The 3 Cs Rule – Successful Interactions

As announced last week, this weekend I took part in Ab Urbe Condita, a storytelling performance in Parco dell’Appia Antica, Rome.

As my colleagues and I were asked many questions both from the audience and the local news, I got the chance to think about something I recently learned about communication: The 3 Cs Rule. 

Sometimes you find yourself in the condition to speak or write about your project, your story or just you as a professional in order to convince somebody about the value of what your are talking about. You may write a cover letter for an application, pitch a project or meet someone who might be an investor in your carrier. How to communicate at your best? How to “sell” what you want?

Here is where The 3 Cs Rule steps in. The three Cs represents three key aspects that are to keep in mind in these situations.

  1. CounterpartAlways remember that what you are referring to is a specific reality. Don’t write identical cover letters, don’t go to interviews without doing some research on who your counterpart is, what they have done and what they want to do. Listen to them, adapt to them as they were your audience. You will be appreciated for that.
  2. ContextInvestigating your counterpart is important, so it is doing research on the context where your interaction will take place. Culturally, socially, economically. If you speak to them referring to specific elements to which they could relate, you’ll create a connection, a hook.  Hanging on the hook you’ll provide them will help them in understanding what you are saying and to get interested.
  3. ContentOf course, you can’t go there and just talk about nothing. You are there to show how cool you and your project are? Show them some stuff! Bring the things you have done in the past, bring data! Show arguments and charts, give them anything they can relate to, that can prove that what you are telling them is not only the truth, but the only option they can consider!

Never go unprepared!

But, most of all, go there full of enthusiasm for whatever project, job or story you are going to talk about! Don’t forget to pass on them the same sparkle you felt when you first got excited about the project!

They’d surely fall for you!

 

 

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A Tea with… Eric!

As mentioned last week, today’s journal will be an interview with Eric, a young artist whose performance could be seen some days ago on Italia’s Got Talent. We met this afternoon and, while sipping a nice cup of tea together, I asked him some questions about his choices in life and career. What I got was a story of a young man who built his own artistic brand based on this key elements: dreams, music and homemade.

Eric was born as Fabrizio Florio in Calabria, a southern region of Italy. As his father was a musician and his mother used to sing, Eric grew up loving music. And Disney films. Even if he is close to his first quarter of century, Eric is not ashamed of saying that Disney represents life itself for him, because of the many shades that the stories and messages from the popular brand are capable to picture.

Completed his studies in Media while traveling across the world, Fabrizio moved to Rome to study performing arts. The tragic loss of his mother gave him the needed epiphany on which he started to built his artistic career. “Back then I realized that from that moment on I was going to do only what I wanted. I am going to live a fulfilling life, for both me and my mum” he says.

So he found himself a nome d’art  that could embody his different backgrounds and called himself Eric: a Disney character in love with music and who travels the world by sea. With this name and his own version of Part of your world from The Little Mermaid, Eric collected four “yes” at his auditions for Italia’s Got Talent, and his popularity across the country seems destined only to increase.

During our tea-chat, Eric and I talked about his branding choice. His logline is “Dreams homemade” because he recognized the importance to bring contents even if lacking with technical capabilities. He is aiming to create a true connection with his audience and for this goal he put himself completely on board, and he did it firstly by sharing his story with them.

Eric is not nor Christina Aguilera (whose voice speaks for itself) nor Michael Bay, and he did a great job at understanding what were the main elements he could stress to get to people.

  • Content: He provided a good performance, without which he would have looked like a fraud, and his story alone would not have been enough.
  • Story: He showed his inner fears and told his personal story. This was appreciated by the audience, who liked that he took this risk. We are in the dream society, remember?
  • Connection: He was able to find a song and a character that reflected his story, like it did for many members of the audience. They felt a connection with him.

I firmly believe that nowadays successful brands need to rely on these elements.

