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"Nearly Everyone Has An Interesting Story To Tell"

49 business visionaries were asked “what single philosophy they swear by more than any other -- in business, life or both.”  If you enjoy reading and soaking in other people's views, insights, suggestions, lessons, parables, and stories, you will definitely enjoy a number of these as I did.

Here are a few excerpts from the Business 2.0 article (November 28, 2005):

(a) Jim Collins, Management consultant; author, "Built to Last" and "Good to Great": “If you want to have an interesting dinner conversation, be interested. If you want to have interesting things to write, be interested. If you want to Collins_jimmeet interesting people, be interested in the people you meet -- their lives, their history, their story. Where are they from? How did they get here? What have they learned? By practicing the art of being interested, the majority of people can become fascinating teachers; nearly everyone has an interesting story to tell.”

(b) Carol Bartz, CEO, Autodesk: “I have this core belief that you can do anything if you try.”

(c) Brad Anderson, Vice-chairman and CEO, Best Buy: “Any organization is a human endeavor, but most big organizations work hard to dehumanize, to depersonalize. Why? They're scared, because we humans are unpredictable and messy. I say, Turn around and embrace it. Celebrate it. One of our employees said it best: Try to be ‘a company with a soul.’”

(d) Dick Parsons, Chairman and CEO, Time Warner: “This came from my grandmother, and it was the best advice I ever got. If I think of anything on a daily basis, in terms of a moral compass, that is the one. You treat people the way you want to be treated. If you treat everyone with respect, somehow it comes back to you. If you are honest and aboveboard, somehow it comes back to you.”

Bogusky_alex(e) Alex Bogusky, Executive creative director, Crispin Porter & Bogusky; “Reinvent yourself. Repeat.”

(f) Richard Branson, Founder and chairman, Virgin Group” “To be a good leader, you've got to concentrate on bringing out the best in your people. People are no different than flowers -- they need to be cared for and watered all the time…people know when they've f***** up, and they don't need bosses ramming it down their throats.”

(g)  Stephen Covey. Business consultant; motivational speaker; author, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People": “I have huge stacks of books that contain a lot of the wisdom literature from all sources…It helps me learn to listen to people and to empathize within their frame of reference. In other words, to free myself from my own agenda, and get into their agenda.”


(h) Mireille Guiliano, CEO and president, Clicquot; author, "French Women Don't Get Fat": “We have to take "beach time" -- a space for ourselves -- every day because we live in a world of burnout. Even if you take 20 to 30 minutes for yourself, you'll be a better worker, a better colleague, a better person. It benefits the people around you as much as it benefits you.”


(i) Penn Jillette, Magician, author, and producer: “You can't enter into a contract with anyone that you wouldn't make a handshake deal with, because everything comes down to a handshake deal… If I can't make the deal in a phone call, and have them understand it, then it's not a worthwhile deal. You're making a deal with the people, not with the contract. That's a mistake that people make a lot: "We've got it in writing now." The contract is clarification, but it's not enforcement.”

(j) Shelly Lazarus, Chairman and CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide: “…happy people are better for business. They are more creative and productive, they build environments where success is more likely, and you have a much better chance of keeping your best players.

Elizabeth and I were having coffee and she shared with me a wonderful story about the trials and tribulations of cold calling. In the early days of her professional career, the mantra was cold call, cold call, cold call.

It was the first call of the day. She was excited and enthusiastic. Energy was her middle name. She dialed Mr. XYZ, got through the assistant, and proceeded to share her corporate value and why she was calling.

Mr. XYZ showed a modicum of interest. Elizabeth proceeded to engage him in small talk to open him up and see if there was a good business match. She asked him about his future plans and he mentioned moving from New Jersey to Maryland. Elizabeth followed with an active listening question, “are you moving for family or business reasons?” Mr. XYZ half-heartedly answered with “business, I don’t have a family.”

Then, without missing a beat, Mr. XYZ asked Elizabeth, “you sound very nice, would you like to go out with me?”

After hanging up, Elizabeth said to herself, “No more cold calling. Period.”

From that day forward, Elizabeth has been a business networker. She found what works for her. It’s all about balance and being your authentic and genuine self.

I have a couple of other stories from Elizabeth—she tells great stories. And she laughs when she tells them--those are the best!

How about you? Any stories that you would like to share about cold calling, networking, presentations, body language, or ?

I was listening to the radio the other day in my car and heard an interesting and a bit offbeat commentary about the “comic talents” of the United States’ Supreme Court Justices.

