Thursday, 28 April 2016

Don't Lead With Complexity

Picture a car advert.

It’s a Volvo. A beautiful, fast, family car that simultaneously ticks the boxes of ‘Staving Off That Midlife Crisis’ and ‘Safe Enough For The School Run’. It’s got a polished, white paint job that somehow remains grime free. The Volvo cruises along the flat, rolling tarmac. No potholes or red lights in sight, just the traffic-free open road stretched out towards a stunning horizon.

Mom and Dad sit in the front, smiling and happy. Dad isn’t angry at Mom for making him do all the driving while she naps the entire time. Mom doesn’t have a splitting headache from the stereo playing the same twelve children’s songs on a seemingly infinite loop. Neither of them is screaming and spitting with rage at a useless GPS that keeps blurting out “Recalculating” every eight minutes.

The two kids in the back are miraculously not fighting, screaming or urinating. They’re just calm and chilled and enjoying each other’s company. The simple act of being on a journey in this Volvo has brought the family closer together. We don’t know where they’re going, but we know they’re going there as a family. And it’s going to be a beautiful day.

Now imagine Volvo did something different with their advert. No beautiful scenery, no happy family, no content life. Instead, imagine a dissertation on the Volvo’s camshaft lobe separation. Imagine blueprints on its direct injection technology. Imagine a three minute discussion about the exact dimensions of the overhead cams. Imagine all that and then tell me how excited you’d be about this Volvo.

If you’re leading with complexity, then you’re not making people fall in love. And falling in love is the ballgame.

Forget the advert, now you’re in a bar. It’s a good vibe, everyone’s enjoying themselves, and then you see the most amazing person you have ever laid eyes on. You spot them from across the bar, hanging out with their friends. You can see this person is beautiful and funny and cool and you know right then and there that you have to talk to them.

In your mind you flash forward; you can see yourself being with this person, you can see yourself making a commitment to this person, you can see yourself buying furniture with this person. This is real and it’s happening right now and you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to make them love you.

So, of course, you walk up and hand them your resumé. It’s in a nice little folder with tabs and everything. You take them through all the details of your working life, you clearly outline all your accomplishments and skills. Your successes, your failures and how you handled those failures. This should do the trick, right? This resumé should make an impression? This should make them fall in love, right? RIGHT?!

No, of course not. You go tell them a joke, tell them a story. You try to make them laugh and relate to them. You try to find common ground and shared experiences to bond over. Leading with complexity is the death of love. The first thing you have to do is make an impression.

You need to make an impression on your client, relate to them, make them fall in love. Ask yourself “what problem am I solving?” Show them just how well you know their pain. Show them just how well you understand their pain. Show them that, if they use you, you can take that pain away.

In our hugely successful web series “The New Guy”, one of the issues being addressed is cross-company, multi-platform collaboration. Rather than emphasize the technological complexities involved, take a look at what happens.

Who hasn’t struggled to download the PowerPoint in time for the call? Who hasn’t been in conference calls that can’t even connect properly? That’s immediately relatable. It makes an impression immediately.

And in this video for the “Lily’s World” series (which has amassed over 99,000 combined views), the simplicity of a young girl’s point-of-view, cuts through the complexities of entrenched and outdated systems.

In this series of videos, it’s Lily’s bitingly fresh perspective as an outsider that highlights the inadequacies of old IT and communication infrastructure, and exposes the mentality of “that’s just how it’s done”. “Lily’s World” is a unique way of tackling the relatable problems and issues the audience face every week, without getting mired in the technical details.

Comedy can cut through all of the complexity and highlight the benefit of whatever it is you’re selling. There is a time and a place for all the specific details, but that comes after the romance. After they’ve fallen in love with what you’re selling.

Video is the worst possible medium for leading with complexity. All that is, is a brochure that moves. But video is hands down the best way to tell a story, to make people laugh and to make an impression. It’s the best possible way to make people fall in love.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Dare to be Different

“Truth, justice and the American way!” For decades this phrase has been the hallmark of superhero movies, the driving ethos behind the action-packed morality tales of good versus evil. Whether it’s the good natured Superman, the grim and brooding Batman or the persecuted X-Men, the format behind these movies remains the same. Family-friendly action and adventure with clear-cut heroes triumphing over evil (and acting as prolonged toy adverts to boot).

And then came Deadpool. An obscure, virtually unknown comic book character, Deadpool exploded onto screens this year with a movie that relished in breaking all the rules. Replacing the existing all-ages superhero format with an R-Rated movie of ultra-violence, the kind of swearing that no child should ever hear, and irreverent comedy that frequently breaks the Fourth Wall (which is like me admitting that I’m not a well-paid member of the T&S team, but actually a worker trapped in a Southeast Asian social media blog-writing sweatshop).

How did audiences react to this massive change in the superhero movie? They universally said “About damn time!” (not with their mouths but, y’know, with their wallets). From a budget of just $58 million, Deadpool garnered a worldwide opening of $264.9 million from 62 markets! It grossed more than traditional movies from established superheroes like Batman, Iron Man and Superman.

