Stepping onto the cobblestone streets of Vilnius, I felt like I’d entered a storybook. This charming medieval city is the home to 500,000 Lithuanians, who bustle around the tangled streets in fashion-forward attire with a sense of purpose and belonging. Doug Carter (another speaker), Claire, and I settled into our hotel and met Diana Garlytska, the conference coordinator and our gracious hostess. After seeing the sights of Vilnius and touring the Trakai Castle, Conference Day arrived.
- Once Upon a Time… Gabija Skučaitė walked dramatically onto the stage carrying a candelabra that she set next to a quill pen on a table heaped with books. Her opening skit wove conference and speaker introductions into a compelling narrative about her quest for inspiration to tell stories. As the president of SMK University, and the conference host, Gabija set a vision and scene for storytelling.
- Transformational Power of Stories… I opened the conference with an overview of why stories capture our hearts and minds. Like fire, stories have fueled civilization for centuries. Recent research has shown that our brains produce more oxytocin, a hormone associated with trust and empathy, in response to a character-driven narrative.
- Branding Through Stories… Claire Taylor shared four brand archetypes and showed examples of contemporary brands that communicate through universal story themes. Evoking famous people, she illustrated how personal brands also are expressed through these archetypes. Story branding isn’t just for celebrities. People like you and me have created powerful personal brands by engaging people through stories. Claire also touched on storytelling for leaders as a way to connect and inspire their people.
- Storytelling as a Presentation Skill… Doug Carter, Presentations, Inc., energized the audience with the “Power Stance” a technique to reduce anxiety and nervousness before speaking to a large audience. We all stood with our hands on our hips, legs hip distance apart, while he explained the importance of being nervous. He challenged speakers to ask the Steve Jobs question: “Why should I care?” Never lose sight of what your message means to the audience.
- D.Efect Case Study… When Ausra Prasauskaite, claimed to be “smitten with imperfection,” she captured our attention as she told the D.Efect brand story. What started as a hiring mistake has grown into a Lithuanian women’s clothing brand that is sold in four continents, 16 countries, and 45 cities. D.Efect’s campaigns inspire women to share their “little flaws that make them unique and special.“ The brand and its story-based communications are truly inspiring. I’ll be watching for this brand to come to Minnesota.
- McDonald’s Baltics Case Study… From Laura Jasenaite, McDonald’s Marketing and Digital Director, I learned that McDonalds was the first U.S. company to enter Lithuania 20 years ago, shortly after Lithuania gained independence from the Soviet Union. With a delightful sense of humor and lovely Lithuanian accent, Laura highlighted six principles for digital storytelling with example from McDonald’s Baltic campaigns:
- Know your hero
- Be relevant
- Intrigue—give half the story
- Get customers to share experiences
- Be human
- Go for the laugh
- Learning from Scriptwriting… Raimondas Paskevicius, Lithuanian screenwriter and lecturer, illustrated how dramatic techniques used in fiction and movies can help us craft business stories. He urged us to ponder the subjectivity of Truth as he held up his marriage license issued by Soviet Lithuania and asked the question: “Since the authority that granted my marriage no longer exists, am I still married?” Then he had us grab objects out of his dark velvet kerchief and imagine they were characters struggling against obstacles. While we told our tales, Raimondas described how to play with tension in plot development:
- Audience knows the same, more, or less than the character
- Pressure of time
- Make audience witness of an event
Once upon a time, I traveled from LinkedIn to Lithuania. The virtual world of social media transformed into a fairy tale with global journey, castle, medieval village, new friend/mentor, and new community. Surreal … yet real.