January 10, 2015
A New Technique for Capturing the Attention of Business Leaders


During the past 25 years I have worked with some of the most analytical people in the world: tax auditors, engineers, polymer chemists, actuaries, and rocket scientists just to name a few.

In my effort to help these fine folks make the journey from caution to creativity, I've developed quite a number of non-traditional learning strategies -- most of which have worked well enough to get me invited to work with some extraordinary organizations.

Not a single one of the methods I used had anything to do with the bathroom. At least not until one fateful day at GE, when I found myself teaching Innovation and Business Growth to an amphitheater full of GE's "best and brightest" -- all of whom would be listening, the next day, to the iconic Jack Welsh, standing on the very same stage that I was standing on today.

My task? To move GE's leaders of the future from their left brain to their right brain -- to help them understand, from the inside out, what Einstein meant when he said "Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted, counts."

Having done this kind of work for the past 25 years, I had developed my own Swiss Army knife's worth of mindset-shifting approaches -- approaches that included the right use of music, story telling, humor, movement, emergent design, creative thinking techniques, experiential challenges, appreciative inquiry, and teaching people how to juggle.

Two hours into my GE session, things were going just fine. The 75 participants from 11 countries had given up their fear that I was going to make them sing Kumbaya and I had given up my fear that someone would soon discover my graduate school education was in poetry, not business.

At 10 am, my advanced facilitator skills kicked in and I began to notice that my bladder was full -- the kind of full that, If I didn't respond soon, would result in me hopping from one foot to the other.


Priorities newly clarified, I tweaked my agenda and taught the group a creative thinking technique that would keep them busy for at least another 10 minutes -- plenty of time to relieve myself.

Technique taught, I made my way up the aisle, out the door, found the bathroom, and did what 95% of all men do when it's time to pee -- aim dead center for the round hockeypuck-shaped thingee in the middle of the urinal, mindful not to get any drops on my newly dry-cleaned pants when it was time to zip up.

The bathroom, also one of GE's best and brightest, was about the size of a New York City studio apartment, complete with shiny marble counter tops and a week's worth of neatly folded hand towels on the sink.

Mission accomplished, I flushed, checked my face in the mirror, and retraced my steps to the meeting room.

Upon entering, everyone turned around and looked at me. Half of them were laughing. The other half were smiling. And if there was another half lurking somewhere beyond the laws of earthly mathematics, they would have been madly texting the details of what they had just found so amusing.

I was tickled that GE's best and brightest were so happy to see me, but I was also perplexed. This was not the usual welcome I received upon returning from a bathroom.

Confused, I shot a glance in the direction of Ben, my business partner, in the back of the room. He was standing, wildly gesticulating, Marcel Marceau on steroids.

"Your mic is on", he seemed to be saying, pointing at his lapel.

"Hmmm", I thought to myself. "My mic is on... my MIC is on".

Oops. Double oops!

From what I could tell, I had just broadcasted my entire bathroom experience to 75 global, business leaders of the future. I had to think fast.


"Oh that?" I said, taking another step down the aisle to the podium. "All part of the day's design. Intentional. Totally intentional. My attempt to..."

The rest of my sentence was drowned out by laughter. A lot of laughter. They would have none of it. Of course, they wouldn't. What I was saying was completely ridiculous, but because the way I said it was entertaining and self-effacing, they were not only forgiving, but suddenly much lighter and much more engaged than before I had exited the room just minutes before.

In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that in the three years of facilitating Innovation and Business Growth sessions at GE, I had never seen a group of people as focused, engaged, and happy to be in the room as this particular group was at this particular moment in time.

In some strange way, I had accomplished in three minutes, from a remote location -- the bathroom -- what usually took me at least a an hour or two -- bringing a room full of left-brained, curmudgeonly, bottom-line oriented business people to a collective state of mind that was fully present, relaxed, focused, and receptive to whatever was going to happen next.

How about you? The next time you find yourself making a presentation in front of a room full of people, what can you do -- other than broadcasting your bathroom experience -- to fully capture their attention?

Excerpted from Storytelling at Work

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at January 10, 2015 04:27 PM

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