Expert Columns

Remember Kevin Bacon? The guy who starred in Footloose, Apollo 13, and just about every movie in the 1980s. Then maybe you’ve heard about 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the game that links the actor to just about everyone in the known universe.
The game is now 20 years old…and it’s still going strong. The premise behind it is that we’re no more than six personal connections away from anyone else in the world. Sounds a lot like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter!
Kevin Bacon and the creator of 6 Degrees is speaking this week at the South by Southwest Conference (SWSX), and in a pre-conference interview with BuzzFeed.com, the actor had something surprising to say about links, connections and audience engagement. It’s something we can all use as we talk with our audiences:
“There is this idea that your social media platform is the secret to success, but no one has quite proven that to be true if you ask me. Somebody with a billion followers can tweet, ‘See my movie,’ and it can still tank. Followers don’t always translate into success because I think people are too savvy. When something takes off, it’s because people are connecting to it; not because someone with a lot of followers says to care about it.”
(Source: Buzzfeed.com)
Good advice as we’re all working to engage audiences. It’s one thing to have a presence. It’s another to engage with people who care about you and your message. Engagement is hard work and it takes time…but as Kevin Bacon knows, it’s worth the investment.

Why we listen to some people more than others? What makes their stories more interesting? How is it that some people just seem to captivate our attention? And in an age of keywords, search engine optimization, pick-your-own music web sites, does good storytelling even matter?
Storytelling does matter. Perhaps more so today than at any other time. People bounce back and forth between multiple media options, hoping to find something, anything that captures their attention and feeds their need to connect.
So how do we become good storytellers who are able to capture people’s attention and connect to their hearts?
First, realize that storytelling is a craft. As with any craft, we invest time and effort into becoming better at it. Do you make time to hone your craft? Do you practice telling stories? Do you listen and learn from others? Do you ever read the same thing over and over until you understand what makes it a good story?
Secondly, remember that good stories communicate ideas. President Ronald Reagan summed it up by saying, “I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things.” Quite often, the more powerful the story is, the less we have to explain the idea we are communicating. In the story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus never comes out and says, “This represents a father’s unconditional love.” We know it because the father’s love is demonstrated throughout the entire story.
Finally, learn that the best stories echo in our hearts. Why do you remember the stories your granddad told? Why do we repeat the same movie lines over and over? Because there was something in them that echoes in our hearts and leaves a mark on our souls. From the “Earn this” line in Saving Private Ryan to Farm Boy Wesley’s, “As you wish” in Princess Bride, there’s a part of the story that stays with us, that reminds us of the bigger picture in each tale. Do you tell stories that stay with the hearer long after the story is over?
If this all sounds like a tall order, well, that’s because it is. Good storytelling is a commitment to honing a craft…to sharing big ideas…and to sharing stories that people will remember. But the reward is this: You’ll be able to connect with and engage listeners in ways your competition can’t. Your listeners will share those stories with others. And you’ll create an audience that keeps coming back for more.

It was a mistake. I haven’t taught kids’ Sunday School in about four of five years…and I forgot that kindergartners and young elementary students think in black and white. They don’t think the way that adults do. And they don’t understand rhetorical comments.

Read more: Mom Can’t Drive You to China

It used to be that the in-studio audience for a Late Night TV show was just a part of the set. Lights, Camera, Audience. They would cheer, laugh, or clap depending on the mood of the moment. And occasionally, the host would venture out into the crowd to rub shoulders and talk with one or two people.

Not any more. Now that Jimmy Fallon is host of the Tonight Show, he's inviting the audience to not just watch, but to help write part of the show. If you've watched Fallon before, you've probably seen his Hashtag segment, the part of the show where he posts a topic on twitter and asks people to send in their short thoughts. As you can imagine, he gets a wide range of responses – everything from laugh out loud funny to stuff that shouldn't be repeated. It makes for an zany slice of television that's truly“audience generated” - something we haven't seen since Art Linkletter's, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”

There's nothing unique in Jimmy Fallon's Hashtag segment. David Letterman has done the “Mail Bag” routine for years. And so have other talk show hosts. We've even done it on radio. But what makes Fallon's approach successful is that none of the other late night hosts (with the exception of Jimmy Kimmel) were tapping into the social media conversation the way he's doing it. And not only that, but by showing a person's Twitter handle on screen, Fallon also invites you to continue the conversation by joining that person's Twitter feed.

Why is this important to you? Social media has been around for a while. We're all using it. But here's the benefit: Traditional media is taking notice. Newspapers have been highlighting the Tonight Show transition from Leno to Fallon, and each article mentions Fallon's success with social media. He's seamlessly incorporating new media tools into his traditional media show...and the audience love it because a national TV host has joined in THEIR personal conversation. They are no longer a faceless background audience. In effect, THEY become part of the show. They are not just a part of Jimmy Fallon's audience...HE is part of their audience.

It's a subtle shift that traditional media has been slow to realize, but those who do are miles ahead of the competition. Here it is in a nutshell: It's no longer about the audience tuning in to your show. It's about YOU tuning into the audience's life and becoming part of THEIR conversation.

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