Why successful stories don’t always follow the script

Ever been in the audience where the speaker has lost their audience?

And, just keeps going with the prepared remarks?

How does it feel?

Bored?  Anxious?  Wanting to escape?

As a communicator, sometimes the situation calls for us to improvise, Peter Guber tells us in Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story.  We always have the option to capitalize on the energy, signals, cues, or props in the room.  When we do, we can often right the ship and re-engage our audience.

When Peter was CEO of Polygram, he launched a television series called Oceanquest.  A team of former Navy SEAL divers and the reigning Miss Universe Sean Weatherly traveled around the world filming underwater adventures from the Truk Lagoon to the icy waters in Antarctica.  

One location they targeted was the forbidden waters of Havana Harbor where pirate ships from as far back as the sixteenth century lay on the ocean floor.  

Peter received permission to film from the US government, but Cuban officials were slow to respond.  “Millions of dollars and the success of the whole project hung in the balance, so after weeks of being stonewalled, we gambled we could win approval more easily if we were physically on Cuban turf.  We sailed ahead into Hemingway Marina and waited for Fidel Castro’s response.”

Good news  Upon their arrival, Peter and his team learned Fidel was a scuba diver and had taken in an interest in their project.  He would be making a personal visit to see their equipment.

“‘El Jefe will be here ten minutes only,” they were told.

Peter’s team jumped into action, putting out the most sophisticated gear on the ship: underwater vehicles, diving suits, high tech cameras, and other cool equipment.  All this was on display when Fidel arrived with his entourage.  He strolled the deck, but nothing seemed to catch his attention.  Fidel glanced at his watch.  Realizing his chance was slipping away, Peter began pitching why they wanted to film in Havana Harbor.  Fidel ignored him and began moving toward the gangplank to exit.

At that moment, Sean Weatherly appeared holding a shark tooth as big as her hand from a 25-foot prehistoric shark called the megalodon.  Castro was clearly interested in the tooth, so Sean handed it to him.

Peter reset his story about the mission of their shoot into a story of the megalodon.  “As El Jefe fingered this enormous tooth, I told him how this gargantuan predator has once prowled Havana’s waters.  I folded Cuba’s ancient past into its present, tucking in anecdotes we’d unearthed about famous and controversial incidents that had occurred in Havana Harbor during its centuries as the heart of the world commerce, diplomacy, intrigue, and war.  

“I closed my story with a call to action, saying we as filmmakers wanted to create an enduring record – an artifact, if you will – that told the world the story of Cuba’s historic Havana Harbor.”  

The ten minutes stretched into four hours.  Afterwards, Fidel gave them blanket permission to shoot anywhere in the harbor they wanted.

Successful stories don’t always follow the script. 

_________________

Reflection:  Reflect on a time when I changed direction and achieved a successful outcome.

Action:  Challenge myself to divert from my planned script the next time I’m losing my audience.

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