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Article Summary:  With today’s communications so fast and furious, do you have the time to really process the multitude of messages demanding your attention? Of course you don’t. As a leader who has to communicate your own vision, how then do you ensure your messages resonate and generate the right actions? By surrounding them with compelling personal stories. Together, they make a business story. With our easy global access to diverse cultures and experiences, your words and stories matter to those around you more than ever before.  So Mr./Ms. Leader, what personal stories are you telling to inspire action? Do your audiences respond the way you intended?  [Note, this article was originally written for The Latino Hotel and Restaurant Association (LHRA)


Great Leaders are Great Storytellers:  Five Tips to Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness
Copyright © The Chief Storyteller® LLC. All rights reserved.
Ira J. Koretsky
July 2013, Published with The Latino Hotel and Restaurant Association (LHRA)

With today’s communications so fast and furious, do you have the time to really process the multitude of messages demanding your attention? Of course you don’t. You pick and choose based on what resonates.

So as a leader who has to communicate your own vision, how then do you ensure your messages resonate and generate the right actions? By surrounding them with compelling personal stories. Together, they make a business story.

If you were to look back over your career at the leaders that inspired you, I would bet part of what makes you smile when you think of them was their ability to connect to both your heart and your mind. Truly, only through business stories can you accomplish both.

During my career, two leaders have really stood out. When I think of Mike C. and Colonel M., I smile and remember fondly my time working with each of them. They stand out because of how each treated me—they were great listeners, they were great advisors, and they were great supporters. Over 26 years later, I am still friends with Mike C. Unfortunately, I lost track of Colonel M. when I left the US Army.

Why did Mike and the Colonel make such powerful and indelible impressions? Our shared experiences. Experiences define us. And it’s the stories we share about these experiences that help shape the world around us. We live through each other’s 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; in front of investors; or before thousands at a shareholder’s meeting, use these five tips to improve your own business storytelling.

Identify the One Thing You Want them to Remember
Ensure your business story has only one key message. In the absence of a clear message, audience members will either forget what you said or create their own interpretation. Think of your message as a headline—about seven words in length. To see the potential power of a headline, try this: Type a phrase into your favorite search engine. You will be greeted with hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of pithy, short phrases all vying for your “click me” action. Which one will you click?

“Texture” Your Story
Use a variety of language styles. Imagine you were in an audience listening to some of our greatest contemporary storytellers. They use a variety of techniques and styles such as metaphors, alliteration, and repetition. Be deliberate in your word choices. Be deliberate in using character dialogue. Be deliberate with your rhetorical devices (by way of example, starting several consecutive sentences with the same words is a repetition figure of speech called “anaphora”).

Make the Journey Relevant
Make your story pass the “so what” test. Invite your audience into your experience by sharing the WIIFM?What’s In It For Me. Well-told stories create a shared experience, which enables your listeners to understand your business message on a personal level. Your words should crystallize common values and experiences. Be sure to answer the audience’s question of “Why is this important to me?”

Only Share the Good Parts
Edit ruthlessly. You have at most, three minutes to share your business story. Don’t think the whole story has to be shared. It doesn’t. And it shouldn’t. Instead, rethink how you tell your story in a business setting. Typical personal stories told at parties involve boring parts. Lots of boring parts, with the good parts interspersed. The good parts make your story interesting. If you need a little help identifying the good parts, ask your friends and colleagues for feedback. Or next time you tell a favorite story, listen for questions and look for favorable body language. Now edit or omit everything else. Then texture your words around the good parts.

It’s All About Them
Once you have identified your stories, think carefully about the words you are using. Words conjure feelings and emotions. The words you use 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 variety of ways. For example, the expression “You’re crazy,” can be playful, argumentative, or even condescending.

Leaders are constantly looked to for guidance and advice. Remember it’s all about them? It’s all about your audience. So Mr./Ms. Leader, what personal stories are you telling to inspire action? Do your audiences respond the way you intended?

With our easy global access to diverse cultures and experiences, your words and stories matter to those around you more than ever before. Be deliberate with the stories you tell and the messages you share. 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 just received this LinkedIn note soliciting my attention and business. I thought to share it as it is an excellent example of what not to do...Following the note, I shared some thoughts and suggestions.

Hi Ira,

How are you today? I just came across your profile and thought I would reach out real quick and see if you would like to connect further here on LinkedIn.

I don’t usually reach out like this, but thought you may be a good candidate for my advanced leadership certification program and wanted to personally invite you to take a look at it.

If you are interested in learning more, let me know and I will introduce you to the right person on my team who can provide you with more information.

Here is a link with more info in the meantime:

Keep up the good work.

Your friend,

FirstName LastName


Here I share my impressions and offer some suggestions. My comments are preceeded by "Ira>"

How are you today? I just came across your profile
Ira> You are selling me a product/service. I automatically have my “cautionary antennae” up. When you use such a phrase, it sounds as if you casually, by accident found my profile. Since you are obviously selling me something. I really question the sincerity of the phrase, “just came across"

I don’t usually reach out like this
Ira> Anyone and I mean anyone, who uses a phrase like this, loses all credibility. Delete the phrase all together. Just start with “Based on your experience and profile, I think you might be a good candidate for [blank]"

wanted to personally invite you to take a look at it.
Ira> Messaging disconnect. You are personally inviting me to connect. In reality, you are going to connect me to someone else on your team. To me, if you are the face/name behind the brand and you reach out, you become my point of contact. You are not simply an inside sales person making and asking for an appointment. The relationship starts with you. This phrase further works against the credibility of the sender.

Keep up the good work.
Ira> Another throw away comment. You and I have never met. Leave it out.

Your friend,
Ira> Another throw away comment. Friendships take time, they don’t come in the form of an unsolicited commercial email, which is the legal term for spam. Perhaps this is a code word?


