Start with a Story

A new client told me, “I don’t have any stories.” I told her, “We ALL have stories. Stories are simply the intriguing things that happen to or around us.”
stories-are-simply-the-intriguing-things

She came back with, “But I wouldn’t know how to tell a story even if I had one.”

I promised to share this post which shows how to notice and collect real-life stories and re-enact them so they come alive. First, I’ll start with a story.

Several summers ago, I realized how sedentary I’d become. Like many Americans, I spend 12 hours a DAY sitting and it had taken a toll on my health.

I decided to change things up. I lived on a lake outside Washington DC in a community with 20 public pools. I vowed to swim four times a week and to visit every single one of the pools in my neighborhood by Labor Day weekend.

One sunny afternoon, after a long day of writing, I decided it was time to get up and get moving. I jumped in my van and went “pool shopping.” I noticed a new pool I hadn’t tried before tucked under some shade trees, parked and went in.

As soon as I walked in, I realized I’d found the “family” pool. The place was packed with kids playing Marco Polo and featured one of those mushroom-shaped fountains in the wading pool. It did my heart good to know kids still play Marco Polo.

I found a chaise lounge next to a woman watching her three young kids. Just then, a man wearing a business suit walked in. The three kids bounded out of the pool and ran to meet him, calling out “Daddy, Daddy.”

He hugged them, gave his wife a peck on the cheek and headed to the locker room to change into his swim trunks. Moments later, he was in the pool with his kids. They were diving off his shoulders and proudly showing him the strokes they’d learned in their swim lessons. It was a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

All of a sudden, he paused, looked up at his wife almost in a state of wonderment and said, “Hon, why don’t we make this our default? Why don’t we meet at the pool every night after work?”

I have to admit, I held my breath. I looked at her, thinking, “Please say yes.”

She thought about it for a moment, nodded and said simply, “Why don’t we?”

In five seconds, they abandoned an old default and adopted a new one. Instead of, “Get up, go to work, come home;” it was now “Get up, go to work, go to the pool, come home.”

Who knows, that family may always remember that summer as the one they met Dad at the pool every night after work. Perhaps I”m being a Pollyanna about this, but maybe they will remember that summer as the one everything was right with their world.

So, what’s this got to do with you? Imagine you’re giving a presentation about changing habits. Or you’re talking to your team about the dangers of sitting for hours at at a time, all day, every day.

You could start by sharing research that explains how difficult it is to adopt new habits. You could begin with a study that reveals sitting is considered the “cigarettes of our era” in terms of how hazardous it is to our health.

Or you could start off with a story SHOWING how someone changed a habit that lead to a more positive, productive, proactive life. You could start off with a real-life example of someone who, in seconds, replaced an old default with a new default that immediately benefited them and everyone involved.

Which do you think will be more effective?

In today’s world of INFObesity (information that comes across as blah-blah-blah) people are more likely to relate to and remember real-life stories that show vs. tell.

Are you thinking, “But I don’t have any stories.” or “I’m not good at telling stories?”The good news? Remember, stories are simply the intriguing things that happen to you and around you.

Ask yourself, “What point do I want to make in my presentation or in this meeting?” Or, “What is the SHIFT I want my listeners, readers, employees to make?” Then ask yourself, ‘Where have I seen someone DO that, LEARN that, EXPERIENCE that at work, at home or in my community?”

Now, all you have to make that story come alive is to “put people in the S.C.E.N.E” by re-creating what was said and done. Re-enact that experience with these five tips so people feel it’s happening to or around them, right now.

The key to making a story believable and relatable is not to make it up. it’s to re-enact something that actually happened so people trust it and you.

When you put people in the S.C.E.N.E., you’re not “telling a story,” (which some skeptics may suspect you got off the internet); you’re sharing a real-life example that shows what you’re suggesting has worked for others – and how it can work for everyone listening and reading too.

SAM’s TIPS FOR SHARING STORIES THAT PUT PEOPLE IN THE SCENE

S = SENSORY DETAIL: Describe the time, place and location with just enough vivid sensory detail so we feel like we’re standing or sitting right next to you. Describe what it looked like – maybe even what it smelled like, tasted like, felt like, sounded like – so we’re seeing it in our mind’s eye.

C = CHARACTERS: Who is in the scene? Describe the individuals involved so we can picture them and so we know their MOOD. Are they busy, frazzled and stressed? Happy? Angry? Excited? What’s his/his name? If you want us to CARE about your CAREacters, flesh them out so we feel we know them.

E = EXPERIENCE IT: Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” I think, “No epiphany in the speaker, no epiphany in the listener.” This may be the hundredth time you’ve told this story, but if you mentally put yourself back in the scene, re-experience it as if it’s the first time, and re-enact it as if it’s happening NOW, you will feel what you felt then – and we will too.

N =NARRATIVE: Why can we read novels for hours at a time and it’s not hard work? It’s because authors use narrative – e.g., “He said, She said” – so we feel we’re right in the middle of the conversation. Simple said, narrative is a non-negotiable if you want your story to come alive. Include who said what with comma/quotes “(i.e., “He said, “Why don’t we change our default.” She said, ”Why don’t we?.”) so your story is organic, original and REAL.

E = EPIPHANY: What is the lesson-learned, the happy ending, the problem that was solved, the shift that occurred, the aha where the light comes on, the band plays and it all makes sense? Every story needs a “moral of the story” so it achieves a purpose and the audience gets the point. What’s yours?

A mantra of the speaking profession used to be, “Make a point, tell a story.” That advice is outdated. In these days of short-attention-spans and INFObesity, if you take too long to make your point, people will never make it to the story.

As John Steinbeck said, “If there’s magic in story-telling, and I’m convinced there is, the formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge to convey something you feel is important.”

If you START WITH A STORY and put people in the S.C.E.N.E of a meaningful, real-life experience that illustrates your idea;it will eloquently make your point for you.

Better yet, if you relive that experience in your mind and vividly remember what it felt like, your audience will feel what you felt. That is how we genuinely connect. And that is the point of all communication … to connect, always to connect.

