Archive for Power of Stories

One of these things is not like the others. | How to ensure your MC fits in

Some say that you learn all you need to know during kindergarten. If this is true, one of the biggest lessons for me was Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the others” segments.

In these segments, four items are shows; three are related to each other in some way, the fourth is not. Your job is to determine which is not like the others.

Part of what I enjoyed was also determining how the other three were related to each other.

Despite this early life lesson, and Sesame Street’s over 4,000 episodes since 1969, it seems some have still not applied this learning to the key moments at their events.

HiResI’m referring of course to the Host or Master of Ceremonies (MC) who is out of sync with the flow of the keynote, whose jokes are falling flat, and who is not like the others. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen it at least once. It makes us cringe, cover our eyes, or shake our heads in confusion.

Some feel an MC or host is essential for introducing presenters, covering housekeeping announcements, or making sure executives are not “reduced” to these chores. In some cases, the role is needed or the experience improved as a result of having one. But like comedy (an unfortunate place many MCs tend to go even in a serious keynote) hosting is not easy.

But an MC gone wrong can be far worse to the sense of Place, Purpose, and Pride than asking someone associated with the hosting organization or the audience to fill this role.

Another childhood experience may lend some guidance on how to make sure the MC does fit – the circus. The Ringmaster serves as the Master of Ceremonies at the circus, helping direct the attention of the audience from one stage/ring of the big tent to another, but they are much more.

Like the Ringmaster, MCs fit best when then they are:

Authentically Relevant and to the story and experience: Traditional circus Ringmaster have a big top with several performance areas (rings) where performances take place. Their relevance to the performances (and the audience) is to direct the audience’s attention to the right performance. Their creditability came from the fact that they are the leader of the circus – it’s performers, performances, and story.

Modern circuses like Cirque de Soleil still point the audience’s attention and string together the performances, but in a new form. They appear in the form of a character(s) more woven into the storyline, who interact with the audience and the story. They bridge the two. Their connection to the audience is increased by being part of the story as well as the audience’s guide.

Today’s new program hosts are different from anchors in the past who read the news. News hosts today are part of the storytelling, direct the discussions, and act as the “voice of the audience” in asking the questions the audience might if they could. Hosts at award ceremonies are often relevant as they are from the industry such as actors hosting the Oscars or Tony’s; journalists hosting a press core dinner; your parent’s hosting Thanksgiving.

If your host is not relevant to the story, the experience, or the organization putting on the event, they may not be a good fit.

Recognizable to the audience: The audience should be able to recognize the host – if not as an individual, as a persona or type.

It’s best for the audience to recognize the individual as they do when they tune into the favorite sporting event and hear the long time announcer. However, even in situations like a corporate event, there are ways to “introduce” the host prior to the event, and show their relevance to the audience.

Whether an outside professional MC, or an employee within an organization, using social media, videos, blogs, and other communication channels can position the individual as the host for the entire event rather than just for the MC for the keynotes or presentations. This also provides a connection to the event pre and post, using the same host as during the event.

Another method of speeding up recognition is to use a recognizable persona – like a news reported, industry analyst, or other recognizable (and relevent) type of person even if the specific individual is not well known. In most cases, audience don’t recognize the actual Ringmaster at the circus, but they recognize the persona of the Ringmaster.

If your host is not recognizable by the audience, they may not be a good fit.

Relatable: Finally, the audience needs to relate to the host or MC in order to feel they are representing their interests. The more “like” the audience, or the more creditable to the audience, the more the audience will “follow” them through the experience.

Part of what makes comedy funny is that you can “see” yourself or others in the humor. The same is true in an experience like a keynote. If you do not relate, you will likely tune (or actually walk) out. If the host is not relatable, it can make relating to the balance of the experience even harder.

And as mentioned above, comedy is a tactic many professional MCs use to be relevant and relatable to the audience. Not only is comedy difficult, but if the tone of the event is not comedic, it can result in the opposite of its objective – less relatable and less relevant.

