Kevin Spacey might not be a surprise host for the 2017 Tony Awards given his own Tony and Oscar award-winning performances, but his appearance as the keynote speaker at a marketing conference was somewhat of a surprise.
Like any good actor Spacey knows his audience. Taking the stage at the annual convention of the Content Marketing Institute, Spacey said:
“As an actor who is known for Machiavellian portraits of horrible bosses, serial killers, elusive Turkish crime lords, mean studio heads, and devious politicians, what am I doing at a content marketing event?”
As it turns out, Spacey had plenty to say. His insights are relevant to any leader or business professional who wants to engage with customers, employees, or stakeholders. “We’re all striving for the same goal, to make a connection with our audiences,” said Spacey.
According to Spacey, great content engages, enlightens, surprises and keeps people coming back for more. And the secret to creating such content isn’t a secret.
“The story is everything,” says Kevin Spacey. Tell better stories and your audience — customers, employees, stakeholders — will come back for more.
Spacey offers marketers, leaders and business professionals three pieces of advice on how to tell better stories.
1). Conflict is at the heart of narrative
“Conflict creates tension and keeps people engaged,” says Spacey. “The best stories are filled with characters who take risks.”
Spacey’s observation reminds me of one of the best business narratives I’ve seen in years: Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog. The Nike founder’s book is a page turner because it has constant tension and release — success, failures, hurdles and finish lines.
In one legendary story, Knight recounts the day in 1970 when Oregon track coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman was trying to design a shoe with better traction to grip the new polyurethane track the university had acquired. He gazed over to the waffle iron sitting on the kitchen counter and the waffle sole was born. Knight said the story played a leading role in Nike’s IPO road show because it spoke to the spirit of innovation.
“A great story rings true either because it evokes something from our own lives or something in it can be construed as something true,” says Spacey. Authenticity is the key to making an emotional connection with the audience.
Spacey says many of today’s most popular shows on television and Netflix would not have been made fifteen years ago because characters had to fit a profile. He says today “the creatives” have more control. They have the luxury of making richer characters with more nuanced personalities in shows such as: The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones and, of course, House of Cards.
Your business audience, too, craves authenticity. Heroes are human and, as such, are flawed. They have anxieties, fears, and suffer love and loss like the rest of us. I’ve argued in the past that some of the most popular TED talks — the ones that have gone viral and sparked movements — have only done so because the speaker brought their authentic selves to the stage. Among them:
-Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy talks about a crisis of confidence in her career.
–Brené Brown discusses her research and personal stories on the power of vulnerability.
-Behavioral economist Dan Ariely sharing the story of being severely burned and how it lead to his bestselling book, Predictably Irrational.
-Sheryl Sandberg launches the Lean In movement as she talks about her challenges as a working mother.
-Jill Bolte-Taylor takes us back to the horrifying day when she analyzed her own stroke as she was having it.
I’ve worked with leaders at the world’s largest brands. I can tell you from first-hand experience that those who lower the shield and show some vulnerability, establish much stronger connections with their audiences. Authenticity is the key to connection — among individuals and brands.
3). We’re all storytellers
Spacey reminds us that talent has been liberated to create content on a scale unlike any time in history. People can create stories and share ideas on blogs, YouTube, mobile apps, websites, and “every screen in every living room and every phone in every pocket.”
There are more ways to share your ideas than ever before. Ideas framed in story form are the most engaging of all. “The audiences have spoken,” says Spacey. “They want stories. They’re dying for it. They are rooting for us to give them something to talk about.” Give them something to talk about. Great advice from a great actor who knows great content.