Ben Pawson -Storyhunter

I tell people’s stories to get support. I’m fascinated by the mechanics of stories. Hero’s journey, resolutions, gleaming details, the works.

I believe that if we tell our stories better we make stronger connections and more of the good stuff gets done.

I figured this out during an MBA, after a satisfactory career in design and marketing. Since then I’ve been much happier.

I’ve lived in London, Grenoble (France), Edinburgh and Melbourne, Australia.

A portfolio of some of my more visual work. Linkedin.

If you want to get in touch email – ben (that twirly A symbol) bpawson.co.uk –

Tweet at benpawson

Thanks for listening.

I could kind of tell which wire went to which part of the plug. I had taken a photo of the plug after I stripped the wire off, but not a very good one (above).

I tried soldering the spindly metal threads that were left onto the right contacts, and occasionally I got sound in one ear. But essentially the headphones were unrepairable.

This is a part of the reason I love Fairphone, they just came out with modular earbuds. I briefly looked towards my higher power in gratitude for this evolutionary step towards cradle to cradle thinking.

  • Hopelessly broken headphones, unrepairable.

I could kind of tell which wire went to which part of the plug. I had taken a photo of the plug after I stripped the wire off, but not a very good one (above).

I tried soldering the spindly metal threads that were left onto the right contacts, and occasionally I got sound in one ear. But essentially the headphones were unrepairable.

This is a part of the reason I love Fairphone, they just came out with modular earbuds. I briefly looked towards my higher power in gratitude for this evolutionary step towards cradle to cradle thinking.

But it really got me thinking about something John Viscardi of ArtSmart (and other stuff) introduced me to; What’s Your Why? A classic TED talk book and speaking tour money earner from Simon Sinek. His thesis (that I got from Blinkist because who has time?) is if you start from your Why, and communicate that, and it resonates with others then they will believe in you, which is a stronger call to action than any what, or how, or product feature.

  • Fairphone headphones - Genius

And this is a great example of a Why in action:

Fairphone says it’s crazy we can’t fix our own stuff and thinks that finding the raw materials for making something should not kill someone. Or that enslaving someone to make a thing is bad for everyone. We really need to think differently about how we make stuff.

Like this phone, or these earphones, or probably anything else Fairphone turns their hand to.

Their 'Why' is cristal clear, and resonating at my frequency.

“The kitchen light is the only one in the house on. The perfect plan to avoid trick or treaters and finish moving into the new house. Unpacking endless spices you don’t remember buying. That’s when the doorbell went.

Busted. A glance through the open door that should be shut and making eye contact with a mini Dracula and his younger sister / princess. No way out now. Opening the door, explaining: ‘Happy Haloween, I just moved in, I don’t have any candy, I’m sorry.”

The reply from Mini Dracula “That’s OK. Really. We’ll get a lot. Have a Happy Halloween.”

Dracula turns away, but the mini princess hesitates, reaches into her bucket and hands over a mini box of Milk Duds. Without a word, she scurries to join her family. Happy Halloween indeed”

It’s a lovely story. A new acquaintance told it to me recently, Daryl Tulimieri, I’m grateful he allowed me to reproduce it here, and change the tense… Milk Duds happen to be my favourite candy, Daryl could not have known that, yet I responded so much more because of the choice of candy.

What’s the lesson in the story? community is important, give, don’t just take, think different, never look at your neighbour’s bowl except to make sure they have enough. All of those, absolutely.

I wanted to share it here as a great example of not being able to control the audience’s perception of your stories. As Doug Lipman explains But if you can, and if it won’t come back to bite you, and if somehow, you know your audience loves Milk Duds, use it, tune the details, make it resonate.

Thanks to this blog the amazing Tseen Kho asked me to share what I know about translating and communicating your research with a group of Early Career Researchers, in Australia anywhere from 1 – 5 years post PhD.

It was a one-hour session during a three day intensive to develop researchers at La Trobe, a great initiative.

It was the graveyard shift, 3 – 4 pm they had already had a tough day. I got some feedback afterward, and the best insights came from my cousin Jack. He teaches kids outdoor skills. He said he tries to constantly remember ‘why are they here’. I could have done that better.

It’s my first time doing this, I was trying a bit too hard to convince people I knew what I was talking about. ‘Story is your friend’ I would have advised myself If I had the benefit of a time machine. Here are some other things I would have told myself: ‘tell them how it’s going to be’, ‘connect using a story they can relate to’, ‘tell them about a time you did something wrong, and what you learned’. ‘focus on one thing and get them to think it through’.

I enjoyed it, I think the slides are good. I want to do it again, better.

I had the pleasure of gathering content for and laying out three annual reports this year. Here are some observations about the process. And why the most important thing is that they exist.

Centre for Alcohol Policy Research

CAPR

La Trobe Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Center

LASEM

Living with Disability Research Center

LiDs

From the Left, The Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, La Trobe Sports and Excercise Medicine Research Centre and The Living with Disability Research Centre, all at La Trobe University, Melbourne Australia.

So many things: It’s the sum of a whole years work, it’s one in a series, its the product of a team, it’s a physical manifestation of sometimes pretty intangible collective activity.

Its a ton of effort for the people who have done the work to remember, recap and remind the team what they did, how many people were there and where they put the photos they swore they took.

Figuring out the story you want to tell beforehand is a good dream, but that’s hard for a lot of research teams new to creating an annual report.

Photos are important as well, alcohol and disability are two very hard subjects to summarise easily in photos. For alcohol, we ended up looking for the things around alcohol, bars, glasses, empty, nondescript bottles, rather than risk glamorising alcohol, which I fully realise now is a poison and should be treated as such.