The world is ready to do things differently when it comes to entertainment. It’s been thirty-eight years since the first Superman movie arrived in cinemas (and even longer since the superhero film serials of the 1940’s) so OF COURSE audiences are crying out for something different! Their world is constantly changing, and to be effective we have to play differently to how we did five or ten years ago.

If the mainstream is getting more tolerant of edginess and conceptual storytelling, this can filter down to corporate videos. Our web series The New Guy” is a perfect example of this conceptual storytelling. Presenting the client’s message with an ongoing story composed of running jokes, antagonists, conflicts and mysteries. The New Guy has strongly connected with its audience, racking up over half-a-million views for the first series alone.

Our web series Lily’s World is another example of presenting a bold new format for delivering the client’s information. It takes risks with its tone and presentation, and those risks have paid off to the tune of over 99,000 views for the series.

No, we’ll not be swearing or shooting people any time soon in our work (at least not in front of the camera) but the principle remains. If you are clever, challenging and different, you’ll connect more deeply with clients than the more traditional or straightforward ways.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Lessons of Stand-Up Comedy

Our message has always been that comedy has a huge part to play in business. Nothing gets your message to stick in the mind like comedy does. More and more the business world is taking advantage of what the world of comedy has to teach, with numerous articles and blogs covering what lessons can be learnt from improv and stand-up.

Rob Halden has been writing, performing and producing stand-up comedy for over ten years, performing in all manner of comedy clubs and theatres across the country. These days he’s in-demand to collaborate with and write for all manner of professional comedians. He also delivers workshops teaching the lessons of stand-up comedy to the business world, in conjunction with a number of Chambers of Commerce.

T&S: In a nutshell, what does stand-up comedy have to teach the business world?

Rob: “From presentations to pitches to seminars, business is all about engaging an audience and getting them on board. And that’s what stand-up comedy is. A comedian has to get the audience to believe in them, to buy into their persona, their performance and what they’re delivering.”

T&S: Are you teaching people to tell jokes and be funny?

Rob: “Not really telling jokes, no. There are dozens of techniques comedians use that translate to business. From putting all their material together, to what they physically do when they’re on stage, to how they handle an audience. Take the jokes out of stand-up comedy, and it’s masterclass in selling yourself and your ideas to an audience.”

T&S: What sort of areas are covered by both stand-up and business, then?

Rob: “How to project confidence is a big one. That’s a huge part of selling yourself and selling your message to an audience. Audiences can smell fear, you hear that all the time on the stand-up circuit. If a comedian doesn’t look like they know what they’re doing, it becomes impossible to get an audience to laugh. Great material, great jokes, can easily be undone by a less than confident delivery. That’s the same for any public speaking. If you project fear and uncertainty, the audience will lack trust and confidence in what you’re saying.”

T&S: So what does stand-up comedy have to teach us about projecting confidence?

Rob: “Well, overcoming the nerves that come with public speaking is a big deal. Believe it or not, even accomplished comics get nervous before performances. Over the years I’ve compiled a list of all the different relaxation techniques comedians have told me about, all the things they do backstage, right before going out to the Mic.

Projecting confidence is about convincing your audience that you belong where you are (even if you don’t!), that you know what you’re doing and that you are in charge. Comedians use lots of physical cues that project confidence before they even open their mouth. Body language, posture, commanding the performance space, all these things help to sell your audience on who you are and what you’re doing before they hear your message.”

T&S: Aside from confidence, what other lessons can stand-up teach us?

Rob: “There’s all the tricks and techniques comedians use to MC the room. Everything a stand-up does to turn a bunch of individuals into a collective audience, and everything they do to directly engage that audience with the material, to get them involved. When you do that, when you get your audience to engage with you and with your material (whatever it might be) that’s when you’re selling it to them.

There’s also how a comedian organises their material, how they put their points together. Stand-ups use lots of rhetoric techniques to convey their message as efficiently as possible. Efficiently is very important in stand-up. A comedian wants to convey their topic, their information and their message as efficiently as possible, so they can get to the punchline. When you’re able to do that, it makes your message or your pitch or whatever you’re discussing, as tight and solid as possible. Nothing feels like waffle.”

T&S: Will all comedy work for all audiences? Can you take a joke from the stand-up circuit and apply it to a business conference?

Rob: “Sometimes, yes, because some jokes have a universality to them. But it’s important to know that specific comedy usually ends up being the funniest. When a joke tackles a really specific area or topic, the people involved in that field will LOVE it. A lot of comedians I work with say they’d rather have a joke slay 30 people over a joke that makes a 100 people lukewarm.

A joke about computational fluid dynamics would probably kill within a group of nerdy aerodynamic engineers (and give you great legitimacy in their eyes), but probably not with your average stag or hen party, no matter how confidently delivered. So use that specific knowledge that YOU have about YOUR field and write things that are funny to YOU and your colleagues or clients.”

T&S: What do you think is the biggest lesson the business world can take away from stand-up comedy?

