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Ira Koretsky
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The adage, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression," is true every moment. It is especially relevant when you are sending out email.

While surprising in and of itself to come from such a professional organization, it's no surprise that I was greeted with this type of email solicitation. I thought rather than delete it, let's learn from it.

I found at least 8 items of interest (see below). Before reading my suggestions, think about what you would do differently...

From: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Sent: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 1:35 PM
Subject: Pre Show List

Dear Meeting Planner, Please stop by Booth #### to register for our prize at ASAE while in Toronto!  Prize:  Nintendo Wii Bundle w/ Wii Fit includes Wii Remote Controller, DreamGear 5-in-1 Fitness Bundle, Wii Fit w/Balance Board, Wii Nunchuk Controller and a Nintendo Wii Console w/ Wii Sports Game.  Value $485.00   VendorName – Booth ####  See you there!

Vice President
(###) ###-####

My suggestions, in no particular order:
1. Personalize with a first name. At least try to make it look like it's not a form letter.
2. Use a compelling subject line
3. Separate into sentences or bullets
4. Omit the prize information. Everyone has prizes at conferences.
5. Share a compelling message as to why I should visit your booth. We all have limited time on the conference floor, so COMPEL me to visit your booth.
6. Don't send out an email from a different address than your own (Person 1 sent out the email under Person 2's name)
7. Sign the letter
8. Ensure that the email is being sent to the right person. My name is under the category of management in the database not meeting planner (The vendor has this information).

Chrysler recently launched the "We Build" tv commercial campaign in May. I think that they are brilliant. Why?
- Synchronized music, messaging, and visual imagery
- Use of powerful metaphors in both videos and messages
- Balanced use of people across races and genders
- Complementary music that is catchy

Here are three of them with links to the videos on YouTube along with the text of the messages.

Chrysler Town & Country
We build viewmasters, we build security cameras, we build troop transports, we build moving vans, we build tv stations…come see what we are building for you
>> YouTube link

Dodge Grand Caravan
We build dugouts, we build lockers, we build easychairs, we build radar systems, we build tv stations, we build starting gates…come see what we are building for you
>> YouTube link

Jeep Grand Cherokee
We build skyscrapers, we build fish finders, we build battery chargers, we build base camps, we build transporters, we build sanctuaries…come see what we are building for you
>> YouTube link

Additional Resources
- AutoBlog article, "Chrysler reveals more facets of 'We Build' campaign" (links to all 5 commercials)
- Reuters article, Chrysler, LLC launches new global corporate advertising campaign (gives lots of details and background)
- Chrysler Corporate Media website

Last week I had the honor of presenting one of my favorite workshops, "What Do You Do?" in Baltimore to the members of National Association of Catering Executives (NACE). Below is more information on the group. If you are in the catering or related fields, NACE is the organization to join. And if you are anywhere near the Baltimore, Maryland region, this chapter is the second largest and is very active.

I challenged the room full of more than 85 professionals in a variety of industries (e.g., catering, music, entertainment, flower, linen, invitation, photography, event designer, transportation, wedding magazines, event supplies (e.g., tents), and meeting planning). I challenged them to think differently, very differently about how they answer the most frequently asked question at networking events, "What do you do?"

Most people view the elevator speech as simply a tool for networking. It is so…so…much…much more. It is your core message. Everything that you communicate in writing, by email, in person, and on the web has to be synched to your value expressed in the elevator speech. It is not a gimmicky catch phrase–it truly focuses the benefits of what you have to offer in a 30 seconds or less.

I had a lot of fun, more than typical. Likely because they shared stories often based on a personal nature–these are often funnier than business stories. And because the group was so cohesive, they shared personal inside jokes during my workshop.

It was a great bunch of folks with giving hearts. The food was gourmet and delicious, the musician entertaining, flowers and linens beautiful, giveaway bags enticing, and so much more. Of course it was some of the best that I have ever experienced as these firms were also showcasing their talents.

From the NACE-Baltimore Website

NACE is the oldest and largest professional society that addresses all aspects of the catering industry. Through the collective efforts of members, local chapters, committees and the Foundation of NACE, NACE is at the forefront of the issues that directly affect you and your business.

From practical tips that you can use to provide better service to your clients, to recognition and marketing programs that enhance the credibility and professionalism of the field, NACE is on the cutting edge. From educational programs to standards, to ethics, to legislative monitoring, NACE leads the way.

Here are some pictures courtesy of Kelly from Kelly Burns Photography.















Professional speaking is quite a challenging profession. You have to be part educator and part entertainer, among many other things.

One of the most important aspects is the "re-telling factor." After the event is over, what will the participants say about your topic and their experience to friends, family, and colleagues? Will they refer people to your website, give out your contact information, and make referrals on your behalf? They will if you appropriately inspire, engage, educate, and entertain. Packaged together, it's the experience.

And to pass the re-telling test, you have to get emails like this!

I had the pleasure of attending your session several years back at the [XYZ] Conference.  As a testament to your storytelling, I remembered The Chief Storyteller tag and was able to Google and find you.

Being memorable takes time, commitment, perseverance, practice, practice, and more practice (I have been public speaking for nearly 30 years now). And most important, to use one of my father's favorite phrases, it takes tenacity.

