Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins


Anyone who has read Steven Levitt’s phenomenal bestseller Freakonomics remembers the advice that his father gave him when Levitt, an economist with suspect mathematical skills, wondered about his professional future as an economist. The advice: Find a niche. The advice itself is not the memorable part, of course; it is the story that accompanied it. Levitt recalls that his father explained how he, too, was not the genius of his class and decided that his best bet was to find an under-filled niche that the stars of medical school would ignore. Thus, Levitt explains, his father developed an expertise in intestinal gas and eventually became known as the King of Farts.

Freakonomics is filled with evocative, funny and illuminating stories, which explains, according to Annette Simmons, author of Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, why it was so successful. Facts are important, she writes, but they often fail to connect with those who hear them. To truly be informative and persuasive, you need good stories — especially personal stories.

Another major advantage of stories is that they effectively convey experiences. “Experience changes minds, alters decisions and creates cohesive action,” Simmons writes. The best way for investors to understand the impact of poor working conditions in the company’s developing world factories, for example, is to walk through a sweatshop. In most cases, however, using the tool of personal experience to influence others is not feasible. A good story, if told with enough feeling and detail, can act as a vicarious experience, plunging the listener into the situation.

Six Stories to Tell

Many people believe that they are not good storytellers, when in fact, Simmons points out, every one of us tells stories all the time. We may not realize, however, that when describing a funny moment of forgetfulness or venting about a frustrating customer-service experience, we are telling a story. Of course, not all stories are appropriate for influencing people. Venting makes us feel good but is hardly a teaching moment.

Simmons identifies the six types of stories that, she writes, “lead to influence, imagination, and innovation”:

Who-I-Am Stories. People won’t trust you if you don’t get personal. “Reveal who you are as a person,” Simmons writes.

Why-I-Am-Here Stories. Use stories to explain your agenda and to be authentic. Explain what’s in it for you.

Teaching Stories. Telling a story that creates a shared experience will be more motivating than just giving someone advice.

Vision Stories. Describe, through a detailed story, your vision of the future.

Value-in-Action Stories. Use stories to show a value in action. Hypothetical situations will sound contrived. A true story will make a compelling case for that value.

I-Know-What-You-Are-Thinking Stories. Use a story to show your listener that you are already aware of their unspoken objections or suspicions — and that you have an answer.

Finding the Right Stories

One of the challenges to becoming a good storyteller is finding the right stories. Simmons offers four buckets of story sources from which storytellers can draw: a time you shined, a time you blew it (embarrassing stories build trust); a story about a mentor (which shows humility and gratitude); a story from a book, movie or current event (that exemplifies the core message).

Simmons devotes a chapter to each of the six types of stories. In each chapter, she assigns the reader a general situation. In the chapter about teaching stories, for example, she asks the reader to imagine a pet peeve concerning a job poorly done. The assignment is to tell a non-judgmental story to teach the person to do a better job.

In the final section of this practical how-to book, Simmons helps the reader hone the craft of storytelling. She covers areas such as how to add sensory details that make the story experiential, the importance of brevity and the power of multiple points of view.

In an information-age world that seems enamored with the mass processing of “Big Data,” Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins offers the refreshing perspective that the most traditional of all types of communication — the oral history — is also the most effective tool for influencing and leading people.

How to Handle the Emotionally Charged Conversation

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Marcia Reynolds, president of Covisioning LLC.

When I teach coaching skills to leaders, someone always asks what to do if a person cries. They usually want to do something that would make the person feel worse for crying. Here are tips for effectively handling emotions that could come up during difficult conversations.

Note: Take the Rate Your Zone of Discomfort quiz to judge your ability to deal with uncomfortable situations.

What if the person cries?  

Allow people to take a moment as you calmly wait for them to signal they are ready to move on.

Crying is a natural physiological response when someone feels hurt, sad, or had expectations that weren’t met. Their reaction could result from stress or a buildup of disappointments. Generally, if you tell the person to take her time and calmly sit in silence, she will let you know when she is ready to move on (I say “she” but men cry too). If you have a tissue available, offer it. If the crying is uncontrollable, ask if they would like to reschedule the meeting but only do this as a last resort. It is always better to give the crying person a moment to recoup than to make her feel wrong for crying.