Eric is still at the beginning of his journey since he doesn’t have a strategy or enough confidence in his performances, but I want to believe that we all can follow his path and start making our homemade dreams come true.

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Researching: pain and bliss

There are three types of people in the world. Those who jump into the water without learning how to swim and that try to figure it out once drowning. Those that don’t put a finger inside the pool until they have read the magnum opera about swimming. And those that find their way in the middle.

While in real life matters we tend to pursue the third way, when it comes to researching for a creative project we might find ourself indulging more in the first or second possibility. Or we don’t start until we are sure to know everything on the subject – and that sounds like an excuse not to start, doesn’t it? – or we write without doing any kind of research.

Your idea is to write a medical series? There is no need to become a doctor but sure, if you write and you have no notion on the concept, this will surely show at some point. The faith your audience have in you will fade and nobody  would watch your series again.

So, how to balance researching and creative work?

There are many ways, it depends on the person. Famous screenwriter Steven de Souza, for example, doesn’t like research to interfere with his creative flow, so he first writes an emotionally driven draft, and then does the research it needs. Michael Schiffer likes to live and breath what is writing about, so he not only buys DVDs and books on what he is writing, but also tries to travel to the locations he wants to describe and to stay with the people that inspire his characters.

Of course, everyone will have their own method. But, since doing a great project might take a while, I think that is important for you to do your research in a way that it enforces your creativity.

One of the best examples I could think of is my best friend writing her first novel. As she started what was going to be the first volume of a trilogy, my friend didn’t know she would have gone that far. Everything had started from a glimpse, a sparkle of an idea she had when she discovered the historical figure of who was going to be her main character. She had started working on the main storyline and the characters but, because she was writing a period novel, she soon found herself in need of learning more about historical and geographical settings. So she started a two way journey. On one hand she was structuring characters and drama, on the other she was researching historical events, cultural details and other elements she would have needed for her story to be credible for her audience.

One might think this work to be very hard and boring. Maybe, but more than once I saw my friend enthusiastic because the knowledge she gained on the subject she was writing gave her not only the ability to solve problems that might have sorted in the continuity, but also to find new ideas for her drama.

If you think about it, it’s normal for us to create in relations of what is close to us. Unless you are some sort of genius, your creativity will in some way be related to what you live and experience everyday. Not to mention all the films, books and art you have encountered in your life. So, the more you would try to immerge yourself in the world, characters and story of your project, the more you and your creativity would be influenced but them.

Why don’t you give it a try? Just remember not to go to far. If you are writing a story about a psycho killer and you go berserk, I don’t want police to check on me for suggesting you to do that. 😉

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(This image is property of Tracy J. Butler – check her awesome comic)

How much is right to be paid?

One of the first issues I had to face when I started to work independently in the freelancing market was: how much do I value? How much is right to ask in exchange of my creative and professional services? As I talked to those friends of mine who similarly live on the income they get from their newborn self-employed jobs, I realized that they are asking themselves the same questions I do.

If you are a creative worker it will be very hard to put a price tag onto your works, especially if you care very much about them (thus valuing them excessively) or if you are still too insecure about the quality (not to valuing them enough).

But to give yourself the right value in the market is important not only for you as a professional but to the whole system as well. Since the creative industry is now the most fluid and changeable, not to say the least structured, it is important to remember our partners and clients that what we do is a job no different from all the others.

Just because you work with creativity, it doesn’t mean you don’t work at all. Probably, many people out there are not capable to look behind the complete work or service you give them. They don’t see the time, struggle and study it required. If they think creativity is a sparkle, that your job is something everyone could do, is your duty to help them change their mind.

First, by showing them the process that led you to a level of quality no amateur could ever have. And second, by giving your services a price. Like any other professionals would do.

Now, the question is: “yes, but how”?

Here, now is the right time to compare with others. Check the market, figure out how much your “colleagues” out there would be paid for their works. But don’t stop there. Consider you qualifications, the type of service you offer. Do you help elementary school kids do their home work or do you help teenagers preparing for their high-school diploma? Do you make a pencil art work or a painting? Do you write a sketch or a film? The price, of course, changes.