– – – –

Sam Horn, Founder. CEO of the Intrigue Agency and TEDx speaker, is on a mission to help people create respectful, collaborative, real-life communications that add value for all involved. Her work – including IDEApreneur, Tongue Fu! POP! and Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? – has been featured on NPR and in New York Times and presented to National Geographic, Boeing, Cisco, Capital One.

Waiting for Your Ship to Come In?

I was in California recently to speak for the Central Coast Writers Conference. The day before my presentations, I headed to Morro Rock for an early morning walk.

As I explored the waterfront, watching the playful otters float and nurse their babies on their belly, I noticed some people gathered on the shore, eagerly gazing out toward the mouth of the bay. Curious, I walked over and asked, “What’s going on?”

The man closest to me said, “Oh, the San Salvador is arriving this morning.”

san-salvadore

“What’s the San Salvador?”

“It’s a fully-rigged replica of the Spanish galleon – Cabrillo’s flag ship – that discovered California. It should be here any minute.”

What an serendipitous discovery. To put this into context, every morning I listen to Colin Hay’s “Waiting For My Real Life to Begin” with its haunting lyrics about how many of us wait for our ship to come in. It’s a way to remind myself THIS is my real life and it’s up to me to create what I want – not wait for it to show up.

So, I walked to the point, peering through what the locals like to call a “marine layer” for my first glimpse of the ship. There it was emerging from the fog. A magnificent sight. I laughed as this thought occurred, “My ship just came in!”

This story doesn’t stop there. In fact, it just keeps getting better and better.

The next day I closed my conference keynote with the story of that special moment watching the San Salvador sail into the harbor. I added though that:

“Writers don’t wait for their ship to come in; they write their way out to it.

In fact, entrepreneurs – and writers are creative entrepreneurs – launch their ship. At their core, they’re designed and destined to explore. They set sail with their ideas and stories. They do not wait for perfect conditions. They know the value is in the voyage. They understand discoveries don’t happen in inertia. Setting a vision in motion is what makes it tangible which is where you reap the rewards. Writers understand it’s crucial to maintain confidence in their creative venture. Their role, their responsibility, is to launch … always to launch.”

Well, as soon as I launched that story, rewards started showing up.

A woman came up after my keynote and said, “Sam, my brother in law is actually in charge of the San Salvador Project. I’m sure he’d be glad to give you a tour.” Which is how I found myself interviewing Captain Ray Ashley below decks on the San Salvador the following day.

I hope you’re ready, because you cannot make up the stuff you’re about to read. You know what I’ve learned about stories? Fact is more fascinating than fiction.

What Captain Ray Ashley told me is a quintessential example of what can happen when we get an idea – and the facts indicate this can’t work and the finances aren’t there – but we choose to launch anyway.

This true story proves that if we keep the faith that what we’re trying to build is worthwhile – mini-miracles can unfold if we set our project in motion and give community an opportunity to jump onboard.

Here’s what happened.

The San Diego Maritime Museum originated the idea of creating the San Salvador and asked Ray to head up the project. Ray told me, “As a historian, I know it’s important for origin stories to be associated with a physical object. As soon you turn something conceptual into something concrete (think European immigration to America and the Mayflower); people are more likely to relate to it.

So, we thought the discovery of California (by the Spanish, multiple Native American tribes already lived here) would become even more ‘real’ and relevant if we built a working replica of the ship people could see, touch and walk on.”

The only problem? Their research estimated it would cost $6.2 million to build the ship. The entire annual operating budget of the San Diego Maritime Museum was $4.6 million. So, on paper, the facts and finances didn’t add up. Logically, it didn’t make sense to launch the project.

Thankfully, Ray said, the people in San Diego believed this project was worth doing and the project was approved. It was partially due to that incredibly supportive community that the project team made a crucial decision that directly led to the success of their venture.

They decided to build the ship in PUBLIC instead of in PRIVATE.

Ray told me, “If you operate in isolation, if you’re the only one providing the energy, ideas and vision; sometimes that’s not enough. But if you construct a project in public, well, people see what you’re doing and want to get on board. They’re eager to be part of something they can be proud of.

We arranged for the San Salvador to be built in plain sight, right next to a busy freeway. Within weeks, we had 50 volunteers showing up every single day.

These were ‘lay-people’ saying, ‘Put me to work. How can I help?’ and skilled craftsmen – nuclear physicists, shipwrights, architects – offering their years of valuable experience and expertise.

It was a blessing to have such an incredible team of individuals dedicated to making the project a success. And we needed those volunteers because they helped us persevere through one obstacle after another.

For example, our research showed there was only one wood strong enough and dense enough to carry the weight of this ship, and that was white oak.

The challenge is, there’s not much white oak left. We finally found a supplier and, imagine this, bought up the entire world’s supply of white oak.

Now, no tree grows in the shape of a ship. It took us months to mill the wood into the curves of the hull and sides. When that was done, we applied epoxy to about half the wood to make it waterproof. The only problem was, the epoxy was contaminated. Within 48 hours, the wood had started to curl and rot and was basically unusable. As you can imagine, we were devastated.

Thank heaven for the volunteers. When we told them what happened, one said, “You know, you should call this guy Jim who’s kind of an expert on living oak. It’s not white oak, but it’s close. You never know. Might as well check it out.”

Ray contacted Jim, and sure enough, living oak used to be protected but now it’s overgrown and Jim was able to supply them with enough wood to meet their needs … at a price they could afford.

Good news, right? Yes, but it was only a matter of time before they ran into another seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

It was time to embed lead into the hull to provide the necessary ballast, but the price of lead had skyrocketed and they could no longer afford it. So, they launched a creative “Get the Lead Out” campaign and invited people to donate any lead they might have lying around.

Ray said, “People were coming in with their fish weights, etc. We really appreciated what they were doing, but it would take decades to accumulate the amount of lead we needed, a few ounces at a time.

We felt we had run into a dead-end. Once again, our volunteers saved the day. One said, ‘You know, I used to work for this contractor out in the valley that went out of business. I think they used lead for some of their projects. Maybe they still have some left on their property.’

