Tag Archives: storytelling

The Presentation Hook

When I was in my late 40’s I had lunch with my dear friend Bink. He started the conversation off by saying that he has developed a serious addiction problem. Now, you should be aware that Bink is an excellent public speaker and he knows the value of a strong opener for any conversation.  It is sometimes called a hook.  He had me hooked.

I was quite concerned thinking perhaps that he had become addicted to some medication he was taking. That was not the case.  He became addicted to golf.  Addiction was exactly the right word to use. He could only think and talk and read about golf. Golf 24/7. Lessons. Scores. Handicaps. The poor guy was severely smitten.

Whatever he had was contagious.  I had always wanted to try golf, but never had the courage to take the big step of lessons and buying equipment.  After lunch with Bink, I did it.

I had a golf pro who encouraged me even though I never had any real talent, other than money to pay him. I practiced my swing every waking moment of the day, even if I didn’t have a club.  While visiting with friends at their summer house, I took a pool cue and stood out on the deck, in the rain, so I can practice swinging.

On a trip to Philadelphia to visit my elderly mother, I decided to drive (I usually flew), so that I can take my golf bag with me.  It’s all I talked about with my mother.

She was thrilled that I was taking up golf.  I think she saw the game as something that only rich, successful men played, so she believed it was a reflection of my status. It was hardly that. I heard her say on many occasions when introducing me at the apartment she lived in, “This is my Jackie.  He plays golf.” At family gatherings it was all she talked about.  Frankly, it was all I talked about, as well.

A few years later my mother passed away and she is buried in our family plot. Whenever I go to Philadelphia I make it a priority to go the cemetery to visit with everyone.

Once, as I was leaving the cemetery  I looked on the ground to find small rocks to put on the gravestone of each member of my family.  It’s a Jewish tradition to let the deceased know you were there. 

But this time I couldn’t find any rocks because the grass around the gravestones was over-grown from all the rain.  While walking through the high grass, I stepped on a rock and reached down and grabbed it.

It was a Titleist golf ball!  Right there in the cemetery.  A golf ball with not a golf course in sight.  It seemed like a sign so I put the golf ball on my mother’s gravestone, and now, every time I visit, I bring a handful of golf balls for everyone in the family. I guess I hooked my family on golf, as well. In fact, Hook is how some of my golf friends now refer to me.


My Passover Story

When I was 12, I did the things most 12 year old boys do.  One day strange things started happening to me. Hair grew in odd places, smells rose from odd places and I started growing taller.

The same thing happened to all the boys in my posse; a bunch of 12 year olds all going through puberty together.  We spent hours together.  We would ride our bikes around the neighborhood until it was too dark to see and had great fun.

Because we were all starting to grow taller…fast, all of the boys asked their parents for adult sized bikes.  Until then we were riding short, squatty bikes, but it was time to make the change to a 26 inch adult bike.  We were probably a tad too short for adult bikes, but a few more months growth would fix that.  Soon everyone had a new 26″ bike…except me.  My family couldn’t afford a new bike, and I knew it.  I asked anyway but was not surprised by the answer. 

This was all happening as spring was starting to burst in the Philadelphia area. In those years I would often watch a TV show on the ABC affiliate, channel 6.  It was called The Sally Starr Show.  Aunt Sally was a woman in her late 60’s dressed as a cowgirl with a big cowgirl hat and 6-shooters on each hip.  She was the host of the show and would announce which Popeye cartoon or 3 Stooges rerun we would see next.  I loved the show.

One day she opened the show by saying “Now boys and girls, you’ll want to hang around until the end of the show and Aunt Sally (she referred to herself in the 3rd person) will show you how you can win a brand new, beautiful 26 inch Columbia bicycle.”  She had me.  At the end of the show she stood behind this beautiful red bike and reviewed the rules of the contest.  We had to send a wrapper from Double Bubble bubble gum in an envelope addressed to Aunt Sally.  Starting in a few weeks,  she would pick an entry every night for a month and call the contestant up and ask a nursery rhyme question.  If they got it right, they won the bike.

I practically broke my leg running out the door and down the street and through the vacant lot to get to Angies, our local grocery store, to buy 2 pieces of Double Bubble bubble gum.  They were only a penny a piece, but I only had two postage stamps so that’s all the gum I needed.

On the way home I froze in panic.  It was Passover and we were a religious family.  Food that wasn’t “blessed” for Passover was not permitted in the house. My mother was very strict about that law.  Although I didn’t check, I was pretty sure Double Bubble bubble gum was not approved for Passover by the rabbis.  I was petrified that my mother would find me with the offending gum and strip me of my Jewish heritage.  So, I removed the pink Double Bubble bubble gum cubes from the wrappers and put them in my pocket.  When I got back to the house I could hear my mother upstairs.  The coast was clear.  I quickly hid the Double Bubble gum in the very rear of an end table drawer. I put each wrapper into the mailing envelopes, licked the stamps, and ran back out to find a mailbox.

And that was it.  I forgot all about the contest until a few weeks later when the phone rang.  We were part of a party line which meant we shared the phone line with two other families. The phone would ring each time any of the families received a call, but we each had a different ring pattern.  Ours was two long rings. In our house there was never a question of who would answer the phone.  It was always my 21 year old sister hoping that it was a social call of some kind for her.   She answered. I happened to be sitting in the living room and watched her as she turned pale, then said “yes” and then another “yes” and then turned to me as she covered the phone’s mouthpiece.  “It’s Aunt Sally” she screamed, “and she wants to talk to you!!”

