The first version of Toy Story 2 was a disaster. The Disney execs loved it, but the guys who made it—Pixar—knew it was a storytelling disaster. They scrapped it, went back to the drawing board and, nine months and a lot of stress later, they produced one of the best sequels of all time.
The lessons they learnt were huge. They put them into practice and have gone on to produce (to date) 23 more hit films. Success in storytelling is not an accident. Behind their great work is a great culture and rituals they follow religiously. So what are the rituals that you can create and live by to make sure you are like Pixar? I can’t guarantee 20+ hit movies but I can guarantee storytelling success.
Pixar want their people to feel inspired so they can do the work.
They let their people put whatever they want on their desks to inspire them. I love this. I have got a bit obsessive with this and created an inspiration photo wall that is behind my laptop screen—photos of me in different places around the world, phrases that make me smile, friends I have hung out with. Only I can see it when I am coaching online. But it inspires me and makes me smile. And that joy comes across on screen. What you have behind your camera really affects what you bring to it. So find your object or photo and let it become part of your daily ritual.
So you have your inspiration. Now you need to get in into your voice. Pixar’s ‘voice’ is their animation skills, yours are your vocal skills. And to get that, you need to warm up. There is no greater ritual than warming up:
Here is a video I recorded a long time ago, my One Minute Warm Up. Learn the string, diaphragm breathing and humming and then do it, three times a week. This ritual alone will transform how you present. And keep your voice and your body strong. It's been 22 years and I still do these exercises.
Sometimes you don’t have a minute but you do need to warm up. Every second literally counts. So this is a great ritual: sit down, plant your feet firmly on the ground, rest your hands on your knees, palms facing upwards and breathe in through your nose. Your stomach will fill up. Then breathe out through your mouth. You will be more grounded than you were ten seconds before and much more present to what is about to happen. I do this on most calls on most days. It works.
When a physical meeting ends in the physical world, people leave the room, go to the bathroom and get to change their environment. It is an informal sort of warm down. But online we leap from call to call, sometimes from country to country, without a single beat. This is taking its toll on our mental health. So to make sure we are still able to hold meetings five years from now without breaking into a sweat, please take—at least—ten seconds to warm down after each meeting. Take one second (just a second) to breathe in, hold the breath for four seconds, and then breathe out.
My neighbours think I am crazy because at some point in every week they will see me bouncing up and down in the air making shapes. It’s how I let off steam after a meeting online. I love the feeling of being weightless and the joy of throwing my arms out (my wife loves it a little less). After an intense coaching session, or even just on a break I will get on the trampoline and bounce. It means I go into the next meeting energised. For those who don’t have trampolines or gardens (or don’t want to look crazy): we all have a floor. You can do ten quick press-ups, or lift some dumbbells. But do it. Regularly. Your body will respond by giving you energy back.
Cal Newport in his brilliant book Deep Work says our brains are learning shallow patterns. We need to learn to work for uninterrupted sections of time, 60 minutes plus. Then, after that, we need to take a brain break because our brain literally aches and needs to recover. Lunchtime is that recovery. If I don’t take a break, I risk thinking I am super human and my last client of the day will not get the best of me. So I take breaks: I go for a walk, I read ten minutes of fiction... However long you can take, take a lunch break. You will be surprised how good it is for the soul.