What do you remember from the last conference you attended? Think about it for a moment before you continue reading. So what did you remember? Chances are you do not remember any lessons from the talks you heard. If you are like me, perhaps you may remember some of the buffets selections that we’re on offer. For example, I have attended many courses and conferences in the lavish and the luxurious Jeddah Hilton Hotel. What do I remember from the courses and conferences there? Simply, nothing. But I can tell you, they served the best food ever.
Most speakers commit a big mistake when they deliver their talks. They rarely use stories to make their points more understanable and memorable. I recently attended a three-day conference on a vital business topic. During the conference, I listened to around 18 sessions and to 18 different speakers. They all were medicore except for a marvellous speaker who kept telling us real-life business stories. I raise my hat to him.
Here is one of his stories: Back in the 80′s British Rail suffered a significant dip in their revenues; their travelling passengers figures were dropping daily. To deal with this unfavorable situation, they talked to a strategic marketing consulting firm to help them figure out what was the problem and more importantly what are some possible solutions to tackle it.
The consulting company asked British Rail to provide it with an opportunity to gather some data before they officially meet. Few weeks from their initial call, the consulting company invited British Rail executive to its premisis.
Two senior executives from British Rail arrived and immediately approached the receptionist who was talking over the phone. They told her: “Good morning, we are here to meet the managing director.” She just kept talking without giving them any attention. They told her: again with an irritated tone “We are here to meet the managing director” and she just continued talking. They waited a little bit for her to finish the phone call but they got more irritated because she was talking about the last shopping trip she had and her plans for the New Year eve. They told her for the third time: “We are here to meet the managing director.” To which she replied with a gesture: “Go to that meeting room over there and wait” and continued talking over the phone!
So, off they went to the meeting room. The room was messy; they were notepads, pieces of papers, pens, pencils and food leftovers on the meeting table. One commented: “I don’t think we should seek the advice of this company because they must get their house in order before they help others.”. The other executive retorted: “Absolutely.” This is when someone entered the meeting, collected few documents, and off he went. He even didn’t acknowledge the existence of the two irritated executives.
They kept waiting and waiting until the managing director arrived and greeted them. They vented all their irritation on him; the complained about the receptionist, the untidy meeting room, no one offering coffee and the delay in starting the meeting. To which the managing director replied: “This is how your customers perceive you. Your customer service levels are poor and that’s why you’re losing out to you competitors.”. The two executives from British Rail were speechless. What a valuable and insightful lesson on the importance of serving your customers right!
Our marvelous speaker used storytelling effectively to make his point clear and memorable. He used most of the elements of successful storytelling including the plot in terms of time and location, making the characters alive by having us listening to their dialogue and feeling their emotions through thier tone as well as sharing the moral of the story.
If you want to be better than most speakers, you should become a master storyteller.
(This post was written from 41,000 feet above the ground while I was on my way to London on 7 March 2012)