The Supreme Court is synonymous with seriousness. When I heard about laughter, mirth, and how it was associated with the Supreme Court, I knew that I needed to track down the source.

A law journal, “The Green Bag” (see below for more background information), published “Laugh Track” in their latest issue (Autumn 2005, Volume 9, Number 1). The author, Jay D. Wexler, answers the question “which Justice provides the best comic entertainment for the court watchers, lawyers, and staff that make up the Court’s audience on any given argument day?” 

When I was listening to the radio, I was curious about the method of determining the laughter level. Wexler writes that each time a certain level of humor and laughter is attained, the Court Reporter notes in the transcripts, “(Laughter).” So Wexler pored through the 2004-2005 transcripts of the oral arguments looking for the notation “(Laughter).” Justice Scalia was found to be the clear winner.

Sure, you can identify the notation easily with a word processor and search for all of the instances of Laughter. How can you measure it objectively? Communication at a high level is comprised of three main parts: body language, tone of voice, and the words you use.

 What makes up laughter? It must be analyzed at a level of detail that goes beyond the main components of communication. Do you use a sound instrument for how loud the room responds in laughing? The length of time the laugh lasts? Amount of clapping? Laughter is directed at you or audience is laughing with you? Do you measure whether the Laughter was sarcastic, clever, witty, or acerbic? Does the Laughter receive more weight when the audience responds with “ooooooohhh” when the joke or comment is at someone’s expense, which some Justices are inclined to do? How about the smile—was it a small smile or a Cheshire cat grin from ear to ear? You can see my point—the variables are many and varied.

My 12+ years of performing improvisational humor with a national franchise, ComedySportz, with my improv group Improvorama, and within my business have led me to conclude that funny or not funny (in its many variations such as inappropriate, just not funny, tactless, etc.) is based on three key areas: the relationship you have with the audience, the personal histories of the audience, and timing.

 In “Laugh Track,” Wexler included a footnote (number 2) that there is no standard way of determining the level of laughter or the methods used by the Court Reporter. I agree. The Court Reporter is a metaphor for each one of us. How do you judge what is funny? When do you make funny comments? And do you evaluate what you have said for its impact, good and bad?

 I would strongly suggest that with an unknown audience, use other people’s humor as your foundation. We use New Yorker cartoons from the CartoonBank (about $20 per cartoon) in our presentations as well as our own New Yorker style cartoons (see below for examples). Use quotes and jokes from famous people. Ask a few friends and colleagues for their judgment on whether to use jokes, cartoons, anecdotes, and stories.

The Green Bag Background Information

According to an interesting article, “Behind the Green Bag,” from the Law School a the University of Chicago, The Green Bag is a law journal founded in 1997 by Ross Davies, David Gossett, and Montgomery Kosma while they were still law students. It has “four current Law School faculty members sitting on its advisory board and a vast, multiwing conspiracy of alumni pitching in…The journal proclaims itself ‘An Entertaining Journal of Law…’ The articles are short, provocative, and engaging…Brian Brooks, ’94, a reader and contributor, says, “The editorial style is intended to start an interesting legal discussion rather than trying to have the final word on any subject.” He adds, “the Green Bag is for people who care about novel legal ideas, not just to help them with a current case but also because the ideas are interesting in their own right.”

An article in today's Washington Post caught my eye. The word PowerPoint and the associated image “Katie's Christmas List 2005” (see below) jumped out at me. The article was titled, “PowerPoint Slides: the New Puppy-Dog Eyes: Kids Increasingly Use Tech Savvy To Sell Their Holiday Wish Lists.”

Katie, an 11 year-old girl, put together a 12 page presentation for her parents. In her words, “My sister gave me the idea. My sister and my sister's friend did a PowerPoint too. I thought it would be a good idea so my parent's could see the pictures and so they would know exactly what to get.  Because sometimes it's kinda hard to understand when you write it down.

Ylan Q. Mui, the article’s author writes, “Sometimes, when children want something badly enough, miracles start to happen.

Promises of spotless rooms and perfect report cards are made. Letters to Santa are neatly typed and spellchecked. Sullen teenagers take the headphones from their ears to shower their parents with compliments.

But kids today don't stop there. They are employing their high-tech savvy to wow their parents into fulfilling their Christmas wish lists.”

One of the more insightful comments Mui makes is “This is the generation that has never known a world without the Internet. They rush home from school to talk to their friends online and flirt over text messages. They have mastered the latest communication technologies and added them to their holiday arsenal.”