And, ultimately, it would change according on who your client is. This is new, isn’t it?

This suggestion was given me by my wise coach, Sonja. Again she was able to see it right. I know that in usual economy the price of a piece of bread is the same, bought by a prince or by an accountant. But if you are starting today your self-employed job, wanting creativity to be the core of your work, I don’t think that you would go very far if you think you should ask the same price to every client.

Could sound in contrast to what I wrote earlier, but trust me it is not. In this kind of industry I firmly believe that, as is important to be able to provide quality and efficacy, is also important to keep in mind that what you are providing is not a physical object, yet an experience, a lesson, a strategy. While bread would be bread for everyone to eat, your products would inevitably be influence by who your audience and clients are.

You work with them, create for them, you know who they are and what they want. Consequently you would know how much they can give you. As Sonja doesn’t ask me to pay as much she would ask a CEO of a big company, so I ask accordingly, yes, to how much I value my work, but also to how much my client can give me.

This way we create a relationship, based on quality, experience, knowledge and trust, a relationship that can progress in the future.

As soon as I get paid I’ll let you know if it works. 😉

 

You shall not rest on your laurels

(Not that I have any laurel to rest onto, but… )

Since I started my non-retributed freelancing experiences in the entertainment world, there isn’t a day where I don’t ask myself: “what should I do more?”.

Every morning I wake up with a perennial state of excitement and frustration for the many things I don’t know but want to know, the many areas of the market that are strangers to me and the many strategies I could try to become what I want to become. While I work on my several projects my heart races and the concentration lacks. I go to sleep feeling unsatisfied, like I wasn’t able to fully comprehend all the possibilities I could pursue to fulfill my dream.

Worst of all is comparing with others. There is always someone who did better than me, someone who got the system while I am still trying to learn how to tide my shoes. My stomach hurts with jealousy and insecurity flows.

I am writing this because I want to put down the truth: all of this shit is a waste of time.

Looking at the others’ work is useful, yes, but only if you could find inspiration for what you want and can do. It’s ok to compare to others only if you know who are you. There is no point in comparing to someone just for the sake of jealousy and self-indulgence. It’s by observing those that could be your mentors that you would find what roads could be suitable for what you want and those that may be not. You are a different person from the those that succeeded, even just because now they are there and you are still here. Time has passed and things are changed.

Speaking of time, I think is really there that you should look for reference.

Have you ever tried to watch, read or take a look at something you’ve done in the past and think: “Ugh, did I really do that? Man, if I am improved!”?

Here and there I go take a look at shorts I did during university or things I wrote in the past. Sometimes I find there has been a great improvement, sometimes I don’t. On both occasions there is the change to think about it. Why did I improve? Why did I not? Did I learn some new techniques? Has my languages or contents changed?

Maybe if you haven’t changed a bit, nor in content nor in technique, is because you rested too much on your laurels, because at some point in your life you felt it was safer than trying new things. But unfortunately, that attitude is not going to help you moving forward and, eventually, you’d be obsolete.

Sounds bad, maybe, but I think is the best you could do to take a look from the outside of what you have achieved and how, so to plan better your next step into your path.

I can’t guarantee it will work, but at least some of us will get some sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Making the difference – The “Zootopia” case

This week I would like to take a look at the new Disney filmZootopia, released in Italy last Thursday under the name of Zootropolis. Not intending to do a review, I am going to use it as an example for this week argument, a.k.a. “how to use your company’s power to make a difference in your audience’s life“.

Zootopia tells the story of Judy Hopps, a female anthropomorphic rabbit willing to be a police officer in a giant metropolis where all mammals live together despite their differences. Even if everyone tries to persuade Judy of her genetic inadequacy, she does more than her best to prove them wrong.

