Mandela coverage and how we tell our own story

(Post by Andrew Thorp)

Like many others around the world I’ve been moved and inspired by much of what’s been said about the late Nelson Mandela, surely the most revered of modern day leaders. Other notables from Barack Obama to Desmond Tutu (accompanied it seems by a rather dodgy interpreter!) have passionately and eloquently told the Mandela story from their own perspective.

And it’s this story that I’ve been pondering over the last few days. A while back I made a bit of a breakthrough in how to do justice to the story of an individual, company or organisation. And I’ve seen that pattern repeated in the recent Mandela coverage. I call it the 3-layered story: 

3 levels image

The Mandela Story

For Mandela, the Big Picture would be his legacy as a leader, a free South Africa after years of apartheid. You’d cite his extraordinary belief in reconciliation and unity, when here was a man who had every right to be bitter and seek revenge. He had a different vision for his country, a Rainbow Nation as he put it. 

The Machinery would be his chronology, the factual timeline of what happened in his life – starting as a lawyer, the fight against apartheid through the ANC, his incarceration, release, his rise to power, Peace & Reconciliation Commission, the 1995 Rugby World Cup, standing down from office and his later years as a campaigner for AIDS awareness.  

But for me the most telling representation of the man comes from the ‘Mandela Moments’, those close encounters that people have recalled via the media in recent days. The time you met him in a lift 3 years after your last conversation and, despite all that intervening time, he still remembered to ask how your wife was getting on after her hip operation.  

These small stories say so much about the man, despite the fact that they’re just snapshots in time. We attach far more meaning to them than the bare facts of the incident seem to warrant.

How to tell our own story

I think we can all learn from this when we’re trying to communicate our own message. We tend to get stuck in the Machinery when describing what we’re about, largely because that’s the world we’re most familiar with. But there has to be some higher purpose to what we do (Big Picture). It sets the work we do into a wider context.

Equally, we need to gather and draw upon those mini stories (our Library) which engage the listener’s senses, lodge in the brain and convey a broader message about what and who we represent. Taken together, those small stories go a long way to communicating our brand.  

The percentage of each layer you use will depend on the circumstances, but taken together it’s a potent mix.

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Mojo Your Business is an innovative training & consultancy company based in Manchester, UK. We're passionate about helping businesses and individuals perform better through effective communication. We specialise in corporate storytelling and how it applies to internal and external communication (employee relations, employability skills, leadership, relationship building, sales, marketing and public relations). More at
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