Moral of the story:  If you are going to send an unsolicited sale emails, irrespective of the medium:
-  Do your homework
-  Use relevant language that will absolutely resonate with your target audiences
-  Avoid clichés and throw away phrases
-  Excite my mind, pique my interest quickly
-  Share with me one or two benefits. Tell me why I should become invested in you
-  Respect your audience's time. Send well-written notes

I received this advertisment from Flickr. I like the content, style, layout, and message.

I would prefer to see a smiling person(s) instead of a flower. The message, in bold white letters, is "Smile." If the folks at Flickr really want to use a flower (assuming a connection to Spring), then use smiling people holding flowers or running in a field.

Your photography and imagery should always match the picture. Otherwise you run the risk of creating messaging disconnects. Messaging disconnects reduce click-throughs, success of call-to-action buttons, signups, purchases, and so forth.


Irrespective of your accomplishments or years of experience, everyone should personalize a LinkedIn request.

Here is a great example. Yesterday I received this request from a recent graduate. It was to the point, personalized, and short.

I gladly and quickly accepted.

If you can help Jimeisha, please reach out, especially if you in the Wash, DC area. She is seeking opportunities in disability services, education, outreach programs,and health care.

Jimeisha's profile:

I am a huge fan of audio books. On the plane, in the car, and on the subway I am catching up on my favorite business books and for pleasure books. A colleague introduced me to John Scalzi, who is primarily a sci-fi writer. As I do every time with new authors, I read reviews on Amazon, biographies on Wikipedia and Amazon, and ask the referrering person more about style and substance.

Reading John's bio on Amazon really piqued my interest. Reading the bio shows me he's a bit wry, funny, well-liked (he's won several awards), and has an interesting call-to-action at the end.

John Scalzi writes books, which, considering where you're reading this, makes perfect sense. He's best known for writing science fiction, for which he won the John W. Campbell Award (2006) and has been nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel (2006, 2008, 2009). He also writes non-fiction, on subjects ranging from personal finance to astronomy to film, and was the Creative Consultant for the Stargate: Universe television series. He enjoys pie, as should all right thinking people. You can get to his blog by typing the word "Whatever" into Google. No, seriously, try it.

I indeed typed "Whatever" into Google and John's blog came up first. I'm convinced. Now I have to figure out which book to read first.

Moral of the story:  If you have a personal bio on your website, LinkedIn profile, speaker one sheet, etc., have you considered, seriously considered changing it? Most bios are factual and chronological splashed at the end with the "Ira's married to the love of his life, has a wonderful daughter, and enjoys photography in his spare time." When I thought conservative was better, I didn't stand out. Today, my bio helps me more memorable and more engaging. My bio gives people reasons and opportunities to talk with me more about my background.

Try changing your bio....even if it is just a little.

Postscript 1:  I just looked at his LinkedIn page and this is his first sentence in his Summary:  "I write. I edit. I get paid. I fight crime! I lied about that last one."

Postscript 2:  Some people asked that I include my bio. The bio is available as a PDF on The Chief Storyteller website, is included with my speaking engagements, has a variation on social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, is included in proposals, and the list goes on. People always ask me about something in the bio.

“Think deliberately.” The mantra of a person who has made improving communications his life’s work.

It all began some 30 years ago, at a high school science fair. Ira had presented his computer program on the heart and the circulatory system. One by one, the prizes were announced...third...second...first place. After nearly 100 hours of programming evenings and weekends, he slumped his shoulders and thought to himself, “I lost.” Then...Ira heard the chairwoman announce, “We are awarding the grand prize to a young man who could sell me my own pair of shoes!” And his name was called.

For more than 26 years nationally and internationally, Ira has been building his communication skills into a well-honed set of precision instruments. Within minutes, he will fundamentally change the way you communicate.

His most pivotal experience was serving as a public affairs officer in the United States Army Medical Service Corps. Trained in giving and preparing presentations for military and civilian executives, he gained invaluable insights into messaging, communications, and storytelling.

Living on both coasts, Ira has held various leadership roles in marketing and product management. After earning his MBA from the University of Maryland in 2000, Ira entered into the world of leading edge technology. It was while working in San Francisco and Silicon Valley he began to adapt his skills for use with the new, technology-driven tools today’s professionals have come to rely on.

And like all good communicators, Ira loves the stage. He performed improvisational humor professionally with ComedySportz in a career spanning 12 years and more than 1,000 shows. While performing, Ira had this epiphany: “improv mirrors life.” Life experiences stem from random and planned connections with people, and it is these experiences that help us to bond quickly with audiences.

Ira is an active blogger and writer, was a guest columnist for the Washington Business Journal, and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland. He helped the a US government contracting firm win a $94 million multi-year project; Altum develop a proposal that had a 100% success rate in going to the final decision round; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) secure funding for the National Youth Fitness Survey.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Overcoming Marketing Myopia

I recently posed the question, “How do you really know what your customers want?” I offered a simple answer by suggesting the way to truly understanding what your customers want is through continual engagement with them.

I’m going to take that a step further today by offering another suggestion – the formation of a customer advisory council. A customer advisory council is a group of customers (and non-customers, too) who meet on a regular basis with representatives of your brand. Each of them would be paid a nominal sum for their participation and their purpose would be to serve as an external sounding board for your marketing team. Their candid feedback would be used to inform current and future marketing strategies and campaigns, with the intent of improving customer acquisition and retention rates.

The real benefit of a customer advisory council is that it allows you to define your brand, your products and your offers from the perspective of your customers and prospects. Too many brands make the mistake of defining these elements from their own internal perspective, based on the company’s needs and wants. This flawed, internally-focused approach was the subject of a 1960 Harvard Business Review article, “Marketing Myopia,” by Theodore Levitt.

