Let me tell you a story!

How to Spin a Good Yarn

Ever tried to get someone to change their beliefs or behaviour?  Often, the more we try, the more frustrating it can be.  This is where stories can be so effective as they depersonalise the personal: meaning and consequence ring out with a well chosen anecodote. You can pluck into a story with a pitch, presentation or when giving an appraisal.  In fact, stories generally enrich communication.

To come up with a tale to tell that strikes a chord, firstly, think why you’re telling your tale.   Here are some reasons:

If you’re thinking “Nope, still got no stories related to any of these!”   Then, just steal them: attribute them to someone else (and be careful to change details if you need to keep confidentiality).

Stephen Denning, author of the ‘The Springboard: How storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organisations’, told a short and powerful anecdote as Head of Knowledge Management at the World Bank.   He’d been banging his head up against a brick wall, trying to influence the spread of knowledge and know-how of the World Bank to create global change.   It’s only when he dumped the data, pie charts and graphs to tell a short personal story about a health worker in Kamana, Zambia that he started to create the change he needed in The World Bank.  The health worker was struggling to find a solution for treating malaria.   In this tiny and remote rural town the health worker logged on to the website of the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and found an answer.

‘This true story happened, not, as if in a fantasy, in 2015, but in June 1995…..but the most striking aspect of this picture is this: [The World Bank] doesn’t have its know-how and expertise organised so that someone like the health worker in Zambia can have access to it.   But just imagine if it did!’

And all the hard facts and PowerPoint pie charts couldn’t beat the impact of that tale that sparked the beginning of the journey into global knowledge management in the World Bank. And that’s the power of a good yarn


Want to comment on something?  Feel free to say what you think below…

Words That Win

Words that Win

Finding it hard to grab attention and keep it throughout a presentation? Do you need to be more persuasive?

If so, then try out these tips to draw people into what you’re saying and keep them there.

Jo, a Sales Director, was offered a great opportunity: to give an after-dinner speech at an awards ceremony for a professional association. It was her chance to shine in front of her industry peers.

Then she went into a panic…

“Everytime I’ve been to one of those events, everyone’s gassing away, knocking back the Chablis. After dinner speakers are just the background noise.”

That’s often because they’re not doing at least one of two actions:

1) using Power Words

2) taking the reins

1) Using Power Words

Harvard University held a survey of the most powerful words in English. It came up with 12 and these are:

You, Easy, Guarantee, Health, Love, Money, New, Proven,

Results, Safety, Save, Discover

Use 3 of those in the first minute of any presentation or communication and I can guarantee that you’ll discover how quickly people will listen.

So I used 3 there. Any more of those and I’d have sounded like Victor Kiam. Actually, I’d add one more: FREE. That’s a good one. There are other attention grabbing words but they might not be so socially acceptable so I’d stick to the Harvard ones if I were you…

2) Taking the Reins

I recently saw a speaker, who hushed the audience with the word ‘you’ scattered throughout the first minute and he immediately had everyone’s attention. However, after another couple of minutes, the noise started up again, “If you don’t be quiet, I’ll {now in slow motion} speeeek veeeerrry veeeeeery slooooly and the whole speech will take twice as long.” So the audience immediately hushed. Whenever it got too rowdy, he just spoke in slow motion for a couple of words and everyone was silenced again.

Now Taking the Reins is for particularly noisy audiences but Power Words were enough for Jo who had the audience in her hands with a scattering of ‘you’s’ as well as a sprinkling of more from the list throughout her speech.

Even in a one-to-one, you’ll find Power Words useful – they’re persuasive and direct.

Notice how you grab attention quickly next time you need to have someone listen to what you say: and I’m guessing that moment might be sooner rather than later .

Remember that it’s not how much you say but the content that counts:

‘What is required is not a lot of words, but effectual ones.’ (Seneca)


Power words are as effective in email as they are face to face.  Put them into practice and let me know what happens in the comments.  See you there!



Another Bloody Meeting?

Another Bloody Meeting!

‘The convergence of alternative methodologies through blue-sky thinking should leverage business action-items for robust solutions.’

or, in other words…

Take a look at these ideas to make your meetings more productive…..