Captain Ray got in touch and explained his situation to the executive. He said, “Well, let me look around and I’ll get back to you.”

The next day he calls Ray and says, “How much lead do you need?”

Ray says, “180,000 pounds.” The guy chuckles and says, “Well, I’ve got 190,000 pounds of lead and you can have it all.”

Fast forward. The ship is almost ready to launch. The challenge now is they have to get this heavy ship from the boatyard across the highway into the water. The problem is, they’re almost out of money and can’t afford to build what will need to be a steel bridge with rollers to transfer the ship.

Once again, their volunteers come to the rescue.

One says, “Well, I have a colleague who owns a home-moving business. I don’t know if he can help but he definitely knows a lot about transporting heavy objects from one place to another. Why don’t you give him a call?”

To make a long story somewhat less long, suffice it to say, this individual had wanted to upgrade his capacity to move heavy equipment like cranes, so he offered to build the steel bridge for the San Salvador – for free – so he could offer this option to his future clients. Another “insurmountable” obstacle surmounted.

If you’ve ever built something, you know that every contractor uses an operational formula called the TCQ – Time, Cost, Quality – Triangle.

Essentially, it states that if you are willing to pay more money, you can increase quality and reduce time. If you don’t have much money, you may have to cut corners on quality. If you take more time, you can increase quality, but it will also increase costs. These three factors are always interacting, always in play.

However, one rule that is almost sacrosanct in the contracting-building-construction-project management industry is that the longer it takes to build something, the more it’s going to cost.

Guess what?

The San Salvador took three times longer than anticipated to build – and came in only a little over its original budget.

How can that be??

Well, I told Captain Ray I think he and the San Salvador team added a side to the TCQ triangle and turned it into a TCQC rectangle.

captain-ray-ashley

I think they proved that if you go public with your venture, if you ask for help and give people ways to contribute – they can actually reduce costs because they’re using their six-degrees-of-separation to connect you with people who can supply your provisions, remove your obstacles and solve your problems.

The San Salvador team demonstrated the mini-miracles that emerge when we build projects with a TCQC – Time Cost Quality Community – Rectangle.

When you involve your community, they bring so much to the table in terms of experience, expertise, energy and strategic alliances, you ultimately reduce costs and time. Perhaps more importantly, you improve the quality of the experience for everyone involved and you scale the reach and positive impact of your venture.

When I visited Captain Ray that day in Morro Bay, there were lines of an hour or two to tour the San Salvador. People had traveled from around the country to see, touch and walk around the ship.

Ray said, “That was our vision and it’s enormously rewarding to see it come true. We gave donors and volunteers an opportunity to hammer their initials into the keel. We’ve had dozens of families show up where the dad or mom or grandparent proudly pointed out the part of the ship they worked on.

They feel like they’re part of the story. They love telling the story of the ship they ‘helped build.’ They’re so proud to be able to put their hands on something they helped bring into being.”

As I wrapped up my time with Ray, I couldn’t help but reflect on the many ways the San Salvador project is a perfect metaphor for my Year by the Water project.

I too launched a venture when the “numbers” weren’t there. I didn’t have a financial sponsor for this trip. If I had focused only on the logical aspects of this venture, (e.g., “Give away 95% of what I own? Set off into the unknown?!”) it didn’t add up, didn’t make sense … on the surface.

But deep down, I knew this was important, what I wanted to do. I too wanted to explore our magnificent country. I too wanted to travel on and visit bodies of water. I too had faith this project would be meaningful for me and others. I too had to maintain my confidence this venture was worth doing – even when there were no guarantees.

I too went public and experienced an outpouring of support. I received gracious emails from my community saying, “Come to this lake where Helen Keller said her first word, ‘Water.” “I live near Walden’s Pond, come visit me.” “You can stay in our vacation home on Chesapeake Bay.” “Hang out on my houseboat in Sausalito.” “I have a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired cabin in Pt. Reyes National Seashore. You can write there.”

And I’m here to tell you, a year after launching my “ship,” that the secret sauce of a successful project is indeed … COMMUNITY.

Yes, I’ve enjoyed the many places I’ve had the opportunity to experience. Yet it’s the people I’ve connected with who have made this adventure even more meaningful, even more of a QUALITY experience in every sense of the word.

How about you? What is the project you want to build, the creative venture you want to launch, the dream you want to achieve?

If you juxtapose it, if you put a vertical line down the center of a piece of paper, there may be some fears on the left side. Maybe the numbers don’t add up. If you consider only the facts, figures, left-brain logic, it may not “make sense” to head off into the unknown where there are no guarantees. As long as you stay focused on the left-side of the ledger, your project will stay in the boatyard.

However, if you switch over to the right side of the ledger and focus on your faith that this creative project has value, your belief this adventure is worth doing, the meaning it might have for you and others… it will help give you the confidence and courage to set your creative vision in motion.

When you do launch your dream project, be sure to take it public. Tell people what you’re doing. Share your vision. Invite their input. Ask for their contributions. Enlisting your community adds an all-important ingredient to the equation.

A project that may have been unfeasible because it was dependent on the TCQ Triangle is now feasible because you’re adding the secret sauce of community.

You have just exponentially increased your odds of success because you won’t be operating in isolation, you won’t just be doing this for and by yourself.

You will have a TCQC _ Time Cost Quality Community Rectangle that is leveraging a group of people who are doing everything in their power to help you move your project forward because they are invested in its success.

And isn’t that what we want? Not just a meaningful and productive life where we’re fulfilling our SerenDestiny and the light is on in our eyes, but to have the privilege and opportunity to share what we care about with other people who care about the same things.

What is it you want to do? Don’t just follow that dream; LAUNCH it.

dont-just-follow-your-dreams-launch-them

– – –

Sam Horn, Founder and CEO of the INTRIGUE AGENCY, helps people create respectful, collaborative one-of-a-kind communications and projects that add value for all involved. Her inspiring TEDx talk and keynotes receive rave reviews from such clients as National Geographic, Intel, Cisco, Capital One, NASA, Accenture and Boeing. Her work – including POP!, Tongue Fu!, and Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? – have been featured in New York Times, Forbes, Fast Company and NPR and MSNBC.

