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Robert McKee

Robert McKee is a creative writing teacher known particularly for his "Story Seminar," a multi-day screenwriting lecture that he has given at venues all over the world. He is the[…]

The most successful leaders of business and government gain that power by being able to persuade their constituencies with a compelling story.

Question: What are some screenwriting lessons for rnbusinesspeople?
 
Robert McKee: Well, in business, the rnproblem is persuasion, how to get people to do what you want them to rndo.  How to get the employees below you, wherever you are in the pyramidrn of power, how to get the people below you to do what you want them to rndo; how to persuade the people above you and the board of directors, or rnhigher management, or whatever, to recognize that what you’re offering rnis of real value and do things again to further your work, and the rncorporation as a whole.  So, the problem is persuasion.  And there are rnthree ways to persuade people.  One is rhetoric, and this is, of course,rn the PowerPoint presentation where you try to build an argument out of rnfacts.  This pie chart, that statistic, this quote from authority, this rnblah, blah, blah, therefore at the end of the day, we should do this.  rnThe problem with rhetoric and PowerPoint presentations is that the rnpeople you’re making the presentation to have their own facts, their ownrn statistics, their own authorities. And while you’re laying out all of rnyour evidence, they’re arguing with you.  Silently.  Because they know rnthey have another set of facts.  Okay?  What’s more, they know in your rnPowerPoint presentation you have left out everything negative.  rnEverything that’s wrong with this company, everything that they have rnfailed at, every projection that says this is not... everything that is rnnegative has been left out, and they know from business because they arern in business too, that the business world is full of things negative.  rnAll kinds of problems and labor unions and government agencies and who rnknows what, okay, that are in your way.  But the rhetoric leaves all of rnthat out.  So they know you’re lying.  They know that you are rndistorting.  And so PowerPoint presentations rarely ever work to rnpersuade anybody.
 
A second way to persuade is coercion.  You rncan bribe people, you can bully people, you can seduce people, you can rnthreaten people, you can manipulate people in one way or the other, rneither by seductions or by abuse.  And you can get them to do what you rnwant them to do that way.  That is every day at the office.  The troublern with coercion is that it is short-term.  You might be able to bully rnsomebody into doing what you want, or seduce somebody above you to see rnthings your way, but because it’s not founded on anything real, in turn,rn that snake will turn around and bite you in the ass.  And so coercion rnas a short-term affect may or may not help, but in long-term, it just rnbuilds resentments and blah, blah.
 
The third way to persuade rnpeople is with story.  You take all the facts that you would have used rnin a PowerPoint presentation, you take all the emotional impact that yourn would have used coercing people, and you create out of that a story rnthat imparts those facts emotionally.  And the story stars you, or starsrn the corporation, or your division as an underdog up against very rnpowerful forces and admits to the existence of the negative.  When you rntell a story, it isn’t just and then, and then, and then, and we all rnlived happily ever after.  It’s that and then, and then this and that, rnand that and this, and by admitting that somebody stole our patent and rnwe had to go out and fight that in the court, but we got it back, some rncompetitor stole our best people, but we rehired and we got even better rnpeople, and so forth.  By describing the dynamic of life, and therefore rnthis product is now, da, da, poised to win the market share, or rnwhatever.
 
By telling story dynamically, you hook them rnemotionally, because everybody’s rooting for an underdog struggling to rnsucceed.  You tell the story honestly because you’re admitting all the rnnegative side, and you’re telling the story emotionally because they getrn involved and they have a huge stake in the storytelling. Is this rncompany, or is this product going to win?
 
And so storytelling rnis, by far, the greatest leaders of business and government, for that rnmatter—people with great power gain that power by being able to rncommunicate a story to the citizen, to the workers, to the board, that rnhooks them and holds them and pays off.  The trouble with that, of rncourse, is it takes talent to do that.  Not everybody is a natural rnstoryteller.  That’s why people lean on PowerPoint presentations becausern it’s an essay form and they can do that.  But it’s dangerous to tell rnstories if you don’t have talent because you just bore people.
 
Butrn the best leaders have that talent, or they learn that craft and the rnknow how to beguile people and move them and excite them with their rnvisions and persuade them.