Customer Centricity
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Issue #185

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Be the change you want to see!

This is the final article in the series on an approach to Change Management to ensure that your continuous improvement efforts stick! Here, we address an approach for the change leader to "be the change" s/he wishes to see materialize. That is, once the leader demonstrates commitment to and a strong belief in the initiative, it is more likely that the rest of the organization will follow suit.

We hope that you enjoy this article!

A Leader's Story Presence: Guiding a Powerful vision
by David Sollars and Rob Salafia

We start this third segment where we left off, introducing the concept of Story Presence. The key lesson for those who lead projects is that you cannot expect others to be fully engaged unless you turn the switch on for yourself. There are many ways for you to do this. Let’s take a look at how one leader was able to show up and connect in an authentic way.

A Story from Rob

I am in Montreux, Switzerland coaching a leadership team on their annual presentations to the top 100 of their company. A number of these presentations are focused on creating buy-in around new initiatives and projects. I have 15 minutes with the global CEO and each of the 10 speakers. As I arrive at the hotel, I meet one of the team, Ashish, an Indian executive who immediately makes a likeable impression with his sharp and quick wit. I think, “I am looking forward to hearing from this man.

The next morning I am in the auditorium watching the rehearsal presentations. When it is Ashish’s turn I perk up. Unfortunately, his presentation is overly structured, his voice inaudible, and his slides are dense and unreadable. His presentation style is a barrier to his delightful personality and the effective delivery of his vital message. I am astonished that his presence has diminished so completely.

When it is our turn to work together, I smile and make a quick joke with him about how impressed I was with his slides, even though I couldn’t read or remember any of them. He laughs. We both know he must improve his message effectiveness in the next ten minutes. We get right to work. I ask him to articulate the one thing he wants his audience to remember about his recommendation.  He immediately says, “That it’s doable!” “Great,” I say. “Read down two paragraphs, look up at the audience, pick someone out, look that person right in the eye and say, ‘What I want you to remember is that this is doable.’”

His genuine belief in the plan is projected with instant enthusiasm on this simple phrase.  We practice. Now I feel the engaging presence of the man I first met in the hotel lobby. With a big smile and a pat on the back, it’s all in his hands now.

It’s show time. I’m sitting in the back of the room when Ashish takes the stage. He reads his lines, looks up and in a low and uninspired voice says, “What I want you to remember is that it’s doable.” I slouch, shake my head, and let out a big sigh.

That’s not what we just practiced!

Quickly he perks up and says, “Now my coach in the back of the room, Rob, would have wanted me to say it like Robert De Niro – ‘Yo, it’s doable.’  I will say it like an Indian, ‘Eeet is doable,’ but what I want you to remember is that this really is doable!”

Everyone in the audience breaks out in spontaneous laughter and delight.

Ashish broke through and made a true connection with them. There was a palpable spark in the air for the rest of his 20-minute presentation. At one point, he pulls up 4 members of his team who line up behind him. Together, with a flourish, they repeat the phrase, “It’s doable!” The audience is fully engaged and reflects the confidence Ashish has transferred to his company by nodding enthusiastically during their applause.

His message became unforgettable.

Become a Story Leader

What happened here? Ashish was coached into successfully imparting his genuine confidence and purpose to his audience. He was able to unleash what we term as Story Presence. A story’s content informs, yet only the “presence” of the story leader can powerfully bring the message to life. This is done with confidence, genuine emotion and a congruent, passionate vision that has lasting influence with one’s audience.

Discover Executive Story Coaching

Ashish was coached into discovering a phrase that would represent the core of his message. We have developed our own story coaching process from our theatrical backgrounds. We’ve built on some of the most highly effective theatre techniques of Constantine Stanislavski. Stanislavski improved on the way a message was embodied by his actors with the development of “method acting.”

He knew success would be achieved through creating memorable messages that lingered with an audience long after they had left the theatre.

Stanislavski‘s lasting legacy of innovation occurred through the preparation process of his actors. He replaced the old “stand and deliver” style of delivery with a heart-felt method of authenticity in their message that moved audiences and created presentations that are still talked about today. As a successful businessman, he treated theatre-making as a serious endeavor, requiring dedication, preparation, discipline and integrity. He saw acting as a process of rigorous self-analysis and reflection.

We have found our process of story coaching assists clients in discovering and refining their powerful message. Our interactive, emergent story coaching draws from the authentic beliefs and abilities of the leader, while creating a confidence and foundation for a speaker’s memorable message.