I travel on Amtrak several times a year. A few days ago I received a tie-in promotion around National Train Day, May 9, 2009.

Amtrak was clever as it used an event to reinforce its brand, image, and message. The email was not a "me, me, me" message. Instead, it was an educational and informative one providing useful ideas and links.

Newsletters that we subscribe to are the ones that are read the most. Newsletters that have interesting subject lines, tie-ins, common sense offers, relevant content, and so on, are the ones that are read the most.

Additional Resources:
National Train Day


Chiefstoryteller_national train day_20090519

In the mail recently, I received this pink flyer. CASH FOR GOLD was facing up. What grabbed my attention was the color, not the phrase.

Gold is well, gold. It is not pink. As soon as my mind reconciled the mismatch, I immediately disregarded the message and the medium.

I am on a bunch of groups in LinkedIn. Within the groups, members can post pretty much anything that they want. I receive the messages all at once in a digest format.

In one day, I received the following messages from different groups, with these subject lines:

- "I have posted a poll on my home page – would everyone with a free minute stop by and take it? Thanks!"
- "Leap of faith"
- "What are you talking about !?!"
- "Business & Management"

On a scale of 1 to 10, here are a few criteria that just skim the surface:
- Compelling: 1
- Engaging: 1
- What's in it for me? 1
- Curiosity: 1 to 3, depending on the item

If you are going to ask for things, a favor, an action, consider your audience's point of view. Stephen Covey's Habit #5 applies perfectly: Seek first to understand then to be understood."

Before pressing on your computer, ask yourself, would my audience respond favorably to this request? It's all about the headlines. Headlines, headlines, headlines. In this case, Subject Lines, Subject Lines, Subject Lines.

As I was walking from the train station (metro/subway) to last night's presentation (American Marketing Association Mentor Program), three different people attempted to grab my attention. Here are the three attempts, in order, with some observations about why they were unsuccessful.

1. The I'm Way Too Cool:  Here was this young hip looking guy with a goatee walking up and down the sidewalk. He was carrying a bag of magazines over his shoulder with one magazine in his hand. The cover had graffiti-type on the covers. What was his enticing opening
line, "Check it out."

2. The Lurker: You know the type–you can see them a block a way. There was a woman with a clip board inside the doorway watching for her mark–the mark is a person who physically meets her survey profile demographics. What was her enticing opening line: "Excuse me, we are in your area conducting surveys. Would you be interested in…" by this time I already smiled the knowing "no-thank-you smile" and passed her by. I felt like prey for the survey hunter.

3. The Indiscriminate: Flyers here, flyers everywhere, just please take my flyer so that I can get paid. He didn't care whom he gave the flyer to just as long as he gave them away. Single focus, single purpose. In fact he was so good that while he was talking to one person, he was thrusting flyers at passerby's.

About a year ago, I blogged about a similar experience: Excuse Me, Do You Have a Quick Moment for the Environment? Here are the suggestions that I made then:

1. Tell us that you are looking to have a survey completed
2. Tell us the number of questions
3. Tell us how long it will take. The survey should be three to five minutes or seven to 10 multiple choice questions
4. Offer us a clear benefit (e.g., the results will help get us more funding to save wetlands, to clean up xyz area, and to offer a grant)
5. Ensure that your "ask" takes 20 to 30 seconds in total
6. Smile
7. Thank us even if we do not fill out your survey

An example: "Hello, we are looking for your opinion on how to help [blank]. The survey has 15 questions and will take less than 3 minutes. Can you help?"

My friend and colleague Michelle James (The Center for Creative Emergence) were having lunch last week. We started discussing Twitter and how confusing some Tweets can be because there is no context.

It is both an art and a science to communicate well within the allowed 140 character limit.

So we had an idea…use categories that describe what your Tweet is going to be about.

We came up with these key categories as a start:
- Article
- Blog
- Book
- Comment
- Event
- Idea (includes suggestions)
- Reference
- Retweet (RT if you have a Twitter-knowledgeable following)
- Quote
- Web (website)

As an example, here is my latest Twitter Update. Notice that I started with "Comment:"
Comment: Keynote this am. Talked to attendees last night. Interesting…they r looking 2 me for hands-on advice as if it were a workshop

What do you think about using categories?

In one of my LinkedIn groups, a person posted a question, "Consult: Speaking with an Interpreter…I have a keynote in Peru next week and learned all my Spanish on Dora the Explorer. Any tips regarding successful partnership with an interpreter?"

Several people gave advice of never use humor. I VEHEMENTLY DISAGREE.

People worldwide want to laugh, to be entertained, to smile, to feel good. A keynote presenter has the responsibility to inspire, entertain, then educate. And I would emphasize, so do any presenters. For educational sessions, the priorities are reversed.

The key is doing your homework. And if you think that you are not funny, use other people's humor. How about quotes and cartoons (The New Yorker licenses them for as little as $20 through CartoonBank)? And the best source of humor is you–your personal stories about family, work, and friends.  Just be sure that your humor is relevant to the topic. Whenever possible, test your use of humor on friends, colleagues, and in rehearsal sessions.

Here's what I suggested to the the keynote presenter who is presenting in Peru:

I disagree with anyone and everyone that says do not use humor. The advice comes from well-intended people. And the advice is given because most people do not know how to incorporate humor.

