Meetings & Conventions: Short Cuts April 1998
Short Cuts:SPINNING A YARN
Once 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
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
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
"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
If you had an extra hour each day, how would you
"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
"I would be good for a change and exercise, and I would
stop feeling guilty because I never have enough time to fit that
Vivien Maier, CMP
Vivien Maier & Associates
"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?"
Event Planning Assistant
State Farm Insurance
Westlake Village, Calif.
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