Is Storytelling the Secret Sauce to Business Success?

Life is about big moments and this was one of them.

Peter Guber had flown to Las Vegas to pitch Oscar Goodman, the city’s mayor and chief political gatekeeper, on building the ultimate state-of-the-art ballpark.

Peter was Chairman of Mandalay Entertainment Group. In his book Tell to Win, Peter writes Mandalay owned five uber-successful minor-league baseball teams across the country.

And, they had just purchased the Las Vegas Triple-A franchise for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Guber’s vision was to build a 21st century, state-of-the-art stadium off the strip in Las Vegas.

Peter was confident he would mesmerize the mayor. He was armed with a PowerPoint presentation that included financial models showing the proposed stadium would be a home run. Mandalay had a terrific track record proving they could control design and construction costs while delivering beautiful, high quality stadiums on-time and on-budget.

Peter delivered his pitch.

The mayor looked up and asked: “Can you deliver a major league team here?”

Peter was so caught up in his facts and figures that he thought the mayor was confused.

“What I’m proposing is huge,” Peter said. “In the years since our stadium opened in Dayton we’ve sold out every single game. That’s an unprecedented phenomenon. And we intend to surpass it here.”

Peter writes: “Goodman shot me a cold squint. ‘This ain’t Dayton, kiddo.'”

Peter realized the mayor had stopped listening the instant he said “minor league.”

The new stadium was DOA. Dead. On. Arrival.

Later, he recounted what had happened to a colleague who remarked: “We’ll have to change our story.”

Peter writes: “That’s when the light bulb went off: Ahha! You forgot to tell him a story.”

He realized he had defaulted to the standard operating procedure of American business: relying solely on talking points and financial models.

The numbers were so good, he thought, how could Mayor Goodman not be wowed?

But he hadn’t engaged the mayor’s emotions.

Success in business is often about persuading people to support our vision, our plan, our cause.

To be successful, Peter reminds us, we must reach their hearts as well as their minds.

And that’s what storytelling does.

Peter was an award-winning producer of dozens of movies and television programs. Before he had started Mandalay, Peter had been studio chief at Columbia Pictures and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

“Stupid,” he thought. “I’m in the entertainment business! If anybody should have known the strategic difference between a data dump and a winning story, I should.”

“My core business was telling stories to move people!”

Peter had an epiphany that “telling to win” was the secret sauce of business success: “What if purposeful storytelling was the game-changer I’d been looking for all along?”

__________________

Reflection: When in the past have I told a story to persuade someone to do something?

Action: For my next presentation, experiment with telling a story rather than presenting facts and figures.

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