A Quick Lesson in Turning Disaster into Opportunity

Fifteen years ago, as I stood helplessly watching my CEO client get yelled at and cursed out by one of his employees, I had no idea that that incident would later become the whole basis of my approach to communication.

Standing there, shellshocked (who knew an employee could yell at his CEO? As I learned, a union employee sure could!), little did I know this would become the story that would lead off my book and presentations.

And as I struggled for a solution, with the CEO bearing down, fuming at our whole team, it never would have occurred to me that this moment would be a small but significant turning point in the company’s long road to recovery.

I couldn’t help feeling a little responsible that day. After all, I wrote the speech that set the employee off, sending him into a rage where he called the CEO “stupid” and “incompetent” among other things.

So I was glad that I somehow came up with an idea that turned the day around. Without knowing it at the time, I encouraged the CEO to put on a performance. To act. And not in the fake, phony way some may associate with acting. In his next presentation, he embodied the very best characteristics of the very best performances:

  • He connected with his audience, on their level.
  • He told a story that engaged them.
  • He opened up and showed a little humanity.
  • He tapped into emotion, finding a deep connection they all shared.
  • He expressed himself visually.
  • And he raised the stakes, talking about the do-or-die consequences of the decisions they would make from that day forward.
It’s a wonderful story that still leaves me a little choked up sometimes when I tell it. I normally advise against long videos, but this one, if you want a summary of the whole book in just 10 minutes, is worth a look.