This is fascinating. Kids of all ages are using technology to learn and communicate. I look forward to the next generation of business storytellers. 


Tonight was the 11th week interview for The Apprentice candidates. The final four contestants had to create a 60-second commercial touting the benefits of Microsoft Live Meeting.

As an avid online presentation and conferencing fan (since 2002 and that's a lonngg time by today's standards), I was very excited to see how the commercials would come out.

Capital Edge Team: Jammed too much content into the ad. Text was used way too much. The images were okay, displayed quickly, and didn't resonate with me (the audience). The ad also concentrated much too much on the aspect of travel. Overall, they missed the point of virtual online collaboration and conferencing.  To paraphrase Dustin Grosse, one of the Microsoft Executives, Capital Edge failed to present a clear storyline and they relied too much on the visuals.

Excel Team: A hundred times better. It was a bit overacted. It also did not fully capture the value of online conferencing. During the viewing of the advertisements, both Microsoft executives exuded body language signals that clearly showed who the ultimate winner would be--Excel. Janice Kapner, theJanice_kapner_microsoft other Microsoft Executive, said "I really liked the storyline approach." Carolyn Kepcher (Donald's right hand on The Apprentice) agreed by saying "one thing that I liked about Excel's video was that it told a story."

Toward the end of tonight's episode, the official Microsoft Live Meeting commercial aired. I would grade the ad a 7 out of 10. The message was good, not great. The visual of the round table missed the mark of showing instant connection across the globe at any time. The table was simply a table--they needed to show visuals that represented multiple genders, cultures, and locations all connected and all working together. They did not resonate with the concepts and benefits of using the Internet to conduct meetings, presentations, collaboration, etc. It also failed to tell a compelling story that created a call to action--try Microsoft's Live Meeting.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Storytellers Cafe In Disney

While doing some research for another blog entry, I came across Disney's Storytellers Cafe. I'm always chasing down names of venues, restaurants, businesses, organizations, toys, you name it, that have "storyteller" in it. The irony and probably more so, serendipitous nature of this find is that I'll be in Walt Disney World®  in two weeks for the ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership's Great Ideas Conference. I am excited and look forward to posting some pictures and sharing my new find.

[30 minutes later] I was researching where the restaurant was in relation to my hotel. Guess what? The cafe is in Disneyland® California. Okay, now I have to get a speaking engagement for Disneyland so I can cross off my to do list, "visit Storyteller's Cafe in Disneyland."

Drop me a note if you have ever been along with any pictures that you would like to share.

"Storytellers Cafe has a very popular Disney Character breakfast" -- here are a few pics from the site.


From Disney's Website:

"The story-telling tradition is saluted in beautiful period murals depicting tall tales set in early California. The food harkens back to a simpler time with hearty home-style favorites dominating the menu.

- Wood-fired pizzas

- Bountiful salads, grilled sandwiches and fresh fish

- California stories depicted in the seven murals include Mark Twain's "The Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County" and Scott O'Del's "Island of the Blue Dolphin"

I was talking to a client and we were chatting about her upcoming web seminar. During our conversation we talked about when we started giving presentations over the Internet. I shared that my first was with WebEx Communications in 2002. Can you believe that just three short years ago, web presentations were pretty much unknown? Even now many business professionals have yet to experience a presentation while at home in their pajamas or at work sitting leisurely at their desk.

We were discussing how we were going to title the presentation in her sales & marketing materials. She offered "blankety blank webinar." I immediately shook my head and said, it's a registered trademark. She couldn't believe it--she said that organizations all over are using webinar.

Here's how I know that it is a trademark. In Nov/Dec of 2002, I had come across the phrase Webinar. I thought it to be a fantastic description and metaphor for Web + Seminar = Webinar. I started to use the phrase in my marketing materials and website.

Ooops wrong thing to do. In early 2003 a little bird whispered in my ear thatwebinar was in fact, a trademarked word with the US Patent & Trademark Office. The reason I use the phrase, a little bird, was that the little bird just received a "cease and desist" order from the attorneys from the owners of Webinar. So I looked up the registration and found the word to be officially registered as of April 2000.

Fast forward to today. Google shows over 11,300,000 site references to a search for "webinar." That surprised me--a number that big means that industry usage must have overcome the trademark owners (can you think of another reason?) So I typed in as I did in 2003 and found the site to be inactive. The website used to be live and specifically reference the USPTO listing. No longer. In fact it is a inactive link. I am at a loss to wonder why the Webinar owners let go such a wonderful phrase. Perhaps the task at hand to track all the organizations down was untenable.

