The Beats Behind Your Breathtaking Stories

A story without beats is the fastest way to make people fall asleep. (That was not meant to rhyme. Just putting it out there.) In fiction books or movie scripts, writers define a beat as the smallest unit of a story — something that happens that causes a reaction.

If the Titanic had been merely a fabulous ship reaching port in one piece, there would have been no story.

As corporate storytellers, we look at marketing as having beats too. A beat is an interaction — something that happens that causes a reaction. Your hero headline on the homepage creates desire. The visitor clicks on the call-to-action to learn more. There’s a beat. The average movie has about 40 beats. The average homepage? Anybody’s guess. BUT, strive to have beats throughout.

Here’s the big WOW: a great brand story is one long string of beats — one interaction that leads to the next one.

Fun fact: the typical movie has about 40 beats in it. Less beats slows the action. More beats can keep you on the edge of your seat. Now switch the perspective to your story. Thinking in terms of beats, instead of mere content, changes everything. Website content becomes a path of engagement, sales decks become dialogue, and videos morph inspire action.


Our own lives have beats. Our own lives are one scene built upon another, conversation that evoke action, surprises that lead to unexpected roads. Our own story does not magically appear. You went from point A to point B, maybe even to point Z (thank you, alphabet, for having 26 of you). It’s never easy. The path was littered with fear and angst. But it was worth it because it landed you here, wherever here is — from one interaction after another.

There are many stories behind a company. How you saved the day for a customer. Why your company does what it does. Your vision for an amazing world. Your founder story.

Showing your stories to the outside world should captivate people in the same way you feel entranced watching a great movie. Stories are one-part emotion and one-part authoritative. People buy on emotion and justify the purchase with underlying authority or facts. The beats in the story keep the emotion and the relationship moving forward.

Consider your story one of your biggest unfair advantages — one thing that others don’t have and cannot copy.

Let’s end with the words from one of the most famous film director’s of all time: Frank Capra: “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.”

Now, take your brand story to breathtaking heights.

Bringing Storytelling to the Classroom

How do you get people to tell their stories? That was the first question a student asked as I showed the importance of #storytelling to two communications classes at Aurora University.

I pulled out our K+L Storytellers signature multi-colored beach ball, had the students stand up and I asked a single question. What is something about you that nobody here knows? I tossed the beach ball to the first student, who ducked allowing the ball to bounce off the unprepared student behind him. (That’s why we use a beach ball instead of a baseball.)

Speaking to a communications class at Aurora University about the importance of storytelling in business.

Speaking to a communications class at Aurora University about the importance of storytelling in business.

Around the room the beach ball flew to the next storyteller. One young student has lived on her own since she was 17. Another collected exotic animals, including an alligator. A third has traveled to more than 20 countries.

The final catcher of the beach ball was instructor Franklin Rivera, who led 44 men into battle upon his graduation from West Point and is also related to former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell.

In the second class, students were asked about their No. 1 obsession. The responses ranged from music to cars to sports to fluffy cats.

The exercise was fun, and it especially kept the 8 a.m. class awake. Asking questions leads to storytelling. And by continuing the line of questioning, we began to understand each person’s unique story.

K+L Storytellers takes a similar approach with middle market, culture-driven companies that want to better understand and project their stories, both internally to improve culture, and externally to increase brand awareness.

Like many college students, companies have short-term goals and long-term vision. Sharing stories with emotion and authority provides a trust with the audience, which is a foundation for increasing sales.

Spinning a few Dad jokes aside, what was some of the feedback of our classroom experience?

·         Ebony Scott, a junior marketing major, said marketing professionals “have a responsibility to depict clients in the way they want to be represented and how they would want their stories to be told.”

·        Senior Dirk Schoger.said, “Your lecture on storytelling was interesting and informative. The material and the stories you had to share with the class were very engaging, which is proof of the effectiveness of a good story.”

Nice to know our future storytellers are poised and ready to bring their stories to the world.

A Story: Keep Going


I love to run, but I detest feeling cold. So last Saturday, I went to our local Vaughn Center, plunked down two dollars in quarters pilfered from our family coin jar and exchanged them for the privilege of running the track.

Six times around makes a mile. It's really not hard at all. Unless you are Marvin.

I don't know if that is his name, but that's what I'm going with. He looked like a Marvin, a rather nostalgic name befitting a man who is most probably in his seventies, wrinkly skin on his dark-skinned face, still broad-shouldered, still built like the athlete I suspect he once was. He wore chinos and a black polo top.

When I spoke with him, I didn't ask him his name. It was enough for me just to approach a stranger. Many people don't know this about me, but I'm a real introvert. Big groups terrify me and meeting strangers . . . don't even get me started. But this man did something that was so massively impressive, I had to work up the nerve to tell him the truth. And I did. I thanked him, straight out, for inspiring all of us that day.

Marvin walked at a complete 90 degree angle. He used the rail around the second floor track as a guide because, obviously, he really didn't have a lot of clearance to see far ahead. He would stop a lot. He would stand at the rail and watch the basketball and volleyball players below make three-pointers or spike the ball over the net.