Want more ways to lead a creatively productive life? Check out Sam’s inspiring Year by the Water updates at her site on SERENDESTINY

LeadHERship: Position Yourself for Pay Raises, Projects and Promotions

“Anyone who waits for recognition is criminally naïve.” – Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

Years ago, I had an opportunity to speak for the women’s leadership program for a well-known Silicon Valley company. My session was on Personal Branding, in particular how the women in this male-dominated company and industry could be more pro-active about fulfilling their potential; earning the respect they want, need and deserve; and positioning themselves for pay raises, promotions, projects and positions.

I had an opportunity to interview one of their senior executives to get his input on what I could cover in my presentation to make it maximally timely, relevant and useful. He shared an insightful story about how some women sabotage themselves when it comes to maintaining the visibility necessary to be considered for career advancement.

He said, “Sam, I try to be a champion for women, but sometimes they don’t help themselves.”

I asked, “What’s an example?”

He said, “Last year, we opened an office in Paris. A woman in my department had lived in France as a foreign exchange student and speaks French fluently. I thought she would be a real addition to our team there so I threw her hat in the ring when we were discussing possible staff selections.

The other executives at the table just looked at me with puzzled expressions. No one knew who she was. I went to bat for her and tried to explain why I thought she could help us ramp up this new location.

One of my colleagues finally recognized her name. He said, “Okay, I know who you’re talking about now. She’s sat in on some of my meetings. But she never says anything.’

She ended up NOT getting that position, and it wasn’t because she didn’t deserve it or wouldn’t have done a good job. It was because those decision-makers hadn’t witnessed her adding value and weren’t willing to take a risk on someone they didn’t know.”

I asked, “Did you talk to her about this missed opportunity?”

“I did. And when I asked why she didn’t speak up in those meetings, she said, ‘I tried to, but everyone just talked over me. I suggested a way to streamline some of our procedures, but no one listened. In fact, a few minutes later one of the men said pretty much the same thing and everyone went, ‘Great idea!’ I finally just gave up.’

I told her, ‘Don’t you realize, if you don’t say anything at meetings, you make no mark? The people there conclude you don’t have anything to contribute.”

I shared his input during my presentation and suggested several ways women could speak up at meetings so participants experience them adding value and have first-hand evidence of their LeadHership ability. Here are those six tips.

Six Ways to Add Value at Meetings so People Experience your LeadHership

1. Promise yourself you’ll contribute at least one ACTION-oriented suggestion at every meeting. Notice, I did not say an opinion, I said an action. Instead of simply sharing what you think or feel, contribute specific options of what can be done to move a project forward, turn an idea into reality, or achieve a company objective.

2. Never point about what’s not working – unless you immediately follow up with how this could be replaced with something more efficient and effective. In other words, instead of focusing on a problem and what’s wrong, focus on a solution and how this can be done right.

3. Do not defer compliments, graciously honor them. If someone praises you, instead of saying, “It was nothing.” or “My team deserves the credit.” say “Thank you. Your feedback means a lot.” Then, add a detail, e.g., “Our goal was to exceed our sales quota this quarter, so we identified three high-profile clients, reached out to them, and we’re pleased to land three new major accounts.” Then, talk about your next goal or upcoming initiative so people are aware of how you’re continuing to add value.

4. Keep your comments to two minutes or less. No one likes a windbag. Richard Branson said, “Time is the new money.” In today’s rush-rush, impatient world of INFObesity, time is the new TRUST. By keeping your remarks succinct, purposeful, pro-active and to the point, people will always want to hear what you say because you’re always a good use of their time and mind.

5. If someone interrupts, speak up instead of suffering in silence as they talk over you. Look at the person, use his or her name, and say, “Mark, let me finish” or “Elizabeth, I want to hear what you have to say right after I wrap up my report,” or “Bev, one more minute and then it’s your turn.” Then, be brief, but conclude your remarks. You’re not being rude, just clear and confident that you have the right to speak.

6. SIT TALL. If you slouch, tuck your chin in, or use a tentative, high-pitched voice, people will doubt your clout. Instead, roll your shoulders up and back and sit up straight. Think “Tower, don’t cower.” Speak with a warm, firm, lower-pitched voice of authority that projects so every single person can hear every single word.

A program participant chased me down in the parking lot after that Silicon Valley talk to thank me.

She said, “Sam, I was on the verge of quitting this company. I wasn’t getting credit for all my hard work and overtime, and I’d become really resentful. I’ve been putting out fires, saving the day, and no one seemed to notice or care. You helped me realize that I can’t blame my boss for not giving me the recognition I think I deserve if I’m not giving him evidence of all the ways I’m making a difference for our clients and company.”

Her feedback made my day because it reinforced the premise of my LeadHership program. It is idealistic and unrealistic to expect organizational decision-makers to know all the ways we’re contributing and to initiate on our behalf. They’ve got enough on their plate without taking responsibility for our career advancement.

It’s up to us to, diplomatically, give organizational decision-makers evidence of how we’re contributing so they experience our LeadHership first-hand. Only then will they be motivated to give us the promotions, positions, projects and pay raises we deserve. Only then will they know we’re “up to the task” and can be trusted to add tangible, real-world value because they’ve personally experienced us doing just that.

The career ball is in your court. How will you be a LeadHer at your next meeting?

– – – –

Sam Horn, Founder/CEO of the Intrigue Agency, is the author of Tongue Fu!, What’s Holding You Back? and Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? Her work has been featured in New York Times, Forbes, INC, NPR and MSNBC. Want Sam to inspire your group? Contact Cheri@IntrigueAgency.com to discuss your goals and ask how Sam can contribute to the success of your professional women’s group or event.

Got Your Attention? Wins Book of the Year Award

What a thrill to hear from publisher Berrett-Koehler that my book GOT YOUR ATTENTION? is the INDIEFAB gold medal winner in the career category.  Here ‘s the announcement from Foreword Reviews.