How do you react when someone gets angry?

If you stay calm and listen, their anger usually subsides.

When you sense someone’s anger, you might instantly defend yourself, getting angry in return, or you shut down. If you feel you are at risk of being harmed, you should find a way to remove yourself as soon as possible. If not, give the person a chance to vent to release the steam. Then when he starts to calm down, ask what has made him so angry and sort out what is true from speculation. Then maybe you can find some ways of dealing with the situation so he regains even a small sense of control.

What if a person or a group of people are confused or afraid?

Dig deep to find what they are afraid of losing.

Do not try to diffuse or soften their emotions; better to tell them you would like to understand what is causing the fear so you can help them move forward. What do they feel they have lost or afraid they will lose? Listen to their stories so you can discover what is holding them back. Is the loss real or speculation? What do they need so they can take one step forward? Listen first, then seek to find what will restore their confidence and feeling of significance.

Avoid judging people for their reactions. Respectfully hold them in high regard during a difficult conversation. Recall what you believe they are capable of achieving. From this perspective, you have a chance at holding an amazing conversation that could surprise both of you.

To hear more about effective ways to handle difficult conversations, join us for our Soundview Live webinar with Marcia Reynolds on May 28th: Turning Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs.

Making a Career Among Multiple Generations

The time in which we live is unique in that this is the first time that four generations are working side-by-side in the workplace: the Traditionalists (born before 1945), the Baby Boomers (born 1945-1964), Gen X (born 1965-1980), and the Millennials (born 1981-2001). This is due in part to increased longevity and in part to people not wanting or being able to afford to retire.

Haydn Shaw, in his book Sticking Points, describes the 12 sticking points between the generations that must be worked through in order for inter-generational cooperation to take place:

Communication                                 Loyalty

Decision Making                               Meetings

Dress Code                                       Policies

Feedback                                          Respect

Fun at Work                                      Training

Knowledge Transfer                          Work Ethic

As younger workers seek to advance in their careers, they will need to learn how to work with those of older generations, and those at the top of companies will be more and more dependent on these younger workers for their success.

This coming week we have the pleasure of hosting two Soundview Live webinars relating to these issues. The first How to Climb Your Way to the Next Level of Your Career with Debra Benton, and then How to Get 4 Generations Working Together with Haydn Shaw.

How to Climb Your Way to the Next Level of Your Career

In this Soundview Live webinar, Debra Benton gives you the insight and tools to make subtle changes in your presentation, attitude, and leadership style that will dramatically increase your leadership effectiveness – and, consequently, help you enjoy work and life.

How to Get 4 Generations Working Together

At this Soundview Live webinar, Haydn Shaw shows you how to help the different generations at work or home stick together instead of come apart, and will help you move beyond these sticking points and get productive again.

Both of these conversations will be helpful for anyone seeking to move up in their career. So please plan to join us on June 17th and 19th and invite your colleagues as well.

The Art of Improvised Persuasion

Customers don’t want to hear sales pitches, so why do salespeople rely on them? In Ditch the Pitch, Steve Yastrow advocates, “Tear up your sales pitch, and, instead improvise persuasive communications.”

Here is a humorous book trailer by Yastrow that explains the value of persuasive conversations.

Ditch the Pitch





Ditch the Pitch gives essential recommendations to salespeople, business managers, and anyone who wants to persuade those around us. Steve believes that to be persuasive we need most of all to engage in fresh and spontaneous conversations. By learning his six habits and the easy practices for each habit, we can quickly discover what makes every customer unique. We can then effortlessly navigate a persuasive conversation specifically created for each person – to give the right message to the right customer at the right time.

These are Yastrow’s six habits:

#1 Think input before output.

#2 Size up the scene.

#3 Create a series of “yeses”.

#4 Explore and heighten.

#5 Focus the conversation on your customer.

#6 Don’t rush the story.

Join us on June 10th for our Soundview Live webinar The Art of Improvised Persuasion and hear from Steve directly on how to apply these habits to your conversations, sales or otherwise. And if you’re in sales, invite your whole sales team to the webinar.






