Midnight in Boston. Back from a business trip, I'm getting my car from Logan airport.
Unfortunately, I parked on the roof of the garage. It's snowing, so I need to do some scraping, and brushing, and muttering.
The whole purpose of a garage, if I understand it, is to be IN. The roof is not IN. It's like parking your car on top of your house.
When you exit the roof, you drive down a one-way, spiral tunnel—round and round you go!—like a very intense amusement ride.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a car appears. It's going the wrong way—towards me.
Let's pause for a moment. Sooner or later, this story is going to need a point, especially for a business audience. And the longer the build-up, the stronger the point better be.
Back at Logan, the wrong-way car misses me by inches. We both keep driving into the night.
Ok, you're thinking, so what?
"My point is X," you say at the end of your story.
Here's where you decide, similar to your life, what things mean. And things mean whatever you say they mean—at least in a story.
Take this story. What's the "X?"
1) "People are idiots."
No, no, no. That's a terrible point, especially if you're talking to a room full of people. And even if true, what's your audience supposed to do?
X should be a call to action.
2) "When you exit Logan from the roof, be prepared for anything."
Well, if someone's unfamiliar with Boston, that X might be helpful. But it's extremely literal. The story never leaves the garage.
Create a bigger meaning.
3) "Get feedback."
For this X to work, ask your audience, metaphorically, "Ever go the wrong way?"
Now, you're no longer talking about airport parking; you're talking about work, and about life, and this is now a story about feedback.
"Maybe," you say, "the people around you are honking their horns, and cursing you out. But you're oblivious. Get some feedback, for god's sake, before it's too late."
4) "Stop blaming people. Find the root cause."
Suppose the audience, like me, blames the other driver. Ok, throw in a twist: maybe that driver made a wrong turn because of a confusing sign. Maybe he's not the problem at all.
Maybe there's something terribly wrong with this entire garage.
Apart from the roof.
Tip: When speaking to a business audience, you need a compelling point. A good story has multiple points. But when you tell it, stick to one.
Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com), Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.
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