The first time I saw Franz he was huddled in a corner of his office. He was a big man dressed in an expensive Armani suit. His long blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail. His face was downcast. He seemed to be looking at his flashy hand made boots but then I realized he wasn't looking at anything. He was depressed and he admitted that he was scared. In less than 3 days he would be face to face with the CEO of his company. And his boss was nicknamed of "The Ripper" because he could gut a company faster than a fisherman could gut a bass.
Franz was a brilliant Austrian car designer, who had developed an innovative idea that might help save his struggling company. I had been hired by this international automotive company to coach him on communicating his idea to his stressed out boss. At the moment the odds of success looked dim.
The more fearful Franz became the more information he added to his presentation. His talk was titled: The Reflective Properties of Luminous Electric Cells and Their Integration into Vehicular Design and ran 50 minutes in length. He wanted to go longer but thought he should devote 10 minutes for questions. He had amassed over 30 slides of charts and graphs. Here are a few of the more interesting slide topics:
* Demographics and Psychographics of Potential Users
* The Role of Luminous Light on Sight
* The Historic Roots of Light as Crime Deterrent
I had a hard time staying awake during his onslaught of life numbing facts and figures. I also knew that Franz's boss had no time and little patience for this type of presentation. So I asked Franz one question. "Where did you get your idea?"
Franz got defensive and said "It doesn't matter" I challenged, cajoled and played the devils advocate and still he refused to tell me his story. Finally I said, "Franz if you continue to persist in this manner, two things are likely to occur. First your project will not move forward and there is a good chance you will be fired by your over-stressed boss." Well that stopped Franz and then he said:
I was flying all night from Los Angeles to Heathrow. I arrived early in the morning and rented a car. I drove to run down industrial part of town. I didn't finish my meetings until 10:00 PM. I was tired, hungry and disoriented. I had forgotten where I had parked my car and in fact I could not remember what kind of car I rented. The parking garage was old with bad lighting. Lights flickered on and off at every level. I kept wandering around looking for my car. I got worried that someone was going to hit me on the head.
Finally, I found my car. As I was driving back to the hotel I got this idea: Wouldn't it be great if I had a button on my key chain and when I pressed it my car could be transformed into light. Not only could I find my car but I would know that nobody was hiding in the shadows near my car.
When Franz's boss heard the story he smiled and said "OK, Franz, good idea. I want to move forward with it" That "ok" meant that a multi-million dollar project just got green lighted, and Franz's future suddenly looked rosy indeed.
A good story does something that facts will never accomplish, which is to move an audience of one or one million to take collective action and change. So the next time you're trying to convince your family to take a vacation; or you find yourself in front of your boss, think about telling them a story. Why? Because a powerful story plants an image in your audiences mind and makes them see the world through your eyes. And that's something that facts, spread sheets and power point will never equal. The right story at the right time can change your world.