Rob: “Well I’m gonna cheat and say two. Because when you boil it all down, all the various techniques and tricks, it comes down to projecting confidence and engaging your audience. Those two things encapsulate everything. Because projecting confidence is what sells YOU to your audience, and engaging them directly is what sells your MESSAGE to them.”

Monday, 21 December 2015

Happiness Day 2015

In the words of Pharrell “It might sound crazy what I’m about to say” but get ready for a blog that covers Happiness Day 2015, the secret origin of the name Twist & Shout and a 90’s Glam Metal music video made by someone very close to us!

Every year, since time immemorial, the Twist & Shout team have cast off the shackled of the office and gathered together to put the world right. We call this day-long session Happiness Day, as the overall objective is to increase everybody’s happiness. That’s right, you heard us. The entire day is dedicated to increasing happiness!

In the old days (the black-and-white days) there was just a handful of us gathered round a single Pork Pie. It was a time when we could all fit inside one taxi-cab with room to spare.

These days though, the Twist & Shout team is a much larger, living, breathing entity of vibrant personalities. It’s now more important than ever that we all understand how every person and department feeds into one another. How our Media side relates to our Communications side, and how it all relates to our overall vision of changing the world. Changing the world for the better, we should say. We’re not Bond villains . . . yet.

So Happiness Day 2015 was a chance for us to introduce the whole team to newbies Katie Byres (Restricted Intelligence), Kirsty Mealing (Production Assistant) and Jamie Munro (Junior Editor), and then induct them into our wonderful cult.

This year’s Happiness Day was hosted at the picturesque Exchange Bar (conveniently located opposite T&S HQ). The Exchange has a gorgeous set of rooms, plenty spacious for our energetic activities, and possess that key ingredient; libation.

Our Glorious Leader Jim begins the Happiness Day with a talk about where we were last year, where we are this year and where we want to be next year. This is usually a sedate little talk that only involves five costume changes and three musical numbers that Jim has choreographed himself. Think of it as the State Of The Union Address but on Broadway.

After Jim’s talk we then throw ourselves into a series of Improv games. Now for anyone thinking this sounds like a lot of fun, you’re wrong! These are intensive games of Improv! These are Improv games that sort the men from the boys! The same kind of Improv games the play in the Special Forces! “Sir, yes and, Sir!”

It was then time to tackle the BIG QUESTIONS! What matters to us about the work we do, and how do we view the world? What do we like about the company and what do we hope it grows into? Who’s picking up the bar tab and how much can we spend?

We focused these big questions around four key areas; Learning, Doing, Caring & Being. Through exploring these topics we feel we can all increase our happiness.

So with Learning, for instance, our Glorious Leader Jim is interested in how people learn and how that can change behaviour. Whereas our Media Producer Richard is interested in how technology can enable learning and enable people to develop and progress.

Being is an interesting topic, it covers all the things that make us happy about our jobs and our lives. Our hobbies outside of work, what makes us passionate and driven. We like to explore what we can do to help everyone develop these hobbies and passions, even if doesn't directly relate to T&S. Because the more positive life experiences we have, the more interesting we are as people, the more stories we have, the more unique perspectives we can bring to ideas and projects. If we can help develop someone as a passionate, happy person, that means we’re developing them as a passionate, happy worker as well.

What emerged from our discussions on Being is that we want to put together more experiences and events as a team. Whether it’s sharing in somebody’s hobby or supporting the creative things they do outside of work, but making sure we do it as a team. And yes, that is “team building” but more than that, it’s experience building. And that’s important. Experiences are important. They make us fun and funny and passionate. They make us the kind of people who can write stories and make people laugh.

After lunch we had a mini-treat in the form of Nicola Ray, one of the founders of Twist & Shout. Many moons ago, Nicola and Jim decided to quit their jobs at an production company and strike out on their own. Nicola let us quiz her on the early days of Twist & Shout and what it was like back when Jim had hair. She also delivered a stunning session on photography, explaining what makes a good picture and the general rules to follow when creating an image.

Then came the VERY exciting part. Long shrouded in mystery, the secret origin of the company name! Those of you who thought it had anything to do with the Sixties dance craze or The Beatles, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. It’s quite simple really. Y’see back in the day, there were two of them, Nicola and Jim. Jim used to shout a lot, and Nicola used to dress like Oliver Twist.

So, um, yeah . . . pretty obvious when you think about it?

But Nicola’s contribution to Happiness Day 2015 was so much more than that. She, more than anyone, made it a truly happy day we shall never forget. For she introduced us all to a music video that she made with Jim in the early Nineties. Not just any music video, oh no. A Glam Metal music video for a band called WRAITH! We urge you now … do yourselves a favour and watch this early masterpiece!

After we finally recovered from watching that glorious video again and again (and again), we concluded our Happiness Day. We worked out what we want to do next year, how we can spend more time doing what we love and less time doing things that sap time and energy. We worked out how we can be happier in both our personal lives & at work, and how our happiness will improve the business. And we got at least two steps closer to changing the world.

Pretty standard stuff for Happiness Day.