The next time you encounter repeated customer objections to one or more elements of your marketing strategy, resist the urge to overcome them simply by offering more and clever rebuttals that merely aim to justify the needs and wants of your company. Instead, focus on why your customers are raising those objections in the first place.  Place yourself in your customer’s shoes and try to understand how their needs and wants are causing them to perceive your brand, your products and your offers.

Ask your customer advisory council for help in seeing the long-term picture from an outward looking perspective. Their insights, and your willingness to act on them, could mean the difference between a great marketing strategy and a mediocre one.

LinkedIn looks to be launching a major game changer in social media. I have not used it nor seen a demo. My opinion is based on the press coverage, release announcement, and screen shots. Google was very successful in creating hyper buzz with limited gmail email accounts. LinkedIn seem to be doing the same with a waitlist (see the bottom). We will see...

Here is the information from the blog post announcing the new, LinkedIn Contacts.


Have you ever wished for a personal assistant who reminds you when your colleagues are celebrating new jobs or birthdays? Or have you wanted to quickly pull up the last conversations you had with people before you head out to meet them?

Today we’re proud to announce the launch of LinkedIn Contacts, a smarter way to stay in touch with your most important relationships. With this new product, we bring all your contacts from your address books, email accounts, and calendars together with the power of your LinkedIn network. Contacts is available both on as well as a brand new app for iPhone. Over the coming weeks, we’ll start sending invitations to try LinkedIn Contacts to a limited number of members in the United States.

With the new LinkedIn Contacts experience, we’ve introduced features in three areas:

Bring all your contacts to one place

LinkedIn Contacts brings together all your address books, emails, and calendars, and keeps them up to date in one place. From these sources, we’ll automatically pull in the details of your past conversations and meetings, and bring these details directly onto your contact’s profile.

Never miss an opportunity to say hello

Get alerted on job changes and birthdays in your network, a perfect opportunity to stay in touch. Also, you can set reminders and add notes about the important people in your life.

Take it on your mobile device

Stay connected on the go. LinkedIn Contacts is available as a standalone app for iPhone, so you can stay in touch with your contacts wherever you work.

If you’d like to learn more or be one of the first to check out this new experience, visit to join our waitlist.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Branding Lessons from Social Media

I celebrated a personal milestone this week when I reached the 3,000 follower mark on Twitter. Later that day, a friend and I were having lunch when he asked me to tell him about my success. Without hesitation, I gave him this simple explanation. It's all about branding. 

My experience with social media has provided me with some powerful insights. One of those insights is that developing an engaging presence on social media is a lot like building a brand. I started by defining my brand, a promise and an audience. The next step was to deliver on it. Consistently and regularly.



Let me share with you ten branding lessons I've gained from my experience with social media over the last four years:
1. Be yourself.
       Your friends and followers will like you for the person you are, not the person who you think they want you to be.
2. Always be true to yourself.
       Actions speak louder than words. Your followers will see through actions that are inconsistent with your identity.
3. Make it about them.
       Share content your followers will find helpful, valuable or meaningful.
4. Engage them.
       Embrace the notion that you are managing relationships with people, not selling something to them.
5. Be present where they are.
       Establish a consistent presence across multiple social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, weekly blog, etc.).
6. Avoid unexplained absences for extended periods of time.
       Stay active and let your friends and followers know when you decide to take a break (or pre-schedule your posts).
7. Listen to your followers.
       Your followers are smart. Listen and learn from them. Share their content. Exchange ideas with them.
8. Know that real engagement is more than just the number of followers you have.
       Large numbers aren't everything. It's how you well you engage that matters. Kred (shown above) and Klout provide some measure of engagement in areas like reach, amplification, network and influence. 
9. Never buy friends and followers.
       Followers who are bought tend to be less engaged and are far less likely to stick around.
10. Respect and value your friends.
       When it comes right down to it, they are the reason for your presence (and success) on social media.


For more insights on brand building and social media, please see:
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• How Social Media Is Making an Impact on Marketing
• Why Social Media Should Be Part of Your Marketing Communications
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand on Social Media
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships

How do you really know what your customers want?

One of the most common answers I hear is, “Because they told us….” Yet, for me anyway, this answer only invites more questions. Who? When? What did they tell you? How did they tell you? Was it an interactive conversation? Are you sure you really understood what they were telling you? Have their wants changed?

If understanding what your customers want is the foundation of your marketing strategy, listening to customers is going to require more than a one-time investment in classic market research tools like focus groups and customer surveys. 

The markets in which you compete are evolving. Customer preferences and wants are continually changing. New competitors are emerging. The one constant is your customers are talking. The key to truly understanding what they want is continual engagement – through social media, one-on-one interactions, public forums and even sales calls. Getting in front of customers and engaging them in conversations should be a required part of every marketer’s job – from the CMO down to the marketing specialist.

Your customers are still talking. When was the last time you listened?

Last week I had the honor of being a semi-finalist judge for the The George Wasington University Business Plan Competition. About 35 judges discussed the merits and potential of some 30 business plans. Our focus was to select the eight lucky finalists. These finalists would then pitch on April 19, competing for over $60,000 in cash prizes.  We had some passionate discussions, laughed a bit, and in the end, chose some really interesting ideas. I am really looking forward to the presentations next week. If you are interested in attending, the link is at the bottom.

Brief Background
The GW Business Plan Competition, founded five years ago by Florida Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Annette Scott, awards over $60,000 in cash prizes to teams of GW students, faculty and alumni who have innovative ideas for new products and/or services. The Scotts' daughter, Allison Scott Guimard, is an alumna of GW's School of Business, class of 2005.

With 109 submissions from 12 schools at GW, participation has increased significantly over the years. From those initial submissions, 35 student-based teams were invited to write full business plans, and from them, eight teams made it to the GW Business Plan Competition Finals. These eight finalists will present their business plans and ideas to a panel of distinguished entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists and GW alumni.

