Simon Sinek walked on stage wearing jeans, casual shoes and a long-sleeve t-shirt. He was about to deliver the Monday keynote at ATD 2016 to about 10,000 people at the Denver Convention Centre. Armed only with a humble flipchart and marker he started by talking about a recent experience:
About three weeks ago I was in Las Vegas to speak at a conference. I was staying at the Four Seasons hotel. The barista there was amazing; he made great coffee, knew many of the patrons by name and was really engaging. People would line up to have a second coffee just to talk with him. His name was Noah. I spoke to him about his exceptional customer service.
He explained that he loved making great coffee and interacting with customers. “I guess I’m just a people person” Noah explained. I asked him what it was like working at the Four Seasons and he told me how great it was and how he could be himself. “Managers here look after me. When I’m busy they ask if they can help froth the milk or by doing anything else. If I ask for anything” he explained, “they make it happen”.
It turns out that Noah has a young family and that being a barista doesn’t pay that well. To make ends meet, he has a second job as a barista at Caesars Palace. “What’s it like working there, do you get the same response from customers there?” I asked. Noah explained “It’s completely different there. If the managers there notice you, it’s because you’ve done something wrong. I just keep my head down, make great coffee and avoid talking to customers.”
Simon turned to the flip-chart and drew a circle. Inside the circle he wrote ‘safety’ and outside the circle he wrote ‘fear’. He turned back to the audience and asked “What environment are your managers creating? If your staff feel safe, chances are they’ll be giving great customer service. If they feel fear, chances are your company is providing sub-standard customer service and your customers are probably going somewhere else”.
The great communicator
That evening I attended the International Networking event. There were many hundreds of people there. I asked many people what they remembered most from the day. Most people said “the Simon Sinek talk”. They all could remember Noah, tell the story about the different supervisory experiences he was having and most would draw an imaginary circle and talk about the difference between safety and fear. It was a great example of how a world-class communicator can use a seemingly insignificant experience to create an impactful and unforgettable message.
The great presenter
I also asked everyone I spoke to that evening what they remembered of the speaker before Simon Sinek. A few people responded with “Was there a speaker before Simon?” Not a single person I spoke to could recall the topic he spoke about and only one person could give any account of the content: “didn’t he mention how Kodak went out of business?”
You might be thinking that this guy was a poor presenter. Quite the contrary – he was an excellent presenter. He strode onto stage wearing a Versace suit, Italian leather shoes and a Madonna-style microphone. He was tall, slim and handsome and commanded the stage like the seasoned professional he was. He moved around the stage and without notes, delivered a word-perfect presentation with a multi-media mega-show; music, videos, interviews- it was a presentation coach’s wet dream.
The trouble was, he was focussed on giving an impressive presentation. He said very impressive things like “SAP has standardised and simplified its content governance procedures…” I wrote that one down because I knew I’d forget it within seconds if I didn’t.
There is an incredibly important lesson here. If you want to appear impressive you can spend hours crafting your slide deck, your bullet points, practising your stage-craft and getting your delivery word-perfect. You can learn to be an excellent presenter. But this is not enough to have impact or be remembered.
If you want to be a great communicator, you need to find a few examples that illustrate your messages and convey them as stories, not as bullet points. It’s worth noting that the Tuesday keynote was Brene Brown and her talk was even better than Simon’s. And it was built off a tiny, emotional exchange with her husband in the kitchen a few years before.
Think about your last presentation. Are you a great communicator or a great presenter?
To be an effective business storyteller requires practice. Anecdote’s programs are designed to work in a no-nonsense way in a business setting, you can learn more about them here
About Mark Schenk
Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on: