The past few years, the corporate world has been abuzz with the concept of using storytelling as a communication technique for inspiring teams and people.  Even, the data & analytics field that I work in did not go unescaped – with the concept of analytical storytelling! I didn’t jump into adopt storytelling into my communication style. I stuck to my style – no nonsense, straight from the heart content laced with facts that struck a chord with my audience. It has worked well and still does.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit through sessions by two prolific speakers and achievers – Randi Zuckerberg and Jamie Clarke. Listening to these two speakers, was like being struck by lightning. Both, enthralled us in the audience with their motivational speeches. And guess their secret sauce? But of course – Storytelling of!! I came out of these sessions mesmerized and determined to master the technique of storytelling.

Storytelling is as old as human kind. From the time of the hunter gatherers, humans have gathered around fires and shared stories. Stories have been passed on from generation to generation. Stories are universal – every culture, every dialect has stories. Stories are interesting when compared to drab facts. Stories are easier to remember. They create a visual image as the speaker speaks, allowing the listeners to imagine the scene being played out. Stories contain drama and touch upon emotions which help the speaker establish a bond with the listeners. All this dramatically increases the level of connection, engagement and involvement between the audience and the speaker. That’s why the technique of storytelling is so powerful. I finally get it!

How to be a great storyteller is a topic for some other day, today want to share what I learnt from Randi Zuckerberg and Jamie Clarke.

Randi Zuckerberg was asked to speak to us on how to be successful and strike a balance between work and life in today’s world.  All through her speech, it was evident that Zuckerberg is a work passionsita, who is constantly learning and reinventing herself. As a child she wanted to sing on Broadway and a slight detour later, she finally was on Broadway for 3 months performing on Rock of Ages. The detour involved a stint at Oligvy & Mather and a ten-year stint at Facebook, where she headed the Marketing function. She is now the CEO of Zuckerberg Media, editor in chief of Dot Complicated, a digital lifestyle website, creator of kids television series Dot and someone who is very passionate about promoting STEM education for girls & women in technology. 

Today we live in a fast paced, technology driven and crowded world. Apart from being good at what one does, to be successful one needs to create a differentiation. In the technology space, being a thought leader is a good differentiation to have. However, Zuckerberg recommends, podcasting to blogging to share your knowledge, thoughts and views. The blogging space is overcrowded and to standout and reach the top, will require significant investment of time and energy. Hence, she recommends using podcasts over blogs to create a differentiation for oneself. A Blue Yeti microphone and Messy FM (website that lets you record, edit and publish your podcasts) is a great way to start.

Surprise or delight marketing is a concept that is catching on and she exhorted us to see if we could inculcate the same in our lives. She shared a few examples too. Accessory Junkie is a website that sells jewellery and accessories online only and the website is up only for a limited time. When the limited stock is over, the website goes down. Their products are extremely good, and the element of scarcity and surprise excites their clientele, who keep coming back for more. Another example Zuckerberg quoted was of ice hotels – temporary hotel made up of snow and sculpted blocks of ice, providing you a balance of living with the elements, as well as, the modern luxuries. The hotels must be rebuilt after every summer!!! Create that element of surprise and delight in what you do advocates Zuckerberg.

On work life balance, Randi Zuckerberg says, on any given day being well lopsided rather than well rounded is the secret. Work, Family, Fitness, Sleep and Friends are key priorities most individuals have. In order to have a manageable list of main priorities, hobbies and interests have been clubbed under friends. You may find sleep listed as a priority to be interesting. Modern life has taken a toll on the number of hours we sleep. Sleep is essential for our health and you may have seen that when you are fully rested, you function at your best. On a single day, it is difficult to do justice to all the priorities. Even Superman or Superwoman cannot. Hence Randi’s advice is to pick three priorities for the day and focus on them.  This not only ensures you give your best to the priorities you picked but also reduces your stress for not having done things that weren’t your priority for the day. If you average your daily pick of priorities, over a period of say a fortnight or month, you will see that each priority gets the attention you wanted to assign it. 

The most important tip from Randi Zuckerberg, was to unplug. At least have 30 min a day where you are not tethered to technology or device. So, that in a nutshell was golden nuggets of wisdom from the session with Randi Zuckerberg on creating differentiation and work life balance.

