A Star and a Suggestion


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One of our highest needs is appreciation. This is true even if you are not normally needy!

My daughter was telling me her violin teacher has created a simple way for the kids to appreciate one other after a performance. They use a system called “star and a suggestion.” A star would be one thing I liked about your violin playing, and a suggestion is one thing to do better/differently. A simple frame and an easy way for kids to learn the art of appreciation.

Business, of course, is a much more hard-nosed place. We, as employees, want our individuality and our contributions at work recognised in some way. Imagine our delight if we are recognised as customers.

A group of customers was invited to test out a new model ATM for TD Bank in Canada. When they tested these ATMs, they found out that they were Automated Thanking Machines and not Automated Teller Machines. The ATMs spat out gifts instead of balances, not just mundane movie tickets but well thought-out gifts. A mother with a sick daughter in Trinidad received a plane ticket. Another parent received a family pack of passes to take her kids to Disneyland. Through #TDThanksYou day, the bank thanked over 30,000 customers—some receiving money in their bank accounts at a branch or via direct deposit. The emotionally heartfelt responses of their customers speak to the thoughtfulness of this idea.

The #TDThanksYou day event continues to this day following its successful launch in 2014.

#TDThanksYou day poses a challenge for all of us in business. It raises the bar. While we might have plenty of suggestions for our customers, how can we give them a star?

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

Shhh this is private…


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Our biggest fear with storytelling is that we might disclose too much. It is after all storytelling and not group therapy! At work, no one wants to be like that friend on Facebook who overshares.

The paradox is that successful storytelling requires vulnerability. This then begs the question—how can we do storytelling and do it well?

When working with clients, I suggest thinking in terms of ‘storytelling wells’. These wells are what you use to draw your stories. They provide you with storytelling ideas. The wells help us strike a balance between vulnerability and oversharing.

Public story well

These are stories that are available in the public domain.
For example, check out how thought leader Carolyn Tate uses the Golden Buddha story (available in the public domain) to create a link to her message. You could use this story too and land it on a message that is relevant to your audience.

Professional story well

These are stories about things that happen at work. Zappos is an online retailer with a core value to ‘deliver WOW through service’. A legendary customer service story is how Zappos shipped a pair of shoes at no charge to a customer whose Zappos shoe order had been delivered to the wrong location. The customer was a best man at a wedding, and the replacement order literally saved the day.

Personal story well

This is powerful stuff in business yet it requires some level of self-disclosure and vulnerability. Here is an example of a personal story I share on my website and LinkedIn profile.

Private story well

These are stories you decide not to share; they are private. You as the storyteller decide what is private for you. Sometimes a client wants to share a story about having undergone a serious illness. The test I recommend my clients use is, what is the purpose of this? And how does this serve the room (help your audience)? If the line between personal and private is blurry, this simple test can help you.

Understanding and using these storytelling wells prevent your stories from floundering on the rocks of inappropriate disclosure.

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

Revenge of the analogue?


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Every year, I do an annual holiday with my oldest childhood friends. A ‘girls only’ holiday, no partners or kids. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my year. Last year, one of my friends brought some of the letters we had written to each other when we were teenagers. We read the letters aloud to each other, all of us often convulsing in fits of laughter. Oh, the angst of being 18, our ability to make mountains out of molehills and the all-important self-aggrandizement.

The smell of the old letter paper, the faded and splotchy ink on the page and the now-obsolete aerograms brought back a flood of memories.

We may never see the rise of the handwritten letter again, but we are starting to see a new dance with the analogue: the resurgence of vinyl records, the soaring sales of moleskin notebooks and even the revival of film, as in film for your camera. Interestingly, this isn’t just fuelled by the nostalgia of middle-aged customers but actually driven by a new breed of younger consumers.

David Sax, in Revenge of the Analogue: Real things and why they matter, explains, ‘surrounded by the digital, we now crave experiences that are more tactile, and human centric.’

