When I was invited to submit a topic for a TEDx Talk, I knew that I wanted to talk about leadership. Because leadership is all about influencing people, making a meaningful difference for them. And the heart of SagePresence — the reason I fell in love with this business — is that it’s all about giving people more ability to make a difference.
I suppose my interest in this goes back to my experience of my own life. I’m not sure what the source of it was — maybe it was being the youngest of a large family, maybe it was being what experts nowadays would call an anxious child, maybe people around me had control issues — but I never felt like I was in charge of my day, let alone my life. And at the same time, the people that I respected the most not only seemed to be doing exactly what they wanted to be doing, but they also seemed to be making a difference for other people at the same time.
The people that inspired me the most at an early age were writers and entertainers. They were able to get me to care and to feel. And as I got older and most sophisticated, I recognized that the best ones were able to give me something to think about too. They were making art that made a difference to me, and I imagined, to everyone else.
So I began to study art and entertainment. I wrote, and I got into film. And I discovered the give and take that artists deal with: The more of an agenda you have with your art, the more likely you are going to alienate part of your audience. The wider the audience you try to speak to, the blander your work gets. The more you try to speak to one side of an issue, the less able you are to reach people on the other side. The more you explicitly try to make a difference, the clumsier your art gets. The subtler you go, the more covert you could be accused of getting — and the less likely your message gets consciously considered.
The exploration got me to reconsider my goals. What did I really want to do? I recognized I wanted to explicitly make a difference by appealing to people’s conscious minds. To get them to think critically. To inspire people to truly steer their lives.
I’ve come to recognize that Story is the tool that does this. Story is the tool that human beings use to explicitly communicate meaning, both to themselves and to the people around them, and meaning is something most of us are hungry for.
As Story has evolved over the history of mankind, we’ve used it in increasingly sophisticated ways, weaving multiple storylines together and drawing stories out across time. The artistry and craftsmanship and sophistication often obscures the simplicity at the core. I think this is often intentional.
But as I’ve studied it, the fundamentals of story don’t change. So when you have the tools to distill a story down to its fundamentals, you can consciously understand what you’re being told.
And by the same token, when you understand what you’re trying to say, you can use the same fundamental components to design a story. The simpler and more streamlined you make it, the cleaner and more understandable it becomes, and the more able you are to make the difference you want to make to the people you are looking to influence.
All of this is what drove me to put this particular TEDx Talk together.
I hope you like it. Please let me know what you think. And if you deem it worthy, please share it.
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