Last year I delivered the worst presentation of my career. I’ve tried to forget it. I have since made up for it with many successful, impactful presentations that have engaged and added value to my audience. The difference between that one disaster and the many successful presentations before and after that episode over my career is in the story telling.
In the great ones, I was relaxed, knew my audience and built their respect quickly with the backstory and relevant tales. They left with a number of useful “takeaways” that they could use immediately after being inspired by these true stories. The worst one quickly created a hostile audience that momentarily tripped me up and made me fall back on theory, product and widget. I temporarily forgot the art of story telling. It was hard for me to recover after that. Some things you just have to move on from. Onwards and upwards as they say.
I have enjoyed being involved with many successful Ceo’s over the years. Savvy chief executives I have known understand how to tell their (and their company’s) story. Yes the numbers are important, but only when woven together by the magical (and sometimes terrifying) story that helps make sense of the numbers. We can relate to the story in some way.
The product, service and the experience are vital, but it’s the story that capivates and attracts early adopters and then the follower market. Refining, refreshing and adapting this story along the way in a relevant and impactful way to your target audiences including your own team, suppliers, partners, clients and the market is vital.
The art of story telling is learned really early on in life if you are lucky. If you can draw on this you will be ok. Have you ever told your children a story “out of your imagination” rather than reading out of a book? Have you ever told a story around a campfire? It’s about theatre of the mind, setting the scene, relating to your audience and having good timing. A beginning. A middle. An end. Many of us tell stories each day around the water cooler, at the barbeque over the weekend and in our favourite coffee shop.
There is no doubt about it for me, the secret to successful business is in the story telling. We have had some success in this at Alexander Communications through both our keynote presentations and our case studies - effectively stories about what our clients are doing to communicate with their audiences. What has particularly interested me is observing some of the world renowned business leaders who have visited New Zealand. I have been been involved with a few international management consultants recently. I hold these experiences in a special place. I have helped to share their story with New Zealand business leaders. Meeting Tom Peters, Jack Daly, Li Cunxin, Michael E. Gerber and many other local thought leaders has inspired and taught me in so many ways. I have interviewed a number of these leaders at the New Zealand Herald, on Livemygoals.com and Unlimited.co.nz and there are many recurring themes in the tales of these leaders rise to the top of their professions.
One of the observations I have about these thought leaders is that they have honed and crafted their story over time and had success in their own backyards, often writing a book ( or many) about their thoughts and experiences and use this as a story telling medium. They then tell the same story all around the world, adapting as they go along, just like your average Rock and Roll, Hip Hop or Country Music star- they learn their lyrics and tell their story more and more effectively, with authenticity and keeping it fresh, engaging with their audiences and adapting all the time.
Successful Ceo’s and business leaders are in touch with good and accessible stories and share them regularly. The stories are then easy to repeat and share with others. Its not about the widget, but about capturing hearts and minds.
Some of the things I learned from Tom Peters, Jack Daly, Li Cuxin and Michael E. Gerber:
- Write a book (or a few)
- Stick at it – invest 10 000 hours or more at your craft
- Have good timing (in your delivery), know how to read your audience
- Understand that you will affend some in your audience, maybe even shock some , but you will do so in a way that is congruent with your brand. Keep the surprises relevant to your message.
- Apply your knowledge using international and local stories that your audience can relate to, but keep them out of their “comfort zone”
- Dress distinctively. Jack wears monogrammed shirts, Michael wears a panama hat and either full white of full black dress suit. Li Cuxin dresses simply but charms people with stories of his family
- Some of these people are naturally shy, but overcome this on the stage to tell their story
- Pick up local and relevant examples along the way- use this to create content for the future
- Use teleseminars and webinars to engage interested people ahead of your address. This enables you to pick up local questions ahead of your trip. This works equally well for Kiwi’s and Aussies branching out into other markets.
There are many other techniques that the best story tellers use. What are yours? What do you observe from the stories that business leaders around you tell? My own perspective is that the most engaging stories are the “warts and all” stories where we can all learn something from the story teller’s experience. No one likes, or even believes the perfect story… the one without pitfalls, trials and tribulations.
Stories can help you build your support, your team, your business.
How is your story unfolding?