Irrespective to knowing with certainty the current legal state of Webinar (it still is an active trademark), I'd suggest strongly that you don't use it. Try web seminar, web presentation, online seminar, net presentation, e-presentation, e-learning, distance learning, or some other derivative.

Curious about the USPTO registration? You can find the info here. Select the button at the top of the middle column. Select .  Type "webinar" in the field box. Press . Select option #3 for Webinar, Live.

Here's an excerpt from the registration page at the USPTO:

"Word Mark WEBINAR




Serial Number 75478683

Filing Date May 4, 1998

Current Filing Basis 1A

Original Filing Basis 1A

Published for Opposition January 25, 2000

Registration Number 2342313

Registration Date April 18, 2000"

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Free Stock Photography - Stock.XCHNG

Over time I have collected a few sites that are good for stock photography. Most charge either a per picture fee or a per month fee.

Stock.XCHNG is a rare site offering no cost and royalty-free photographs. Hosted in Hungary, the site represents the collected efforts of professionals from Hungary, Canada, United States, Poland, Mexico, United Kingdom, Belgium, Malaysia, and Portugal.  There are over 40 categories with lots of high quality images. Let me know if you use any and for what type of presentation.

Here a few excerpts from their site for About Us and Terms of Use.

About Us:  "Stock.XCHNG was launched in February 2001, as an alternative for expensive stock photography. The idea was to create a site where creative people could exchange their photos for inspiration or work. In about two years the site evolved into this massive community you see now - there are about 200.000 registered users and more than 100.000 photos online!"

Terms of Use:  [Note, I only included three of the seven terms] "1.) You may use any of the photos in our system free of charge for any commercial or personal design work if you obey the specified restrictions concerning each photo you download. 2.) Selling and redistribution of these photos (individually, or as a whole) without written permission is prohibited. Using the photos in website templates, on postcards, mugs etc. doesn't count as selling or redistribution, however you are not allowed to build a gallery using the photos you downloaded from here. 5.) Although these images are made available free of charge or obligation, if you use any images here PLEASE remember to contact the artist using the e-mail address found on the artists page. This is a simple courtesy and means a lot to many of our contributors who simply would like to know how their work is used."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Seven Steps to Speak Like Jack

I received my Selling Power Presentations email Newsletter today. One article piqued my curiosity…Seven Steps to Speak Like Jack [Kennedy].

[Note: Selling Power Magazine is a must-read for anyone in sales and marketing. If you are interested in improving your presentation and communication skills, there are always tips and suggestions. I’ve been a reader almost since its start some 17 years ago. Selling Power is also a partner of The Chief Storyteller]   

The article was written based on a Q&A session with John Barnes, author ofJohn F. Kennedy on Leadership: The Lessons and Legacy of a President(AMACOM, 2005). You can read the entire article free of charge by signing up for the Selling Power free newsletters     

With my experiences in helping clients with their presentations and presentation delivery, here are a few comments on three of the steps.   

I strongly suggest following step one. “1. Live your speech. Adopt a style that feels natural to you. Use words you normally would use and work on appearing at ease when addressing others. Believe in what you are saying and convey that belief with sincerity and feeling.     

Step 1 is a similar to my mantra of “be authentic and genuine.” It goes to my more expanded comments under step 2 about credibility, connection, and story.    

Step 2 reads “Tell a story when appropriate. If you can find a story that makes your message personal for audience members, you can make the issue resonate for them. A powerful, relevant story will do more to sell your product and service than all the facts and PowerPoint slides in the world.     

The first line for Step 2 should read, “Tell a story always.” Presentations and communication are about creating a connection. Great stories accelerate your ability to connect. Credibility is the foundation to creating this connection. It is our responsibility as business storytellers to impart our credibility from the first handshake, smile, and eye contact. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a story is worth a thousand pounds of credibility.    

Step 7 reads “Remember that your speech reflects you. No matter how many people collaborate on your presentation, keep in mind that in the end it’s your message. What you say and how you say it communicates volumes about who you are. When you get right down to it that often is a big factor in whether a prospect decides to do business with you.”   

I bet that if you were to think back to all of the presentations that you have attended, less than ten standout as truly memorable. Of those that were memorable, they likely resonated with you on a personal level. Personal connection always wins over compelling statistics and facts--always. “Be authentic and genuine” is something that I “preach” over and over.    

If you have the opportunity to read Mr. Barnes’ book, let me know your thoughts.