Eight student-led teams will present their winning business ideas and compete for over $60,000 in cash prizes during the GW Business Plan Competition. The GW Business Plan Competition Finals are the culmination of a year-long series of educational workshops and active mentorship on new venture creation. Finalists will present their business plans and ideas to a panel of distinguished entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists and GW alumni. In addition, winners from previous years will be present to talk about where they have taken their businesses since securing funding in a previous GW Business Plan Competition. Registration and a full schedule are available here.

Final presentations and awards will take place from 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 19. The event is open to GW students, alumni, faculty, staff and members of the general public.

The George Washington University
School of Business
Duques Hall, 6th Floor
2201 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C.

Schedule for the day and to register, click here.

If you are planning to attend let me know, we can meet up there for some coffee.

The other day, Geetesh Baraj, PowerPoint MVP and Manager of the "PowerPoint and Presenting Stuff" LinkedIn Group posted the following question to the group.  My suggestions follow below...

Creating Slides for Multi-Lingual Audiences
I am researching a blog post topic -- since it is still being researched, anything mentioned below is not set in stone. I am open to all your thoughts and the scenario and the suggestions can be broadly changed as required.
Here is the scenario, and as I said, this is a broad definition that can be changed:
1. You need to create slides for a multi-lingual audience.
2. Everyone in the audience understands English to some extent, but they are not necessarily fluent in the language.
3. The presentation needs to distributed later to audience members -- and some others who were not present at the actual event.
4. Before distribution, the presentation may need to be translated to other languages -- this means that there needs to be some basic amount of text.

What are your thoughts about the use of:
1. Story / Outline: How deep should this be? Should the depth level be low -- will that compromise the content?
2. Text: What level of simplification?
3. Visuals: Should pictures replace text, or complement it?
4. Design and Color: What works best?


My response:



I've pondered this several years ago before I started presenting internationally. I have had the honor of conducting programs in 8 countries with six trips involving simultaneous translation. Here are some questions and suggestions.

1. How knowledgeable is the audience? Without knowing your answer, in general, I suggest ~30 to 50% reduction in complexity and content
2) The broad brush suggestion is to translate the presentation and handouts in advance. Bring your own version matched page-for-page with the translated version
3) Find people through your network whom have done business, worked in, or lived in the country/region and solicit feedback
4) Localize--always. For color, fonts, pictures, graphs, words, humor, etc. Some seemingly small things could actually backfire and you may never even know it
5) Consider an appendix or handouts with tips, examples, and how-to's
6) Solicit feedback from the audience afterward. Be gentle as you probe, as some cultures are not forthcoming with what they deem criticism of the speaker

When you think of products whose selling propositions are built around the promise of sustainability, which products come to mind? Green ones? Blue ones? How about gray ones?

If you said green ones, you might be right. Well, sort of. There is certainly no shortage of “green” products on the market today. Brands across many categories have added a green component to their products in an effort to appeal to one or more market niches, increase sales and demonstrate their commitment to the environment. Green products, as a whole, are largely considered alternatives to mainstream products and are often pricier. A common theme among green marketers is to ask consumers to make a positive change in one aspect of their consumption behavior, while permitting them to maintain the status quo with others.

Sustainability takes this call to action one step further. Sustainability is transformative. It seeks to reform the way we produce, consume and dispose of mainstream products.  Upstart brands like method®, the maker of non-toxic biodegradable home and personal care products, market goods that are designed to reduce health risks, waste and water pollution. Their products are priced comparably to others in their category, sold in aesthetically-pleasing recyclable packaging and available through mainstream and specialty retailers alike (e.g., Target, Whole Foods, etc.).


For method®, sustainability includes a focus on health, community and environmental impacts. Products like its naturally-derived, 2-in-1 dish and hand soap come packaged in a gray bottle made with recycled ocean plastic. Each bottle includes a blue tag around its neck with a short story of how method® is seeking to change the way we view the impact our consumption and disposal habits are having on our environment:

 "it's estimated that several million tons of plastic makes its way into our oceans every year, polluting the environment and hurting our marine populations...we're on a mission to change that. that's why the ocean plastic used to make the bottle you're holding was collected by us, method employees. we know we can't return the ocean to it's pristine condition, but we can raise awareness of the importance of reusing the plastic that's already here. that's something. [and] that's why I'm gray."

The next time you think of sustainability, don’t just think “green.” Think about the gray bottle atop your kitchen sink and the transformative nature of what it represents. Now that's something.

For other insights on sustainability and green marketing, please see:
• Simple Sells When Going Green
• A FRESH Approach to Going Green
• Maximum Fun Meets Minimal Impact

In last week’s post, I spoke of the importance of providing a great customer experience across the various business processes that define your customers’ interactions with your brand.

I started with an assumption of customer dissatisfaction and the need to improve your customer experience in response to this feedback. I talked about the benefits of a great customer experience – increased customer loyalty, lower price sensitivity and higher profit margins. And I left you with a challenge – how to identify the process improvements that are likely to have the greatest impact on your brand’s customer experience.

The idea of looking at all of the various business processes across an organization – digging deep into the complex sets of activities that comprise their respective processes, identifying root causes of breakdowns, implementing improvements and measuring the impact of your efforts – can be overwhelming. To simplify, try looking across the various processes for areas of commonality (e.g., are there one or two things that can be done better across all processes to achieve your desired results?). These areas of commonality are foundational elements. Addressing these foundational elements early on often yields the biggest gains.

One such foundational element is communication – who, what, when, where and how you are adding value to your interactions with customers – at every process during the customer experience.  Too often, organizations do great work and accomplish extraordinary things in service to their customers. Their customers just don’t know it because no one is communicating with them regarding expectations, status updates and resolution. As a result, your customers are left with an unsatisfactory customer experience that leaves them feeling unappreciated and undervalued.

In this sense, communication really is the foundation of a great customer experience. Finding ways to do it better across the various business processes that define your customer’s interaction with your brand will likely have the greatest impact on your customer experience.