I got on the phone and typical of a 12 year old boy had nothing to say. Aunt Sally did all the talking.  She asked my age, where I live, where I go to school.  She said the reason she was calling was because they were going to go on the air in 15 minutes and during the show she was going to pick an entry for the bike contest, and that she was going to pick mine.  I didn’t understand how she knew she was going to pick my entry before the show even went on the air, but I said something witty like “OK”.  She said “I’m going to call you and ask you a nursery rhyme question.  I’m going to ask the following question: Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of what?”  Before I can even answer she said “Water.  Water.  Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.  Let’s practice. Jack and Jill went upon the hill to fetch a pail of what?”  She waited.  I said “water” and she said great and said she would call me live when she is was on the air and ask me that question.

In about 15 minutes The Sally Starr Show came on live on channel 6.  Aunt Sally greeted everyone standing behind a red 26″ bike and said “We’re going to try to give this away tonight, but first, let’s watch a Popeye cartoon.

Anxiety overtook the Rossin residence.  As the cartoon was ending my sister had a scare.  She realized that at some point in all of this the phone rang but it wasn’t our 2 long rings, so we  ignored it.  She ran to the phone.  Sure enough, others from our party line were on the phone, so Aunt Sally would get a busy signal when she called.  My sister pleaded with them to hang up and turn on channel 6 to watch.  They did and a few minutes later Aunt Sally called.

I answered with a dull  “hello”.

“Hi, is this little Jackie Rossin from Chester, PA”


Little Jackie Rossin.  This is Aunt Sally.


Little Jackie Rossin, we just picked your envelope from all of the entries in the bike giveaway, so I’m calling to ask you a nursery rhyme question.  If you get it right, you win a 26″ Columbia bike.


Alright. Here’s today’s nursery rhyme question.

Before she even asked the question my sister was standing behind me whispering “water. water. water.”

Jack and Jill walked up the hill to fetch a pail of what?


Yes. Congratulations little Jackie Rossin you just won a 26″ Columbia bike, and a carton of Double Bubble bubble gum.


The next day I was the BMOC at my elementary school.  The principal took me to every class so I can tell them how I won the bike.

One post script to the story. It was no longer Passover when I remembered about the 2 pink cubes of Double Bubble bubble gum in the drawer.  By this point they were stale and hard as a rock but I still chewed them with great joy and think of Double Bubble bubble gum every year when I host our family’s Seder. 


Business Storytelling

The best communications device one can use in a presentation or pitch is to tell a story.  Stories are easier to tell than a conventional narrative. They are way more memorable and the audience usually understands the point of the story right away.

People who are nervous about giving a presentation would do well to start with a story that makes the point they are trying to communicate.  We are at our least nervous when telling a story.

I love to tell stories and really enjoy hearing them.  Some people are natural story tellers and they are incredibly fun to listen to. David Letterman is a spectacular story teller who, unfortunately, rarely   tells a story.  It may not fit into his show’s format. But, when he does tell one, it is a treat.

What makes a good story teller so compelling are many things:

-Just look on their face as they tell the story and you can see they are enjoying telling it as much as you are listening to it.

-Patience. Good story tellers don’t rush through the story. They take their time and milk each area of the story.

-The use of the pause. Not only does a good storyteller take his time telling the story, he/she pauses every once in a while to build tension or surprise, especially in delivering the final line or segment of the story.

-The telling of a great story is done in anything but a monotone. Good storytelling mixes it all up – the pace is slow in one section and hurried in another. The voice is soft then loud and excited.

-Good storytellers are fantastic editors.  They only give details and sidebars if it helps to make the story stronger. But, they eliminate most of frivolous information. The acid test is if you enjoy the story and get out of it as much without the details then with, drop the details.

-The #1 crime that most storytellers violate is a heavy handed use of chronology.  Because most stories are based in fact and based on events that really happened, some people feel compelled to tell everything that happened and in the order it happened.  You’ll know they are doing that because they’ll start to say “Then we did this and then that happened, and then the phone rang and then the cat jumped on the table.”  The “then’s” give it away.  It often sounds like they are reading a list instead of telling a story. And, these kinds of storytellers get almost fixated on making sure the chronology is precise.  They’ll say “then we did this and then we did that…no, no, first we did that and then we did this.”

Great storytellers weave the chronology into the story, sometimes using it as a surprise. They don’t worry if a factoid of the story is told out of order. They only worry about the impact on the audience. And, if they do tell something out of order, they are the only one who knows.

Stories are well suited for business presentations because it allows you to communicate some facet of how the company does business in a very believable manner.  It just doesn’t ring true when someone says “we give excellent service to our clients” or the ever-present “we are driven to exceed your expectations…”  A much better way to say that is with a story of how you gave excellent service. Perhaps you encountered a situation that you didn’t need to address for the client, but did because it helped the cause. Those stories always work and always ring true. They don’t need to be long or complicated. Companies would be wise to gather their stories and write them up for all to use, and all to remember.

Stories should have an ending and some insight that comes out of it.  Sometimes the insight is so obvious you didn’t need to say anything else. Sometimes it helps to discuss the insight and tie it to the theme of the rest of your presentation.

I’ve found in my workshops that people are hesitant to use stories in business situations because they think it’s not appropriate.  What is appropriate is communicating powerfully and if a story helps you do that, by all means use it.  It should be short and applicable for the business issue you are discussing.

It’s probably no coincidence that the leaders of companies tend to be strong communicators.  Next time you hear one speak, count how many stories he/she tells.  That will convince you of the power of the story.