I was talking to a client today about the power of visual storytelling--using metaphors to impart emotion, connection, and action. I started rattling off some of the advertising that I included in the blog earlier such as Kimpton and Pier 1.  Just then, I had an "aha" moment and was reminded of my Nissan experience about a year ago.

It was late 2004 as you can tell by my ski jacket, scarf, and hat (brrrrrrr). Some friends and I were in a suburb of Washington, DC and came across this billboard from Nissan. Immediately upon seeing the ad, I halted the group, pulled out my trusted digital camera, and snapped a few shots.

The ad is selling "future expectation." It cleverly combines a very powerful image of a road and mountain with the written visual metaphor, tell better stories. You, the new owner, will absolutely experience the joys of driving the new Pathfinder. Your enjoyment will cause you to tell all sorts of exciting new stories to your family and friends. And with the stories come memories for a lifetime.  All of this in one simple billboard.

I just watched a fascinating presentation unlike anything I have ever seen. Dick Hardt, Founder & CEO, Sxip Identity, delivered a funny, interesting, and engaging presentation on a highly technical topic—identity on the Internet.

Typical technical presentations are a Zzzzz’s fest. This was 180 degrees away from boring. Why? Instead of showing typical wiring diagrams with arrows like spaghetti, using tons of jargon, and reading dry bullet lines of text, he entertained us, he made us think. He made his points with visual ideas and metaphors. It was a story. It was "edutainment" (education and entertainment).

This presentation was a 9 on the entertainment and enjoyment scale. On the content and message scale, it's an 8. To get this presentation to a content 10, I suggest:

(a) Use a remote control presenter device. He was stuck behind the laptop and this reduced the interaction and rapport-building considerably. With his charming and conversational style, the audience would have loved to smile with him and be more involved personally. I am a big fan of Interlink Electronic’s RemotePoint Presenter Special Edition. I have been using mine for well over a year. It offers a 100’ of “wander” distance. If you give presentations, I’d suggest strongly buying a remote device.

(b) Employ some structure to the presentation. He cleverly used some signposts such as his picture, college logo, frequent flyer club, and map of Canada. They were not sufficient to carry the main thoughts through the entire presentation.

(c) And speaking of main thoughts, he should have reinforced his main points consistently from beginning to middle to end.

(d) Reduce the number of slides with words so that he can interact with the audience. Because Dick was verbalizing the words on the screen, he had to read them as if they were a script. The reading chained him to the laptop.

Dick delivered his presentation “Identity 2.0” at a conference called OSCON 2005.

Take a look at Dick’s presentation—then look at your presentations. What can you do to add more graphics? How can you evoke more emotion and connect? And what can you do to engage the right brain of your audiences?

Monday, November 07, 2005

My Eyes and Ears are Idea Antennas

Today I received an interesting email from ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership. As a speaker for the upcoming Great Ideas Conference in December and February, I was asked to submit a short answer to "Where do your great ideas come from? (Be as creative as you’d like with the answer.)"

I thought about what to write all day. I was torn between a list of sources or to write more about how to look at the world from a right brain perspective. Your right brain is the key. It synthesizes our experiences from a big picture perspective (I'll write more in the future).

With both concepts important, I combined them. Here's what I wrote: "My eyes and ears are idea antennas. Anything can be an idea seed: advertisements, kids playing, friends, colleagues, mentors, clients, conversations with strangers, books, magazines, humor, life."

Think about all of the potential sources and seeds of creativity and ideas in your personal and professional life. Are you taking advantage of such abundance?

Note: ASAE is the American Society of Association Executives. From its website:

"ASAE, known as the association of associations, is considered the advocate for the nonprofit sector. The society is dedicated to advancing the value of voluntary associations to society and supporting the professionalism of the individuals who lead them. Founded in 1920 as the American Trade Association Executives, with 67 charter members, ASAE now has 25,000 individual members who manage leading trade, professional, and philanthropic associations. ASAE represents approximately 10,000 associations serving more than 287 million people and companies worldwide and vendors that offer products and services to the association community."

Here's a new cartoon that I am using in my presentations and workshops.  I love the twist on the typical "dog and pony show" reference.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Leave Your But's Behind

In terms of usage, I place "but" at the top of the worst words in the English language. It is an absolutely horrific word. It negates everything said previously.

Yes but, no but, and just plain ol but permeate conversations. While at networking functions and social gatherings, I've informally counted the frequency of "but" utterances. They rival any commonplace word like "and," "I," and "a."