The second motivational speaker that I had the privilege of listening to was Jamie Clarke, a Canadian adventurer, author, filmmaker, actor, and public speaker. He has summitted Mt. Everest twice, climbed the Seven Summits, and is one of the few people who have crossed The Empty Quarter on camels. He used his experiences scaling Mt. Everest to drive home key ingredients we could focus on as organization to achieve success.

His narrative started with his growing years as a child. Clarke was raised in a close-knit family that instilled in him the values of togetherness, caring for one another and doing the right thing. Those same values must be replicated at your work place, exhorts Clarke – teams should stick together, work together and lift themselves together, not pull each other down. He then went on to speak about how he prepared for his dream of being a mountaineer and summiting Mt. Everest. Learning and upgrading his skills and stamina were a constant all through his life. Given his superlative skills, fitness levels and age being on his side, not for a moment did Jamie Clarke think anyone would refuse to include him in the mountaineering expedition team. In his view, he was the star that everyone would fall over themselves to get him onto their team. But he was denied the opportunity due to his brashness and attitude. He says “No amount of talent will outpace bad attitude. You may be attracted by the talent, seduced by it, but it doesn’t outlive the attitude.” The good news is that attitude is in your control. In fact the only thing in control is your attitude – the world throws you a lemon, you duck it, not kick and scream.

The younger Jamie Clarke often spoke before thinking and like we all know, found it detrimental. Some things in life are better left unsaid he says. Saves you a lot of damage control.

When faced with an unknown situation which you are not prepared for, he says give yourself a beat – 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds. You will dig deep in your reserves and come up with something that will sail you through the situation. It is very important not to panic. In the mountaineering world it means the difference between life and death, in the corporate goal it could be the difference between winning and losing a deal.

Clarke also stressed on the importance of continuous learning and sharpening your skills and learning from others. Learning from others is the best way to acquire knowledge. It is said that we are the average of the five people we are with constantly. As corollary to this, it is fair to state that idiots move in packs, make sure you’re not an idiot. In your job, there may be many things that you don’t know – ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It means you care for the company’s and team’s goals more than yours. You want your company and team to succeed. Most importantly Clarke says reciprocate by helping the person that helped you – add value to the relation. Don’t be a taker always.

After the initial disappointment of not making to the expedition team, followed by the readjustment to his attitude, Clarke made it to the Everest base camp, where he served as the base camp manager for three years before making it to the summit expedition team. During this time, he learnt that, however crappy your job may seem, do your best, be of service to the mission. Help fix whatever you can instead of manipulating circumstances to work for you, rather than the mission. Once he made the decision to be of service to the mission, he found that the service was more enjoyable, than being part of the summit team.

One day after three years as the Everest base camp manager, Clarke made it to the summit team. His first two attempts to summit Mt Everest were not successful due to bad weather conditions and the missions had to be aborted.  It was important to abort the mission at that time, so that the team could live to climb another day. In tough situations, winning may not be always the right thing at that time. Retreat regroup and reattempt. Introspect – Learn from your failures and never repeat the same mistakes again.

The Everest climb is treacherous, filled with steep inclines, valleys, gorges and crevasses. One mis-step and you pay with your life. At times like this it is important to focus on the rungs of the ladder that take you to summit, rather than the crevasses and surroundings. If you get distracted, you will pay for it heavily.

Before any climb, there is intense preparation carried out. A plan and a map are in place to guide the team. Clarke says, “Remember that the map just shows you the target and the possible path to take. But when you are out in the field, you may have to make readjustments to your path to reach your goal. Be prepared to make those readjustments.

Jamie Clarke’s dream of summiting the Everest was one that he had a child. It took him years to achieve it, but he remained focused and achieved his goal. There were many setbacks, hardships and the treacherous mountain scared him too at times. Each time he conquered his fear. “Conquer your fear. On the other side of fear is freedom. When you do conquer your fears, you achieve peace”, says Clarke.

 For Clarke, Mt. Everest held the magic and summiting Everest what he lived for. Clarke reminsced that, when he finally summited Everest, he realised that the magic was not in the mountain but in him!!

The Magic is youBelieve in yourself and go chase your dreams!