What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do


See, Say, Do the Positive

For veteran consultant Kathryn Cramer, author of Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do, the best way to inspire followers is to focus on the positive. Cramer developed a methodology called Asset-Based Thinking (ABT) based on this message of positive thinking, and describes in her book how leaders:

  • See the positive in the past, present and future;
  • Say the positive with communications with substance, sizzle and soul;
  • Do the positive by responding with intention (not reacting), leveraging their qualities, and driving positive change over the long term.

These questions will give the leader and his or her team a clear memory of how they leveraged positive “situational forces” and overcame negative ones to achieve success. Cramer’s force field analysis is both informational and inspirational.

One of the recurring approaches in Cramer’s ABT methodology is the Self-Others-Situation framework, in which leaders take into account themselves, others and the situation in question. For example, to help leaders “see” the positive in the present, Cramer writes that they need to consider what makes them feel strong and capable (self), how they develop meaningful connections with other people (others), and what gives them a sense of progress or achievement (situation).

Techniques and Strategies

The see-say-do framework is at the heart of Cramer’s Asset-Based Thinking methodology, which offers a comprehensive framework for leaders to respond to a wide variety of challenges and situations. In Lead Positive, Cramer describes a range of ABT techniques and guidelines for applying the framework. The “force field analysis,” for example, is a technique used to learn from a past situation that successfully worked, and is built around four questions or sets of questions:

  • “What forces were working for us?” With this question, you should identify five positive, accelerating forces, Cramer writes.
  • “What forces were working against us?” This question should lead to one or two negative forces.
  • What did we do to leverage the accelerating forces and eliminate or sidestep the negative forces?”
  • “What behavior do we want to repeat and knowledge do we want to carry forward? Which situational assets do we want to recreate, and which situational pitfalls must we avoid?”

The Message of St. Andrews

Cramer reinforces the lessons of ABT with real-world examples. One such real-world example involved St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors System, an organization that provides a range of services for seniors, including affordable retirement housing and in-home health care. St. Andrew’s was looking to become more financially secure and a regional leader in its field. The organization looked to Cramer to help them create a vision for the future.

The first step was to develop a vision message of substance, which used an ABT structure that included what needed to be accomplished, what the executives needed to make the employees and staff understand, the call to action for employees and staff, and the benefits for all. To add sizzle to the vision message, Cramer helped Chief Operating Officer Diane Meatheany to use a narrative structure called the Hero’s Journey, based on the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell. The Hero’s Journey narrative follows a series of steps: the call, the resistance, the threshold crossing, the journey, the supreme ordeal and the return home. Meatheany crafted a story about the future of St Andrew’s and her role in it structured on the Hero’s Journey. The soul of the communication from Meatheany and the rest of the team — the all-important meaning of what is happening — was incorporated into the message through a series of answers to key “why” questions: why this is important to the bigger picture, our values and beliefs, and our organization; why it is important to me and my commitment; and why we need you involved.

The author of nine books and the founder of a consultancy that works with companies such as DuPont, Starbucks and Microsoft, Cramer knows that the deceptively simple message of positivity can belie the complexity of leading a diverse group of people in a constantly changing environment. Lead Positive transforms the principles of ABT into a practical workbook for leaders.

Are You Ready for Change?

If there’s one certainty in business today, it’s this: Change is coming your way. You have no choice in the matter. The choice you do have is either to embrace it or bury your head in the sand.

What is necessary in order for real change to happen in your organization? Walter McFarland and Susan Goldsworthy, authors of Choosing Change, suggest you follow the 4 D’s:

Disruption: An experience or event that triggers a conscious choice to change

Desire: Committing to goals and deciding upon the change necessary to meet them

Discipline: Consistently taking steps that build the momentum required for sustainable change

Determination: Developing the resilience to focus and deliver even when faced with setbacks

Development: Establishing a system for continuous improvement, feedback, and ongoing learning

If you ‘d like to learn more about how to make change part of your business’s DNA, then please join us on May 15th for our Soundview Live webinar with McFarland and Goldsworthy, Driving Results One Person at a Time. You can also submit questions throughout the presentation.

How to Get That Person to Listen to You

Breakthrough Communication

By Harrison Monarth

Success depends in large part on how to “break through” to the right people, writes leadership coach Harrison Monarth in his new book, Breakthrough Communication. To break through, you need to communicate effectively so that you can be noticed and supported by the people whose attention you seek. The goal is that they will listen to you and take action based on what you communicate.