This theme – an outcast trying to overcome a destiny imposed by society and to find their own path – is so popular in Disney films to have become a true trademark for the American film company. Cinderella wanted to be more than just a housemaid, Aladdin had to prove his value beyond his social and economical condition and Mulan had to save China despite her gender and social expectations dictated differently. Several generations of children grew with the strong message that they should not give up their dreams just because everybody tells them to, but to trust their inner self and fight for happiness.

Channeling such powerful messages through engaging stories and characters was the ultimate way for Disney to conquer their audience’s hearts forever.

Growing up, probably some of those children found difficult to fulfill all the expectations young age and Disney movies contributed to create in their minds, and complained. Disney/Pixar’s Monster University (2013) was probably conceived as an answer to those complaints. Yes, you have to keep dreaming, yes, you don’t have to give up, but also you have to know you, who you are and what you can do, and do your best with it. I think it is a great message. It teaches you not only to dream, but also to ask you the right questions for your dreams to become realistic projects.

That’s why Judy Hopps is a great officer not despite her size and nature but because she knows how to apply them to what she wants to achieve. She is modern, brave, funny, like all the characters of this outstanding film. And yet I have to say why this film si different from any Disney movie ever made.

If Disney messages were always directed to individuals, well exploiting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see below),

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Zootopia is the first Disney film talking to entire societies regarding subjects concerning today’s world: integration, tolerance and xenophobia.

While western world has to face integration with new unknown populations, many political leaders don’t lose a chance to exploit natural human fear of diversity (given by a genetic tendency toward self-preservation) to raise people’s barriers toward these new citizens, creating tension and separation. In Zootopia live two kinds of mammals: preys and predators. Even if animals gave up their bestial instincts thousands years ago, some preys, deep down, are still afraid of predators, still thinking that their striking nature could prevale on their rationality. This irrational fear creates prejudices leading to social conflicts.

I loved how Disney managed to understand that what is at the bottom of today’s intolerance and xenophobia is not the conviction of a population to be better than an other (like happened for black people or jews in the past) but an irrational fear given by the incapability to understand the many changes our society is living, to accept that the world how we used to know it is not going to be the same. It’s just pure, irrational fear of changes.

Disney was capable to see this fear and, being able to reach millions of people of all ages everywhere in the world, took the right chance to communicate this message: given our diversities, we evolved to live together in peace, we have a brain to use not to give in to our worst instincts. If we don’t remember this, we would get back to when world was divided into preys and predators.

Bring that son of a Pitch on!

Pitching is an activity that might sound unknown to those who never had to present a project to a commission, to those who never had to persuade someone else about the quality of their own ideas, to those that are not independent creative workers.

To us pitching represents an inevitable moment in the process of preparing a project. It’s when you have to face your inner fears of being judged and expose your idea to someone whose help you are in need of.

As money and investors lack, pitching has become more and more important. Since the last thing you want is to get to pitch your idea and go there unprepared (nothing is worse than a pitching session full of “ehhhh… mmmmh… ahhhhh….”), you had better to learn the principles of pitching and exercise the hell out of it. There are  several courses out there willing to teach you how to do the perfect pitch. They cost around  two thousand euros.

If you, like me, don’t dispose of that sum, I would suggest the enlightening book by professional script doctor Bobette BusterDo Story – How to tell your story so the world listensIn this short yet amazing book, Buster shares her experiences in teaching her students how to bring out the perfect story.

In one of my past article we already outlined the importance of knowing what you want to tell and why so, in this section, I would like to skip directly to the format of your story.

Once you developed your story to be the best you could tell, you have to pitch it in order to, as Cormac McCarthy would say, “bring the fire to others“.