I imagined him fifty years before. A great player, someone with promise, maybe a scholarship to college or the captain of his high school team.

Then something happened along the way. Was it a car accident? Years of hard work stacked on top of each other? An illness winning the war on his body?  

So I asked him, after thanking him, if it was painful to walk. Because it looked like it was, and he shook his head and said, "Oh yeah. My back, my lower back." He was sitting on the bench alongside the track when I talked with him. I figured I had one more question before he thought I was a nut, so I asked him what I really wanted to know: What motivated him to come out here and go through all this pain?

His eyes had a fierce light of goodness. He stared right at me and said, "I've got to try. I've just got to keep on tryin'."

I thanked him again. It was one of those moments where I felt like I'd been touched by an angel. One human being sharing with another about courage, life, determination.


Michele Kelly is CEO and Co-founder of K+L Storytellers, a brand storytelling and content company passionate about helping middle market companies scale through story.

Vibrant Content by Manufacturers Will Elevate Manufacturing Perception

“It’s been a long journey since the recent depression, but if you are not moving forward, you are falling behind,” said Donald Dardis, president of Dukane Precast.

That was the most poignant line I heard at the recent Valley Industrial Association’s Spark Awards, which honored Fox Valley area manufacturers. It was poignant because Mr. Dardis spoke from the heart. He spoke about the pain Dukane Precast faced during the challenging years 2008-2010. He spoke about the vulnerability that every business  experienced – doing everything to keep the doors open and the lights on.


Manufacturers, like Dukane, have clawed their way through challenging times, and today experience record production.

If manufacturing were a brand, it would bear scars. In a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, eight in 10 Americans believe that manufacturing is important to maintain America’s standard of living. However, one-third would not encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.

The good news (finally): The gap appears to be lessening. Misperception is changing. A growing number of people are understanding that the makers of our day are high tech global competitors. Educative, informative content gives manufacturers an open opportunity to rebuild industry integrity and set the record straight that making products is really cool.

When manufacturing companies share vibrant content, they too have an opportunity to change the tenor of industry perception. For people to understand something, they must see it.

Here are a few examples of vibrant content manufacturers can create:

•   Blogs about products solving critical problems from a human perspective

•   Best practices guides

•   Q&A with high school and college students attending plant tours

•   Articles and blogs authored by a diverse cross-section of a company

•   Inclusive job descriptions

•   Stories about living company values, social responsibility, community involvement, philanthropy and environmental impact

•   Podcasts around industry growth and the role of manufacturing

•   Books talking about manufacturing careers and education

•   Online journal (yes, actually on your website) detailing collaboration with community leaders and other manufacturers in your industry

•   Supply chain video series to educate youth about the big picture behind manufacturing

Manufacturing by the Numbers

From the National Association of Manufacturer’s Q1 2019 Outlook Survey, respondents remain optimistic about manufacturing in 2019. Here are some of the results from 466 manufacturers around the country:

·         89.5 percent feel either somewhat or very positive about their own company’s outlook (up from 88.7 percent in Q4 2018)

·         4.4 percent expected growth rate for sales for the next 12 months

·         2.1 percent expected growth rate in full-time employment for the next 12 months

·         2.8 percent expected growth rate in capital investments

·         2.4 percent expected growth rate in product prices

How Are Your Stories Being Told?

In a fun, light-hearted way, @Jim Carr and @Jason Zenger founded the Making Chips podcast where they tell stories of success, talk about challenges. Associations, like the VIA, Technology & Manufacturing Association and Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center are sharing member stories through award ceremonies, workshops, seminars, email campaigns, member spotlights and more.

The bottom line: the content that manufacturers distribute is extremely important because it elevates the perception of manufacturing.

So how are you telling your stories? Don’t forget – it’s OK to be like Mr. Dardis and reveal your vulnerability and how you overcame it.

Oftentimes, those are the most vibrant stories of all.

Roderick Kelly is co-founder of K+L Storytellers, a brand storytelling and vibrant content writing company that works with middle market and funded start-up companies that are hungry to scale.

This Spring Break, Ask Your Children to Tell You a Story

As a corporate storyteller and copywriter, words are my playground. I would flip through our 30,000-pound, hard-covered dictionary as a child, my finger landing on random words. This is how I learned the word "philoprogenitiveness" (it means a love for one's offspring) at age seven. (My offspring, by the way, cringe when I share this quirky childhood indulgence😂.)

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3 Questions to Turn Values into Palpable Energy

Values fuel our lives. They are our uniques — for us as individuals and as companies. Our flags, planted firmly in the ground, show red with vibrant love for others, pure white for honesty in all matters, green for our respect of the earth, and rough hewn browns for the value of being approachable and down-to-earth.

What are your colors and how are you changing the world of your customers and work-mates with them? Let’s explore together.

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Hiding in Plain Sight a True Art Form


What if we had only three ways to communicate with each other?