Following that good news, I went to Amazon.com and discovered it is trending at #4 in ‪#‎Business‬ ‪#‎Money‬ ‪#‎Sales‬ ‪#‎Marketing‬ ‪#‎Presentations‬

Then I went to LinkedIn and discovered this post on WHY TO NEVER GIVE AN ELEVATOR SPEECH – AND WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD (excerpted from “Got Your Attention?”) has more than 21,000 views and 649 shares.

Things just kept getting better. My publisher Berrett-Koehler got in touch to let me know foreign rights for Got Your Attention? have not only been sold to China, Korea, Turkey, Greece, and Poland – they were also just sold to Russia.

So, this is a very good day.

Thanks to Berrett-Koehler Publishers and for being selected PUBLISHER ‪OF THE YEAR. Check out this wonderful interview with BK’s CEO Steve Piersanti to get insights into why they were chosen for this well-deserved award.

To all my colleagues, clients, audience members and author friends; thank you for your support, positive feedback, and for buying the book and spreading the word about it to your company and convention decision-makers.

When you write a book, you never know how it’s going to be received. You can hope, but you can’t know.

So, for Got Your Attention? to have become a Washington Post bestseller, and to read the reviews – not just from endorsers Dan Pink, Marshall Goldsmith, Keith Ferazzi, Elizabeth Lesser (co-founder of Omega Institute),  Terry Jones (founder of Travelocity), Kay Koplovitz (co-founder of USA Network) etc. – but from people I’ve never met who took the time to share how the book has impacted them … please know how much it means to me.

For example, Martin P gave it a 5 Star review on Amazon and said, “The way you should judge any business book is: does it give you actionable, real world advice that gets results? This book does. It has made a massive difference to my business again and again. Better networking conversations, better selling through listening first, a better structure in my keynotes, I could go on and on – this book really has made a difference to my income again and again. Incredible advice in such an engaging format. Just brilliant, thank you, Sam!”

And special thanks to Kathleen Hassan who gave the most recent review: “There Is NO Connection without Quality Attention” and no one walks her talk more than Sam Horn. I had the privilege of being with Sam recently in Washington DC for the United State of Women Summit. I haven’t seen Sam in over thirteen years, but she made me feel important as if she were meeting the First Lady herself. And while in line with Sam, making our way into the conference hall, Sam gave that same kind of rapt attention to everyone she came in contact with. She is genuinely curious about people and asks the most “intriguing” questions. She is brilliant and generous with her time and ideas and I feel blessed to get to swim in her sea of wisdom and insight. The ideas in this book are so relevant and applicable and the W5 form alone is worth the price of the book to get clarity about every communication I create so that I am able to connect on a deeper level so that my clients feel important and heard too.

Heartfelt thanks to all of you. I hope Got Your Attention? continues to make a positive difference for you, helps you create INTRIGUE communications that earn respect for your projects and priorities, and helps you actually enjoy meeting people and create more meaningful connections with everyone you meet, on and off the job.

“How Can I Be Funnier?” Speakers, Leaders and Authors Want to Know

camel“When you’re laughing at something, you remember something.” – Joan Rivers.

Agreed. Is there any surer sign you’ve won people’s favorable attention then when they’re laughing?  Appropriate humor is one of the best ways to  get your idea, product, startup, or organization noticed, liked and remembered.

A coaching client preparing a conference keynote told me, “I know humor is important, but I’m not funny. Every time I try to tell a joke, it falls flat.”

I said, “I’m not suggesting you tell jokes.  You’re right, they often come across as forced or  false. The good news is, we all have funny things happen to us or around us. All you have to do is start noticing what makes you laugh that’s relevant to your topic and integrate it (with attribution) into your talk.”

He said, “But I’m speaking on  a serious subject. Humor could be out of place.”

“Here’s the thing.  Harvard researcher Nancy F. Koehn found that goldfish have longer attention spans than we do;  nine seconds to our eight.  People can only pay attention to serious stuff for so long. They may understand that what we’re saying is important and they’re supposed to listen; but if our message is complicated or depressing and requires mental discipline, incentive or bandwidth they don’t have; it may not get through.”

“But  I don’t want to risk alienating my audience.”

“I’m glad you brought that up because it’s another reason not to use jokes. Jokes are fabricated.  At some level, people are wondering, ‘If you made this up, what else are you making up?’ It makes it hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction.”

“So what do I do?”

“Use true humor so people can trust you. When you share real-life experiences, you maintain credibility because you’re not fabricating things.”

“What’s an example?” he asked.

“Well, here’s  story I use in my Tongue Fu!® How to Deal with Difficult People – Without Becoming One Yourself presentations. It usually gets a laugh and lightens the mood after discussing  ‘dark’ topics such as what to do when people are yelling at you or being mean to you.

I was in the San Francisco airport heading to my gate on one of those long moving sidewalks. A very tall man, at least 7 feet tall,  was walking the opposite direction. I couldn’t believe it. The people in front of me were pointing at him and laughing.  I thought, ‘How rude, there’s no excuse for that.’

When he got closer, I could see why they were laughing. He had on a t-shirt that said in very large letters, “No, I’m NOT a basketball player.”

As he went by, I turned to say something and burst out laughing. The back of his shirt said, “Are you a jockey?”

I had to meet this clever young man so I jumped off the moving sidewalk and ran back to catch up with him. I asked, “Where’d you get this terrific shirt?”

“My mom made it for me. I grew a foot between the time I was 16 and 18 years old. I  was really sensitive and self-conscious. I didn’t even want to go outside because everyone had to make a smart aleck remark. My mom finally told me, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’ I’ve got a whole drawer full of these shirts at home. My favorite one says, ‘I’m 6′ 13″ and the weather up here is fine.’”

I told him, “This is so smart.  You are a walking-talking model of  Fun Fu!”

Now it was his turn to laugh.  “What’s Fun Fu!?”

“It’s based on something humorist Erma Bombeck said, ‘ If you can laugh at it, you can live with it.”

