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May 2024
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Storytelling in the Age of Video

A social media influencer in India credits use of authentic stories with strong audience engagement.

By Mary Nesfield

Annesha Dutta speakingAnnesha Dutta

With so many people and organizations churning out content—posting, reposting, tagging, hash-tagging and live-streaming—it’s worth noting when one person discovers a formula that consistently captures and maintains the interest of social media users. Why does one post go “viral” while another on the same topic flops?

Annesha Dutta, DTM, a corporate trainer and consultant from Bengaluru, Karnataka, India, is one of the clever content creators who seems to know the answer to that question. Her expertise in storytelling connects her to her audiences. “It’s all about [having] an authentic, engaging story,” she says. Dutta has created social media viral videos and articles on topics like “Why Leaders Must Be Readers,” which garnered more than 25,000 interactions on LinkedIn. In fact, her online popularity and content on communication, storytelling and professional growth led Dutta to be named one of LinkedIn’s “Top 15 Video Creators to Watch” in 2017 and a “LinkedIn Influencer” for India in 2017 and 2018.

Dutta joined Salt Lake Toastmasters club in Kolkata, India, in 2015 and is now a member of the BTM Toastmasters Club in Bengaluru, India. In addition to curating her social media sites, she works as a business consultant for colleges and corporations. She says her work on an advanced Toastmasters project, “Communicating on Video” (from the Advanced Communication Series), triggered the rise of her virtual visibility. Dutta, a former English and business communication teacher, was encouraged by her Toastmasters colleagues to launch her “Ask Annie” YouTube channel in 2016.

Tell us about the concept behind “Ask Annie.”

It began as a way to help my students, who are undergraduates and MBA students from across India, to learn about communication anywhere, anytime. I also work with mid-career professionals in the 24-to-30 age group looking to transition into their dream jobs.

“I have an ear to the ground about the issues that students and professionals discuss.”

Most of my online advice is built around how to share personal stories with power and confidence. For example, students often approach me about their struggles displaying confidence onstage, so I created a video series on the topic. Interest from my business communication students led to my subsequent videos on job interviewing skills.

How do you decide on relevant topics for your social media content?

I have an ear to the ground about the issues students and professionals discuss; when traveling, I often hear IT professionals, and even managers, talk about challenges they face: personal productivity, work-life balance, dealing with a difficult boss or teams, fear of speaking up and time management. Podcasts and books also give me ideas about common issues, and I turn those into video topics too.

Subsequently, I created 30 videos on topics like how to make a video résumé, how joining Toastmasters can help your skills, how to answer the question Tell me something about yourself during an interview, how to have “positive” body language and how to network if you are an introvert.

Your most popular post to date focuses on the value of reading. Why should leaders be readers?

Leadership is dynamic. True leaders remain updated and stay 10 steps ahead. They have to grasp a multitude of subjects and communicate with purpose, confidence and clarity. Reading helps develop these abilities. Fiction, non-fiction, subject-specific books—what leaders read doesn’t matter as much as the habit of reading and its applications.

Leaders often need to address and motivate their teams—they need a story bank to draw from. Reading helps with inculcating a diverse range of stories. It helps leaders to reflect on different perspectives in order to see the world through a wider lens and experiment more boldly.

Why do you think that specific post went viral?

As busy as we can be, many people are still focused on self-development, and leading through reading turned out to be an appealing approach. I compiled a list of classic and new thought-leadership books for my followers who shared the list with their friends and coworkers, especially in the United States. Readers added their own book lists, shared their reading habits and debated the value of reading.

How does it feel to be recognized as an “influencer” for two consecutive years?

It is an incredible honor. I have been making YouTube videos since 2016, but I found my community on LinkedIn. The other influencers are eminent business personalities, politicians, entrepreneurs and artists, and many reached out to me. Suddenly I had a powerful network of mentors. It was almost like Harry Potter suddenly learning to create spells with a wand!

How did you hone your storytelling skills?

I started telling stories as a way of reaching out to my students. When I taught second and third grade during my Teach For India fellowship between 2011 and 2013, I explained difficult concepts using stories. Reading aloud and enacting stories really engaged my students. The more animated I was, the higher the engagement and learning levels became. Comprehension levels increased rapidly, especially when students started telling their own stories.

The same holds true for adults. In my current workshops I teach students, professionals and marketing leaders about the power of storytelling for personal and business purposes—how to craft an amazing message to make others fall in love with what you represent.

How does your online and in-person guidance inspire others?

In Toastmasters, I mentor women specifically for club leadership roles. Seeing them take on the roles of club president, area director and above is the biggest win for me. And I encourage women to speak at the district level and beyond.

“I want to see girls speak up and share their stories with the world.”

I’m proud to be one of many strong Indian women breaking glass ceilings. However, there is still peer pressure and a general mindset that women should put marriage, children and family first—careers happen only when they are balanced with household work. I want to see girls speak up and share their stories with the world. I want to be the voice that highlights the stories of how women are breaking barriers in India, despite the challenges.

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