Applying improv to business, storytelling, and what-have-you (part 3)

See part 1 here of my experience at the AIN2006 Applied Improv conference. See part 2 here and part 4 here.

Carla Rieger (who positions herself as a motivation speaker and “Artistry of Change Expert”) led a half-day version of a full-day seminar entitled Captivate Your Audience Through Stories. Stories are memorable, she says, because they are an (imaginary) kinesthetic experience that goes into long-term memory more efficiently.

Carla alluded to four different styles of storytellers, although we didn’t get a ton of detail about the differences (the titles are quite descriptive, however).

  1. asserter
  2. demonstrator
  3. contemplator
  4. narrator

The workshop wasn’t about storytelling in general, but applying it specifically to training and facilitation (which may have been a common factor for many of the participants, but is still a bit narrow).

Carla couldn’t define to our satisfaction the difference between an anecdote and a story, but she was distinguishing between the two. An anecdote seemed to be a short relating of some sequence of events, whereas a story at the very least led to a concluding point.

She outlined a 5-part story structure

  1. Set the platform: the status quo (Dorothy is in Kansas, in black and white).
  2. Tilt the platform: a new element or conflict (the tornado takes Dorothy to Oz)
  3. Consequences: the bulk of the narrative (Dorothy goes to Emerald City to see the Wizard)
  4. Getting Back to Stability: a new heroic act (Dorothy melts the witch and goes back to the Wizard with the broom)
  5. New Platform: the new status quo; what is different as a result of this story (Dorothy is back home and there’s no place like it)

Individually we brainstormed ideas for stories, then got into groups of 3 and picked one to tell each other. Our team listened and then fed us back our story in those five parts. This was pretty hard. My story (about a strange movie-going experience) normally ends on a punch-line, but suddenly I had to add a denouement; I really wasn’t prepared for that. Others told stories with multiple tilts. The point was to figure out how to evolve the story so that it did fit into the structure, of course. Oh, and we also acted out the story through a series of tableaux (one for each stage in the structure); it wasn’t exactly clear what this provided. Others reported varying experiences with the actual improv part of the exercise. I had some small insight about the challenges of the structure; since the final step was very conceptual and hard to act, it said something back to us about the challenge of creating that part of the story.

Next steps, after the workshop, were for all of us to then try and write up our story (and Carla suggested we actually tell the story into a voice recorder and type that up, for a more natural flow). She offered to review our stories and send us a few presentations and PDFs if we sent something in to her. I think this Friday is the deadline and I’m not sure I have the motivation to write the story up; I’ve got a bunch of stories I feel I’ve committed to telling in one form or another. But we’ll see.

The notion of a proper structure for a story is interesting. Certainly one has to learn a basic vocabulary before starting to tweak it or personalize it. I feel confident about my own storytelling abilities, but they are not trained or schooled; I don’t know the principles and can’t improve my stories by focusing on specific tasks.

I noticed Nicolas Nova’s recent post about story flows, where the action of famous stories are graphically represented. It would be interesting to look at these in terms of Carla’s structure and see if there’s any alignment between these models.


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