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.

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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.

Got Focus?

Do you know one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a result of researching, writing and speaking about attention, concentration and focus?

If we want to truly FOCUS, we must first truly SEE.

Yet, to really SEE someone – or something – takes time, attention and intent.

Yet, as explained in Got Your Attention? … goldfish have longer attention spans than we do.

I’m not making that up. That’s from research by Harvard professor Nancy F. Koehn. Goldfish = 9 seconds. Human beings = 8 seconds.

What that means is we tend to rush through life distracted, impatient, perpetually on to the next thing.

At work, we’re constantly interrupted and besieged with conflicting priorities.

We rarely really focus on anything. As a result, we don’t really engage, we don’t really connect.

The good news? There’s an antidote to this.

Three times a day, take three minutes to do this simple ConZentration exercise:  stop what you’re doing and really SEE who you’re talking to, SEE what you’re doing.

As soon as you do, you will feel a newfound appreciation for that person or activity. You will find yourself really listening to that person. You’ll find yourself more deeply engaged in that task.

It’s amazing how accessible focus, engagement and connection are. They are, literally and figuratively, a moment’s NOTICE away.

I’ve collected my six favorite quotes about seeing – with some added comments – and share them here. they’re excerpted from Got Your Attention? on how to connect with anyone, anytime, anywhere  … and ConZentrate, a book I wrote about how to stay focused in an unfocused world.

Hope you find them thought-provoking. You might even want to post a favorite where you’ll see it every day as a reminder to stop and really SEE who you’re talking to, SEE what you’re doing.

Really seeing is the first step to being IN your life and truly experiencing and appreciating it – rather than rushing through it,  missing it and wondering what it was all about.

It’s the first step to staying focused at work instead of feeling constantly frazzled, frustrated and frenetic.

Six Quotes on How to SEE Your Way to Improved Focus and Connection

1.  The first words of our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, are, “Oh, say, can you see…” The real question is, “Oh, say do you see…”

2. “Nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small, we haven’t time, and to see takes time.” – Georgia O’Keefe As mentioned, to see takes time and intent. We must give our mind an order and decide to focus our attention on THIS thing for THIS amount of time.

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3. “Develop interest in life, in people, things, literature, music. The world is simply throbbing with rich treasure, beautiful souls, fascinating people.” – Henry Miller There is no excuse, ever, for being bored. That is simply a lack of imagination.  Give your full focus to what you’re doing. Instead of doing things by rote, NOTE. Remind yourself what a miracle it is that you’re seeing, breathing, thinking, hearing, moving, feeling.

4. “Life is postponed until further notice.” -Sam Horn The quality of your life and work are directly proportionate to the quality of your attention and connection. Notice someone or something NOW.

5. “When the eye wakes up to see again, it suddenly stops taking anything for granted.” – Frederick Franck The second you really SEE someone or something; you’re flooded with renewed appreciation. Attention = appreciation.

6. “The whole of life lies in the verb seeing.” – Teilhard de Chardin Every time I see this quote, something deep within me says, “YES, emphatically YES.” Not seeing = not connecting.   Fully seeing = fully connecting.

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Want more? Check out Sam Horn’s books –  Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? which Marshall Goldsmith calls “a must for every leader” and  ConZentrate which Dr. Stephen Covey ( 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) endorsed as “Remarkable, fascinating, thought-provoking, motivating.”

Or, contact Cheri@IntrigueAgency.com to arrange for Sam Horn to present her GOT FOCUS? keynote to your convention or corporate meeting. Discover for yourself why her programs on how to focus and concentrate have received excellent ratings from NASA, been featured on NPR; and how they can help your employees be more focused, mindful, connected and productive at work.

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.

You C.A.N. Remember Names – If You Put Your Mind To It

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“If you think you can or can’t; you’re right.” – Henry Ford, auto pioneer

Have you ever told yourself, “I’m terrible at remembering names?”

Do you realize you just did what’s called “failure forecasting?”  You just gave your mind a negatively-phrased order, and it will do exactly what you told it to do.

From now on, set yourself up for success by telling yourself, “I am going to GET GOOD at remembering names.”  And then use this simple C.A.N. system to do it.

Not only is it one of the best ways to make a positive first impression and let people know you care enough about them to make this effort; it’s a way to improve your attention/memory skills.

C = Commit

Remembering doesn’t just happen. You have to give your mind what’s called a “determining tendency.”

If you can’t remember something, it’s either because you didn’t give your mind a determining tendency, or you gave it a destructive determining tendency, i.e., “I’m terrible at remembering names.”

From now on, focus your attention on what you DO want (instead of what you DON’T want) by giving yourself a feasible, positively-phrased determining tendency such as:

•        “I will imprint and remember the names of all ten people at the board meeting.”

•        “I will remember the names of at least 6 people at this networking event.”

Put limiting labels in the past by saying, “I used to forget people’s names.  Now, I understand how important it is.  I know how I feel when someone remembers my name, and I commit to getting good at this so I do it for others.”

A = Attention on the Face

Distraction is the death of retention.  If you are scanning the room while being introduced to people, or thinking of something else when someone says their name, you’ll never remember it.

The goal is to associate the person’s face with their name, so every time you look at them, their name pops to mind.

The only way to achieve that face-name connection is to look people in the eye when meeting them. No “Look, there’s Jessica” scanning the room to see who just walked in.  Study the person’s face while they say their name so they’re imprinted and linked in your brain.

Another way to cement that face-name connection is to shake hands.  Instead of waiting for people to extend their hand, which can result in an awkward “Should we, shouldn’t we?” hesitation that gets introductions off to a distracting start, make it a habit to extend your hand first.

This causes you to lean forward which singles out that individual as the sole object of your attention.  The tangible act of shaking hands also creates a physical bridge so the two of you literally and figuratively connect, even in a noisy, crowded conference hallway or ballroom.

Try this right now.  Imagine leaning forward, extending your hand, focusing fully on someone’s face and noting the color of their eyes as they say their name.

Feel how this shuts out your surroundings?  100% attention on someone’s face is not only a prerequisite for remembering their name, it is a key characteristic of charisma, which is making the people you meet feel like they’re they only person in the room..

N = Numerous Spaced Repetitions

As soon as the person says his or her name, repeat it out loud to make sure you heard it right.

Saying “Nice to meet you Bob,” not only actively increases retention, it gives people an opportunity to correct you if you get it wrong. He may say, “It’s Rob, not Bob” which gives you a chance to say, “Thank you.  Got it.  Rob. Nice to meet you.”

By saying “ROB” out loud, and then repeating it silently to yourself every time you glance back at his face, you’re more likely to remember it because you’re using several senses to imprint it.

Memory is a result of intention + attention. Making a commitment to remember someone’s name, and repeating it whenever you look at their face, results in spaced imprinting which causes their name to “come to mind” when you see them again, even if it’s weeks later.

I’ll always remember the wife of a four star admiral who attended one of my “You Can Concentrate” workshops.  She said, “Sam, I meet hundreds of people a week. Sometimes, I go to three or four functions a day. I’ve realized I’ll never be able to remember everyone’s name. With this system, I C.A.N. remember more of them!”

You too C.A.N. remember names, if you put your mind to it, and if you use this system.  It’s one of the single best things you can do to get relationships off to a mutually-rewarding start.

[photo via Flickr User: Quinn Dombrowski // Creative Commons]