I'm a big fan of Acai juice--healthy and delicious. As the Bolthouse brand was on sale, I tried a bottle. Not until I was ready to recycle the empty bottle did I read the "about us" message/story on the side.

After 95 years
of working the land,
one lesson rises to the top:
the best beverages come
from the best ingredients.
Crisp veggies, ripe fruit.
Delicious dairy.
All blended together to
make great-tasting juices,
smoothies and protein shakes.
Goodness in, goodness out.

It is a great message, shared succinctly in 42 words.

Two sugestions:  1) Include your slogan on the bottle, "A Force of Nature" and 2) Consider moving "Goodness in, Goodness out" closer to the top. Too often people leave the clincher sentence to the end. Instead, move it to the beginning.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Make Me Care

Today I was working with an executive client on her storytelling. Tanya wants to use more stories in her meetings, presentations, networking, etc.

As part of the first step of developing engaging business stories, we develop a story list.  This is simply a list of Tanya's favorite stories and a few notes beside each story title.

After sharing a variety of stories, I asked her to rank her favorite ones. When she identified her all-time favorite, I prompted Tanya to share it.

Nearly three minutes into telling it, I identified the "make me care" moment. 

During our discussions Tanya agreed that yes, this was the most important part...this was the business take-away. 

For you, two suggestions:

1) Shorten your business stories, generally to a max of two minutes. Three minutes if you are able to keep your audience's attention the entire time

2) Message/craft the words of your stories around your "make me care" concept. Be deliberate

Brand repositioning, or rebranding, is a process typically undertaken by organizations whose role in the marketplace has evolved over time. Its purpose is to change perceptions – both internally and externally.  Internally, processes are improved and employees are united under a consistent message, or brand promise.  Externally, the brand’s delivery of its new brand promise provides customers with a stronger sense of who the brand is and what it stands for.

Organizations who undertake a rebranding do so with the intent of building brand equity, increasing customer acquisitions, improving customer retention, strengthening customer loyalty/advocacy and increasing profitability.

If your organization’s role in the marketplace has evolved and you are looking to improve its performance across these metrics, then perhaps its time to consider a brand repositioning. Here are five tips for a successful makeover:

• Start with a plan that includes targeted milestones and an expected ROI
       A specific schedule of who will achieve what by when, along with the expected incremental sales increase for every dollar spent on the rebranding, will ensure timely, actionable and measurable results. 
• Test your rebranding recommendations on a small subset of your target audience
       The stakes of any rebranding effort are simply too high for anyone to ignore the need for testing. The impact of any repositioning recommendation should be measured among sample test and control groups before full-scale activation. Declining sales after recent rebranding efforts by brands like JC Penney and Tropicana underscore the importance of testing.
• Listen to your customers and non-customers
       Organizations who listen only to their best customers learn why those customers stay with them and nothing about why disgruntled customers leave, or why those who are not current customers might be difficult to acquire. 
• Leverage the experience and knowledge of your employees
       Marketers who lack cross-functional experience (e.g., sales, operations, customer service, etc.) or institutional knowledge (e.g., company, industry, markets, etc.) will find it difficult to make informed rebranding decisions and are less likely to obtain lasting organizational buy-in for the rebranding effort.
• Avoid the temptation to start over
       Organizations who have met with success in the past have obviously done some things right. Successful rebranding efforts build on prior achievements and the agencies whose creative talents fueled their progress, instead of discarding them.

For more insights on branding and brand repositioning, please see:
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• Your Brand Promise Is for Non-Customers, Too
• The Brand Promise of a Summer Swim School

For the past two years (2011 and 2012), I shared my top 50 business storytelling and communications mantras. As I plan for 2013, I always look to my list to light a small fire of inspiration.

As you look through this list, see what applies to your life or what you want to apply. Write your own list of mantras. Whatever you do, make a list (short or long) of your goals and aspirations. Every so often read, revise, and contemplate...

Here are the mantras at The Chief Storyteller. Think about this list and how it can help prompt new and fresh approaches to making your personal and organizational communications unforgettable. We would love to hear your mantras...please leave them in the comments.

Personal Storytelling & Communications
01.    People are at the heart of every great story.
02.    Stories are how people remember you.
03.    Use humor if you want to.
04.    Write in your authentic voice.
05.    Write and speak conversationally.
06.    Write emails as if they will be read on a smart phone.
07.    Tell more personal stories with relevant business messages

Brand/Organizational Storytelling
08.    Promise a better tomorrow.
09.    Know your elevator speech / elevator pitch / mission statement (core business story).
10.    Ensure your core business story is unified throughout all communication materials.
11.    Your brand story is everything.
12.    Success stories are key to differentiation.
13.    Social communities are built on personal and business stories.
14.    Deliver on the expected experience.

15.    It’s all about them.
16.    Relationships matter.
17.    Business stories are the engine of relationships and relationships are the engine of continued success.
18.    Credibility is more important than expertise in the beginning of relationships.
19.    Send hand-written thank you notes, especially job hunters.
20.    Active listening is key to building great relationships.
21.    Treat everyone like a CEO.
22.    Stop listening to your Mother. Talk to strangers at networking events.
23.    It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
24.    Treat every client like your best client.
25.    Be a deliberate networker.
26.    Be a people bridge and make referrals.
27.    Be a mentor.
28.    People crave connection.
29.    First Impressions Make Lasting Impressions:  offer a warm smile, firm handshake, and good eye contact.

30.    Write to the 10th grade level.
31    Content is king.
32.    (Good) blog and article content matters the most.
33.    Strive for “interest” questions. Avoid “understanding” questions.
34.    Content first. Design second.
35.    Always have a second person read your content before publishing.
36.    Design your website for your target audiences (not your staff).
37.    Inspire Action:  facts do not persuade and inspire, people do.
38.    Audiences are hungry for original thought-provoking content.
39.    Get yourself known (e.g., LinkedIn questions and answers, post to SlideShare, and Tweet good information).
40.    Speak in headlines.
41.    Maintain a detailed Ideal Target Profile for your key target audiences.

