It's a conspiracy! - The Pickering Group

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It's a conspiracy!

This election cycle we’ve seen conspiracy theories come to new prominence. The upswell in conspiracy thinking is having a tangible influence over political discourse, and it's tiring.  Even the lizard people are over it.  Psychologists have found that belief in one conspiracy theory actually encourages belief in more conspiracies. That’s unsurprising, because if you believe you’re being lied to about one thing, why not all the things? WHY NOT ALL THE THINGS OMG I SEE IT NOW. If some on your team are in the grip of conspiracy thinking, check out this article from HBR: How to Inoculate Your Team Against Conspiracy Theories 
The Truth Is Out There
Conspiracies are exciting because they feel like privileged information, and powerful because they’re stories about how the world works.  Let’s take a look at how stories appeal to our intrinsic human desire for meaning, and how you can harness their persuasiveness in your communications.  
Story Time
Stories exist to explain things – why situations change, what it all means.  They create the satisfying illusion that actions lead to predictable consequences.  That’s why conspiracies are so attractive in these turbulent times: it’s comforting to believe that someone, however unhinged, robotic, reptilian or rich, is in control of things.  Otherwise we’re just submerged in meaningless chaos, like an Aucklander on the Harbour Bridge.
Tell Tales
In your own communications, focus on telling small stories that illustrate and emphasise your point.  We call these ‘Spotlight Stories’, because they should be short and highly illuminating. They usually come from your practical experience: authentic snapshots of innovation, success or failure, courage or leadership. They’ve usually got a punchline, or unexpected twist to make them memorable.  
'Putting Stories to Work' author Shawn Callahan defines 5 markers of a Spotlight Story:

  1. Time or Place marker – ‘In Wellington last week…’ or ‘We were filming the moon landing with Kubrick in that bunker when…’


  1. Connected events: this is the narrative bit, one thing leading to another.  It shows how events influence outcome. ‘and they kept falling off the rim, so NASA said, why don’t we just tell them the world is a sphere?’


  1. Real people doing real things. These are your characters, the people in your story. ‘Paul McCartney was replaced by a clone. Avril Lavigne was replaced by a clone. Elvis lives in Cuba with Michael Jackson, running a hamburger restaurant called Meat It. No one wanted to be their clones.’


  1. Something unexpected.  This is the hook of the story, that makes your audience lean in. Revealing something unanticipated – or something you’ve led your audience to hope for – is a powerful rhetorical device.  ‘…and this will shock you… we’re NOT trapped in the Matrix after all. Sorry, this is all real, and your reporting deadline is Friday.’


  1. A relevant business point. If the story doesn’t support the message of your speech or presentation, don’t bother. ‘…so since the Bigfoot debacle, we’re not launching our Loch Ness hunting tours until we can ensure there’s a sustainable breeding population. Corporate responsibility is our watchword!’.

I Want To Believe
We’re hard-wired to absorb stories, especially those that provoke an emotional response.  This brings us to the next point: that if stories have the power to influence thought and belief, then we need to use them responsibly. Not to manipulate or to fool our audience, but to illuminate our message. In political discourse as well as in our organisations, clarity and honesty should prevail.  At least until you’ve handed over the reins to your reptilian overlords and can retire to Atlantis with your tin-foil sunhat. 
Conspire With Us
The Pickering Group can help you find and shape your Spotlight Stories into effective communication tools. Check out our programmes on Business Storytelling and Persuasion and Influence.  We’re open for training in person or virtually.  Follow us LinkedIn for interesting content and til next time – take care out there.

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