The Power of Your Story

Every successful company has a story of how it was founded. Does yours?

For Under Armour, Inc., it was how Kevin Plank, a former fullback at the University of Maryland, grew tired of having to change his under shirts several times during practice. Noticing that his shorts always remained dry, he used a similar material to create moisture-wisking synthetic fabric shirts in his grandmother’s basement.

Unable to afford a Christmas gift for his mother, sixteen-year-old made a scented candle out of melted old crayons. The candle caught the attention of friends and soon he was selling his creations in stores and the Yankee Candle Co. was born.

Former MIT student Drew Houston became frustrated by constantly forgetting his USB drive on trips to school. This annoyance led him to envisioning a cloud-based file sharing service that became Dropbox.

How about your company? Do you have a well-developed story that is told and retold to prospects? If you do, could it be better? If you don’t, you’ll find this message very helpful.

By sharing your company’s humble beginnings and explaining how it first helped clients solve their challenges, you humanize your business and build emotional bonds with prospects. In the crowded marketplaces in which we operate, a powerfully created and told story is an important differentiator.

Proudly display your story on your company website and tell your story whenever prospects ask. Before too long you’ll hear your clients telling your story to referrals. The magic happens when you read about your story on-line and in printed media.

If you haven’t created your story or have one that needs improvement, use Freytag’s Pyramid for dramatic structure.

Let’s look at my story to illustrate dramatic structure.

Exposition (setting the stage): When I was an officer candidate in the U.S. Army, I attended the Instructor Training Course, a six-week course for soon to be instructors at the Engineer School at Ft. Belvoir, VA. I enjoyed learning how to give presentations and instructing officers and enlisted personnel how to teach engineering courses.

After I graduated from OCS, I was given the opportunity to teach the course to Army personnel. This was as close to a dream job in the Army as you could get. After a year, I received orders to report to a unit in DaNang, Vietnam (aka Rocket City). As a 25 year-old First Lieutenant, I was the Executive Officer (second in command) of a 550 person unit.

Rising Action (a series of events that build toward the point of greatest interest): After three years and four months and earning a Bronze Star, I completed my military obligation and began looking for a job. I didn’t see a future in presentation training and decided instead to make my millions as a stockbroker.

After several years I became a top producer primarily by conducting seminars, publishing a newsletter and hosting a radio and television show. In spite of my success as a stockbroker, I came to realize that it was the speaking part that excited me. I began exploring starting a presentation training business and worked with a small speech training company in the evenings.

Climax (the turning point):  Then came October 19, 1987, Black Monday, when the DJIA dropped 508 points for a 22.6% loss. The impact of that day on my clients and my business was painful and life changing. Although I had participated in many of the market’s wild swings over the years, I decided that this was the signal for me to pursue my love of speaking. I proceeded to sell my book of business to a former business partner and created a presentation skills course. After testing my plan with my closest friends over the next year, I held a reception on November 17, 1988 to announce the founding of Pygmalion.

Falling Action (the conflicts unravel): I set up my office in my small second bedroom overlooking a noisy grade school playground and began selling my training program. The first group had 12 students, 11 of whom were personal friends. My business grew largely through referrals and speaking to large groups of prospects. Despite 50-60 hour work weeks, my income never approached my days as a stockbroker and I frequently wondered if I had made the right choice.

The Dénouement [dāno͞oˈmäN] (conflicts are resolved creating a release of tension and anxiety): After four years, I had generated consistent year-over-year revenues and was able to hire another trainer and an assistant. Today my team of talented coaches and I have delivered our six training programs to more 100 organizations and 1,000 individuals in the U.S. and abroad. As the result of writing The Power of the Pitch: Transform Yourself into a Persuasive Presenter and Win More Business, I have delivered keynote speeches to audiences from 100 to 1,000. I love helping people overcome their fears of public speaking and develop new skills to persuade and win business.

There you have it. That’s my story and I tell it all the time.

How about you? What’s your story? Does it have dramatic structure? If you’d like to test it out, email it to me and I’ll gladly give you suggestions on how to make it better.