This isn’t a call to embrace our inner ‘Luddite,’ for those of us who still have one, that is. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s a recognition that big business has thrown out the analogue baby with the bathwater. So, when we design high-tech digital strategies, what are some high-touch analogue things we can do for our customers? Every business definitely needs a digital strategy, but, if you were to map an analogue strategy, what would it look like?

Please comment; I would love to hear from you!

What drives us to reach our potential?


Beer and diamonds…how to showcase your ‘uglies’


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Recently I was walking past a popular bar near my house and the ad in the window said:

‘Over rated
Beer too cold
No empty seats’

The tag line: ‘Come in and see why 7% of people don’t like us’.

I love it – taking a negative and crafting it into a positive narrative, using humour and authenticity. An anti-ad ad.

In a hyped-up world, where most products pretend to be perfect, the ugly ducklings stand out. Especially uglies that are comfortable in their skin and craft it into a strength.

What does this have to do with diamonds you ask? In the Argyle diamond mines in Australia, the diamonds mined were all brown. A potential marketing catastrophe. Customers eagerly seek glistening white diamonds, known as Champagne diamonds. Might customers spurn what seemed like an inferior diamond, based on its colour? Urban legend has it that the global advertising company, Saatchi & Saatchi, were paid mega bucks to solve this challenge. They came up with the idea of calling brown diamonds, Cognac. So diamonds range from Champagne to Cognac. Sheer genius.

So what needs to be considered when we showcase our ‘uglies’?

  • It can’t be a ‘faux’ ugly. You know, like the interview candidate who, when asked for their weaknesses, says ‘Oh. I’m a perfectionist’. Right! Next. No, it’s got to be real – not fishing for compliments – that is just annoying and twee.
  • Don’t fake it. Don’t call attention to uglies that exist only in your imagination. A speaker might apologise for their accent when the audience is thinking, what accent?
  • Sometimes it’s OK to admit to an ugly – an undeniable one –acknowledge it (customers love honesty), and then switch to focus on a positive.

So how are you going to turn your uglies around? Please share I love hearing from you.

The immutable law of storytelling success


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I am an economist by training (please don’t stop reading here!).  One of the most famous laws in economics is The law of diminishing returns.  In everyday language the law  tells us that,  after a point in time the more you put into something the less you get back.

The law of diminishing returns has broader applications not just in economics but across life. In a call centre, for instance, service level improvements decline in proportion to each additional successive agent added.  An example that a lot of people can relate to is how good that first piece of cake tastes ..the second piece not that good and the third piece yuck….diminishing returns in operation.

So what does this have to do with storytelling?  Storytelling like most things in life is subject to this law.  Do you remember the famous line popularised by the film Jerry Macguire?  This is when Jerry Macguire (Tom Cruise) flies back home to meet Dorothy (Renée  Zellweger) to tell her that he loves her.  She tells him “You had me at hello“.  Our challenge is to find that same ‘sweet spot’ in our stories where we have our audience and to stop our stories there….sadly it’s unlikely to be at hello.

Perversely I think for storytellers that sweet spot is when you end at the exact right moment.  There is a point in your story where you have your audience – and if your story continues beyond this point you actually start to lose them, as the law of diminishing returns kick in.

That is one of the reasons why over-long stories simply don’t work.  Quite often with  long stories there is a lot of unnecessary detail and the point is often laboured or repeated.  The only way to know is to practice and bounce your story against a trusted colleague and gauge where the best place to end your story is.  End your story at the right point, at the top of the curve and you get the optimum results for your story.  Just like cake with storytelling it is knowing when to stop.

Beyond Binary: How to grab your audience’s attention 


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“We work with people who only want the data; the facts. Do I just stick with facts or tell stories?” This is a frequent statement I hear from leaders all over the world.

Most leaders stick with just the data, often stemming from their subject matter or technical expertise. Unsurprisingly, this results in little or no audience engagement and very little recall. On the other hand, a few leaders use stories only, and this can feel hollow: where is the data to back it up?

When it comes to data versus stories, we are asking if we should appeal to people’s heads or their hearts? Much as we like to believe that people are rational beings and that appealing to their heads with logic should persuade them, we know this to be far from the truth. If logic alone does the trick, life would be so easy: we could tell people the logical thing to do and they would do it!