If your host is not relatable to the audience, they may not be a good fit.


There are many ways to manage the housekeeping and announcing/introducing aspects of a keynote or event. Audio announcements, visuals on screen, pre-recorded videos, and more. Even the largest events such as sports, awards, and the recent political conventions use a combination of these tactics with or without a host.

However, a host who is Relevant, Recognizable, and Relatable can easily carry some of these duties with no issues. An MC who is not relevant, not recognizable, and/or not relatable will certainly make it feel like they don’t belong.

The New Era of Silent Movies

In a short attention span, “I’m not listening”, world – communicators need to ensure that their visuals carry the story on their own when needed.

To address the “mute” button and multi-screen society, some of the best broadcast commercials have told moving stories without spoken words for years. Check out the Budweiser #bestbuds series with the sound off – still moving, emotional, universal, and effective.

Social media and streaming services now offer a preview of rich media in one’s social posts, but until your click to view, without sound. This is further changing how people engage with video and rich media, forcing creators to look for ways to capture attention and tell the story with visuals only; or in the best case scenario, solicit a click to view the content with sound.


Fortunately, there are lessons to learn from Silent Movies. The golden age of Silent Movies was the result of new technology (moving pictures) and the lack of technology (no real way to capture and sync sound as well). Stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Mildred Davis all rose in their craft by telling stories that captured the imaginations of the audience through their acting, visual techniques, and intertitles. An audio soundtrack was in some cases provided by an organ or piano in the theater, and added to, rather than carrying on its own, the storyline.

Adding simple subtitles and captioning can make the difference between a video that’s “silent ready” and one that isn’t. The BBC has a series called BBC Trending that does a nice job of using subtitles graphically and selectively. In contrast, KOMO News in the Seattle area posts “QuickCasts” on Facebook without captioning. Adding captions would immediately change the value and view-ability of these otherwise concise and relevant local news.

Using techniques from broadcast, commercials, and silent movie era – and lessons from live presentations such as graphics, charts, and animations to carry the story – the new era of silent movies has arrived. These tactics also benefit in reaching diverse audiences by allowing those with hearing disabilities to receive the message, and by using multiple languages, reaching a broader audience.

Some organizations are leading the new ear of silent movies. Robert Reich’s Big Picture series on,


and Home Cooking Adventure

are good examples where silent movie techniques allow the message and information to be told with the sound off, or understood more when the audio is on. Unlike the mini-stories of broadcast commercials, both of these examples have specific details, information and actions, and both are part of series which is also not lost on the viewers.

So if you want to know just how “silent-ready” your rich media is, turn off the sound and see if your message is being communicated.



How Celebrities and Copy Cats create “Janus Moments”.


The gift bag at the recent Emmys included tens of thousands of dollars worth of products, trips, samples, and more.

Product placement in movies and TV shows – whether subtle or more obvious – can expose a product to millions of people, and in a situation and use that is most positive to the brand.

Celebrity sponsorships – from sports to musicians to “constructed celebrities” like Paris Hilton and the Kardashians (a name that I just found out is in my spellcheck dictionary) – can have spectacular impact on the sponsoring company, just ask Nike how valuable their relationship with Michael Jordan is.

Even a 140 character tweet (paid or from the heart) from someone you follow can trigger the exploration and/or purchase of just about anything. Or, in a less material slant, support of a cause or individual.

What all of these tactics have in common is the power of influence. More and more, what your friends – real or “I know we’d be BFFs if we ever met” – feel, think, know, or do influences what you feel, think, know, or do.

And it can cut both ways.

A simple comment about what’s wrong with a product, how the experience went bad, or even a whimsical slam can have a negative impact to the same degree as the positive.

This type of influence is not exclusive to purchases or opinions. It can, and does, expand to culture and actions of other kinds.