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Stay Tuned for My Analysis of the U.S. Presidential Debates

The 2015 – 2016 U.S. Presidential debates begin with the Republican debate on Thursday, August 6. With Trump’s explosive personality, there are sure to be some fireworks. Stay tuned for my comments following each debate.

Thursday, August 6, 2015
Fox News Republican Debate (Live Stream)
5pm ET – Candidates outside top 10 (1 hr.)
9pm ET – Top 10 Candidates (2 hrs.)
Aired On: Fox News Channel
Location: Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH
For  Sponsors: Fox News, facebook
Moderators: Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace
Candidates 5pm: Perry, Santorum, Jindal, Fiorina, Graham, Pataki, Gilmore
Candidates 9pm: Trump, Bush, Walker, Huckabee, Carson, Cruz, Rubio, Paul, Christie, Kasich

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The 10 Characteristics of a Great Communicator: No. 2 – Enthusiasm

Walter Chrysler had it right when he said, “The real secret of success is enthusiasm.” The successful person is passionate about family, work, friends and life. Moreover, the enthusiastic person attracts people. We like to be around positive, upbeat people.

Steve Ballmer opening Microsoft employee meetingSteve Ballmer, the president of Microsoft, is wildly enthusiastic about his company. He kicked off a recent annual employee meeting by running on to the stage to an upbeat song and yelling, “Get up! Get up!” People stood as he danced around the stage. Panting and out of breath, he approached the microphone and said, “I have four words for you. I . . . love . . . this . . . company!” He opens every employee annual meeting this way. His on stage antics may be over the top, but no one at Microsoft doubts his passion. Steve Ballmer

And he’s not alone, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates said of his role at the company, “What I do best is share my enthusiasm.”

The enthusiasm that is so much a part of these two leaders is a direct result how they think about what they do. Listening to them in press conferences and analyst meetings, you quickly get that they believe Microsoft is the best company on the planet.

Norman Vincent Peale said, “Think enthusiastically about everything, but especially about your job.  If you do so, you’ll put a touch of glory in your life.  If you love your job with enthusiasm, you‘ll shake it to pieces.”

When you love what you do, it’s impossible not to be enthusiastic. If you’re not already, fall in love with your work. Or do something else. The crucial step in developing enthusiasm is to find your passion.

If you’re retired, seek out activities that you are passionate about. Maybe it’s a hobby, charity or serving on a board. Perhaps it’s spending time with your grandchildren. Remember the words of Henry David Thoreau, “None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”

I welcome your comments.

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Candidates Fail to KISS

As the candidates thrust themselves into the debate last evening, their strategies became clear. President Obama’s objective was to remind the public that he is the president and to portray Romney as an inexperienced and uninformed wanna be. Governor Romney sought to come off as presidential and knowledgeable on foreign affairs.

But as the evening wore on each candidate’s position became more and more muddled. Foreign affairs scholars may have followed their respective positions, but for the average person, it was confusing.

That gets us to a basic presentation principle: Don’t tell everything you know. People don’t what to know everything. As with this debate, the vast number of dates, places, people and events was overwhelming.

When we are given too much information, we become confused. Every good sales professional knows that a confused mind is not a decisive mind. Once people become confused, they will not make decisions. Enter the concept known as KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

To keep your presentation simple, follow the Rule of 3. We can remember three points. If you use more than three points, the audience will become confused, disinterested and tune out. The candidates would have avoided confusion, increased retention and kept the audience engaged by limiting their answers to three concise points.

Three examples:

1. Moderator Bob Schieffer, “Governor Romney, you said this was an example of an American policy in the Middle East that is unraveling before our very eyes. I’d like to hear each of you give your thoughts on that.”

To his credit, Romney answered with four points. This is one more than three, but close enough. Obama, on the other hand, made four points, one of which included three sub-points, then concluded with an attack on Romney. Too much information.

2. Schieffer, “Should we reassess our policy and see if we can find a better way to influence events there?”

Obama answered with four points. Close enough. Romney answered with two points, followed up with three more points and then another three points. Again, too much information.  

3. Schieffer, “Gentlemen, thank you so much for a very vigorous debate. We have come to the end. It is time for closing statements.”