Sally Hogshead, the author of How To Fascinate, says 100 years ago our attention span was 20 minutes. Today our attention span is nine seconds. You read that right: nine seconds. We have essentially become mean, lean scanning machines –  a survival mechanism that gets us through the challenges of living with daily information tsunamis.

Interestingly, the nine-second stat applies only to data. The minute we engage with emotion and story, a much wider window of attention opens up.

So it’s time to move beyond binary: yes, use data, but also connect, engage and inspire with the right story.

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

Sorry, I have bad news…


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Recently an oncologist friend shared how the hardest part of his job is giving patients bad news. It’s the toughest communication that anyone has to impart or receive.

Leaders are often  the bearers of bad news. Not life and death but job losses, restructures, demotions. So how can we deliver bad news and leave people with their dignity intact and some hope for the future?

Make it private
The best way to deliver bad news is face to face and ideally one on one, not a mass meeting and definitely not in an email. A few years ago Denise Cosgrove, the then CEO of Victorian WorkCover Authority, sent an email after a public holiday describing a lovely spa weekend she had in Daylesford. She talked about how she was loving the role, the organisation and the people. And finally the punch line: ‘We’re proposing some immediate restructuring and changes to roles and unfortunately this will result in some job losses’. The email was leaked to the media by furious employees.

An acid test for leaders is ‘How would you like to receive bad news?’ The answer would probably be ‘Face to face and privately’ and the same would apply for people who work for you.

The Frame
Experts advise that warning the person that bad news is coming lessens the shock that follows and also allows them to process the news. Examples of warning phrases include, ‘Unfortunately I’ve got some bad news to tell you’ or ‘I’m sorry to tell you that…’.  Obviously, this is not the time to present a mixed bag like ‘The holiday you always wanted to take is all yours for the taking’ etc.

Shut up & Listen!
Once the bad news is delivered the next thing for leaders to do is to stop talking. It’s not about you anymore. Anything said after this point, will only sound like ‘Blah, blah blah’ as your audience is in an emotionally turbulent state. Most people react to bad news emotionally with anger, silence, shock, disappointment, disbelief or even tears. In that moment, you as the leader are the employee’s most important source of psychological support. Validate their feelings with phrases like ‘I understand this is very disappointing for you’ and show solidarity.

What next and the power of touch
The next challenge is then where to from here? Discussing options and next steps might be appropriate depending on you, them and your organisation. And finally, most humans seek solace in touch. So a handshake, a hug or a pat on the shoulder are very important. Of course not all three at the same time! Lisa Marshall says  ‘This is hardly the time to give a non-verbal message that “you’re untouchable” to someone’.

Delivering bad news is probably one of the hardest things leaders have to do. But as leaders, we can deliver bad news in a way that is respectful and allows people to retain their dignity. Anything less would not be leadership.

Please comment, I love hearing from you.

HA HA! – 3 top tips to using humour in business


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Humour can help you stand out in a crowd and influence positive outcomes in business. As with any skill, humour can be taught and learned. And no – it is not joke telling! To help you on your journey here are my top 3 tips.

It all begins with you
Humour starts with you. You have to manage your state first so other people respond to it. The office grump won’t get anyone to laugh, but a positive, cheerful person will. You have to look like you are enjoying yourself – are you smiling? Are you energetic? This is what audiences will respond to. The airline safety briefings warn that you have to have your oxygen mask on first before helping others. The same rule applies to humour.

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Why so serious? 


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When was the last time you felt giddy with excitement at attending a business meeting or presentation?

a. All the time

b. Sometimes

c. Never

If you chose c) you are in the majority. Somewhere along the road, business has become burdened with a gravitas that borders on funereal. To paraphrase bestselling Irish author Marian Keyes, or rather her wonderful character Maggie Walsh: “That’s why it’s called work; otherwise it would be called deep-tissue massage.” Taking ourselves too seriously is a modern workplace pandemic. So, it’s time for some tough love: we are all contributing to making work… boring.

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