“Oh yeah, I can relate to that.  I used to get so annoyed when people talked about my height.  These shirts have made all the difference. Now I have fun with it instead of being frustrated by it.”

What a wonderful example of how humor can be a saving grace. Instead of being annoyed or offended about this situation, he chose to be amused.”

My client said, “Okay, that’s a fun story. But how do you tie that back in so it’s relevant to your audience?”

“Good question. It’s crucial to ‘hook and hinge’ the punch-line of an anecdote back to our point so people understand how it relates to them.”

“Hook and hinge?”

“The ‘hook’ is the key phrase or take-away of your story. In this case, the hook could be ‘have fun with it instead of be frustrated by it’ or ‘be amused instead of annoyed or offended.’

You ‘hinge’  the take-away phrase by asking several ‘you questions’ that motivate audience members to explore how this might apply to them.

For example, I often ask, ‘Is there something you’re sensitive or self-conscious about? Would you like to have fun with it instead of be frustrated by it? Would you like to brainstorm some non-combative comebacks so from now on you can be amused with, rather than annoyed by, that situation?’

Do you see, by using the same words from the story and turning them into ‘you questions,’ people are now actively thinking how they can use this insight in their own life.  That’s how to integrate humor so it’s purposeful, relevant and useful for everyone in the room … instead of trotting out a a joke that falls flat.”

My client asked, “Can I use your ‘Hook and Hinge Technique’ in writing too?”

“Absolutely. A master-mind buddy, Denise Brosseau, got a book deal from Jossey-Bass and spent several intense months working on her  Ready to Be a Thought Leader? manuscript.

When doing the final proof, she realized it was a bit too serious and would be more intriguing if she added some true humor. I told her, “All you have to do is think about situations that have made you laugh out loud in the past few months that are in some way related to the points you make in your chapters.”

Bingo.  Denise illustrated a number of her ideas with laugh-out-loud anecdotes, including this one, one of my favorites.

Denise was shopping for a baby shower gift at a Babies ‘R’ Us store in Palo Alto, California, near Stanford University. While waiting in the check-out line, she was entertained by a couple in front of her who were discussing the confusing instructions on the box that said the crib they were about to buy had to be assembled from scratch. They nervously asked the cashier, “Will we be able to put this together ourselves?”

The casher asked innocently, “Do you have college degrees?”

“Oh, yes,” the man assured her, “I have an MBA and my wife has a Ph.D.”

The cashier smiled and said, “Then you’re going to need to hire someone.”

Bada boom.

Denise told me, “The cashier’s response was so unexpected, everyone in the area cracked up. I weave that story into my presentations and it always gets a big laugh. More importantly, it supports my point that advanced degrees can add value, but they’re not required to to be a thought leader in your industry.”

Denise is right. Unexpected responses elicit laughter.

Do you know how Einstein knew he had a good idea? When he laughed out loud.

That’s why, from now on, if something unexpected causes you to laugh out loud, write it down. Then, figure out how you can integrate it into an upcoming presentation, pitch, blog or book to give people a respite from the “serious stuff” and to win their positive attention for you and your topic.

Want to see an example of how to integrate humor into a presentation?

One of the mot rewarding aspects of this TEDx talk is that people tell me they find it funny, and they show it in staff meetings because employees like watching it and it motivates them to STOP giving elevator speeches.

Why do they find it funny?  Because I used a tip from Pretty Woman Director Garry Marshall who told our Maui Writers Conference audience that Hollywood screenwriters and directors deliberately put a laugh in the first couple minutes of their movie because they know, “Laugh early, laugh often.”

Research shows that when people laugh in the first couple minutes of a film, or the  first couple pages of a book, they conclude it’s funny and tend to see it as humorous from then on.

When you watch this TEDx talk, notice the Carrie Fisher (from Star Wars) quote in the fist minute, “Instant gratification takes too long,” how it gets a laugh, how I hook and hinge it to the topic, and how we’re off and running.

Are you preparing an important written or spoken communication?

Ask yourself, “Is my message serious, complicated, depressing or boring?”

If so, how are you going to provide comic relief?  How are you going to integrate some true humor so people get a mental break from the “dark stuff?”

What’s happened to or around you recently that made you laugh out loud? How can you hook and hinge that appropriately funny situation into your topic so people get the point and use their subsequent insights in their life?

To paraphrase the Joan Rivers quote at the beginning of this post, when people laugh at something you say, they are more likely to relate to, remember and act on what you say. And that’s a win for everyone.

Lose Control of Your Meetings

Do You Sit in Meetings
“I get a little itchy if I don’t have some control.” – SNL actress Amy Poehler

Face it, these days, everyone gets a little itchy if they don’t have some control.

That’s why it is smart to SHARE control instead of TAKE control of your meetings.

When I lived in Hawaii, I had an opportunity to work with visionary leader Mike White and his team at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel.  KBH did not have the glitziest property on Maui, but it did have an incredibly high percentage of returning guests.

Why?

Visitors felt they were experiencing the real “aloha” of the islands. Employees gathered in the lobby every day at noon to sing, dance hula and play the ukulele.  Guests were greeted by name and treated to fresh papayas, bananas, guava and protea from the staff’s yards.

How did KBH create such a caring culture focused on delivering a quality customer experience?

As General Manager, Mike believed it was crucial for employees to feel they were part of an “ohana” (Hawaiian for “family”), so he held monthly all-hands meetings to keep everyone involved and updated.

This was a logistical challenge because it meant paying employees to come in on their day off and temporarily having a “bare bones” operation while staffers participated.  However, Mike put KBH’s money and schedule where its values were and committed to doing this.

Instead of running all the meetings himself, (the default approach of most bosses), he rotated the leadership among the different department heads.  One month the Sales & Marketing Director was in charge, the next month the Food and Beverage Manager, the next the Head of Housekeeping, the next month the head of Convention Services, etc.

The hosts had complete autonomy to run “their” meeting any way they saw fit.