1)         Changing Places

If you have regular meetings with the same group of people, have you noticed where they sit?  Do they have the same seat every meeting, which they hold on to for dear life: I call this ‘The Three Bears Syndrome’ (Who’s sitting in MY seat!)

The problem with this, is that it also means that the mindset of individuals will be unlikely to alter. So, if you’ve quieter people in the group, swapping seating can help to balance out contributions.

Think back to meetings, where there’s little movement in the room: as soon as you change your posture or position around the table, you’ll also be thinking more freely.  If there’s a possibility to agree to do this as a group, even better.

2)         Anchor it

Many meetings would have agendas handed out beforehand but copy the contents on to a larger flip chart.  Now, when someone interrupts with an unrelated matter do this:

a)    Walk over to the flip chart, point to the matter you’re discussing and say ‘How is this issue related to the one here?’

b)    The speaker will then rephrase so that they connect the two or will retract.  You can always ‘Park’ it (see below).

c)    The next time, someone intervenes with an issue that might not be pertinent, walk over to the flip chart again, and ask the same question.

d)    After about 3 repeats, you’ll find that as soon as you lift the pen and look at the chart, they’ll automatically be prompted to reconsider statements to fit in with the agenda.

3)         Use Parking Places

This is immensely useful for when you think the meeting is being side-railed.  It’s simply a flip chart with issues, questions or comments that you need to come back to.  You’ll less likely to have A Monopoliser taking over the discussion, if they think you’ll get back to them.  These might be the basis of ‘Any Other Business’ or meetings that are best on a one-to-one.

4)        Decide on your feet

Meetings where people stand up, are shorter than those when all parties are sitting.   On average, standing meetings last for 10 minutes.  Sitting ones last – well gawd knows – the mug with the stop watch fell asleep before it finished.

One Accountancy practice for which I worked had a table that was waist-height and no chairs in their meeting room.  Meetings were short and succinct.  The fact that people can move easier around the table means that status games around the table are dissolved and decisions made more cohesively.  You may still want chairs, but round tables also help in more participative discussions and having people refer to decisions or process pinned onto flip charts hanging off the wall, means that participants will be more animated and the meeting will have greater energy.

The result:  everyone’s on the same page, and can, therefore, make a decision – other than when the next meeting should be…

We’re gonna be out there bumpin’ and thumpin’
(Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer on launch plans for Windows Vista)

and lastly…There might still be misunderstandings but they’ll be less likely to happen if you speak plain English!!!

Do You Leak When You Speak

Do You Leak When You Speak?

I’d hope not but many do…Leaking is body language that undermines your intention.

Imagine this:

You walk into your manager’s office for your appraisal and the manager says to you, “Firstly, you’re doing exceptionally well with (new client that’s worth tons of business).” They look you in the eye, smile, and use a small gesture that underlines the word ‘exceptionally’. All good. Until you notice them fidget with the ring on their finger as if they’re trying to detach the digit from their hand.

What do you notice?

Your eye will hone into the fidgeting fingers. The confidence with which you were infused just a minute before, is dissipated.

Such gestures are not part of the conscious intention of the speaker. However, as they’re unconscious, they carry more weight, reflecting an unspoken but very genuine feeling. of discomfort. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the manager in the above example was lying: it could be a manifestation of general discomfort at giving a compliment, or anxiety about an event which is about to happen and may have no connection with that specific interaction. These unintentional gestures are ‘leaking gestures’. They will detract from your intention. Typical examples are:

  1. biting or pursing the lips after you’ve spoken (cause: trying to keep some words back?)
    possible impression: are you lying?
  2. smiling (cause: embarrassed at what you’ve just said or trying to soften the blow?)
    possible impression: what’s so funny?
  3. tapping the foot (cause: impatient? urging a response?)
    possible impression: are you trying to get me out of here?
  4. rolling the feet in (cause: trying to make yourself look smaller?)
    possible impression: you don’t look very confident

Take courage: if you show confidence, others will pick up on that. Sustain eye contact and keep the body language controlled. Often the messages you relay are not your own, and it would be natural to feel uncomfortable – but project clarity and that’s what you’ll give.