Performing Arts = Business Tools

“So what are you going to do with a degree in Performing Arts?”

I bet every student who’s ever studied drama or theatre has been asked this question. Ok, so you might get a job in theatre or arts. But you might not. Either way, you’ve acquired some really valuable skills that you could use in any workplace:

  1. Storytelling
  2. Empathy
  3. Improvisation

Here are the notes from the presentation, as a Keynote file. And here’s the basics of what we covered.


Business stories must have these basic ingredients:

  1. Stuff happens (who, what, where and when)
  2. People care (how do you/they feel)
  3. The moral (why does this matter)

People in business tend to ignore or gloss over the emotional content of your stories, but they shouldn’t. Emotion directs our attention to what matters and helps people remember the point you’re trying to make. Here’s a great example of emotional storytelling with a very clear business aim:

This TV advert – this story – came out of a business insight that 90% of laundry in India was done by women. So I set the class a challenge: see if you can come up with your own story based on this business insight:

You can use a classic story arc to give your story that roller coaster of emotion that will make it irresistible. As BBC Planet Earth II showed, even a humble iguana can experience a story arc:

In business, you need to tell stories about yourself (Foundation Stories) but you’ll find it easier to keep telling fresh stories about your customers  (Brand Stories). Here are two examples of one company telling both kinds of story. First, the Foundation Story, where the company is the hero:

And now the Brand Story, where the customer is the hero and the product barely gets a mention:

So that’s Storytelling. Let’s talk about Empathy.

Empathy means feeling what other people feel. Actors and writers use it to devise credible characters. They start with thoughts, feelings and desires then create words and actions.

But if you switch this around, you’re in the world of market research, commercial ethnography or, as designers call it, empathy. Great designers don’t just make new products because they feel like it. They base their ideas in detailed studies of what their customers do and say, then they try to work out what they think, feel and desire. Because, if you can work these things out, you can sell stuff to people.

Finally, on to Improvisation. This is a vital skill for anyone trying to innovate, to find new ways to solve problems.

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