"But" has become such an accepted word that most people have absolutely no idea how many times they use it. Our "Yes And" exercises make people acutely aware of the use of these negative words. Yes And is a concept from improvisational humor (look for a future entry to describe Yes And in more detail). It makes you become an active listener. When we do our "Yes And" exercises, it takes a lot of practice for participants to embrace Yes And and attempt to leave the but's behind (pun intended).

Typically, about a month after attending a workshop or becoming a client, people email and call to confirm that the but's are slowly being eliminated. Also, they share that they are becoming whole body communicators employing Yes And.

Here's a challenge, a big challenge.

Try this for one day at first. Before hitting the send key on your emails, replace every instance of "but," "however," "although," and "on the other hand" with a period or "and." I'll bet you thousands of Monopoly dollars that this suggestion will not change your meaning or intent. In fact, this suggestion will strengthen your message. Part B. After doing this for a few days, slowly implement this process into your spoken words. Become more self-aware of when and why you use "but." Same process, replace with a period or and.

It would be great for you to share some of your successful "yes and" results.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Treat Everyone Like a CEO

I met Dave about two years ago when a mutual friend connected us (social networking). In his first email to me, I noticed the quote below after his signature line. This quote really resonated with me. I use it in all of our networking track workshops and services. It succinctly imparts the goal of networking--look for opportunity, genuine connection, and authentic conversation. Leave the pre-conceived notions, agendas, and biases at the door. Treat everyone like a CEO.

"Remember that the person you’re about to meet can become as important to you as someone you’ve known for years."

— H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Life's Little Instruction Book
June 8, 2002 Block Calendar

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Art of Intelligent Listening

I verify every quote that I use. When I searched for the one below on the Internet, I came across a few variations. As such, I bought a physical copy of the Readers Digest Magazine from Ebay.

I fully expected to extract the quote and be done with the magazine. Instead, I was surprised and pleased that the entire article from Mr. Miller is filled with nuggets on how to become a more intelligent listener. People always laugh when I share this quote and I mean allllwaaaayyyyssss.

Interrupting people during conversations has become prevalent and accepted. Most people don't like being interrupted. Why do we continue to do so? Instead, be an Intelligent Listener. Intelligent Listening is a key ingredient to becoming a whole body communicator--great story, positive body language, and intelligent listening.

"Conversation in the United States is a competitive exercise in which the first person to draw a breath is declared the listener."

— James Nathan Miller
“The Art of Intelligent Listening”
Readers Digest, vol 127, September 1965

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Talk Fat Free

I was talking to my colleague, Alex from Matrixx today about a presentation that we both attended. As we were talking, Alex said that guy has got to "talk fat free."

After that phrase popped up, I immediately interrupted him :-)

In an excited voice, I asked him to write an entry on it. In my business, I work with people that are "fat free challenged." They get to the point after many minutes of conversation and presenting. I look forward to Alex's insight so that we can all lose a few communication pounds.

Breakfast of Champions - Ted Leonsis

Ted Leonsis recently spoke at a local technology conference. His keynote address was titled, "Breakfast of Champions." He told his story through a sports metaphor. He used some of the most well known and respected names in sports today. Names like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Wayne Gretsky, and Joe Namath.

Ted covered each of the points in his plan with a powerful quote from one of these sports giants. He told a story in a unique and very personal way. For those of you not familiar with Ted, he is the Vice Chairman of AOL, a majority owner of the Washington Capitals NHL Hockey team, minority shareholder in the NBA's Washington Wizards, and owner of the Washington Mystics, a WNBA team. He intertwined his message of how he is helping to shape the new AOL with a foundation of compelling and inspirational quotes. Quotes that all have a business relevance. In this humble at home sportcaster's opinion, his presentation was a homerun.

The 12-Point Plan for Success:

1. Plan it - write it down – break it down - strategize
2. Work at it – be committed
3. Measure and improve
4. Listen and learn
5. Trust those around you
6. Don’t be afraid of failure
7. Respect everyone
8. Don’t get too high with the highs and low with the lows
9. The journey is the reward - enjoy
10. Seek balance
11. Be part of something bigger than yourself
12. Love and passion


Here are a few of Ted's quotes...

-- “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”

-- “I don’t love the game. I am in love with the game.”

-- “Failure and loss are my best friends and personal motivators.”

I was doing some research today and came across an interesting article from Business 2.0 Magazine, 2005 0906. IBM is following a story-driven approach in its new advertising.