Here are the ten principles of narration as seen from Bobette Buster: 

  1. When you tell a story (aka when you pitch your idea), tell it like you were telling it to a friend. It would keep your narration fresh, quick and personal.
  2. You must let your audience know the answer to the following questions: what, where, when, who? 
  3. Use verbs in present time: it would help your audience getting involved in your narration.
  4. Remember that story’s main structure develops around a conflict between a thesis and an antithesis. Let your audience know about this conflict.
  5. Don’t forget to give your speech some “colorful” details, something to hook your audience with. My suggestion is to chance this detail as you change your audience, to find the most suitable every time.
  6. Try to pass to your audience that same sparkle that stroke you the first time that idea came to your mind.
  7. Share your story in the most personal way. Don’t be afraid to show a weak point.
  8. Narrate through the five senses: give your audience several ways to visualize what you are talking about.
  9. Dare yourself, don’t hide. In telling stories truth is the winner.
  10. Be short, you don’t want your audience to get bored.

With this indications in mind, you could prepare a short and engaging pitch, so to thrill your audience with the same excitement that is driving you while you work on your project. Good luck!

 

Ethical communication: still possible in 2016?

As predicted by Marshall McLuhan, the Internet gave us the capability to communicate within a worldwide perimeter in a few seconds. This led to what he called “global village“,  a world made smaller and smaller by our constant and immediate communications.

Because of the low-average price of an Internet connection and the easiness of its use, this global village is populated by many different kind of people. There are young, old, boys, girls, professionals, students, spreading within social media to communicate with each other and discuss about any matter existing within the human mind. Most of the times, these exchanges are occasions to create new bonds and groups, where to socialize giving tips and sharing experiences.

Most of the time.

Unfortunately, hidden behind the wall of safety given by the virtuality and the anonymity of their computers, people too scare to express their waste opinions in real life or people simply looking to spread discord (known as “trolls“) are waiting to find their next victim.

They attack using hard, strong and often rude words, spilled through a lexicon portraying their often low culture and intelligence. They write fast, their brain connected to their thumbs as they tap on their phone, and post. Like this, without thinking for a second about the consequences there might be. They don’t care that – if – somewhere out there someone could be crushed by their words.

In our big global village too often we can find examples of this “acting without thinking” attitude. It’s probably something coming from this condition of perennial virtuality we live in, a condition where we don’t have to confront with what we have done on the web.

This attitude is dangerous on two different levels.

One, most extreme, is when we are so unable to reason in an act-conseguence logic that we end up doing in real life something terrible without thinking. Like these two boys shooting a runner because they were bored.  Here I would say that, since we are very very young, something has to be done in our houses and schools to teach to take responsibilities for one’s actions.

More subtle is the second level and that is where we – as social media users – can give our contribute. As we confront with other people on Facebook or Twitter we can act and advance a more ethical communication, starting from the assumption – described by Jeremy Waldron in his The Harm of the Hate Speech  – that words can really hurt.

Sometimes we forget that as we speech we, in fact, act. Through language we address our thoughts physically toward others and, doing so, we modify a preexistent condition and, basically, we change something in the world, even just a little.

Yes, in democratic countries we have the liberty of speech, yes, we can have different opinions. But it is always important to remember that EVERYTHING we say (or do) will have its consequences.

It is important that we calibrate our words as we would calibrate operating a machine because, through them, we can decide what we want to leave of ourselves.

So, if you want to use your words to be an asshole, go ahead. But, please, read them again before posting: there is nothing worse than those commenting their own posts saying “I didn’t mean that!”.

 

 

 

Back to the core

These last few weeks have been quite important in my life, both professionally and privately.

As a story editor, screenwriter and storyteller in training, I started working on myself as a freelance. While public relations, contacts, self marketing and promotion are still in the making process, I am glad to find myself already in the position for practicing a bit. I am currently working as a story editor for a private, a professor willing to write down a film treatment. I am helping him to do so, and he’s paying me for this job. After years and years of studying and training I am happy of this goal.

As I was working with this man I immediately realized why his previous attempts in film writing were unsuccessful: there was a total lack of substance and values in his ideas. As many before him, my employer wanted to put a series of images he developed before a story, a structure and values.