Obama answered with five points, one of which had four points. Romney was better with five points. Had both candidates followed The Rule of 3, their closing statements would have been much more profound and memorable.

My guess is that if you were to list the foreign policies of each of the candidates, you would be hard pressed. Think how easy it would be had they followed The Rule of 3.

I found this third debate to be the least interesting of all, primarily due to information overload. KISS would have made a big difference. 

That’s my view. What’s yours?

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Romney Pitch Slapped by Killer Questions

Whenever your objective is to persuade, you must be prepared for the KILLER THREE- three critical questions or objections that you must answer expertly. Failure to do so may derail your entire presentation.

Last night’s tension filled U.S. Presidential debate had numerous Killer Questions, most of which were handled deftly by both debaters. However, Governor Mitt Romney missed two golden opportunities to win undecided voters and potentially change the course of the election.

It was the last and perhaps most important question of the evening that provided one opportunity:
“What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate? Using specific examples, can you take this opportunity to debunk that misperception and set us straight?”

In answering first, Romney said that he cared about one hundred percent of the American people and that he wanted them to have a bright and prosperous future. However, he quickly returned to his five point plan.

President Barak Obama, on the other hand, took the tact of confirming the perceptions that people have of Romney. He pointed out that Romney had said just two weeks earlier in a private meeting that 47% of the U.S. population is living off of the government.

This is a Killer Question which Romney and his advisors should have nailed. Had Romney preemptively mentioned the 47% issue and explained that he is dedicated to ending the dependence on government aid by increasing incomes, Obama would not have been able to use the issue against him.

In the movie 8 Mile, the young rap star Rabbit, played by Eminem, was faced with a similar opportunity in a rap tournament. In the last of three rounds, Rabbit is pitted against Papa Doc, the tournament’s most feared battler and Rabbit’s antagonist throughout the film. Rabbit is aware that Doc knows all his weak points so he decides to address them proactively when he is the first one to rap.

Rabbit acknowledges without shame his impoverished roots and the various humiliations Papa Doc’s gang have inflicted on him, and then uses the difficult life he’s had as a springboard to reveal the truth about Papa Doc. Doc ends up choking when it’s his turn to rap and Rabbit wins the tournament. Rabbit was prepared for the Killer Three.

Another missed opportunity came when Candy Crowley asked President Obama if the buck stops with the secretary of state regarding the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Obama said that he is responsible and that he will hunt down those who committed the crime.

Instead of answering the question, Romney argued that Obama didn’t term the event a “terrorist attack” until two weeks later. The interchange concluded poorly for Romney with Candy Crowley siding with Obama.

This was a perfect opportunity for Romney to say something like, “The buck absolutely stops with the President. For the President not to protect our embassy, located in a hotbed of terrorism on the anniversary of the most devastating terrorist attack in our country, is unpardonable.”

Although both candidates battled well, I grade Romney lower for his failure to dominate on Killer Questions:

Obama – A
Romney – B

Unlike the candidates, I welcome fact checking. You’ll find more information about The Killer Three in my book The Power of the Pitch: Transform Yourself into a Persuasive Presenter and Win More Business.

That’s how I see it. How do you grade the candidates?

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Professor Hankins Grades V. P. Debates: Biden – B+, Ryan – B+

Last night’s U. S. Vice-Presidential Debate was an opportunity for U. S. Vice President Joe Biden to even the score with the Republican ticket as the result of last week’s strong performance by Governor Mitt Romney. What followed during the 90-minute debate was an offensive attack not previously seen in any U. S. Vice-Presidential or Presidential debate.