Researchers looking to explain suicide clusters – an abnormal number of suicides in a given community or area – found that the actions of an individual or two can trigger a “copycat syndrome” where others who may have never truly contemplated suicide are drawn to do so.

AMPS TweetThe speed at which a single incident can become a more common occurrence is something to watch carefully and be conscious of. In the one month after Marilyn Monroe’s suicide there were 200 more suicides than average. This is part of the reason that there was criticism of the way some looked to celebrate Robin Williams at the time of his suicide.

A “flywheel” effect can take place, where the energy from a small beginning builds on itself to become much bigger. The phenomenon of “flash crashes” in financial markets issimilar – where one action triggers an ever-building set of actions, often computer trades based on specific price or data levels.

This increasing speed, influence, and reach – both good and bad – is one way that the fringe or Black Swans (something unthinkable because it’s never been seen, but none the less is very real) have Janus Moments and become the norm.



Areas of Agreement

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Unity and alignment are powerful forces, and when they can be harnessed they can drive great accomplishment.

I think about a personal collection I am very proud of, a set of posters from the Second World War, posters made by, in part, my grandfather who was the creative lead of the Sheldon-Claire Agency at that time. They were made to encourage participation in the war effort, and each instills an emotional connection, elicits a personal commitment, and builds energy to achieve the goals of the times.

We are not at war, and the stakes are not as high.

Yet, despite being 70 years old and related to a heavy topic, the posters used techniques similar to what we use today in modern marketing. For instance, they are short and sharable (almost tweet-able), use engaging story-telling methods, and each has compelling imagery to resonate with the audience.

WP_20140703_14_12_42_Raw (3)One series is entirely devoted to “This is America…Keep It Free.” These purposeful images and messages created a vision of what was at stake, clearly defining the problem and how to solve it.








WP_20140703_14_11_56_Raw (2)Another “The American Way Works” reminded the reader of what it was that made America unique.









WP_20140703_14_12_04_Raw (2)Another, with a more direct call to action, showed the impact and significance of the reader’s work as they “Produce for Victory”.









Most important, all focus around “areas of agreement” that everyone – from labor to management, men and women, different ages, races, and backgrounds – could identify and agree with. This was very intentional; developed to make everyone feel part of the effort; to represent the collective that America is; and start from an undeniable place of unquestioned agreement.

A common ground was important then, and it is important today. As any team works to deliver a multi-faceted, multi-objective, and multi-stakeholder experience, there will be times where not all agree on all aspects of the undertaking. But there will always be “areas of agreement” from which they can work.

Look for, develop, and start from these “areas of agreement”. It is from these that conversation, consensus, and cooperation can grow; that alignment can be realized; and impactful experience marketing achieved.

The Secret Sauce – Fans


Who will stand in line for hours to buy the latest device or see opening night; invest their time and money to be part of the experience; or support what they believe in to boundless levels?

A fan will.

Sport teams, entertainers, and even politicians have known the power of fans for years – they bring a level of engagement, loyalty, and advocacy that transcends that of a simple supporter, customer, or attendee. They bring a sense of community and excitement that can be contagious. Fans embody the best of the “after I buy” side of consideration. This is why corporations sponsor stadiums, events, and products; why consumer marketers celebrate fans and the role of loyalty programs such as frequent flyers and fan clubs.

Experience Marketing” highlights the experience that a loyal customer or fan has. But there is room in the Event and Sampling areas of Experiential Marketing to incorporate fans as well.


BMW developed an “Owners’ Lounge” on the second level of their booth at several Auto Shows. Presenting your BMW car key gave you access to the second story, and literally the opportunity to “look down” on all the other car brands at the show. Seemingly at odds with the traditional objective of a tradeshow booth (leads and awareness/interest building) they segmented the owners from the prospects, allowing for separate but equally relevant experiences while also celebrating the owners in a way that inspired prospects to join their ranks. They also moved customers to fans by recognizing and celebrating them.