The process of breaking through can be as short as an instant — asking a colleague for help on a project, for instance — or as long as months or years. Successfully implementing new policy can be a long and arduous process of persistent communication. However, no matter what timeframe might be involved, breakthrough communication still rests on four steps, according to Monarth.

Getting on the Radar

The first of these steps, Monarth writes, is to get on the radar. Before anyone will listen to you, they must notice you. Being noticed (in a positive light, of course) begins by making the right impression when you have the opportunity to be before influential people. Monarth offers a variety of suggestions for making an impression, from looking your best to cultivating a reputation for expertise.

Monarth also emphasizes the importance of managing your status — that is, how do the people you want to influence see you? Monarth suggests creating a chart or list, starting with the people who will have the most impact on your success at the top. Impact includes interest; in other words, if you work for a Fortune 500 company, it’s possible that the CEO or the Chairman of the Board will never know your name. Although they are powerful, they are not a high priority in terms of your success. Once you have a prioritized list of people, you must carefully manage your status with them, ensuring a continuing dialogue so that they have the right impression of you.

Salience and Meaning

The second step in breakthrough communication is what the author calls “salience-agenda.” This means that you are the one who knows what is salient — what is most important to discuss and consider. You are, in essence, setting the agenda. One way to set the agenda, writes the author, is to take advantage of “focusing events.” Focusing events are major, usually unexpected events that grab the attention of most people — a hurricane or an oil spill, for example. These events are opportunities to focus attention on the agenda that matters to you; thus pollution control activists would leverage an oil spill to bring attention to the policies they advocate.

There are, of course, much less dramatic opportunities to set the agenda. Imagine that corporate leaders want to reorganize the departments in your unit; now is the opportunity to advocate the creation of that specific department you’ve been thinking about. Even running into the CEO in an elevator, Monarth writes, can be an opportunity to set the agenda.

Setting the agenda is not enough to ensure success in your communication. Equally important is the next of Monarth’s four steps: creating meaning. The goal in this step, in short, is to put your spin on the agenda item. The Newtown tragedy was a focusing event for gun legislation, yet both sides of the issue drew different meaning from the massacre. While gun control lobbyists argued for stronger legislation, the NRA and others — including a mother of six who, Monarth notes, wrote that gun control was “sexist and antifeminist” because guns empowered women — infused the shooting with a different meaning. One of the most powerful tools to create the meaning you want to create, according to Monarth, is storytelling.

Monarth’s final step is to “spark the action you want to see.” Having people take the action you want them to take is, after all, the ultimate goal of communication. Monarth emphasizes that breakthrough communication requires persuading people, which is emotional and practical — not convincing people, which is rational and abstract. Fear and ambivalence are two major barriers to persuasion, although there are many other barriers, including failing to understand the audience, failing to engage the audience, or simply not being likeable.

Through nudging and other techniques, Monarth shows how to overcome resistance and spark people to action in the final section of this practical and engaging manual on communication.

Making a Bigger Impact By Saying Less

What does it mean to be brief? For most of us it means cutting down the time spent to say or do something. But Joe McCormack provides a different definition: Brief = Clear + Compelling / Time. Being brief is not just about time, it’s also about what happens during that time.

Joe McCormack is on a mission to help organizations master the art of the short
story. In an age of shrinking attention spans, non-stop interruptions, floods
of information, the messages business leaders send out are getting lost in a
sea of words.

In our upcoming Soundview Live webinar, Making a Bigger Impact By Saying Less, Joe tackles the challenges of inattention, interruptions, and impatience that every professional faces. His proven B.R.I.E.F. approach, which stands for Background, Relevance, Information, Ending, and Follow up, helps simplify and clarify complex communication. BRIEF will help you summarize lengthy information, tell a short story, harness the power of infographics and videos, and turn monologue presentations into controlled conversations.

Please consider joining us for our conversation with Joe. It’s guaranteed to be brief!

Keeping Business Simple

Checklists are a modest way to reduce failure, ensure consistency, and safeguard comprehensiveness. We use checklists to do the grocery shopping or to plan a weekend project. What if there was a checklist for running a successful business?

