Midnight in Boston. Back from a business trip, I'm getting my car from Logan airport.
Unfortunately, I parked on the roof of the garage. It's snowing, so I need to do some scraping, and brushing, and muttering.
The whole purpose of a garage, if I understand it, is to be IN. The roof is not IN. It's like parking your car on top of your house.
When you exit the roof, you drive down a one-way, spiral tunnel - round and round you go! - like a very intense amusement ride.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a car appears. It's going the wrong way - towards me.
Let's pause for a moment. Sooner or later, this story is going to need a point, especially for a business audience. And the longer the build-up, the stronger the point better be.
Back at Logan, the wrong-way car misses me by inches. We both keep driving into the night.
Ok, you're thinking, so what?
"My point is X," you say at the end of your story.
Here's where you decide, similar to your life, what things mean. And things mean whatever you say they mean - at least in a story.
Take this story. What's the "X?"
1) "People are idiots."
No, no, no. That's a terrible point, especially if you're talking to a room full of people. And even if true, what's your audience supposed to do?
X should be a call to action.
2) "When you exit Logan from the roof, be prepared for anything."
Well, if someone's unfamiliar with Boston, that X might be helpful. But it's extremely literal. The story never leaves the garage.
Create a bigger meaning.
3) "Get feedback."
For this X to work, ask your audience, metaphorically, "Ever go the wrong way?"
Now, you're no longer talking about airport parking; you're talking about work, and about life, and this is now a story about feedback.
"Maybe," you say, "the people around you are honking their horns, and cursing you out. But you're oblivious. Get some feedback, for god's sake, before it's too late."
4) "Stop blaming people. Find the root cause."
Suppose the audience, like me, blames the other driver. Ok, throw in a twist: maybe that driver made a wrong turn because of a confusing sign. Maybe he's not the problem at all.
Maybe there's something terribly wrong with this entire garage.
Apart from the roof.
Tip: When speaking to a business audience, you need a compelling point. A good story has multiple points. But when you tell it, stick to one.
© Copyright 2011 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.