Let the creativity begin!  It became a mini-contest to see who could facilitate the most innovative gathering.  Everyone looked forward to attending because they never knew what to expect. The meeting chairs developed their speaking and leadership skills, and were motivated to come up with new ways to keep employees engaged, focused and productive.  It was a win for all involved.

How about you?  Do you always chair your meetings? Could it create a more engaged workforce (or committee) if you rotated hosts and gave others an opportunity to take the lead?

This is not petty.  An Aug. 31 CBS Sunday Morning feature interviewed Robert Levering, co-creator of the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work about whether there’s a connection between and healthy bottom-line and engaged employees.

The answer was an emphatic “yes.”

Levering cited a Gallup poll that reported only “three of ten employees are actively engaged, meaning they’re committed to, or enthusiastic about, their work.” He quoted another study that found “disengaged workers are costing U.S. companies $550 billion.”

A premise of my new book “Got Your Attention?” is that people who use the internet (and that’s just about everyone these days) is accustomed to controlling and customizing their “user experience.”  It’s their norm.

On the internet, everyone has a voice.  They post what they want, when they want, on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest.  They create their own music stations on Pandora and Spotify.  They post their own videos on Meerkat, Vine and YouTube. They vote who stays and who goes on their favorite TV shows.

Then they sit in a meeting, (which is often WAY longer than it needs to be), and they have no control, no say so in how things go.  As a result, they tune out,  They may be sitting there in the room, but they’re a million miles away in their mind.

That’s one of the many reasons it’s time to disrupt the traditional, top-down, “I’m in charge, you’re not” mentality of the boss always running the meeting.

The boss is not the only expert in the room.

Today’s leaders leverage the expertise in the room by giving everyone a chance to connect and contribute.

Are you engaging employees and giving them opportunities to co-control their meeting experience?  Instead of simply downloading what you know,  are you giving others opportunities to share what they know? Are you emphasizing interaction as important as  information?

To the degree your create a culture where people have opportunities to co-create and customize meetings is the degree they feel intrigued and engaged – and is to the degree they feel part OF the process, instead of feeling apart FROM the process.

Don’t Tell and Sell. Show and Ask

“You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention.”

– line from the movie Django Unchained

[Photo via Flickr User indyplanets -- (1)

Many of us grew up doing “Show and Tell” in elementary school.

A premise of INTRIGUE is, “It’s smarter to ask than tell. And it’s even smarter to show and ask.”

Why? Showing and asking verbally and visually engages people. It’s a way to create curiosity and get people’s favorable attention.

Entrepreneur Cari Carter is a shining example of this.

Cari was participating in a pitch competition sponsored by Springboard Enterprises (https://sb.co/) at the California Women’s Conference.

Springboard calls their competition The Dolphin Tank, (because it’s a kinder version of the TV show Shark Tank where entrepreneurs pitch their startup to a panel of investors to win funding.)

As a judge, I had an opportunity to review Cari’s business plan in advance. She had created a hook, called Cargo, you put in your car to hang your purse on.

I thought, “Really?! You’re building a business around a hook that holds a purse?”

However, Cari intrigued us in the first minute. She carted a full size car seat to the front of the room, set it down on the floor next to her and put a purse on it. She stood up, faced the group, wrapped her fingers around an imaginary steering wheel and started “driving” while saying:

“Have you ever been driving along and you had to STOP all of a sudden?

Your cell phone falls off the passenger seat onto the floor. You’re scrabbling around trying to retrieve it with one hand while driving and trying to stay on the road with the other hand?

Imagine never having to worry about that again. Imagine having a hook that you …”

At this point, a man in the audience stood up and said, “I’ll take two. One for my wife and one for my daughter.”

Wow. Cari went from a skeptical “Really?!” to an enthusiastic “I’ll take two” in sixty seconds. That’s the power of showing and asking.

Cari did several smart things that contributed to her creating curiosity and getting our attention.

She asked instead of told. Have you been taught to start communications by telling people what you’re going to tell them, telling them, and then telling them what you told them? That’s terrible advice. Do you know anyone who likes being told what to do?

It’s more engaging to ask “Have you ever …?” questions that involve people instead of inform them. Now they feel like you’re talking with them instead of at them.

She “made us look” by using a prop. I’m sure it was a hassle to haul that car seat into the Long Beach Convention Center. However, it was worth it because it gave us something interesting to look at. Cari must have known our attention is where our eyes are. If we’re not looking at a speaker, we’re probably not listening to that speaker. Instead of being another “talking head,” Cari had our attention before she even said hello.

Cari acted out a situation we’ve all experienced. Instead of describing her startup with an elevator pitch (boring), she demonstrated a real-life situation where something went wrong. We remembered a time that happened to us or a loved one, and voluntarily decided we wanted her product so we can prevent that from happening again. She wasn’t selling, she was showing.

Bill Gates said, “I believe that if you show people the problems and you show them the solutions, they will be moved to act.”

I agree. Next time you want people’s attention, don’t “tell and sell” your product or service, “show and ask.”

Act out a frustrating situation with a prop while asking “Have you ever…?” questions.

It is a more effective way to win buy-in because people will think, “Been there, done that, don’t want to do it again.” People will be more motivated to act when you act out the problem.

You’ll know you’ve succeeded when people say, “That just happened to me last week,” “I want/need that!” or “You’re talking to me!”

Those responses are a sure sign you’ve connected, and mutually-rewarding connections are the goal of every communication.

Jessica Alba on her SerenDestiny® at SXSW

jessica albaSo far, one of the most intriguing aspects of SXSW is the BACK-STORY behind how these entrepreneurial visionaries created their break-out business.

For example, actress Jessica Alba had an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the baby wipes she was using with her daughter, Honor. She looked for healthier options that didn’t have toxic chemicals in it, and couldn’t find any.

She thought, “If no one else is going to provide products we can trust that won’t be harmful to our babies, I will.”

But it took her three hard years of getting no’s before she finally got a yes to her vision. In fact, many people in Hollywood scoffed at her efforts and kept suggesting she leverage her celebrity status by creating a perfume. But as she told the audience. “Making another perfume wouldn’t help the world.”