·         Writing a letter and sending it via the United States Postal Service to a business or residence

·         In-person visit at home or at work

·         Calling a business or residence on a land line telephone

In the first three decades of my life, these were the only methods of “getting a hold” of someone. And they were effective because each method nearly always elicited a response.

Today, we can reach someone instantly. Multiple applications provide a direct pipeline to your mobile device, tablet or personal computer. Besides email and texting, we’ve got Uber Conferencing (they have a great hold song if you haven't heard it), Facetime, Skype, Slack, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and LinkedIn. Leaving a voicemail is almost shocking to the system (it requires a lot of energy and time to hit “play”). An article in Psychology Today cites that inboxes are one of the most common triggers to social anxiety and productivity-related anxiety.

It’s easy to see why we all want to run from the mayhem.

Hiding in Plain Sight

There’s no place to hide, so we’ve become creative to avoid being reached. We hide in plain sight.

Phone numbers and physical addresses of business are disappearing from websites and business cards. Instead, we leave a note and send it off into the web abyss and cross our fingers that it will reach the right person AND they will be kind enough to respond.

When a phone number we don't recognize pops up, we watch our phones do the dance. We need “approval” from someone to connect on LinkedIn and other social platforms and, oftentimes, contact information is buried or nonexistent on profiles.

But the No. 1 way we hide is by ignoring the call, text, letter, email, IM, social request, etc. altogether. We simply do not respond. That fact has nothing to do with technology. That fact has to do with people making a choice.

While we haven't done a formal survey on this, we sure have heard people talk about this phenomenon that, with all the ways in which we can communicate, it is getting harder and harder to elicit a response. Is that the story a company wants to convey? How is responsiveness a reflection of a company’s brand?

What are some of your experiences with unresponsive responses?

Impact Brands: 3 Stories to Snack On

By Roderick Kelly

Co-founder, K+L Storytellers

I recently walked the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, trying the many varieties of beef jerky, hot pickles and health bars. Yes, health bars. I could hear my wife Michele whisper in my ear from 40 miles away: “Pass on the beef jerky and eat healthier.” And so I did. Well, kind of. LOL.

As I sauntered the aisles and talked to people, I came across three companies that really impressed me because of their impact brand stories.

Story #1: Kiwa

This Ecuadorian-based manufacturer of premium vegetable chips has a great story about working directly with regional farmers to provide them with an improved way of life.

Kiwa sales manager Maria Jose Guillen.

Kiwa sales manager Maria Jose Guillen.

Through its direct trade with farmers, Kiwa provides self-sustaining economic success to small, impoverished farmers, many of whom farm unique vegetables that are only native to South America. “We work with development organizations to help farmers get out of poverty,” said Maria Jose Guillen, sales manager for Kiwa, whose chips can be found in more than 30 countries. In the Chicago area, the many variety of chips many varieties of chips include plantain, beetroot, cassava and native potatoes share shelf space with more recognizably-named chips at Mariano’s and Pete’s Fresh Markets.

“Think about the many men and women working in remote fields and villages, left behind and oftentimes forgotten by a world that continues to move faster and faster. We proudly connect small farmers in Ecuador and Peru with world markets. Every time someone enjoys a Kiwa product, the collective heart of humanity beats a little louder,” says Kiwa co-founder Martin Acosta. That’s impressive, and the chips are delicious. Never thought I’d eat a beetroot chip. (Full disclosure: Kiwa is a client of K+L Storytellers).

 Story #2: This Bar Saves Lives

Emily Baker, social media and retail marketing specialist.

Emily Baker, social media and retail marketing specialist.

If this company name doesn’t scream: “Listen to my story,” I’m not sure what does. And listen I did. With each bar sold, this Los Angeles-based company provides a portion of the proceeds to nutrient packets, which are delivered to malnourished children around the world.

“Every time you buy a bar, we give life-saving nutrition to a child in need. We eat together,” is the company’s mantra said Emily Baker, social media and retail marketing specialist for the company. This Bar Saves Lives has provided millions of nutrient packets saving thousands of children around the globe, she said.

That’s a feel good for everyone.

Story #3: Fresh Toys

At first glance, I thought Fresh Toys was like a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Inside each box of gummy candies, there is a miniature toy from one of eight collection themes: fairies, pirates, ponies, kitties, puppies, warships, ivy schools and homes. The packages and toys are all designed by 20 young moms and dads whose intent it is to “make kids smile, and give a boost to their imagination, good heartedness and happiness,” according to co-founder Alex Polanski.


Being a creative myself, I marveled at how the company’s goal is to have children use these toys to create stories and to fantasize, much like our generation did by playing with green plastic US Army men or doll houses with miniature rooms and furniture. “Our ultimate mission is to provide affordable, safe, and fun novelty toys. And that’s what we do," according to Polanski.

Even the company’s title focuses on the toys rather than the candy. Founded in Europe, the company has only recently distributed in the United States, although to find them in stores, you will have to travel to Pennsylvania or Wyoming until distribution ramps up.

 Great stories, cool products and impactful brands. Now, where did I put my stash of beef jerky?