ICR News: September 2015 Meeting Highlights

IMG_0055_ICR_092015Storytelling to Boost your Brand, with Felicity Barber

by Akshayata Sethi

At the September 16 meeting of SF IABC’s Independent Communicators’ Roundtable (ICR) at IABC world headquarters in San Francisco, Felicity Barber of Thoughtful Speech shared amazing insights on how communicators can use memorable storytelling to build their personal brand.

Felicity opened with a small story of her own and showed us how we use storytelling all the time. She reminded us that storytelling existed before the current interest in TED talks and that storytelling is second nature for humans.

Aristotle’s rhetoric triangle

Felicity started with Aristotle’s logos, ethos and pathos, and their function in the art of persuasion. Logos is the logic of an argument. Ethos is the credibility of character of the storyteller. Pathos is the emotional connection with the audience.

Felicity pointed out that although in a triangle all angles are equal, pathos is perhaps more equal than the others. It is the secret of using stories to build brands. Logos is usually the easiest to get right. Ethos is more difficult than one would think. Building credibility with an audience is an entire talk in itself. But pathos is where stories are told and remembered, and used as tools of brand building. One needs all three to make a persuasive speech or to build a brand.

Two-thirds of human speech is storytelling

Next, she introduced the audience to academic research on storytelling from the University of Liverpool and Princeton. Studies show that two-thirds of human speech is storytelling, yet humans are not always good at choosing which stories to tell. To support effective storytelling, Felicity gave us a few pointers that she has been using in her career as a speechwriter and executive communications specialist.


  1. Be your own hero: You are selling yourself and it is human to embellish your stories. Do it in a positive manner. Also, do not try to pass off another’s experience as your own story. That kills credibility faster than anything else.
  2. It’s all in the detail: Don’t lose the intricate details that give a story its beauty. They give a story “stickability.” Marketers should invest in learning the structure of good storytelling. These are learnable skills and can be developed with some practice.
  3. Avoid clichés: Use details instead to paint a vivid picture.
  4. Use a complete story graph: Start with the scene, proceed to adversity and close with an outcome. A common mistake is to let the story fizzle out at the adversity stage — leaving a negative message. Always make a point of having as positive an outcome as you can.

To conclude the talk, Felicity showed the audience the opening 30 seconds of Brené Brown’s celebrated TED talk. She explained how Brown used the insignificant event of a phone call to start with a story and build rapport with the audience.

Felicity then asked all attendees to prepare their own short stories on one of several suggested topics and share the stories with their seatmates. The event concluded with three attendees sharing their stories with the audience. Felicity provided excellent feedback on the positive elements in each story.

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