I performed over 1,000 improvisational humor shows live on stage and have been publicly speaking for nearly 30 years. The key to successful humor is do your homework. Like all of your messages, stories, supporting points, etc. ensure that your humor translates. For example, use a quote that says something funny in its learning message–particularly one that is Peruvian. Or a personal story that has appropriate humor in it. Be sure to wait for the audience to "get it" — that's the pausing part.

You are not looking for a gigantic belly laugh. You are looking to entertain (that’s what keynoters do – smile)

I am a HUGE fan of the Sci Fi Channel. I have faithfully watched several of its series like Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. I visited the website yesterday and saw that it is officially changing its name in July to better represent its image and outreach.
Well…let's just say that after reading the press release (in its entirety below), I am confused.  Based purely on what I could find on the Internet after doing some research, it also does not make good business sense.

Here are a five comments that all of us can learn something from to help us be better business storytellers:

1. Grade Level is way too high: According to the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (learn more), the entire press release comes in at the 17th grade level. Some of the paragraphs are above the 21st grade level. Most main stream magazines write between the 6th and 8th grade levels

2. Made up words: According to, Merriam-Webster online, and Cambridge Dictionaries Online, the words "ownable" and "trademarkable" are not in the dictionary

3. Why use a phonetically identical phrase? The name is changing from Sci Fi Channel to SyFy. This paragraph from the press release does not substantiate the name change.
By changing the name to Syfy, which remains phonetically identical, the new brand broadens perceptions and embraces a wider and more diverse range of imagination-based entertainment including fantasy, paranormal, reality, mystery, action and adventure, as well as science fiction. It also positions the brand for future growth by creating an ownable trademark that can travel easily with consumers across new media and non-linear digital platforms, new international channels and extend into new business ventures

4. Tagline is inconsistent: The new tag line of "Imagine Greater" attempts to be an easily understood metaphor. "Greater" is not a word that is commonly associated with imagination so it is a bit abrupt to read and mentally process. What I did find interesting was that the phrase "unlimited imagination" was used twice. Also, the last paragraph, which is the elevator speech, uses the phrase "fuels the imagination." Either would work much better as a tag line with "fuels the imagination" as my preferred suggestion. Both are easy to process, simple in concept, and match nicely with the vision of the cable channel.

The challenge that SciFi is having here with its tag line is a challenge that I find worldwide. Organizations have buried treasure–great words and phrases that really capture the passion and spirit of the organization. The problem–the phrases stay buried or worse, not even shared. Don't force your clients (corporations), members (associations), or partners/agencies (government) to be business pirates–constantly in search of your business story, key messages, value proposition, etc.

5. Brand Repositioning Unnecessary: The press release includes the following sentence–"Syfy also creates an umbrella brand name that can extend into new adjacent businesses under the Syfy Ventures banner, such as Syfy Games, Syfy Films and Syfy Kids." Why can't SciFi Ventures, SciFi Films, SciFi Games, SciFi Kids, and so on be used? The current name lends itself nicely to brand extension.

*** Press Release

New York, NY – March 16, 2009 – Building upon sixteen years of water cooler programming and soaring ratings growth following its most-watched year ever, SCI FI Channel is evolving into Syfy on air and on-line beginning July 7th, it was announced today by Dave Howe, President, SCI FI.

By changing the name to Syfy, which remains phonetically identical, the new brand broadens perceptions and embraces a wider and more diverse range of imagination-based entertainment including fantasy, paranormal, reality, mystery, action and adventure, as well as science fiction. It also positions the brand for future growth by creating an ownable trademark that can travel easily with consumers across new media and non-linear digital platforms, new international channels and extend into new business ventures.

Imagine Greater will become the new brand message and tagline, inviting both consumers and advertisers into a new era of unlimited imagination, exceptional experiences and greater entertainment. Syfy more clearly captures the mainstream appeal of the world's biggest entertainment category, and reflects the network's ongoing strategy to create programming that's more accessible and relatable to new audiences. Syfy will continue to celebrate the traditional roots of the genre, while opening the brand aperture to accommodate a broader range of imagination-based entertainment.

"While continuing to embrace our legacy and our core audience, we needed to cultivate a distinct point of view with a name that we could own that invites more people in and reflects our broader range of programming," said Mr. Howe in making the announcement. "Syfy allows us to build on our 16 year heritage of success with a new brand built on the power that fuels our genre: the Imagination. Syfy ushers in a new era of unlimited imagination, exceptional experiences and greater entertainment that paves the way for us to truly become a global lifestyle brand."

Syfy — unlike the generic entertainment category "sci-fi" – firmly establishes a uniquely ownable trademark that is portable across all non-linear digital platforms and beyond, from Hulu to iTunes. Syfy also creates an umbrella brand name that can extend into new adjacent businesses under the Syfy Ventures banner, such as Syfy Games, Syfy Films and Syfy Kids.

Additionally, as the Channel's footprint expands rapidly around the globe, aiming to reach more than 50 international channels by the end of next year, Syfy meets the need of a globally relevant, trademarkable brand that stands for something unique to the brand in each territory.

The new brand evolution will launch on air and on-line July 7th, in tandem with the premiere of the new scripted drama, Warehouse 13, and the return of breakout summer series Eureka. An aggressive trade marketing campaign will kick off this spring. will assume the URL at that time.

