April 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Short Cuts April 1998 Current Issue
April 1998
Short Cuts:

Antidote to boredom: Learn to tell a good storyOnce upon a time there was a corporate executive who lived in fear of public speaking. And with good reason: He was an incredibly boring speaker.

Once his weakness was discovered, the company did a good job of keeping this executive far from the podium. Then one day his new CEO said she needed him to make a very important presentation to a very, very important audience. The horror! Hoping to drown his sorrows, he headed for the coffee machine. There, grabbing a quick cup, was a woman he had often seen working late into the night. Distraught, the executive poured out his problems to this virtual stranger(who was, of course, the corporate meeting planner). She listened attentively and smiled. "Tell them a story," she said.

He sadly shook his head. "It's a great idea," he admitted, "but I don't know how to tell a story."

Communications experts agree with the planner's advice. Speakers should use stories "so that the information makes sense, so that presentations don't become data dumps and so that you can elicit emotional responses from the audience," says Peter Giuliano, founder and chairman of the Englewood, N.J.-based Executive Communications Group (www.ecglink.com), a communications and leadership consultancy.

Experts also agree that anyone can learn to tell a story. Giuliano starts by asking clients to recall their childhoods. "I ask them to remember the first story that comes to mind. Sometimes it's a fairy tale, sometimes a cartoon. When I snap them out of that, their faces all have this whimsical, emotional look."

A good storyteller, according to Giuliano, "is someone who really connects with an audience and uses her body language and voice to paint the story." Good eye contact with the audience helps, too.

"Audiences like stories," notes Michael Egan, president of Michael Egan & Associates (www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~mee), a Narragansett, R.I.-based management consultancy, and author of Would You Really Rather Die Than Give a Talk?The Comic-Book Guide to Brilliantly Surviving Your Next Business Presentation (Amacom, New York City). "In addition, a narrative with a point that can demonstrate an idea has much more impact than merely stating the idea."

He recommends casting stories in a popular plot format, the tale of "a heroic individual who overcomes challenges and triumphs in the end the Rocky, Rambo, Star Wars formula. It has the effect of enlisting the support of an audience that is accustomed to sympathizing with a heroic central figure." He adds, "The value of this formula is that it can be adapted to almost any situation without looking formulaic."

So our poor executive consulted with Giuliano and read Egan's comic book. Then he gave a presentation woven around a story so compelling that people are still talking about it. And six months later, when the new CEO was fired, guess who took her job?



If you had an extra hour each day, how would you use it?

"I would spend it doing things with my family, because they complain all the time that I never have enough time. This would give me enough time."
Deidre Ross, CMP
Director of Conference Services
American Library Association
Chicago, Ill.

"I would be good for a change and exercise, and I would stop feeling guilty because I never have enough time to fit that in."
Vivien Maier, CMP
Vivien Maier & Associates
Seattle, Wash.

"I would spend the extra hour shopping. Malls, outlets, department stores, whatever is closest. I'd only have an hour. I'd buy clothes, of course. What woman wouldn't?"
Marcia Ruff
Event Planning Assistant
State Farm Insurance
Westlake Village, Calif.

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