Far too often the loyalty and advocacy side of the sales continuum is forsaken during prospecting and awareness activities. Making fans a central part of your audience, content, and experience planning can change your perspective for the better. Successful Fan Strategies should include:

  • Identifying your Fans – Everyone has fans. Some maybe more obvious than others, but even the driest of products and services have a segment of buyers/users who are more avid than others. If you truly don’t, consider shutting your doors or (better yet) developing your fan base.
  • Empower them – Who better to amplify your messages than your fans? They can share content, access, and unique experiences.
  • Incorporating them – Include them in content and event activities as more than case studies and endorsements. Let them host their own tracks, content, and online channels. They are likely doing it anyway.
  • Engage with them – Take lessons from musicians who literally bring fans on stage to perform or simply dance. Let them be more than a reference, let them be excited and exciting!
  • Celebrate them – Via social media, recognition programs, and experience marketing activities.

As with all experiential marketing, the objective of the program needs to remain clear – is the event the business; or should it drive the business of the host organization? If the event is being used to drive the business of the host, then fans of the host are more important than fans of the event.  They are BMW fans, not fans of the auto show. A User’s Group or Owner’s Lounge celebrates loyalty to the business, whereas Alumni Lounges and Badges celebrate loyalty to the event.


Different as a Differentiator | The Value of Differentiating

Can you increase the value of something simply by inventing a story about it?

Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker set out to answer this question with a simple experiment. They purchased roughly 200 items from thrift stores at an average cost of $1.25, invented stories about each, and sold them on eBay for nearly $8,000 – a 30x plus increase.

The results are published in Significant Objects (available on Amazon) and show the power of stories to perception and value.

“Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively.” — Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker

The addition of a story is certainly one important aspect of the changed value, but the objects took on another change that likely contributed to the value shift as well.

Each item became special and exclusive by being part of the experiment. Instead of buying a simple wooden apple core (originally $1 from the thrift show), it is now “Object 45 of 50 – Significant Objects v3” and sells for $102.50. It is different from all other copies of that wooden apple core.

While not fully exclusive, a different Apple, the one that makes computers, software, and consumer items, offers very limited (and therefore close to exclusive) access to its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Tickets to this event are limited to a few thousand, despite demand likely in the tens of thousands, and tend to sell out in a couple of hours. Yes, hours.

Simply attending the events makes you exclusive, increasing the value. When was the last event you produced an event that sold out in two hours? Often the industry leans towards “early bird” pricing to attract ticket buyers – not very exclusive for the attendee.

Many Kickstarter (@kickstarter) projects offer exclusive Limited Edition rewards to attract early supporters with special colors, versions, or experiences. These differentiate higher levels or earlier support with more exclusivity.

Items do not need to be exclusive or limited to increase in value; simply being different can be enough. Differentiation is an important element of successful marketing regardless of availability (exclusivity). In the Significant Objects collection there is a brass boot and porcelain shoe, number 3 and 4 in the top 10. While similar, each has a different story making it stand out from the others.

Several years ago JavaOne (@JavaOneConf) experimented with higher-priced packages that offered reserved seating and name badges with a special indication. Access to content was the same and anyone could buy the package at any time, yet a surprising number of these “special” packages sold. Attendees were looking to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

NetSuite (@netsuite), at their 2012 SuiteWorld event, updated the “attendee ribbon” concept with a series of buttons allowing the attendees to self identify, differentiate, and identify others in a creative and expressive way.

Why does different and exclusive matter? Because being or having something special makes you feel special. In some cases, folks are willing to pay (extra) for it.

How does your experience marketing make the audience feel special? What are they getting that makes them feel exclusive or different from the crowd?


Note: As always, the desire of Janus Dialogs is not to adjudicate the appropriateness of any trend, but to bring it to the forefront for consideration by the caretakers for the shared moments in time we call experience marketing.