How to Talk Your Way Into Being the Boss


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This is a story about storytelling. I used to wonder what skill sets I had honed over 15-plus years as a film producer that were applicable to the world of business beyond Hollywood. I mean, did anyone at IBM care that I knew Tom Hanks or could get Brad Pitt's agent on the phone? Probably not, but I soon realized that the ability to tell a story did matter. And, in fact, it's the absolute most important (and undervalued) skill in all of business. The person who tells her story succinctly in a job interview gets the gig. The person who takes complicated data points and puts them into an engaging story becomes the team leader. And the person who eloquently articulates the story of her digital media startup vision gets to skip all the usual mistakes of a first-time entrepreneur.

Katherine Brown Ryan grew up in a sports family with a dad who was the head football coach at Tulane, North Carolina, and now the University of Texas. But Katherine bucked family tradition and migrated to a successful vocation as a film executive in Hollywood. Along the way, she also migrated into marriage and motherhood, and now she's migrating again-to digital media entrepreneurship. And why will she be successful in this? Because she knows how to tell a fantastic story.

Gift-giving occasions in Katherine's house are stressful. Her husband Luke is also a film executive and, between the two of them, they've shepherded movies that have generated more than half a billion dollars at the box office. But despite an abundance of talent for the silver screen, not to mention the best of intentions, Luke has always struggled to buy the perfect gift for Katherine-a stress that has never gone unnoticed by his ever-observant wife. Katherine's birthdays usually find Luke handing her a stack of printouts showing feeble gifts purchased online at the last minute that are set to arrive weeks down the road. Thus, WayEasyGifts.com was born.

Katherine created Way Easy Gifts as an online retailer built for guys like Luke. Simply enter some specs, and you'll find a customized page (and only a page) of hand-selected, uniquely curated, high-quality specialty gifts that are sent to you with no shipping costs and in exquisite packaging.

When Katherine sought financing for her vision, she told a great story. When she assembled a team of retail and digital media veterans, when she sat down with her web designer, when she tracked down wholesale gift partners, she told a great story. And today when she talks about the big problem her business solves or the specific profile of her customer, she tells a great story. Anyone can ramble about her vision, but Katherine has captured these people's hearts because, in each case, she knows how to turn her vision into the right story-in three simple acts and in a way that touches just the right emotions.

This will be my last regular column for a while because the constraints of my day job have plucked away at the time I have to pontificate here. So I thought it fitting to conclude my series of digital media stories on a story about storytelling. Why? Because storytelling is the most important skill in your success.

In my career in the media business, I'm constantly amazed at smart people's inability to tell good stories-to their colleagues, bosses, financiers, and even customers. More people than I can count show up on my doorstep looking for guidance about some sort of digital media product, idea, or business plan. Most of them talk for an hour, and I still can't figure out what they're after. And, in fact, I usually spend most of my time with them crafting their story. The few who tell a compelling story right away, like Katherine, get my attention. Katherine's years in Hollywood taught her to tell stories better than anyone, and it was her skill for compelling storytelling that got her vision funded, articulated her game plan, differentiated her from her competition, and galvanized a championship team of people who will go to the ends of the earth for her. And while I'm sure she's terrified at this new path in her media career (as we all would be), her skill of storytelling is what will make her a great leader in it. Hmmm ... maybe she didn't migrate too far from her football roots after all.