Jim Kerr provides an “executive checklist” for those dealing with the extreme complexities and challenges of the 21st century business world.

  1. Establish Leadership – the foundation for change.
  2. Build Trust – a vital component for enduring achievement.
  3. Strategy Setting – translating vision into action.
  4. Engage Staff – the way to gain support and accelerate success.
  5. Manage Work through Projects – a means to strategic alignment.
  6. Renovate the Business – a way to become “of choice.”
  7. Align Technology – it’s at the core of all we do.
  8. Transform Staff – the people part of enterprise-wide change.
  9. Renew Communications Practices – transparency improves performance.
  10. Reimagine the Organization – the expressway to the future.

To learn more about this checklist, how it works and how to use it, join us for our Soundview Live webinar with Jim Kerr on April 10th, entitled A Guide for Setting Direction & Managing Change. Put this eventon your must-do checklist.

Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation


Out of the Mouths of CEOs

What are the core elements of an effective culture that encourages and enables innovation, and how can leaders create such a culture? These two questions are at the heart of Quick and Nimble, a new book from New York Times feature writer Adam Bryant. Bryant replicates the process he used for his previous book on leadership, The Corner Office, by interviewing more than 200 CEOs, then gathering their insights into focused chapters on key topics.

Leading Innovation

In the first part of Quick and Nimble, Bryant outlines the basic elements identified by the CEOs he interviewed as essential to an effective innovation culture. A sample of these elements include:

  • A simple plan. Complex objectives and goals won’t be understood and will therefore fail to inspire and focus employees.
  • Values. Behavior in the organization must be driven by clearly communicated values.
  • Respect. Interactions between all leaders, managers and employees must be built on unwavering respect.
  • Team focus. All members of the organization must be ready to do their part for the team.
  • Frank feedback. Misunderstandings and disagreements are unavoidable, but they need to be resolved through honest and open “adult conversations.”

In the second part of the book, Bryant shifts to guidelines for leaders who want to build on the cultural foundation of their organizations and foster innovation. These guidelines include the importance of:

  • Constant communication to keep employees focused on priorities.
  • Training managers on key managerial skills, behaviors and habits.
  • Offering learning opportunities to high-performing employees by moving them around the organization.
  • Surfacing problems that might be hiding under the surface.
  • Knocking down silos.

The Wisdom (and Wit) of CEOs

At the beginning of the book, Bryant writes that he structured each chapter “much like a dinner party conversation, with me as the host, guiding the conversation with a large group of CEOs.” The metaphor is apt, as the reader can imagine a circle of CEOs gathered around a dinner table, adding their insights and stories to the discussion at hand. The chapter on having values as the guiding “rules of the road” is a case in point.

Lars Björk, CEO of data software firm QlikTech, shares the values that drive his fast-growing company: challenge (the conventional); move fast; be open and straightforward; teamwork for results; and take responsibility. Robert LoCascio, CEO of software company LivePerson, recounts the challenge of changing a culture that had become hierarchical and bureaucratic. The major changes he introduced — beginning with asking leaders to move out of offices — did not go over easily: one-hundred twenty employees and three-quarters of the management left the company, either voluntarily or not.

To reinforce the values through stories (one of the most effective reinforcement techniques), City National Bank CEO Russell Goldsmith describes how he organizes a quarterly American Idol-inspired “Story Idol” for employees (Goldsmith, it should be said, is a former movie industry executive). Other CEOs share the clever expressions that summarize the culture, such as LinkedIn’s “next play,” which echoes the phrase Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski yells to his players at the end of any play, offensive or defensive. Like Krzyzewski, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner doesn’t want his team celebrating what they’ve just accomplished or lamenting what they failed to do: Just move on to the “next play.”

For health care supply company Medline Industries CEO Andy Mills, a favorite expression is “kissing frogs.” Mills often tells employees that “they have to kiss a lot of frogs,” which means that they should not be afraid to take long shots that might not pan out. After, the frog might just be a prince.

Filled with the wisdom — and wit — of 200 successful practitioners and well organized into focused topics of discussion, Quick and Nimble is an insightful, comprehensive and entertaining overview of the role of culture in building an innovative company.