SCI FI Channel is a television network that fuels the imagination of viewers with original series and events, blockbuster movies and classic science fiction and fantasy programming, as well as a dynamic Web site ( and magazine. Launched in 1992, and currently in 95 million homes, SCI FI Channel is a network of NBC Universal, one of the world's leading media and entertainment companies.

I love looking at magazines, newspapers, television, billboards, packaging–anything that I can see and hear how words and images are used.

So when we left the Kyiv Boryspil International Airport I snapped the first picture below from inside our van. As you can from all of the pictures, advertising and its usage of words and images is the same as it is in the United States. Same is true with my visits to several other countries. All in all, powerful images with short sentences.

I probably took about 50 pictures of advertisements, banners, and signs. Mind you, not all were good (smile).

If you haven't seen them all as of yet, visit my blog entry from the other day and click on Super Bowl Ads.

I watched the Super Bowl ads with great anticipation. They are some of the most memorable ads of all time.

Below is a list of my favorites. I selected them based on the following criteria:
- How well they contributed to building the brand 
- Did the messaging resonate (both visual and written)?
- The strength of the call-to-action (implied or explicit)
- Was it memorable?

In no particular order, here are my favorites:
- Career Builder
- Doritos – Bus
- Sprint – Roadies
- Bud Light – Sphere of Summer
- Pepsi Max – I'm Good
- Coke – "Mean Troy" 
- Denny's – Free Grand Slam Breakfast (will it promote the brand)
- Coke – Avatar
- Hyundai – Assurance
- Hulu – TV shows

What were your favorites and why? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

During recent serendipitous Internet surfing, I discovered Wordle. It's really quite interesting and revealing if you use it to discover patterns and trends in your communication.

To explain, here is the about us from the site: Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

Wordle visually, by size, shows you word frequency. Sure you can make interesting pictures, art even. The real power is in word choice. How many of what words are you using? Does the output image make you think twice about the language and messaging you are using in your sales, marketing, development, and other communication materials?

I pasted in The Chief Storyteller elevator speech (the answer to "What do you do?" — first two images ) and my speaker's biography (bottom image). The images are below. As one would guess, "business," "stories," and "relationships" dominate my wordles.

You can change font, layout, colors, and a variety of other attributes. Become your own "Business Picasso."

Paste in some of your articles, website home page content, blog entries, membership documents, etc. Did Wordle reveal anything insightful for you?

I was at a client's office the other day and he was eating take out (take away for those outside the US) from McDonald's. I noticed the word "story" on the bag.

Headline: "A great story has two sides."
Text: "Take the McDonald's hamburger. It's sear-sizzled on the grill so both sides come out perfect every time. Whichever way you look at it, it's the one story that always has a happy ending."

I like the idea quite a lot.

McDonald's is all about convenience, good taste, and family. As such, here are a few and easy-to-implement suggestions to strengthen the packaging and messaging.
a) Put some smiling happy people pictures, especially children on the bag.
b) Tie in the story concept with your website. There is nothing on the main site connected to this advertising and message.
c) Include your website or a personalized website on the bag such as

I like reading the headlines on Yahoo!. And whatever headline strikes my fancy, I read.

If you are not familiar with advertisting and copy writing, it's all about the headlines. The headlines do the heavy lifting of getting you to read more, to act, to call, to write, etc. Headlines can also be verbal as with television news and radio news announcing.

Here's the basic process we all follow if the headline does its job.

a. Picture or headline attracts our attention
– Look below and you'll see the center image of Freida Pinto, one of the stars of Slumdog Millionaire. To her right is the headline, "Why 'Slumdog' caught fire" (click on the image and a larger, better quality version will display).

b. Subheadline explains just enough to whet our mental appetite
– Right below the headline you'll find "'Slumdog Millionaire" was supposed to go straight to DVD. Now it's an Oscar favorite.'"

c. Have a call to action
– Yahoo! includes a clickable link "» New starlet helps"

Article writer Jonathan Crow then delivers on the article's promise of giving us the six secrets. While #2 is all about the story of the movie itself, truly, all six of the items have a story to tell. Here are the six secrets.
1. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
2. An Incredible Story
3. Director Danny Boyle
4. Actress Freida Pinto
5. The Tourist Factor
6. Bollywood

In April of 2006, I first wrote about the banished words list in the posting, "Lake Superior State University 2006 List of Banished Words." Each year around the new year, the university publishes its annual list. You can now see 2007, 2008, and 2009. As I wrote in the previous blog, the reasons for why a word made the list is the best part.

From the website, "On Dec. 31, 1975, former LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe and his colleagues cooked up an idea to banish overused words and phrases. Rabe distributed the list on New Year's Day. In the following weeks, when nominations for the next year's list came pouring into his office, Rabe said he knew the list would endure. He was correct. The LSSU PR office still receives thousands of nominations every year from people who never seem to tire of talking about words and language."

From the history page, "The tongue-in-cheek Banishment List began as a publicity ploy for little-known LSSU. The University, established in 1946, was opened as a branch of Michigan College of Mining and Technology to make room for returning World War II veterans. Lake Superior State College became autonomous in 1970 and developed into Lake Superior State University in 1987. It has grown from the tiny branch college into an institution offering more than 60 degree programs in fields such as engineering, fisheries and wildlife management, biology, criminal justice, nursing, teacher education and more."