What the audience saw in Ashish was the glint of his eye, the cadence and variety in his voice and a face that was alive with a range of expressions. Ashish was fully engaged and authentic. He gave himself the permission to step into his full story presence.

Develop Executive Presence 

At Protagonist Consulting Group, we coach leaders and their teams to use story presence as an effective tool for guiding organizations through innovation. It is a set of skills that when practiced can be a powerful foundation for engagement.  Our Story Presence Process has been well received in organizations like ING Bank and Philips International because it is a natural and authentic way for executives to put leadership into practice.

Below are two of our techniques that can be effectively implemented into a leader’s next presentation to create clarity and confidence, while delivering a memorable and “sticky” message for his/her organization.

Show up and Connect

Show up

  • Showing up requires choosing to be fully engaged and present.
  • Show up for your audience. Develop skills to be “other” focused.

As we found with Ashish, he was locked into a prescriptive way of presenting information. As soon as he was given permission and story coached on a few techniques, he was able to combine his expertise in strategic content with an authentic story presence. The result was knowledge and confidence that was dynamically transferred to his audience. Our executive story presence coaching helps leaders to increase their own check in process and effectively focus on developing a powerful meaningful message.

What is the application of Story Presence in our day-to-day activities? As leaders we are in our heads much of the time. We are creating action plans, pouring over financial reports and solving problems. But are we really present? Are we fully engaged in mind, body and spirit?

What happens if someone walks into your office to ask a question?

  • Do you fully acknowledge the person?
  • Do you take your hands off of the keyboard, turn to the person and really focus on them?
  • Or does our sense of busi-ness get in the way?
  • Are we impatient?
  • Do we realize the negative impact of our partial attention on the other person?

Story Presence suggests that we put our full attention to these critically defining leadership moments and create a safe and energized space for others to thrive. These moments allow the other person to feel recognized, valued and give the best of themselves. Whether face-to-face or presenting your vision to a larger audience, it is these little moments that set up the conditions for higher engagement.


  • The mindset of connecting is about being curious, vulnerable and empathic.
  • Listening to your audience is the foundation of all powerful presentations.
  • Make listening a priority to better understand what is important to your audience.

Ashish deeply understood what was important to his audience. As a leader, he was recommending a new strategic vision to his organization’s influencers and knew instinctively that they would not buy into the concept unless he was able to transfer his confidence with a clear sense of passion and conviction.

For him, breaking out of a formal style of presentation was a big step, a risk. In hindsight, the perceived risk of being vulnerable was much less than the very real risk of not reaching his audience.

We ask leaders to consider these questions the next time they are about to speak to their team:

  • What is important to them?
  • What do you want them to feel or do as a result of your talk?
  • What is the one thing you want them to remember?
  • How many different ways can your story be told?
  • Could you use a metaphor or story in your presentation to help create a powerful illustration of your vision or capability?
  • Does your body language match your message?
  • Do old habits undermine the power of your presentation?

Through self-discovery, leaders learn the skills required to re-discover their authentic story, clarify their message in the context of their business and innovation strategy, and then share it effectively through our Story Presence Process. This process enables leaders to maximize high impact moments and differentiate their personal leadership brand by leaving a message that influences and sticks.

David Sollars and Rob Salafia are story archeologists. They help leaders and top teams discover the story that sticks. They assist leaders of change to find the solutions to their process challenges by uncovering knowledge and insights that are often buried within their own experiences. They engage with organizations during pivotal crossroads to clarify current priorities, shape the newly formed message for guiding the actions of an organization, and coaching confident performance from each brand ambassador. They utilize a range of engaging learning techniques drawn from their extensive experiences in the fields of theater, martial arts and medicine. Through their process of self-discovery, you will learn the skills to find your story, carve out and customize high impact moments, and differentiate your brand by leaving a message that resonates with your audience long after you have left. Contact them to tell them your story!

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Recommended Reading

For a comprehensive guide to Customer Relationship Management, you are encouraged to read CRM In Real Time: Empowering Customer Relationships.

As described on

This comprehensive guide to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) draws on Barton Goldenberg's 20+ years of experience guiding firms to a successful implementation of CRM solutions and techniques. Goldenberg demonstrates how the right mix of people, process, and technology can help firms achieve a superior level of customer satisfaction, loyalty, and new business. Beginning with a primer for executives who need to get quickly up-to-speed on CRM, the book covers a full range of critical issues including integration challenges and security concerns, and illuminates CRM's key role in the 24/7/365 real-time business revolution. CRM in Real Time is an essential guide for any organization seeking to maximize customer relationships, coordinate customer-facing functions, and leverage the power of the Internet as business goes real time.


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