Disability is hard too, treating it like any other modelling shoot was the best thing the photographer that was commissioned to do the shoot could have done, and did do, long before my time, the images are starting to look a bit stale now though.

It will take longer than you think, involve more people than you think and need a lot more editing that you think. Even if you just use the same format as last year. The message from the director has to agree with the project descriptions, the summary of income has to agree with the detailed list of income and endless other details.

Two of these used infographics, both well I think and this is an area that can benefit from infographics.

The most common feedback I get is ‘looks really good’. They have many audiences, and many functions, being nice to look at, reassuring and interesting, coherent and consistent is the baseline, anything above that is showing off, not a very Australian thing to do. The hard work is doing what goes into them, they should be a celebration.

Putting it all together in one place is an act of pride, and those that have anything to do with them should be proud.

I found a comms strategy I worked on back in Scotland recently and it made me realize how much I love them. I love the security of planning your work then working your plan, and knowing how the sometimes abstract work of comms fits into the overall goals of the group.

They all work out differently, and the process of doing them is as unique as the people involved. But the ones that work all have a few things in common.

Here’s one, with identifying features removed, the basic theory is that (working up from the bottom) if you communicate the outputs via the channels to the audiences you will achieve the outcomes.

As the title suggests comms strategies are just one part of an overall strategy, your org needs to know where it’s going, what it wants and how it’s going to get it and from whom. A big ask for some groups.

Every strategy I’ve worked on and every board, external advisor and CEO has had different language and approaches for the strategy specifics. I’ve worked within timelines, horizons and waymarkers. And achieved goals, objectives and outcomes with actions, tactics and even once implementables.

Working through those specifics gives me such a good insight into the teams and leaders of orgs that I would suggest the meetings might make good televised content for adding to glassdoor.com. From deep disconnects to just not having the ability to make a decision doing a strategy doc really tells you a lot about the people in charge.

But the things that the ones that have worked have all had in common are buy-in, follow-through and looking back.

I’ve been frustrated trying to get leaders to look at a strategy they asked me to create and moreso trying to get them to look at it a quarter later so I can show them how we’re going. The best experience was a CEO calling me late one night because they wanted clarification on a plan I submitted weeks before.

That one worked well and we did good work. I like to keep them on my wall just behind my monitor so they are always visible.

Take ten years of impactful academic health research and distil it down to three minutes of talking and moving images. What’s really important? What has the biggest impact?

Now do that for six projects, which one is the best? That was the task assigned to a panel of judges in the inaugural Excellence in Health Research and Translation awards at La Trobe University, in March 2018. I helped script supervise the videos. Keeping them equal, showcasing the impact and highlighting the special things that made each project worthwhile.

The final six videos are in a playlist with one highlighted here. You can check the announcement to find out who won.

I had to interview all the researchers, scour the nomination submissions and find the beating human heart of each project. It sometimes took some probing, but all the researchers knew someone who stood out, had a special connection, had a good story and would respond well under the hot gaze of the camera.

Along the way I became a real believer in the researchers work, all of them. The dedication it takes to choose the implementation path, to not stop at publication makes all the researchers who do that amazing.

It was such a challenge to select the points that made it into the videos, the editors I worked with were tough, and we made some real choices. Visuals were by Tim at Mustard Media who must take as much credit, if not more for how the videos came out. Simon at the LTU Media team and Alana, who produced the videos also deserve plaudits for the final product.

Doug Lipman, in his excellent book, ‘Improve your storytelling‘ talks about the storytelling triangle. You, the storyteller, ∇ the audience ∇ and the story ∇, the only relationship you don’t control is the relationship the audience has to the story.

We’re always talking about modifying our stories for the audience, here’s how I do it, and my take on why.

I’ll use a story from when I was a fundraiser at a disability day centre in Scotland, Edinburgh but hopefully the principles apply to lots of other stories, and will hopefully allow me to demonstrate how Doug Limpan understands the rules, of course I don’t control your relationship to Doug Lipman, treasured oracle, or nemesis, or indifferant obliviousness.

The facts; the who, what, where and when remains the same. The angle you lead with changes. The result changes, the achievement changes and what the story gives to the audience changes.

So the facts. Of all the options available to young people who have learning or physical disabilities when they exit the Special School System the Upward Mobility day centre works well for a lot of them. We are positive about achievements, abilities and fun, we use the arts and wellbeing workshops to build meaningful opportunities, this works great for the students – not residents, or inmates, or customers – students, there to learn. We see young people blossom, become confident, achieve things and have lives, the absence of which is a very real possibility for those that do not make it into places like UPMO.

Those are the facts, people come to UPMO, they change, they move on or stay with us. That change takes months or more often is slower, imperceptible except for the people who work with our students.

So, what do we lead with when we tell this story to different audiences? I feel like I could be exposing myself as a calculating mastermind but here goes.

When telling this story to;

Potential Parents (normally the payers):

The student is the hero, we talk about success stories, about other students who have transformed themselves and progressed towards their achievements. It’s a hero’s journey, and the person the parent cares about most is the hero, we are the mentors, the shadows.

Funders:

We talk about the student body as a population, we might zoom in to a story, but we zoom quickly out to talk about a population, who are whatever % of the people they see around them, we talk about the funding picture, we talk about outcomes, we talk about graduates, destinations.

We are struggling against a tough system, inviting them to be the heroes in the journey of the individuals we paint the picture of.

Social Workers (referrers):

We talk about the activities, the support staff, how they are different, skilled, creative caring, how we go above and beyond for our students, how we work well with the stakeholders involved, funders, allied health, parents. How our world-class information system focuses on students and helps them do their jobs better and help people. something we have in common.

Same stories, different heroes, different goals. Different endings. Different calls to action.