One of the best parts of being a professional storyteller is that, if you find the right environments, you can explore the many different facets of your personality. And it’s a storyteller’s obligation to explore them, as well as to find the parts that are hidden in the dark corners or are guarded by the more boring parts who feel their job is to keep the fun parts from coming out.
Let me explain.
Right now, I’m living with multiple personalities. At my job alone, there are five or so. Here, I’ll talk about two.
Meet Mr. Professional
There’s John The Marketing Executive. This guy puts together “Marketing Plans” and talks about “Executing Strategies” and “Taking the Worst-Case Scenario Off The Table.” He “Examines Data” and “Leads Meetings” and “Develops Plans.” He also goes by the names Board Meeting John and Media Interview John. He smiles but he’s serious. He is a provider of information. He likes bland soup for lunch. He drives a sensible vehicle no more than 5 mph over the speed limit. He ties his tie right the first time every day. His shoes are shined. He plays squash.
I am this John, but, in truth, I hate this John. He’s just so… boring. I don’t mind being him because I know I have to be. And there’s a good case to be made that this is the John who is most effective in the workplace. Sometimes, he most certainly is. But, just… blech.
John The Marketing Executive’s main function when it comes to the other personalities is to attempt to ensure those other personalities don’t come out at inappropriate times. In this, John The Marketing Executive is batting, oh, maybe around .400, which is a nice Hall of Fame career.
The problem is that the other personalities are so much more fun. John The Marketing Executive abhors fun, but he is often hung from a hook by the elastic waistband of his traditional tighty-whiteys. I use the word “problem,” because if a creative storyteller is working in an organization where “fun” is a bad word, it’s easy to get in trouble. Imagine telling a creative storyteller to make his email marketing campaign copy “A little more boring… like what the other copywriters produce.” That has actually happened to me.
But man, you put a creative storyteller in a situation where the fun is not only permitted but encouraged and wow! You’ve got a motivated creative storyteller.
Meet El Gran Presidente
Yesterday, my boss and a colleague at another hospital asked if I would help them develop a few ideas. They are having a virtual grand opening for their new location, and to help make people who can’t come inside thanks to this stupid virus feel more connected, they’re thinking about doing a Facebook Live in which they do a walking tour of the facility. The problem is that, as you’re going from stop-to-stop, this could be extremely boring. So I said, “What about having some off-the-wall things happen as you go from Point A to Point B?” This was the birth of their request for ideas.
The location is in Dayton, Ohio, which is home to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. And as we all know, Wright-Pat is hiding alien bodies that came from the UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico. Soooooo, how’s about having someone dress up as an alien and be on a table being “operated on” by an actual physician from the hospital?
Crazy? Yes. Memorable? Hell yes.
But it wasn’t my idea. This and about 10 other ideas I provided came from “El Gran Presidente de El Insider.” That’s the main guy John The Marketing Executive is in charge of keeping under wraps. And I guess that needs some explanation.
When I started at the hospital, the employee e-newsletter was, well, boring. Sinfully boring. But not unexpectedly boring. Most employee newsletters are boring because most employers are scared of them not being boring. And, truthfully, not enough internal comms people push the envelope enough to see just how much they can get away with before someone tells them to “pull it back a bit.”
The result is that most employees don’t read the employee newsletter. This hampers the creation of a cohesive culture in which employees are well-informed and speak with one voice when asked about the goings-on at their jobs.
So when I took over production of our employee newsletter, The Insider, I decided to not be boring. I took a look at our employee culture and, after meeting a whole bunch of people who really seemed to like to laugh, I figured it would be worth a shot at imparting information through humor. Voila! El Gran Presidente was born.
What does this look like? Take this example: Rather than write a straight-up snooze-fest about the important safety rules hospital staff must know when the big-wigs come around, I did this:
So it’s kind of a big deal that we learn the 2021 Hospital National Patient Safety Goals, The Insider has been told. So let us help drill these facts into your head. Pick the actual safety rule from the following pairs:
1) Identify patients correctly.
2) Decide which famous person a patient looks like and call her by that name.
1) Improve staff communication.
2) When a test result comes in, spend three days pondering its existential meeting and then burn the report in a weird pagan ritual.
1) Use medications safely.
2) Ask patients’ families how much of which drugs, legal or illegal, they would like.
1) Use alarms safely.
2) If a piece of equipment starts beeping, turn up the jams, man.
1) Prevent infection.
2) Hand-washing is a tool of the government to keep the people in line.
1) Prevent mistakes in surgery.
2) Pick which body part to operate on through your choice of rock, paper, scissors or eenie eenie miney mo.
You get the idea.
I also started a fictional war with our Information Technology department because they do what a lot of companies do, which is restrict access to YouTube. But with The Insider, I like to use YouTube clips to make people laugh while imparting information. A feature I started is a “Munchy of the Week” from our cafe. Not a big deal, I know, but hey, it’s fun. That week’s special was jambalaya. I wanted to emphasize the awesomeness of jambalaya with this clip from Seinfeld:
But no! Staff accessing The Insider from their work computers couldn’t get to the clip. So in the latest salvo of my imaginary war, I wrote:
(Please note: That link right there is our renewed call to action to overthrow the tyrannical I.T. Department and allow universal access to YouTube so everyone can appreciate the full humor of The Insider. I.T., tear down this wall!)
Given the freedom to be “El Gran Presidente,” I helped create an employee newsletter whose readership is up. People are actually paying attention to the important news going on in the hospital that this character just so happens to be telling in a humorous way. “El Gran Presidente” doesn’t exist for me. He exists for the hospital, for the administration, for the doctors, for the good of the culture.
So boss-type people, give your storytellers room to be funny. Yes, make sure there’s a purpose behind the humor and it’s not just someone working on his amateur standup act. But let yourself be a bit uncomfortable. Then let yourself be a lot uncomfortable. Let the HR folks wonder if there’s something wrong with that guy. And then let him explain how there’s not (well, not really) and that there’s a method to the madness.
Bottom line: Let your storytellers be free, sit back and reap the rewards.