Clearly Biden was armed and ready as he challenged Ryan on a vast majority of his statements, facts and opinions. For his aggressive debating style:
Biden: A

On the other hand, Ryan appeared unnerved by Biden’s in-your-face approach. His careful responses contained a sense of reason. A less talented debater might have become flustered or defensive. A less experienced debater may have taken the bait and adopted an equally aggressive approach, which might have created a cat fight. For keeping his cool:
Ryan: A

On substance, Biden appeared more knowledgeable on the topics:
Biden: A

Ryan, although he demonstrated a good understanding of foreign and domestic policy, had more canned responses and ducked several questions.
Ryan: C+


But, here’s what bothered me. It was the multitude of facial expressions that Biden unleashed while listening to Ryan’s responses: the smirks, laughs, eye rolling, head shaking. I would expect this in an eighth grade debate, but not in a broadly televised Vice-Presidential forum. For his lack of civility:
Biden: C

Final Grades: Biden: B+, Ryan: B+

That’s how I graded them. How about you?

Be sure to stay tuned for the second Presidential Debate on Tuesday, October 16 when the topic will be foreign and domestic policy.

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Romney – A, Obama – C+: Professor Hankins Grades First Presidential Debate

University of Denver
October 3, 2012

Within a few minutes of the first presidential debate, it was clear, contrary to press reports, that America has a horse race. Governor Mitt Romney appeared friendly, relaxed and confident.

President Obama, on the other hand, was serious and uncharacteristically hesitant. His speech pattern was halting and peppered with numerous fillers (“uh”), creating the perception of a lack of confidence, conviction and preparation.

Romney’s responses were clear, concise and articulate. His artful use of the Theory of Sorting (counting off points as in “No. 1…”, “No. 2…”, “No. 3…”) to concisely make points, created an aura of authority.

When President Obama spoke, Romney smiled at him as Romney made notes of important points. When Romney spoke, he addressed responses to the President, another sign of confidence. On the other hand, Obama seldomly looked at Romney, instead addressing his comments to Jim Lehrer.

Romney made good use of gestures, which gave him energy. Obama’s lack of gestures had the opposite impact and caused him to look almost meek compared to Romney.

When it came to the subject of this first debate, which focused exclusively on domestic policy, Romney frequently appeared to have a superior grasp of economic and fiscal issues.

All in all, I give Romney an A, President Obama a C+. How would you grade them?

Stay tuned for my comments on the next debates:
October 11, 2012 – Vice Presidential – Topic: Foreign and domestic policy
October 16, 2012 – Presidential – Topic: Foreign and domestic policy

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The 10 Characteristics of a Great Communicator: No. 1 – Confidence

When it comes to communicating with larger audiences, many people have split personalities: The Real Self and the Presentation Self.

The Real Self is confident, comfortable, self-assured and genuine. Think Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy.

This is the personality that your clients and prospects want.

Frequently the Presentation Self takes over when a speaker begins his or her speech. This personality looks uncomfortable, anxious and nervous. Thanks to YouTube, a video of Minerva, Ohio Councilman Phil Davison’s out of control speech for Stark County treasurer went viral on September 9, 2010.

Mr. Davison’s Presentation Self kicked in to create an embarrassing speech that has been viewed over one million times, more than 2,000 times Minerva’s population of 3,934. Click here to watch a video of his speech.
Unfortunately, Mr. Davison isn’t alone. During a workshop that we were conducting for a large construction management company, we videoed a senior vice president giving a presentation. As we played the video back for him, he became more and more disturbed. Finally, he threw up his arms and said, “I can’t believe that I’ve been in my business for twenty-three years and achieved the level of success I have. With the way I come across, I’m surprised that I could persuade anyone to do anything.”

The Presentation Self will keep you from creating the success you want. Your customers and prospects want to see an authentic, confident person—the Real Self—and you will not persuade them unless you create the perception they want. You must excise the Presentation Self.

The Presentation Self appears for one key reason – fear. According to The Book of Lists, the fear of public speaking is our number one fear. People would rather die, play with poisonous snakes or jump out of airplanes than give a presentation in public.

When the Presentation Self appears, nagging questions suddenly pop into your brain. Will I forget what I’m going to say? Will I embarrass myself by not being able to answer a difficult question? Will the equipment malfunction? The result can be sweaty palms, shaky hands, weak knees, panic-stricken expressions, or a quivering voice. The perception is a lack of confidence.

To ensure that the Presentation Self shows up for every presentation follow this three step process:

Step 1: Get it right mentally by creating an affirmation. Instead of saying to yourself, “I really get nervous when I speak in public” change it to “I am a confident speaker.”