A few of my favorites for 2009 include "First Dude," "Wall Street/Main Street," and "Staycation." A few favorites from 2008 include "Perfect Storm," "Back in the Day," and "It is what it is."

- 2009 list of banished words
- 2008 list of banished words
- archived list going back to 1976

Additional Resources

- Speaking Multiple Languages is a Huge Benefit
- Are You a Leader in the Language Services Industry?
- Association of Language Companies

If you are a consultant, were a consultant, worked with consultants, then you will definitely laugh at the EDS commercial from 2000. It is a great metaphor with a great message provided you are looking at with the mindset that EDS intended. The "other" mindset is that of the client. Would the client see themselves as cats that only care about themselves? I would be curious to know if the ads worked as planned.

Serendipitously, I discovered it on YouTube. Text of the commercial follows the picture.

Real cowboys and real cats starred in the commercial. The cowboy's dialogue is what they would actually say if they were talking about real cattle, the longhorns. Instead they are talking about the cats, the short hairs.

Dialogue of the Cowboys
Opening: This man right here is my great grandfather. He’s the first cat herder in our family.


Cowboy: Herding cats. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s easy.

Cowboy: Anybody can herd cattle. Holding together ten thousand half wild short hairs – that’s another thing altogether.

Cowboy: Being a cat herder is probably about the toughest thing I’ve ever done.

Cowboy: I got this one this morning – right here. And if you look at his face, it’s just ripped to shreds, you know.

Cowboy:  You see the movies, you hear the stories – it’s…I’m living a dream. Not everyone can do what we do. I wouldn’t do nothin’ else.

Cowboy: It ain’t an easy job but when you bring a herd into town and you ain’t lost one of them, ain’t a feeling like it in the world.

EDS Messaging
Messaging Text Appears: In a sense this is what we do. We bring together information, ideas and technologies. And make them go where you want.

(Voiceover) EDS – managing the complexities of the digital economy.

Based on a Book
The commercial was based in part on a book by Warren Bennis, "Managing People is Like Herding Cats: Warren Bennis on Leadership" (click on the picture to visit Amazon).

Article Summary:  Words are power. Playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton said it best: "The pen is mightier than the sword." With so much of today’s business communication going digital — e-mail, text messages, thank you notes, job offers, holiday cards — what you say and how you say it are more critical than ever to strong and profitable business relationships. And nowhere is communication more important than in leadership positions. Many of us have had bosses who had an impact on our careers. During my career, two really stand out.

If you have any preferences or requests for topics, contact us by telephone, email, or leave a comment on this blog entry.

To read other articles in The Chief Storyteller Blog, select the category, Articles.

Great Leaders Know How to Put their Words to Work

© 2008. Washington Business Journal. Used by permission.
Ira J. Koretsky
December 12, 2008

Words are power. Playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton said it best: "The pen is mightier than the sword."

With so much of today’s business communication going digital — e-mail, text messages, thank you notes, job offers, holiday cards — what you say and how you say it are more critical than ever to strong and profitable business relationships.

And nowhere is communication more important than in leadership positions.

Many of us have had bosses who had an impact on our careers. During my career, two really stand out.

They stand out because of how each treated me. They were great listeners, gently offered advice, supported me, appreciated what I did and showed it. They were leaders, mentors and coaches.

Why did they make such powerful and indelible impressions? Our shared experiences. Experiences define us, and the stories we share about these experiences help shape the world around us.

We live through each other’s stories. Told right, business stories can have the same impact as personal stories.

Business stories are memorable, powerful packages that simplify messages. They are the engine of relationships, and relationships are the engine of business growth.

As a leader, it is crucial to tell the right stories and ensure the right ones are being told about you. Great leaders share their vision, knowledge and wisdom through stories.

The best stories have several key characteristics: They are simple, are easily understood, have immediate resonance, are delivered passionately and have a positive outcome or learning experience. Great leaders are great storytellers.

Whether you are speaking at a small, informal meeting or before thousands at a shareholders’ meeting, use stories to be a better leader.

First, know your audience as well as yourself. Your mantra should be, “It’s all about them.”

The story that plays well with longtime colleagues may not resonate with a potential client. The stories that impressed the group of visiting Asian chief executive officers may fall flat in Chicago. Understanding the audience makes the difference in building the relationship and closing that deal.

During some of my keynote speeches and workshops, I use an exercise called, “What is the Half-Life of Your Story?” It prompts participants to realize the power of words.

Here is an example of the exercise, which can be tailored to suit your group. First, read each of these phrases slowly: recent personal performance review, last big project, most difficult boss and best boss. Then, reread each phrase. What do you immediately think of? A person, a place, event, experience or emotion? Do the experiences that these words conjure up make you grimace or smile?

Great leaders reveal personal experiences relevant to their audience, and the goal of this exercise is to tap into your passion. Sharing stories with passion grabs and keep your audience’s attention.

Nowhere is it truer than in business that "we don’t pay attention to boring things," says John Medina, author of "Brain Rules."