Personal Development
42.    But is the worst word in the English language (and many other languages).
43.    Words really, really matter.
44.    Have positive self-talk conversations.
45.    Change is a choice.
46.    Create your own success momentum.
47.    Be a student everyday.
48.    Be a whole body communicator.
49.    Avoid fillers (um, ah, like, you know)
50.   Be a deliberate communicator

A few weeks ago LinkedIn published its annual "Most Overused Buzzwords." Here is a synopsis of the findings:

When we ran the analysis in 2011, we had 135 million members around the globe. Now we have more than 187 million. Even though we added more than 50 million new members since we did the last ranking, the data tells us that the number one buzzword globally is “creative” once again.

As was the case last year, “creative”, “organizational”, “effective” are in the top three. This year though, more members this year described themselves as “responsible” and “analytical”, which made an appearance on our ranking for the first time. As a result, “dynamic” and “communication skills” got knocked off the list. “Motivated” is now ranked higher than “extensive experience” which was the top buzzword in 2010.


For all of you gamers and interested, Yahoo writer Chris Morris recently wrote an interesting piece about the voice behind Microsoft's Halo character, Master Chief. The article starts...

There's a lot we still don't know about Halo's Master Chief, but it's safe to say very few of us thought he'd be a classic rock DJ.

Steve Downes has given the Halo hero his voice since the very beginning. When he's not busy battling the Covenant, blasting the Promethians, or chatting with Cortana, you can find him on WDRV ("The Drive") in Chicago.

The 62-year-old DJ grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and while the 6'10" Master Chief's face is permanently obscured behind his helmet's shield, it's a safe bet he looks little like Downes, who's relatively short, sandy haired and wears glasses.

Downes is, in some ways, the Clark Kent to Halo's Superman.

Having played video games for years, the characters make or break a game. The characters help shape your world, your experiences, and your decisions. The stories you hear connect you on a deeper level to everything. They immerse you in an alternative reality.

Look at Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Sales hit $1 billion in JUST 15 days. More on this later...


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Imagine Your Story in Pictures

Imagine we are meeting for the first time. To get to know you better, I ask you to tell your story. You can probably think of a thousand words that would give me an idea of who you are and what you are about, right?

Now imagine I ask you to show me your story – with rich visual images and few, if any, words. Which pictures would you use? How would you arrange them? What would you want them to show about you, your organization or your brand?

One of the easiest tools for doing this is Pinterest – the social sharing site that allows you to tell your story with pictures. In its simplest form, Pinterest is an online pin board where members have the ability to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their boards and then share them with others via social networking.

To see how Pinterest can be used to show (and tell) your story, consider the example of my Pinterest page. These words – “Find your ‘True North.’ Award-winning marketing and sales leader, social media pro, fitness enthusiast and outdoor explorer who will move you forward” – appear in the "About" section of my page and tell my story. My profile picture and those in the boards below it – Fun and Fit, Brands I Love, Places to Go and Nature – provide you with a visual image of me and my story.  


Now...imagine your story in pictures.

For other insights on using visual images for business storytelling and branding, please see:
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• A Thing of Beauty Is a Joy Forever
• Using Images to Compel People to Action

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Powerball Fever Sweeps the Nation

So did you? I did. Normally, I feel sort of guilty, just a little. I'll buy 1 to 5 tickets, even if its triple digit millions. I never win and never expect to win. It's a guilty, light-hearted fun distraction.

For some reason, I bought a bunch this time. Not exactly sure. Is $550 million really that much more than $325 million (last big jackpot). Not in fantasy currency. Isn't human behavior fascinating?

The lottery organization didn't even have to advertise per's all built into the numbers. The numbers do all of the advertising. There are three hour or more hour-long lines in some areas.

Here's an excerpt from a Yahoo article that includes a fun video to watch:

The allure of the record $550 million Powerball jackpot has led to long lines across the nation at local mini-marts and gas stations, with Americans hoping their champagne and caviar dreams become a reality when the numbers are drawn tonight.

The jackpot was boosted Tuesday from $425 million to the now historic $550 million sum, which is expected to get sweeter as millions of Americans rush to the store for their last chance to purchase a ticket and become a multi-millionaire overnight.

Powerball officials tell ABC News they expect to sell more than 105,000 tickets every minute before the drawing. When the dust settles, more than 189 million tickets would have been sold for the half a billion-dollar jackpot. That's more than double the number sold for Saturday's $325 jackpot that nobody won.


Hope you can attend a great event next week -- "A panel of distinguished business leaders discuss doing business internationally and cultural competency as a strategic advantage."

Here's the text from the event:

Leverage Cultural Differences for Competitive Advantage!  Recognizing and leveraging cultural differences allows a company to be more successful and to gain a competitive advantage over those who do not.  To be successful a company must develop competencies that enable its workforce to move between various cultures and tailor their communications and problem solving skills in a way that is comfortable for each culture. 

How will your company win in markets that may be foreign to your business today but vital to its success tomorrow?  

Learn strategies to leverage cultural differences for competitive advantage from a distinguished roundtable of six business leaders.

Juanita Hardy of Tiger Management Consulting collaborated with The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to bring you a stellar morning event, "Winning in The Global Market: Six Leaders Discuss Bridging Cultural Gaps."

