Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: Tell to Win by Peter Gruber

The complete title of Peter Gruber's book is "Tell to Win: Connect. Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story."

That hooked me from the start, simply because I believe in the power of stories and often use them in my workshops. Gruber, the former chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures and the current head of the Mandalay Group - even that title evokes stories - knows the role that story plays in the hit films he produced. [Anyone associated with
Midnight Express gets extra points.]

Despite that experience, he is not immune from misreading his audience, such as when he tried to get the mayor of Las Vegas interested in building a minor league ball park even though anyone could have told him that Vegas regards itself as strictly major league.

As one might expect from a person with his background, his book is filled with stories from powerful people on the power of stories, some much more persuasive than others. [Having no sympathy for dictators, I could have done without the anecdote about meeting Fidel Castro. There were a few other examples that I thought were weak.]

But don't let those distract you. Gruber's book has important truths that we often overlook, such as:

"The emotional reward of the story makes the connections easy to remember, and every time we do remember, we also experience why the information tucked inside the story matters. By contrast, what's the meaning you attach to a list of numbers in a PowerPoint? Zilch! And that's why lists of numbers or facts are not memorable."

His interview with Steve Denning, a consultant and former director of Knowledge Management at the World Bank, is especially revealing. Denning observes that higher education downplays the importance of emotion and emphasizes the importance of theoretical and statistical models, but when people relax with their friends, they revert to telling stories.
That point alone deserves special consideration when presentations are being prepared. We may have been trained to shun one of our most powerful communication tools.

There are entire departments that could use this book. I'm already jotting down ways to use some of its concepts. Check it out. Tell to Win is worth your time.

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