Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins

How far would I go to hear Matthew Luhn, former animator and storyteller for Pixar, speak about the art of storytelling? Well, I’d wake up at 5am, sit through the San Jose to San Francisco morning commute, miss a day of classes and attend a conference that doesn’t relate to what I’m studying. And it was so worth it.

Whether you are a storyteller for Pixar or an agent of hospitality creating a “moment of truth”, we are all developing stories that we hope will make a positive and long lasting impact. And in order create such stories, Luhn says the key is enabling those engaged to laugh, cry, think, and feel.

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After attending (and dropping out) of the California Institute of the Arts, Luhn was living out his father’s dream of being an animator for Disney when he came across the lively storyboard room, sparking a career change for him. The discovery of his love for not just movies’ animation but their stories set him up to be one of the original 12 animators to work on Toy Story — one of the first cartoons with no fairy tale or princess — just toys and relatable emotions.

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Pixar’s success comes from their priorities: the story always comes first. Because of that, in film and in life, you need to make a story “memorable, impactful and personal”.

  • Memorable
    • It’s all about visual storytelling
    • Only 5% of people will be able to repeat back the stats and data they were just told
    • 65% will retain and repeat a story
  • Impactful
    • You need to stimulate the “impact chemicals” with anticipation and uncertainty, tension and release, dopamine and serotonin
    • if you’ve ever seen the opening scene of Up, it’s the perfect example
  • Personal
    • Seal the deal by making the consumer like you
    • Ex: Steve Job’s computer said “Hello” to users

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Other important elements to having the best story: the hook, the change, the connection, and authenticity.

  • Hook- you have 8 seconds to get and hold someones attention
    • Make it unusual, unexpected, action-filled or conflicting
    • Again with Steve Jobs, “what if you could out 1,000 songs in your pocket?”, and thus the first iPod was born
    • What if a rat wanted to be a chef? Now you have Oscar-winner: Ratatouille!
  • Change– how will this change my life?
    • The best stories are about transformation, such as Harry Potter
    • Stories can change people or businesses for better… or for worse. I mean, everyone remembers what happened to that doctor on that United Airlines flight
    • Will you be the hero or the villain?

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  • Connection– you need to be able to collect as much data about your audience as possible
    • Ratatouille was about a character with a seemingly impossible dream, not a rat in a kitchen
    • Be able to tap into universal themes, in order to reach everyone
      • Desire
      • Love
      • Safety
      • Fear of failure
      • Abandonment (Toy Story 1, 2 AND 3)
      • Not belonging
  • Authenticity– don’t be clever, be vulnerable and honest!
    • Create an emotional connection
      • In Finding Nemo, Marlin fears letting his son be exposed to the scary world, a feeling the animators were experiencing while raising their own children
        • “If you never let anything happen to Nemo, nothing will ever happen to him”- Dory
      • Inside Out was based on the struggles of the animators raising teenagers
    • Never state the theme, never state the mission statement!

Luhn finished his keynote with a bold statement of “whoever tells the best story wins”, and left us with the urge to succeed and start creating stories of our own.

I know this post is a bit out of the ordinary for me– it has nothing to do with travel, I know. But seeing as I am in school for hospitality and tourism, it seems only fitting that I included my personal encounters with that here. I went total student on you with my bullet points and examples, so this is a formal welcome to my daily life!

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