I met Juanita a while back and we became fast friends. I am sincerely looking forward to this event. As someone who has conducted business internationally, the panel will surely share ideas gleaned from years of working nationally and abroad.  The panel includes:

- Andrew Sherman, Partner, Jones Day International (Panel Moderator)
- Dr. Douglas Guthrie, Dean of the Business School for George Washington University and Professor of International Business and Management, Washington, DC
- Roger Lawrence, Corporate Vice President, McCormick & Company
- Ted Dean, Chair, AmCham China (American Chamber of Commerce in China), Beijing
- Desmond Fraser, President, American Certification Body Inc (ACB Inc)
- William Burrell, Director, US Commercial Services, US Department of Commerce

Email me if you are planning on attending and we can meet for coffee before/after.

Hope you can attend a great event next week -- "A panel of distinguished business leaders discuss doing business internationally and cultural competency as a strategic advantage."

Juanita Hardy of Tiger Management Consulting collaborated with The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to bring you a stellar morning event, "Winning in The Global Market: Six Leaders Discuss Bridging Cultural Gaps."

I met Juanita a while back and we became fast friends. I am sincerely looking forward to this event. As someone who has conducted business internationally, the panel will surely share ideas gleaned from years of working nationally and abroad.  The panel includes:

- Andrew Sherman, Partner, Jones Day International (Panel Moderator)
- Dr. Douglas Guthrie, Dean of the Business School for George Washington University and Professor of International Business and Management, Washington, DC
- Roger Lawrence, Corporate Vice President, McCormick & Company
- Ted Dean, Chair, AmCham China (American Chamber of Commerce in China), Beijing
- Desmond Fraser, President, American Certification Body Inc (ACB Inc)
- William Burrell, Director, US Commercial Services, US Department of Commerce

There is a discount for the first 15 people good through Nov 24.

Email me if you are planning on attending and we can meet for coffee before/after.


Today I delivered my "Presenting with Confidence" workshop to a lively and engaging audience.

At the end of the presentation, Judith (name changed) came up to me and we chatted about a variety of subjects. Then she politely asked if she could make a suggestion. "Of course" I responded. She suggested moving the "Story of a Sign" video from the middle to the beginning. "It's very moving and powerful" (or something similar).

Internally I cringed. She was right. I whispered to her, "Can I tell you a secret? I needed a change. It's one of my all time favorites...I have been using that video as the start to more than 50 presentations...I wanted to do something different...for me."

Then she dropped the hammer on my toes. She smiled and said something to the effect, "isn't one of your messages, it's all about the audience?" I laughed out loud. Again, I knew she was right.

My learning lesson for today...listen to the audience.

Friday's presentation on the Capabilities Clinic WILL start with Story of a Sign! Thank you Judith for the much-needed and gentle kick in the ...

Join NBPCI and The Chief Storyteller for the Nov16th Compelling Capabilities Statement Clinic.

It is *Free* for registered attendees of the NBPCI Executive Breakfast Event with Teresa Lewis.

Please visit our other website page with all of the details.

There are a few spots left for Wednesday's workshop in the Baltimore, Maryland area. Here is the information. Email Bjorn (contact info below) with any questions (or me).

There will be a meeting of entrepreneurs who want to learn the art of making great presentations. Mr. Ira Koretsky will lead this event. He has travelled the world training people and consulting to organizations on the art and science of great communications. Join us for a fun, engaging and insightful event.  

Ira will introduce us to his five-step approach. He will ask you to draft your pitch (any type of pitch). And he will ask for volunteers to deliver what you have done during the workshop. Ira makes your communications unforgettable. He helps you develop compelling messages to your target audiences. With better spoken, written, and online communications, you will expand brand awareness, improve business outcomes, and strengthen financial results.

Presenting with Confidence: Develop and Deliver Engaging Presentations in 5 Steps
Great presenters transform ideas into action. They put their messages, supporting points, facts, and personal stories into a meaningful context for their audiences. Great presenters do not just tell us what we should know, they tell us what we should do, and why we should do it. Learn the techniques of great presenters. Learn to develop engaging presentations of any type for any audience (e.g., investor,prospecting, partner, executive team, and board updates). Join us as we share the five key steps to becoming a more confident and persuasive presenter. Learn more at  

About Our Speaker
Ira Koretsky founded The Chief Storyteller® in 2002. Based on more than 26 years of experience, research, and refinement, he has developed a process shared internationally to over 25,600 people. This flexible process helps you develop and deliver highly targeted messages to your audiences. Ira looks at the world of communications and messaging differently than most. He looks at the world through the lens of storytelling, with a twist (come see the “twist” at this event).  

Meeting objectives
- Identify the best messages and words interesting to your listeners.
- Focus your content on answering the questions of your audience.
- Learn a new way of communicating and building relationships.
- Harness the power of storytelling to meet your objectives more effectively and more quickly. Facts can only prove, stories build value!  

Everybody, including entrepreneurs, need to pitch their stories to customers, investors, partners, and employees. Usually different pitches to different people.

Time and place
November 14, 2012 from 12:30 to 3:30 pm, Large seminar room at UMBC’s energy incubator (CETI)

1450 South Rolling Road, Halethorpe, MD 21227

12:30 pm Doors open & networking.
1:00 pm Workshop conducted by Ira Koretsky.
3:00 pm More networking (Ira will leave for another commitment).  

Please RSVP to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

We will limit the number of RSVPs to 60. This is likely to become a sold-out event.  This meeting is free and open to all.

- Maryland Clean Energy Technology Incubator (CETI) @ bwtech @ UMBC.
- Maryland Clean Energy Center (MCEC).

- Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development (DBED).
- Whiteford Taylor Preston (WTP).
- SB & Company.

Bjorn Frogner, PhD
Entrepreneur in Residence, Tel: 443-534-7671
Maryland Clean Energy Technology Incubator(CETI) at bwtech@UMBC

I'm a big fan of Dan Pink...While his article is about's really about words and messaging.

Here's the beginning:

This year’s presidential race has now come down to ten days and two people. But like many exercises in persuading, influencing, and otherwise moving others, it has also come down to two words – one for President Barack Obama, another for Governor Mitt Romney.

