Anyone who’s been in a Story Mode workshop will attest: Jill Pollack and I do not play it safe.
We seldom use PowerPoint. We crack jokes and tell stories. We get everyone on their feet, talking to us and to each other—usually within the first five minutes. We invite people to play games, draw, and be downright silly. And they accept the invitation.
Do we work exclusively with extraverts, risk-takers, and whack-jobs? Uh, no … though we are delighted to have them in the mix. We work with everyone. Engineers and executives. Attorneys and accountants. Scientists and salespeople. Marketers and managers. Communicators and curmudgeons.
In short, we #RefuseToBeBoring. Regardless of who’s in the room.
And it works. Every. Freaking. Time.
An engaging experience is contagious.
By fighting boredom at every turn, we’ve seen resistors convert to believers.
A few days ago, a gentleman sauntered into our meeting room, noticed where Jill and I had parked our belongings, and chose a seat as far from us as possible. Let’s call this guy “Eeyore.” As our session began, Eeyore sent all the negative signals: brow furrowed, arms crossed, responses terse and sarcastic. Before long, he interrupted a group discussion to challenge our whole approach.
I won’t lie. His resistance did not feel good. But Eeyore’s negativity was not unanimous. His colleagues were with us. Several Tiggers were bouncing to continue on our creative path. So, I drew a deep breath, pushed my mouth into a smile, and telepathed to Jill, “We got this.” I’m certain she did the same thing.
We stuck to our inventive, out-of-the-ordinary ways. We didn’t ignore Eeyore. We kept encouraging him to participate; we heard his point of view; and we gave those Tiggers plenty of room to share their enthusiastic ideas and questions.
As the workshop unfolded, so did our resistor. He uncrossed those arms and used them to take notes, gesture in conversation, and—ultimately—shake our hands. As we packed up to leave the session, he crossed the room to thank us for showing him a new way to think about his business. He strode out smiling.
What if we had designed our workshop to suit Eeyore? What he wanted (or thought he wanted) was business as usual. Presenters “presenting” about PowerPoint slides. Participants “participating” by sitting still, listening, and holding their comments for Q&A.
That safe approach might have been comfortable for Eeyore. But it would have been boring as hell for everyone else—especially the Tiggers, including me and Jill.
There is nothing more boring than a bored communicator.
The strongest messages—written, spoken, or otherwise—come from people who care. You have to care not just about your subject or project or idea, but about involving other people in that subject or project or idea.
If you want people to be all Tigger about your message, you need to be a Tigger too.
This month, I’ve been coaching several teams as they prepare for big presentations. These presenters have a lot in common: they work for large, conservative companies; they’ll be facing tough, possibly skeptical audiences; and they’ll be putting their professional reputations on the line when they make their pitches.
My mission is to get them thinking creatively about ways to tell their stories and involve their audiences. Like I said: #RefuseToBeBoring.
Although their circumstances are practically identical, two presenters met this challenge in opposite ways.
- The first copped an Eeyore attitude: “I’m just not sure people will be interested in participating.”
- The other channeled Tigger: “Is there anything we can’t do in our presentation?”
Who’s more likely to win the room? My odds are on Tigger. That bouncy, we-can-do-anything spirit will result in an energetic message that will surprise and delight the audience.
If you identify more with that first presenter than with the second, then the next few paragraphs are for you. Hear me out.
In any room, you’re likely to encounter a small fraction of the audience that is anti-everything. They’re Eeyores. They don’t want to participate. They don’t trust you. They don’t believe you. They don’t want to play.
Another small fraction is down for just about anything. They’re Tiggers. They answer your questions, follow your instructions, and laugh at your jokes. You have their full attention and enthusiasm. They did come to play.
Then there’s the rest of the room. The vast majority who are Piglets, Poohs, and Christopher Robins too. On a continuum from checked out to all in, they’re somewhere in between. Middle of the road. Though they may carry some worries or shyness into the room, they’re watching, listening, and maybe even curious.
Preparing to face this crowd, where should you focus your energy?
Don’t play to the Eeyores!
How discouraging to prepare a message for the negative minority. Yes, you’ll ultimately have to face a few Eeyores; but when you’re creating a message, you need to think positive.
Can you design a message for the majority? Sure. But chances are, you’ll orchestrate a presentation that’s safe, bland, and predictable.
If you want to stand out, be remembered, and get a response from your audience, throw your energy into those Tiggers. The more you can captivate and engage that down-for-anything minority, the more they will influence the others around them.
Before long, your middle-of-the-road onlookers will catch that bouncy enthusiasm. And a growing crowd of Tiggers might be just what it takes to lift those few Eeyores out of their funk.
Image Credit: Creative Commons