Step 2: Develop your presentation skills by attending a presentation skills workshop or course. Look for companies that specialize in presentation skills or check out a local adult education course.

Step 3: Practice, practice, practice. Look for opportunities to present in your organization or at service clubs (they are always looking for speakers). Join a Toastmasters Club in your area for more opportunities to practice.

Follow this 3 step process and you will soon find that your split personality has given way to a confident communicator who enjoys the opportunity to speak publically to any size audience.

The Great Communicator Toolbox
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Tiger Woods’s “Apology” Light on Contrition

Tiger Woods’s 13-minute nationally televised apology this morning, coming some 85 days since slamming his black Cadillac SUV into a front lawn tree, was a generally well crafted message aimed at managing the damage to his career created by the admission of his numerous extra marital affairs. Although late is better than never, an apology immediately following the November 27 incident would have indicated a sense of true contrition rather than what many will consider a veiled media ploy.

But Tiger’s statement today was little more than a mea culpa. In essence, the theme was – it’s my fault and I’m sorry.

  • “I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in.”
  • “For all that I have done, I am so sorry.”
  • “I want to say to them that I am truly sorry.”

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t want to hear about how sorry he is. “Sorry” is meaningless, frivolous and trite. I wanted a world class-apology. After all, this is a world-class guy, we should expect no less.

A world-class apology must contain The Four A’s:

  • Admission – guilt, mistake, error in judgment
  • Apology – humbly and sincerely describe the painful regret you feel for committing the offense
  • Action – the steps you are going to take to ensure that it doesn’t happen again
  • Ask – for forgiveness

Tiger delivered on three of the A’s, but fell short on the apology. To be fair, he did apologize once when speaking of the parents who pointed to him as a role model for their kids. (“I owe all those families a special apology.”) But for an apology to have impact, it must use the word “apology” not just once, but many times. Think about how much stronger his message would have been if he had simply added two words I apologize:

“I am also aware of the pain my behavior has caused to those of you in this room. I have let you down, and I have let down my fans.” I apologize. “For many of you, especially my friends, my behavior has been a personal disappointment. To those of you who work for me, I have let you down personally and professionally. My behavior has caused considerable worry to my business partners.” For each one of you, I apologize.

Moreover, Tiger’s statement would have had greater impact had the delivery been less scripted manner. A world-class apology requires painful, gut wrenching emotion. Tiger barely scratched the surface in this category.

When he comes out of therapy at some point down the road, Tiger will have another chance at a world-class apology. Let’s hope he takes it …and gets it right.

Click here for the video and transcript of Tiger Woods’s statement.

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Richard Blumenthal’s Lies “Unforgiveable”

By now you have either read or heard about The New York Times article  last week featuring Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s repeated Vietnam War service lies.

“This nation has a way of sending young men and women to war and then forgetting about them when they come home,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008, “and that is unforgivable. And I know that congressmen like Chris Shays are working very hard to change that situation. We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam. And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.” Click here for video.

According to the Times article, Blumenthal not only didn’t serve in Vietnam, he obtained at least five deferments between 1965-1970 and finally a coveted position in a Washington, D.C. Marine Corp Reserve Unit.
When questioned about the Times article the next day, Blumenthal said he “misspoke”. Okay, perhaps you can speak inaccurately, inappropriately or too hastily about a topic once, but in at least three different speeches? That is what I call a lie.

As a Vietnam veteran, I am outraged about Blumenthal’s lie. Many who went to Vietnam would rather have done something else. Many who went didn’t make it back. Many who went came back with physical or mental injuries or both. But we went. Sure, many of us would like to have had a deferment or to have been assigned to a reserve unit in the States, but that kind of special treatment was typically reserved for kids whose parents had a lot of pull.

It appears that Blumenthal has a credible record in the Connecticut House and Senate and as Attorney General, but how can you vote for someone who lies? Especially someone who lies about his military service to the country. Yes, Mr. Blumenthal, forgetting about our war veterans when they come home is unforgivable. But, so is falsely claiming that you are a war veteran.

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