Peter Guber had just been named the head of Columbia Pictures.  It was an exciting day. 

Or, was it?

Peter who was only a couple of years out of business school.   Every other person on the senior management team was at least thirty years older than Peter.  They seemed loathe to accept him as their leader given his youth and inexperience, Peter remembers in Tell to Win, his powerful book on how we can use storytelling to achieve our business goals.

The morning after his promotion, he called a meeting of the other senior leaders and took a seat at the side of the table, where he had always sat previously.  

As the other leaders filed into the room they saw the head of the large conference table remained empty.

“Without speaking, my actions were telling a story that I’d come with respect and humility.  I was telling them I wanted to lead, but I understood I was young and that my authority had to be earned.  Not until I earned my leadership would I take a seat at the head of the table,” Peter writes.  “We were all in this together.”

The mood in the room immediately lightened.  Peter’s move captured their attention by violating expectations, one of the most powerful tools in our communication tool belt. 

The key to capturing the audience’s attention?  First pay attention to them, Peter tells us.  

Anticipate their mindset.  

If we pay attention to them, they’ll pay attention to us.  


The best way is nonverbal signals.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  If appropriate, shake hands or touch someone on the shoulder.  We can animate our voice, raising and lowering it as an actor might.  Engage people’s curiosity.  Stretch the silence, especially after making an important point.  When we speak switch in a quieter tone, people are forced to listen harder. We can increase or decrease our tempo, as David Copperfield does.  We can single a person out for dialog.  

Being intentional about our posture, our smile, our gestures, our energy can have a magical effect on our audience because if makes them feel as if they are engaged in the conversation, part of the story, with a stake in the outcome.


Reflection:  Why did Peter choosing not to sit at the head of the table work?

Action: Look for an opportunity today to violate expectations.

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