I am a huge fan of using visual metaphors in your business stories, especially in your elevator speech and presentations. Visual metaphors impart so much emotion and connection in a condensed and effective way. The challenge is to get people to feel comfortable using them in purpuseful way in their business communications. It is one of the hurdles my clients and workshop attendees face in developing their own stories. Once they work through the hurdle, it's a warming feeling to see the smiles on their faces. I can just imagine how big of hurdle IBM had in accepting this audience-centered way of communicating their messages.

I copied three paragraphs below....

"Let's face it: Management consultants are a dull lot. Jet-lagged and overworked, they wander the world spouting tired buzzwords about "enriching the customer experience" or "strengthening supply chain relationships."

"It's simple, actually: Just use a metaphor. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book. Add a little drama, conflict, and character development -- and, of course, a happy ending -- and a sleepy high-tech service advertisement can start to feel, well, almost human. That's the underlying strategy of IBM's latest Global Services campaign, which will be unveiled this week at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The topic may be dull, but the approach, created by IBM and its advertising agency of record, Ogilvy, surely is not. "

"According to Ogilvy group creative director Andy Berndt, who helped dream up the campaign, here's how it works: 'You take boring, complicated stuff and explain it. Since the topic isn't that interesting, you need to add some dialogue and characters with humor.' "

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Talk at the 10th Grade Level

Most people in business communications over complicate concepts with jargon, big words, and busy diagrams. The typical listener is bored, wondering where the point is, and is looking for a polite escape. My suggestion is "talk at the 10th grade level." Simple, brief, and to the point. One of my all-time favorite quotes is "brevity is the soul of wit" (anonymous).

I'm a big fan of talk radio. So when I heard an author mention that the New York Times newspaper writes at the 8th grade level, I just had to check. I called the NYT today and chatted briefly with a helpful woman in public affairs. She shared that most mainstream magazines and newspapers write between the 6th and 8th grade levels. The NYT typical article is geared to the 10th grade level.

To the average person, that would likely seem a bit askew. To the media savvy person, it is exactly as expected. Americans have such a short attention span--verrryyy short. We are bombarded with thousands of messages every day vying for our emotional and financial wallets. Messages come from multiple sources. Examples include friends, co-workers, sales professionals, billboards, television, magazines, radio, direct mail, email, and more.

How do you ensure that you stand out from the competition? One way is to use the Flesch-Kincaid tool. It is a helpful option in Microsoft Word (setup instructions below). Readability is based on average sentence length and average syllables per sentence. Run the Flesch-Kincaid tool on some documents and emails. You will be surprised by the results. Examine closely the text that receives a high score. Reduce jargon and acronyms. Replace ten dollar words with fifty cent words. Chop long sentences into short ones. Run the tool again. Now you will be surprised at how easy and straightforward the process is to create memorable messages.

If after reading this, you are thinking, "hey, I should check the readability in PowerPoint." If so, then without seeing your presentation, I know that it has way too many words, sentences, and bullet points. Reduce the text by at least 50%. Then, if you really feel the urge to check the readability, convert the PowerPoint into a Word document and then perform the readability check.

Remember that the NYT knows it audience and purposefully writes to the 10th grade level. Choose the grade level appropriate to your audience. My suggestion, stick to the 10th grader in us, or lower. Make your writing more clear, concise, and brief. Let your passion and your story drive home the message.

Let me know how it works for you.

From the Microsoft Word Help file: "Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score: Rates text on a U.S. grade-school level. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader can understand the document. For most standard documents, aim for a score of approximately 7.0 to 8.0. The formula for the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score is: (.39 x ASL) + (11.8 x ASW) – 15.59. ASL = average sentence length (the number of words divided by the number of sentences). ASW = average number of syllables per word (the number of syllables divided by the number of words)"

Setup in Microsoft Word: Go to the toolbar at the top of your monitor. Select then then the tab. Click the "Show readability statistics" box at the bottom of the dialog box. Now, after you spell check, the grade level appears indicating the readability score of the text.

On Wed, 9/21, I attended the National Geographic Society's, Music from Mali: Mamadou Diabate Ensemble. What made this really special was that Mamadou Diabete is a musician and storyteller. He and his ensemble entertained us with musical stories throughout the night. For the last song, the entire audience of some 500, were on their feet dancing and clapping (including me, well just the clapping).