Which word prevails may determine which man takes the oath of office three months from now – and therein lies a lesson for your own work.

A few years ago, British advertising pioneer Maurice Saatchi conceived the idea of “one-word equity.” His notion was that today -- when all of us feel blasted by a daily fire hose of text, images, and ideas from our computers, phones, and social networks -- the only way to be heard is to push succinctness to it limit.

“What I am describing here is a new business model for marketing, appropriate to the digital age,” Saatchi wrote. “In this model, companies compete for global ownership of one word in the public mind.”

And what goes for companies goes equally for political candidates.

Dan continue discussing President Obama's word of "Forward" and Governor Romney's words of "Believe in America."

If you are a fan of words, content, meaning, and messaging, you'll enjoy Dan's musings.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Best Time To Send Email [INFOGRAPHIC]

GetResponse, an email marketing company, recently posted a blog on emails with an insightful infographic.

From its blog post, author Hanna Andrzejewska shares "We analyzed 21 million messages sent from US accounts in the 1st quarter of 2012 to determine top open and click-through times. We also analyzed the recipients’ top engagement times — all to test our thesis: sending times matter, and message results depend on reader engagement routines, not just a little but a lot."

Key Takeways:
- Emails reach the best results within 1 hour after landing in the inbox.
- 24 hours after delivery, the average open rate is close to zero
- 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. – 4 p.m. are the top engagement times
- If your recipients are occupied with other activities, they won’t be able to engage while it’s still fresh, and your message will be crowded out by more recent messages
- To optimize the engagement rates for your message, you should schedule it to hit the inbox no later than 1 hour before the top open times, when its chances of getting noticed are the highest.
- If your emailings go to worldwide lists, make sure you use solutions that optimize delivery times in different time zones, such as GetResponse Time Travel.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

When You Listen, What Do You Hear?

I went for a run the other day. It was a warm, sunny day so I decided to run along the roads near the gym where I work out. I left my iPod in my locker because I knew it would be safer to listen for the sound of approaching cars and trucks while navigating around the traffic I was likely to encounter. Then something amazing happened.

I started listening.

I encountered a stretch of road where there was no traffic. There I was, just a single runner making his way along a quiet road surrounded by an open field on one side and an untouched forest on the other.  Suddenly, it was quiet. So I started listening. I could hear the crickets chirping in the woods near the road. I could hear the birds singing. And I could hear the rhythmic sound of my running shoes hitting the pavement.

I never noticed the sound of my steps before. The steady beat became a motivational message of sorts. I enjoyed the sound so much I didn’t want it to end.

I started wondering how many other sounds and messages I had never heard before. I had been in countless meetings at work, lectures at school and conversations with others.  What did I miss?   

Here at The Chief Storyteller®, we focus on helping you and others like you tell your business stories. How those stories are perceived, however, often starts with how well you and your audience are listening.

When you listen to a story, what do you hear?

For more insights on listening and audience engagement, please see:
• Mobile Devices in Meetings – Rudeness or Engagement?
• How Engaged Are Your Meeting Participants?
• 10 Content Planning Questions for Getting Conference Attendees to Choose the Ballroom Over the Pool

One of the greatest aspects of the Washington, DC area is the international flavor. Embassies, organizations, multi-national corporations all dot the landscape. We are exposed to hundreds of cultures, languages, and traditions.

When it comes to selling and building relationships, you have to “think locally,” no matter where you are in the world. 

This email arrived in my inbox a few days ago. To be blunt, everything about this email screamed “from another country.” Based on the words, visuals, name of the company, and its website, I was surprised to find it was owned by a local business owner. Since the company has been in business since 2006, most of the items noted below should have been avoided.

For U.S. business-to-business markets, there are a few key areas to be keenly aware of:

a) Words:  How we message. The language is assertive, short, and should be results-centered
b) Visuals:  Must immediately demonstrate professionalism. To be effective, your graphics, pictures, charts, colors, etc. must be synched to the message
c) The Ask:  Be subtle or be bold. Do not be presumptuous. 


As I review this email, I’ll share with you some suggestions based on these three areas. 

The image below is a screen print (low resolution) of the email with numbers that correspond to a review and tips.

1. The email is addressed to “Helpdesk” and the Subject is “Introduction - Years 2012 Promotion Rates for Payroll and Accounting Services.” Please personalize the To and use a compelling subject line. The subject line is responsible for as much of 80% of the reasons people open an email

2. The company’s logo (blue smudge) is here. The placement seems like an afterthought. The brand and colors are all out of synch

3. Year 2012 Promotion. The visuals and quality of the graphics should be very professional. This email presents a cacophony of colors, shapes, fonts, and font sizes. 

4. Is Proud to announce... Why would you be proud to share your what most would perceive is a discount? Plus, it is September, nearly 3/4 of 2012 is over. There is a mismatch

5. Five (05). Lawyers and people from other countries use both words and parentheses for numbers. 

6. Seven small boxes of services and items are presented in four colors. Plus there are 10 other colors being used. Confusing.

7. Contact Information:  The membership associations are unimportant at this stage. Grab our attention, get us to visit your website…then share the associations. Why is the cell phone number in red and in a larger font? In the U.S., the word Toll means pay. 

8. The signoff states, “Thanks for the time in reading this email. We expect your business with us.” Ouch. You expect! Now that's presumptuous. Should someone have actually read down the email this far, most would delete based on this line alone. 

9. Text is way too small.

10. Email contact address is helpdesk. Again, we are not your customers. We don’t need a helpdesk, yet. If we are interested, we want to connect to a person about your services and products.

When The Chief Storyteller team does work (and when we travel) with individuals and organizations from other countries, we conduct extensive research on the organization, culture, brand, sensitive issues, language, country culture, and more. To be successful in the U.S. requires the same diligence, whether you live here or are doing business from another country.


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