Because most of the time the images we develop aren’t original, but coming from other images we might have seen in the course of our lives, I think is really difficult to work on a excellent project if not starting from the very basic question.

“Why am I telling this story?”

Which immediately leads to the following:

“How is my story going to impact on my audience’s life?”

Seems strange to make this kind of consideration nowadays, when our new technologies make us able to communicate our thoughts so quickly that sometimes we tap quicker than we think. There are so many images, videos, words shared everyday on our social media  that there is no wonder we feel our minds full of suggestions and impressions we want to express.

But, If I learned anything in these years, is that none of these “immediate” communications, none of these images born from fading memories would last. Nor in our mind nor in our audience’s mind.

A couple of weeks ago I learned from Seung Ah Kim, a famous storyteller from Korea, the concept of “Dream Society” as theorized by Rolf Jensen. As the scheme below shows, we are in a transition period, from Information to Dream Society, a world where technology and pragmatism are soon to be replaced by a new desire of values, emotions… what I like to call “The Core” of our lives.

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What powerful stories and communications have in common is an evergreen attention to the core, an aim to find an inner value or theme in the image or anecdote one wants to share.

Once you are communicating (maybe through a story, maybe through a video or an image) just something you think is “likable” or “cool” or “funny”, you are probably not sharing something coming from your core. And that’s why it will reach a less part of your audience.

But if you share something because of the message behind it, because you WANT to communicate THAT something, because you feel like what you want to share is part of you, who you are and how you feel, then is when your message or idea come from the core, then is when you will be heard.

Otherwise, is just the noise of a tree falling in a snow-covered woods.

 

 

Storytelling in Commercial Creativity

These last weeks I have been attending an enlightening course held by the communication company D&AD about Brand Storytelling. Otherwise, how to best communicate to ‘sell’ a product, an idea, a mission or a project.

What was particularly pointed out by the professionals sharing their experiences, was that content is the most important item of a communication. You most know what you want to share with others, what  messages you want to address to your audience. If you can’t say it in one sentence, maybe it’s still not all clear.

Second, is never to forget who you are addressing to. Knowing who your audience (or target) is would inevitably influence your language and the channels through which you would choose to communicate.

Because any effective communication is based essentially on connection,  what you want to communicate, to whom and how are essential questions you have to ask yourself before starting your campaign.

Why storytelling, you would ask. Because storytelling has always been the most powerful way to engage audiences and, consequently, to sell something.

As Andy Orrick said, “The storyteller plays with the audience’s emotions, through the characters’ emotions.” As audience, we would tend to get involved in stories, in characters: is what we do all the time – at the movies, reading a nice book, even eavesdropping some strangers chatting on the bus. We love stories, we need stories, we live for stories.

According to a study conducted by Stanford University, stories are 22 times more memorable than other forms of communication, because of their inner engaging power. So Storytelling is and will always be the best way to communicate a message that would stick in our audience’s heart and, consequently, mind.

I am not saying anything new. Storytelling is being used in commercial creativity for decades. I am sure that you could name at least one commercial or ad you remember even if years had passed. I am also sure that you remember it because the story channelling the message the brand wanted engaged you in some ways. Why else would you think branded web series are so popular nowadays?

So, any fact, message, idea you want to incept in your audience minds – may they be future investors, employers, clients or students – try to turn them into stories. 

To engage your audience your stories must reflect the knowledge and respect you have of them and give them values, enrich them. Don’t be afraid to use archetypes nor – as Bobette Buster says “To show your weak spots and feel vulnerable”. Make it personal!

Stories are universal, the ways they are told are not. Remember to adapt your language to your audience: teens could be reached and touched by media and messages that adults or children may not even know. And, for safety, keep it short. Our brain ability to stay focused is less and less. (Maybe you didn’t even got through the first sentences of this post. If you made it, congrats! )

If you are interested in this subject, here is the link to the online course on FutureLearn website.