Once you have identified your stories, think carefully about the words you are using. The words you choose and the stories you tell can elicit positive and negative feelings equally well. Words and stories have context and perspective.

Many words have multiple meanings, and tone and delivery can be understood — or misunderstood — in a number of ways. For example, the expression "You are crazy," can be playful, argumentative or even condescending.

People constantly look to leaders for guidance and advice. Remember it is all about them — your audience.

So, as a leader, what stories are you telling? Does your audience find them inspiring and positive? Are you evaluating their strong points and addressing their weak points? Are your stories generating the results you want?

If not, revise and practice the delivery, impact, timing, opening and closing.

Years ago, contracts were made by a smile and a handshake. The simple phrase "you have my word" meant something. Doing business is not so simple today, especially in light of a global economy with diverse cultures, backgrounds and languages.

Whether you own a two-person small business or are CEO of a Fortune 500 company, your words and stories matter to those around you. I believe words and stories have a very long half-life, perhaps hundreds of years depending upon what you say and where you say it (such as books, articles and blogs).

As you build your teams and your business, be deliberate with the stories you tell. Follow the advice of famous novelist Joseph Conrad: "I have no use for engines. Give me the right word … and I will move the world."


Ira Koretsky is the president of The Chief Storyteller®, a boutique marketing and sales consulting firm. He has delighted audiences around the world helping them achieve better business outcomes and accelerate their revenue with highly effective written, spoken, and social media communications. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after global speaker, columnist, consultant, and executive coach. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn®, and YouTube.


I was recently having lunch with my good friend and colleague Oz. Since Oz is Turkish, I asked him to help translate some business storytelling phrases into Turkish (see "The Customer Rules" — A Turkish Business Credo). Find links to the other languages at the end of this article along with several links to Turkey-related tourism and business websites.

- Business networking:  is baglantisi
- Business Storyteller:  is anlatim ve pazarlama uzmani (business narrator and marketing expert)
- Business Presentation:  is sunum
- Elevator Speech:  kisa tanitim konusmasi 
- Hello:  Merhaba
- Goodbye:  Gorusuruz (see you)
- Thank You:  Tesekkur

A request for you…contact me with the same or equivalent phrases and complementary phrases (e.g., relationship building, client relationship, and customer care) in other languages. As a thank you, I'll give you one of our business storytelling tip guides, list you as the source in my future book of languages across the world, and give you a free copy of the book.

Business Storytelling Phrases in the Following Languages
- Igbo from Nigeria
- Romanian from Romania
- Amharic from Ethiopia
- Turkish from Turkey

Oz's firm, InnoEngineer, helps you solve engineering challenges through innovation. To contact Oz, visit InnoEnginner.

- Embassy of The Republic of Turkey
- Turkey Welcomes You – Official Turkey Tourism Website
- American-Turkish Council (ATC), Washington, D.C.
- Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), Washington, D.C.
- Turkish-U.S. Business Council


Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Power of Paper to Connect People

I just returned from a wonderful trip to Appleton, Wisconsin. Appleton is home to Appleton Coated, one of the top manufacturers of coated paper. I spent the whole day with the team, first on a fascinating tour of the paper mill (see below). I was treated to a tour of the facility, how paper was made, the environmental improvement and greening approaches, packing, storage, and shipping. The storage was unbelievable with the robot system that stacks the gigantic rolls something like 30 feet into the air.

The afternoon was spent with the sales team refining their elevator speech (answer to What Do You Do?), leveraging and expanding their networking and relationship building approaches, and spending time honing their presentation skills.

To top it all off, I had the pleasure of having dinner with the team while sitting with John (CEO) and Ann Marie (Sales Director), the latter whom invited me to their regional sales meeting. The hospitality and friendliness of everyone are what makes traveling that much easier. Smart, fun, and nice people is all you can ask for. Yes and a great story too. "The Power of Paper to Connect People" is a great one!




Thursday, August 28, 2008

Watch Your Language

Something strange happened…In the course of just a few days, two people returned an email and said that you must have sent it to the wrong person. No. I sent it to the right person.

Here’s how the email went:


Body of the email.


See what’s wrong? Me either I thought. In hindsight, I wrote "jefe" thinking to be informal. In Spanish, it means boss. Neither person understood the reference. I then started thinking about how many other people did not understand the salutation either and did not let me know and instead ignored it. Luckily, I reserve "jefe" for those that I know well and as such, no harm done.

To communicate, we use three main parts (a) body language, (b) tone and cadence of voice, and (c) words you say. With jefe, I relied on (c) words only with no context given to the email recipient.

Going forward, I shall be a lot more careful of word choice when trying to be so informal.

* If you have any interesting or funny stories of similar good intentions gone awry, please share.

"What Do People Think of Windows Vista When They Don’t Know It’s Windows Vista?" is a phrase you will find on The Mojave Experiment. Microsoft launched a very interesting campaign to combat negative publicity and negative word of mouth about Vista. You will find more than 50 interviews and testimonials from average-off-the-street people touting how great the Mojave operating system is to use.

Then comes the news…"it’s really Windows Vista." Ahhh, the look of surprise and wonderment. The typical question of "really" pops up. It’s the typical before and after test we have come to see with so many products in the past.