After initially getting turned down by LegalZoom CEO Brian Lee, she trimmed her 100 page pitch into 10 lean pages and refined her “too big of an idea” proposal into one that more narrowly focused on healthy products for families.

That’s when SerenDestiny® (yes, that’s a trade-marked term and yes, I have a website on it) entered the scene.

The first time, Jessica had reached out to Brian, he didn’t have children and didn’t really resonate with her idea or find it personally relevant.

This time, he was a new dad, He said, “My wife had changed her behavior and was suddenly reading labels and making organic baby food because she couldn’t find any that didn’t have sugar or additives in it.” He was in.

Together, they have built what’s on its way to being an iconic, customer-centered, lifestyle brand that generated $150 million in revenue last year.

Alba and Lee continued to “pull back the curtain” and talk about the early days of their venture. They changed the name of their company from “Love and Honor” (which wasn’t getting any traction) to “The Honest Company” which they felt was simple, transparent and scalable.
They made a hard choice to pay $400,000+ for the honest.com domain … (as opposed to the longer TheHonestCompany dot com they could have gotten for $10 on GoDaddy) and have found the short domain is worth every penny they spent.

They were thrilled when Jessica was invited to appear on Good Morning America to take their message to millions. But their website took much longer to develop than anticipated. It went live, for the first time, twenty minutes before her national interview. Miraculously, it held up to the instant demand.

Lindsey Blakely, Features Editor at INC, conducted an excellent interview. She asked Alba about their impressive engagement with customers on social media.

Alba said, “We have more than 1 million followers (none of them bought) and an amazing 20% active participation. Our customers tell us what is working, what is not, and what they want next. For example, they were telling us they didn’t initially like our baby wipes. We scoured the globe to find a manufacturer who could make the wipes thicker and larger. We finally found one and came out with a new, better product in 5 months. That’s unheard of in our industry. Combine that with our diapers that are 40% more absorbent than other brands, and parents and mommy bloggers tell us, ‘Our babies don’t get diaper rash anymore.’

That’s what makes what we’re doing worthwhile. Feedback from our customers that we’re on our way to fulfilling our mission to creating a non-toxic world.”

[Photo via Flickr User gageskidmore // Creative Commons]

Thank a Woman Mentor on International Women’s Day

Don Draper said in a Mad Men episode, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

Let’s change the conversation about women not helping each other.

When I speak at leadership conferences for women, I’m often asked, “Why are women so catty to each other?”

My response?

“In my opinion, every time we ask or answer that question, we perpetuate that negative stereotype. We do not help our cause when we label each other and call each other names. If our goal is to support each other, it’s time to change this narrative.”

Here’s how we can do that.

If someone says “Why are women so catty to one another,” or any variation on that theme, do not repeat the unwanted accusation or assumption. Every time we do, we imprint and perpetuate the very thing we don’t want.

It’s like telling kids, “Don’t run round the pool” or “Don’t forget your backpack.”

What are they going to do? Run around the pool and forget their backpack.

Instead, say, “You know what I’ve found? I’ve found women to be amazingly supportive of one another. In fact …” and then share a specific example of how a woman has mentored or championed you.

The only way to reverse this toxic perception is to stop complaining about it and create a new story about how women elevate and celebrate one another.

We have a perfect opportunity to do that this Sunday, March 8, International Women’s Day.

I hope EVERYONE reaches out to a woman who has encouraged, educated or inspired them.

Say “Thank you.” Express exactly what this person did or said to make a positive difference for you. And then continue to honor that person by sharing that story with others.

Each of us can contribute to a “rising tide raising all female boats” by choosing to showcase the wonderful things that happen when women help women.

Want other ways to get involved in International Women’s Day? Check out these sites, here and here.

[This post also appeared in the Huffington Post here]

How My Dog Taught Me Mindfulness

MurphyThe time had come. Murph was in pain and couldn’t keep any food down….

We were fortunate to have found a hospice vet who came to our home. After a morning of lyinmurphg in the sun, Murph’s favorite thing to do other than getting out in the sun, the vet gave her a gentle shot.

While stroking her and whispering, “Thank you” over and over, I felt Murphy’s spirt leave her body. There was no trauma. One moment she was here, the next moment she was not.

I went for a walk to Gratitude Bench to honor Murph and to send up appreciation for our fourteen years of friendship.

I kept reflecting on her peaceful passing, “What was the difference between Murphy being alive and then not?”

It came to me in a word. Senses.

In her last walk that morning, Murph drunk in the world through her senses. She could no longer hear, but she sniffed in everything. She was so present, so in the moment, so filled with the simple pleasure of being outside, moving, being alive.

Murph taught me many, many things. Perhaps the greatest of all of was to get outside every day and drink in the world through my senses.

Now, I honor Murph every morning by doing a mindful walk.  Part of SerenDestiny, of living in day-right compartments, is heading outside for ten minutes of sensory immersion.

I start with my eyes and SEE the world as if for the first time.

I see the sun filtering through the branches of the nature preserve near my house. I see the bright red colors of a cardinal flitting across my vision, some hardy flowers (pansies, I think?) that have somehow survived the first snow of the season.

I drink in the smell of snow, yes, snow has a smell, the smell of the frigid lake.

I breathe in through my nose, four counts, and out through my mouth, four counts. I feel my shoulders release tension and drop into a state of relaxation as a result of these deep breaths.

I hear the sounds of the Canadian geese honking as they take off from the lake. I hear a woodpecker drilling a tree, the sounds of a breeze ruffling the branches of the pine trees.

I feel the juxtaposition of the warmth of the sun on my face, the bite of the chilly air and how cozy I feel in my down jacket, how toasty my fingers feel in my winter gloves.

Those ten minutes of morning mindfulness center me in my world. They’re a contrast to the busyness of the day about to unfold. A reminder not to get caught up in hurry-up stress.

How about you? What do you do to stay mindful?

What is your daily practice for staying centered, aware and appreciative of being alive, of drinking in nature’s marvels through your senses, of being grateful for being alive?