Thursday, October 28, 2010


Halloween is a holiday celebrated on October 31st in many English speaking countries and made popular worldwide through pop culture (literature and movies)

But what is Halloween? And where does it come from?

It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holiday All Saints' Day, but is today largely a secular celebration.

Behind the name... Halloween, or the Hallow E'en as they call it in Ireland , is All Hallows Eve, or the night before the 'All Hallows', also called 'All Hallowmas', or 'All Saints', or 'All Souls' Day, observed on November 1. In old English the word 'Hallow' meant 'sanctify'.

Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherians used to observe All Hallows Day to honor all Saints in heaven, known or unknown.

Despite this connection with the Roman Church, the American version of Halloween Day celebration owes its origin to the ancient (pre-Christian) Druidic fire festival called "Samhain", celebrated by the Celts in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Samhain is pronounced "sow-in", with "sow" rhyming with cow. In Ireland the festival was known as Samhein, or La Samon, the Feast of the Sun.

Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Children go in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as candy or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?" The word "trick" refers to a (mostly idle) "threat" to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. In some parts of Scotland children still go guising. In this custom the child performs some sort of trick, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost story, to earn their treats.

National Geographic video on the History of Halloween.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Business Stories: STORYTELLING (Episode 3)

In the last two posts we've been discussing the Basics and the Structure involved when TELLING STORIES to communicate important ideas (in English as a second language) Today, we'll look at a practical application of this.

Suppose you have to give a Power Point presentation. Your goal is to sell a new line of business. Your team has been developing this for over a year and your audience is the board of regional directors. Your research indicates that if launched smartly and soon, this new business could save your company from doom. You are confident this is the opportunity of a lifetime. But can you get their attention, let alone convince them?

Yes, you've prepared the slides with all the pretty pie charts and projections for the next five years. But before any of that, you need to engage your audience at a far deeper level.
Can Storytelling help?

Sure. First, you'll need characters: a hero, a damsel in distress, and naturally, a bad guy. And a plot (storyline) with conflict, if possible one that involves, say... the end of the world or something of the kind. And sure, there will be a happy ending, but only after the bad guy has inflicted serious damage on the good guys and maybe even walked away with the damsel. Otherwise, who cares?

So how would this translate to your "new business" presentation? Easily.

Naturally, you should present the situation at hand in dramatic terms (see last post). Take no more than 5 minutes, but don't forget to make it fun...

"Once upon a time, there was this great company. Efficient, proud... no other like it in the kingdom", could be a good start. But then go on to tell them the tale of how this once great company (the hero) went from being successful and solving problems for its demanding clients (the damsel in distress) to running into serious trouble when confronted by the ruthless recession (the bad guy).
You can even illustrate this with some visuals for effect (just don't over do it).
It won't take your audience look to figure out what you're up to. And they'll want to know where you're planning on taking this "story". Some will be entertained, some might be concerned you might go overboard, but none of them will flip out their smart phone to see when their next meeting is. Why? Because you have engaged them.

So you go on. Now you tell them how the ruthless recession eventually smoothed out and the company survived. Unfortunately, in that time, other companies (new bad guys) have been quick to adjust their armor and spears to the new situation and have been advancing into your territory (market share), taking many of your damsels (clients). Darkness is upon you again.

Your audience will now be wondering who or what will come to the rescue.
Hold for a few seconds. Now tell them the story of a brave group of knights (your department) who has "burned the midnight oil" (worked really hard) to create a new secret weapon (new line of business) to win back your land (market share), and most important of all, bring back your damsels (clients).

But before deploying this secret weapon, the brave knights will submit the plan for approval of a wise council (the regional directors). "To be continued... ".
Surely, most will probably laugh and enjoy the fact you put some creativiy into your intro. But deep in their minds you also instilled the idea that - behind the cute little fairy tale - there is a very serious problem that is in their hands and potential solution equally at hand. They are far more ready to hear your solution now, then if you had simply walked in and started flipping the slides.
Or course, there are probably many other story models to follow. You might make yours a western, a romantic comedy, a gangster tale, a telenovela or even a space opera. It doesn't matter, as long as you engage them.

Naturally, if you're doing this as a speaker of English as a Second Language, it is in your best interest to plan out your story on paper first. But we don't recommend you memorize it either. This is not for everyone. But we still recommend you try to tell your company situtation in story terms at some point, at least for practice. You might learn something and even come up with some ideas.