Is Microsoft pursuing a quiet, word-of-mouth campaign? An Internet search via Google reveals on the first page, The Mojave Experiment and the remaining entries from bloggers, and from the tone, not too happy bloggers.

Wil Shipley from Call Me Fishmeal slammed the experiment. He has some valid points, especially when it comes to how perfect the testing room had to be for the computers, network, peripherals, etc. Where I disagree is in the marketing and message. Like any company or organization, the message gets you interested. It is up to you to do your research, homework, due diligence, etc. to make the decision to purchase and use.

Joe Wilcox from eWeek Microsoft Watch is another unfan. His blog entry says, "If we trick people, they will see just how stupid they are" referring to the experiment as duplicitious. Where I disagree with Joe is that Microsoft is doing what so many other companies do with before and after testing. Pepsi and Coke are famous or infamous for their blind taste test. Consumer product companies frequently do comparison, benefit-based campaigns.

So there are two parts to this…one is the message and one is the method. I believe that the challenges and issues that many of the bloggers and skilled computer professionals have stems from Microsoft’s history of releasing less than perfect software and from the fact that Microsoft is the elephant in the room and the 800-lb gorilla. Let’s face it, if you buy a PC, you are getting Microsoft Windows, right!?

No matter what anyone says, Microsoft and Windows have changed our world of productivity, communication, game playing, and so much more. I have tried other products from Enable in the late 1980s to WordPerfect to Lotus Notes in the 1990s and the list goes on. Gosh, my first PC was a TRS80 Radioshack with 16K of RAM with an external tape cassette recorder to store my programs.

When it comes to advertising, are you honestly going to tell me that there are not an abundance of shady characters and less than honest organizations? Why jump on Microsoft? Is it really tricking people? Misleading them? Caveat Emptor.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fun with Pets

While waiting for my oil change today at a local automotive store, I perused a variety of magazines for interesting articles and fun advertisements. Martha Stewart Living, August 2008 issue, had a great ad from Fresh Step® Litter (click on the image for a larger version).

The ad was so good when I returned to the office, I went to the website to see how FreshStep connected the ad to its messaging.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. There was virtually no connection and no call-to-action follow up.

Having just returned from my trip to Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan (see below for links), I am filled with stories and experiences. One I thought to share was the use of photography and headlines in magazines worldwide.

Having looked through thousands of magazines, from over a dozen countries, I can without hesitation say that advertising is the same world-wide. Language, culture, words, clothing, etc. of course are localized…everything else is global. Powerful imagery sells (aka sex sells). Short, compelling headlines rule the magazine advertising page roost.

For example, it’s one of the best that I saw…Maxim Russia May 2008. Let’s quickly look at the magazine page by page.
- Inside cover, two pages: Mercedes Benz
- Pages 2/3: Lexus
- Pages 6/7: Infiniti
- Pages 8/9: Versace Cologne
- Pages 10/11: Saab
- Page 12: Toiletry ad
- Page 13: Table of contents
- Page 14/15: Toyota
- Page 16: Table of contents continued
- Page 17: Cologne
- Page 18: Table of contents continued
- Page 19: Fahrenheit 32 cologne
- Page 20/21: Subaru Forester
- Page 22: Publisher’s letter
- Page 23: Land Rover
- Page 24: Masthead
- Page 25: Givenchy cologne
- Pages 26/27: Sony

And the advertising continues throughout the magazine with a tremendous amount of global brands advertising. Maxim has done well by its content targeted at a specific male demographic and advertisers are looking to capitalize on this fact, on every continent. The same holds true for every type of magazine. Consumer magazines that target lifestyle issues (e.g, health, wealth, and fame) have as you would expect, the highest number of photo-heavy advertisements.

The adage of think globally, act locally, remains quite accurate.

Trip Recap of Experiences:
Part 1: Yerevan, Armenia
Part 2: Tbilisi, Georgia
Part 3: Baku, Azerbaijan

"I do not care what you are going to tell me intellectually. I don’t care. Give me the reptilian. Why? Because the reptilian always wins." This is one quote among many from Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, author of The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as they Do.

I was first introduced to Rapaille during a PBS Frontline Special in November of 2004 called The Persuaders (Click on the menu item in the top right to watch the show episode).

His ideas, methods, and findings captivated me from start to finish. The book details "the unconscious meaning we apply to any given thing–a car , a type of food, a relationship, even a country–via the culture in which we are raised…The reasons for this are numerous (and I will describe them in the [book]), but it all comes down to the worlds in which we group up. It is obvious to everyone that cultures are different from one another. What most people don’t realize, however, is that these differences actually lead to our processing the same information in different ways."

He covers explains the reasons through five princples:
1.You can’t believe what people say
2. Emotion is the energy required to learn anything
3. The structure, not the content, is the message
4. There is a window in time for imprinting, and the meaning of the imprint varies from one culture to another
5. To access the meaning of an imprint within a particular culture, you must learn the code for that imprint

For example, and you will have to read the book to understand, the American culture code for youth is "Mask," for beauty is "Man’s Salvation," and Jeep Wrangler Auto is "Liberator."

It is a fascinating read if you are looking to learn more about communication, messaging, marketing, human behavior, and business storytelling.

I was doing some research and up popped an interesting link in the search. Thought I would share some slang words and phrases for baseball.