From the description, "Descended from a long line of jeli—the musician/storytellers also known as griots. Malian musician Mamadou Diabate is a master of the kora, a 21-stringed instrument with a resonant harp-like sound. As a jeli, Diabate is heir to a practice of using music and oratory to sustain the Manding people’s consciousness of a past that stretches back to the 13th–century king Sunjata Keita. While continuing the jeli tradition, Diabate and the Mamadou Diabate Ensemble— Balla Kouyate, balafon; Noah Jarrett, acoustic bass; Djkorya Kante, guitar and percussion—also strive to create a bridge between Africa’s traditional past and cosmopolitan future in collaborations with artists as diverse as blues legend Taj Mahal, Irish singer Susan McKeown, and jazz pianist Randy Weston."

I had the honor of presenting a workshop, "From I to We," for the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals. It was at the Hotel Monaco in Chicago.  I am always looking around, noticing marketing materials, messages, customer service, and just plain ol friendly people watching.  Right after I checked in, I went into the elevator and noticed the poster with the tag line, "Every hotel tells a story."  Another winner I thought.  I was excited to talk to the hotel staff to learn more about the campaign history and success.

After I got settled, I went down to the front desk and chatted up the very professional, helpful, and nice staff.  The assistant general manager came out as well.  They told me that the campaign was about a year old.  All of them really appreciated the message and they were excited about ensuring that each hotel was part of a bigger family while exuding the Hotel Monaco's individual charm and unique story.

The card key, card wallets, and posters are branded across the entire Kimpton Hotel chain (see picture below for two examples).  Did you notice the heart in the soup?  I love the subtle and metaphorical imagery.  The slogan/tag line is also great: "care | comfort | style | flavor | fun."  The website even has a page, "Story." I look forward to chatting with the vp of marketing at Kimpton to learn more and to share with you the poster images.

Today, I gave the "3 Steps To A Perfect Elevator Speech" workshop to the Harvard Business School Alumni of Washington, DC. Sitting beside me was a woman with a great deal of passion, a wonderful smile and disposition, and a jargon-filled elevator speech. After she told me what she did, she self-admitted that it was very technical. And she said something like, "At networking events, I only talk with people that understand my jargon, my world. If they don't get it that's okay.  Then I wasn't meant to talk with them."

I shared with her that in this room alone, there were 50 potential clients, 50 potential referring individuals, and 50 potential partners. The potential was in her elevator speech. She smiled that look of "oh, I didn't think of that."

Great Stories TravelTM.  This is a phrase that I often use.  An elevator speech is the beginning of your great story.  It serves to pique interest and to be your "persistent" and memorable verbal calling card.

At the end of the workshop, she promised to email me in a month with a reworked version that is audience-centered.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Bob and The Birds (New Cartoon)

Here's a new cartoon that I am using in my presentations and workshops.  What do you think?  Suggestions?

Monday, September 05, 2005

"In Short" Reduces the Effectiveness

I went shopping today and visited an Under Armour store.  On the store wall was a gigantic placard with the UA brand mission (see below).  It is one of the better descriptions.  Remove "in short" and it will be one of the best.  In short is what I call a "wishy-washy phrase."  It's just like "in other words."  If you need to use either phrase, then you haven't delivered an easily understandable phrase/sentence. It is passive. It detracts from the momentum created by the previous sentences. When In short is removed, I'll gladly consider this elevator speech for the best of category.

"The Under Armour® logo is the Universal Guarantee Of Performance. Our Brand Mission is to provide the world with technically advanced products engineered with our exclusive fabric construction, supreme moisture management, and proven innovation. In short, every Under Armour® product is doing something for you; it’s making you better."

Visit Under Armour.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Pier 1 Imports - Your Home Is Story

I was at a friend's house last night and saw a television ad from Pier 1.  It really, really resonated with me.  The message is crystal clear, engaging, powerful, moving, and is the perfect visual story/visual metaphor: "Your home is a story. How you tell it is up to you." 

The commercials are part of Pier 1's new branding and identity campaign started in 2004.  From Pier 1's website: "In 2004, Pier 1 announced that it had signed Deutsch Inc. and OMD Midwest to develop a new marketing campaign for the company. The Pier 1. Life More Interesting. campaign was designed to remind customers of the globally inspired, one-of-a kind mix of home furnishings and accessories offered, and the exciting in-store experience discovered when shopping at Pier 1. It also introduces the product as our new spokesperson, instead of using a celebrity to communicate our brand and messaging."  Visit Pier1.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Hello Everyone!

Welcome, welcome, welcome!! I am very excited about starting a blog.  Friends, colleagues, clients, Romans, and countrymen have been telling me for months to start one.  It's time.  I look forward to sharing thoughts and reading yours on everything and anything related to business storytelling, content, messaging, and so forth.



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