train car, indicating just how far he has come with his training. [The Climax] [And because of this…Hank shows a TON of improvement]
•(0:45 – 0:50) – The screen indicates that a full year has passed and you catch a glimpse of a horse being led out of the barn by the Budweiser team.
•(0:50 – 0:55) – Victory music starts playing in the background and one of the Budweiser guys says, “Welcome Aboard Hank!” [Until finally…Hank makes the hitch team]
•(0:55 – 1:00) – Hank and his coach high five – hoof to paw – indicating victory and a coach/athlete bond that most can empathize with. [The (Happy) Ending] [And ever since that day…Hank and his coach have a special bond]

Are You Listening to Me?

“Are you listening to me?” It is a question that is frequently asked between conversations with my boyfriend and I. I’d like to think that he’s the guilt one but I have been known to multi-task when I’m on the phone with him. He says he knows he’s lost me when all of my responses become one word answers. That’s when he usually throws me for a loop and asks a question that requires at least a phrase…most likely a sentence!

I thought about these conversations while I watched Evelyn Glennie’s Ted Talk. In it, she shares that listening goes beyond passively sitting and letting sound hit our ears. She talks about listening with her hands, feet and eyes. The conversation is thought-provoking. She mentioned that when you see a try swaying in the wind that it helps you “hear” wind, even if you can’t hear anything at all. I especially liked when she asked the audience to make noise like snow and rain. Although she acknowledged their good participation in the activity, she scolded them for staying “within the box” and only clapping their two hands together to produce the sound…despite her encouragement to think differently.

I then took this “different” way of thinking and listened to two radio shows It’s Going to Change Your Life and Falling. These two stories had relatively simple plots. In It’s Going to Change Your Life, the main character Karen Miller gets a promotion and trip to a leadership seminar…both of which are unwanted. The story unfolds using a 3rd person perspective. As a listener, you don’t really know what Karen is thinking…you can only infer her thoughts based on the intonation of her voice, the cadence of speech and what she actually says. In Falling, a woman says a man’s life. The two start dating but she feels smothered with his affection and is concerned that he’s only interested because she saved him. This story is also told in the 3rd person. 

The radio show limits the number of characters involved and different voices to help the listener pay attention. Pauses between speaking parts help illustrate the character’s concern or hesitatation; rapid speech patterns indicate excitement or agitation. Background noise such as a lone train whistle give the illusion that the listener is on a train platform. As a whole, the characters and storylines are well-developed, without ever providing a picture. I think it is because the plotlines and characters resonated with me so I could internalize the content. “Listening” may have been harder to do if I wasn’t invested and could really “listen” with my heart.

Week 1: Lauren’s Arc

This first week of readings and activities made me take a step back and rethink my notion of stories and storytelling. The “TouchCast” video about Storytelling and Design took my initial concepts and added details to things I knew but didn’t necessarily articulate in my initial definition of a story.

A good story has a character who is “living” in a contextual environment. The character is faced with a problem that propels the story. A good storyteller takes the initial set-up and brings the reader/listener along on the journey to solve the conflict. The story ultimately ends with a resolution, a sometimes climatic end. The story as a whole follows an arc with a rise and fall of action that propels the story along.

As I think about how to apply this in my own life, I realized that I need to follow this similar arc as I work with my clients and walk them through my deliverables. And in my blog, I need to need to create a character that resonates with readers that gets them to want to read my posts. Prior to this first week, I thought of blogs as separate, disjointed posts by random people. But, as I thought more about bloggers and twitter accounts who have several followers, I realized that they most likely attract people to their posts because of their characters and stories they tell through their posts. I’m excited to explore more!

Final Project Idea: The Truth about Cats and Dogs

I’ve had a dog for about 10 years. He’s my best buddy. About 4 years ago, I took a job where I travel each week. My dog stays with my parents Monday – Thursday. There are lots of different articles on how to be a single parent and how to be a great dog owner. But, I haven’t found great information that talks about how to be a great single parent dog owner. I want to tell my story and the great bound I still maintain with my dog.

My Dad the Storyteller

When I think of Storytelling, I think of my dad. The association is most obvious because he used to read me a story every night before going to bed. I always associated the stories with the beginning, middle and end. My dad also did a great job of bringing in different characters through the use of voices that drew my sister and me in.

But, as I grew up, I realized that my dad was really a gifted storyteller…of his OWN stories that he told. Beyond just the beginning, middle and end, he did a great job of drawing people in with his voice and making them feel personally connected. As Andrew Stanton said in his Clues to a Great Story Ted Talk, he “made them care”.

My dad also brought each of his audience members along on his journey by feeding them the story bit by bit. As Stanton also explained, my dad unifyied the audience by giving them 2 + 2.

The importance of these elements also comes into play with digital storytelling. Digital stories have an opportunity to draw people in and deliver a story using compelling imagery. The example Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek provides a good example. The first part of the story is present day avalanche with vivid descriptions and thoughts of a victim caught in the avalanche. Images dispersed throughout the story make you feel like you are there. The story then flashes to the past to feature historical deadly avalanches in the area. The reader can draw the conclusion that this is a dangerous area. The digital format helps reiterate Stanton’s point that storytelling is, “Drama is anticipation mingled with anticipation.”