Reminds me of the jargon unique to each of us both personally with friends and loved ones and professionally. So think about your words and language used with new friends and business associates.

- Bazooka: Strong throwing arm. "He’s got a bazooka."
- Catch Napping: To surprise a less than alert runner with the result that he is picked off or suddenly caught between bases.
- Ducks on the Pond: runners on base
- Fireman: a team’s closer.
- Five O’clock Hitter: refers to a hitter who hits well in batting practice (which is held around 5:00 p.m. for night games) but not well in games.
- Hot Corner: Third Base.
- Lollipop: A soft pitch or weak throw.
- Mustard: Refers to a lot of velocity on a fastball.
- Pickle: When a base runner is caught in a rundown
- Rally Caps: A term for a superstitious practice among players and fans alike that turn their caps inside out and/or backwards in a close game in the hopes of getting their team hitting.
- Rhubarb: A ruckus with the umpires; confusion; a fight between players.
- Whiff: For a pitcher to strike out a batter.
- Worm Burner: Batted ball that moves across the ground hard and fast.

On my United Airlines flight to London, Heathrow on Saturday, I met Hope, one of the nicest flight attendants. I was leaving for my upcoming training workshops in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan with the U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation (CRDF) (future blog entries coming). As I was skimming the magazines, one of the flight attendants said "just one." I looked up, she smiled, and said, "just kidding, take what you want." She introduced herself as Hope.

For some reason I shared with her my on-going study of advertising in magazines–how advertisers use images and words to spur action by prospective consumers. After a few minutes, she asked "what do you do?" After hearing this, Hope insisted that I help her come up with a new answer for her response to what do you do. I asked quizzically, "why?"

Because when she tells people that she is a flight attendant one of three things generally occur: a) people share their most memorable unpleasant experience; b) offer unsolicited views on the airline industry; and c) share their complaints about the state of flying.  To avoid this situation, Hope tells people that she is a teacher.

She said that she wasn’t very creative. After a few minutes of asking her a few questions, we brainstormed and came up with several new answers for her to try. With the right questions, encouragement, and state of mind, anyone can be at least a little bit creative.

Hope’s favorites were:

- I’m a 37,000 foot happiness consultant
- I’m a cloud rider
- I’m a turbulence terminator

I am going to assume that you heard or read about The International Astronomical Union (IAU) declaring Pluto a non-planet. Personally, I shrugged off the whole thing and without hesitation, will always say that I live in a solar system with nine planets (photo Nasa).

Well, recently shared an article that shows that IAU is still ready to take on the world with more controversy. The IAU added more fire to the flames by coining a new term, "plutoid," as a name for dwarf planets like Pluto. Personal note…dwarf planet is a planet right? What’s the difference you may ask?

Well, the official definition of a plutoid is:
"Plutoids are celestial bodies in orbit around the sun at a distance greater than that of Neptune that have sufficient mass for their self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that they assume a hydrostatic equilibrium (near-spherical) shape, and that have not cleared the neighborhood around their orbit."

I’m willing to bet several million dollars worth of Monopoly money that even astronomers with three PhD’s are baffled by this definition. You know what it is…a compromise. A compromise by the participants to cover ever single contingency.

And ya know what else…according to Microsoft Word’s analysis of reading level, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score (I wrote about this score a few years ago. click here) shows 23. That means students in the 23rd grade level can understand these 48 highly confusing words. For comparison, you graduate high school at the 12th grade, college at the 16th grade, masters at the 18th grade, and PhD anywhere after 20th grade.

Author Robert Roy Britt from makes it very easy to understand: "small round things beyond Neptune that orbit the sun and have lots of rocky neighbors."

I am sure that you can figure out the communication and business storytelling lessons here!


- Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test from Wikipedia

- Talk at the 10th Grade level, Blog Entry

During my course as an adjunct professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, I became friendly with a student named Inde. Over time I learned that he is not the typical undergrad. He started and sold several businesses and is now returning to finish his college degree in his later years.

I learned that he is originally from Ethiopia. As such, I asked Inde if he could get me my seven magic words as I did for Igbo and Romanian.

Here are they are in Amharic! Find links to the other languages at the end of this article along with several links to Ethiopian-related tourism and business websites.

- Business networking:  Ye S'ra TeWeWk
- Business storyteller:  Negd Nek Te'raki (Commerce Related Narrator)
- Elevator Speech (30-second answer to What do you do?):  Achr Rasn Mastewawek (Short Self Introduction)
- Business presentation:  Ye S'ra Geletsa (Work briefing)
- Hello:  Tena Yestelegne
- Goodbye:  Dehna Yehunu
- Thank You:  Amesegnalehu

A request for you…contact me with the same or equivalent phrases and complementary phrases (e.g., relationship building, client relationship, and customer care) in other languages. As a thank you, I'll give you one of our business storytelling tip guides, list you as the source in my future book of languages across the world, and give you a free copy of the book.

Business Storytelling Phrases in the Following Languages
- Igbo from Nigeria
- Romanian from Romania
- Amharic from Ethiopia
- Turkish from Turkey

- Embassy of Ethiopia
- Ethio-American Trade & Investment Council (EATIC)
- 13 Months of Sunshine - Official Ethiopian Tourism Website

Dehna Yehunu.

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