Subscribe & Connect

Business Storytelling Training to Lead Change

engaging leader podcast

Podcast: Business Storytelling Training

I returned to Jesse Lahey’s show Engaging Leader, to continue our discussion about strategic storytelling. In our first discussion, we talked about how leaders can harness the power of storytelling to improve their ability to influence, inspire and engage.

In this training, we get more into the nuts and bolts of business storytelling.  During the 25-minute podcast interview, I share with listeners how four storytelling frameworks will improve your ability to lead change. We get into the specifics of the story types and their role in change.


Change the Way You Lead Change

The podcast content is designed to provide practical and actionable information. Anyone who needs to be persuasive in the workplace will find tips that they can use right away.

You can listen from the website, download the podcast to your computer, or download it in iTunes. All the options are on the Engaging Leader website.


Brian Williams is Safe from the Saber-toothed Tiger

This article was first published on LinkedIn.

saber-toothed tiger

In Defense of Brian Williams’ Brain

Just what we need right now: another post about Brian Williams.

But I can’t help myself because I’m amazed and shocked to see the very people who use storytelling in their work and who advocate and coach others to use it are also so loudly and strongly against him.

The case of Brian Williams’ mis-memory regarding a war zone helicopter ride demonstrates the dark side of neuroscience. The negative backlash is a fear-based reaction because it makes each of us question our own memories.

Storytelling Works. Duh.

My LinkedIn feed is often populated with of junior associates rattling off the same seven storytelling tips we’ve all heard. We get it already. Stories work.

No one has bought in to the new-found discipline of storytelling more than the marketing communications and public relations fields. If your job as a journalist is to tell stories, if your responsibility as a content marketer is to write stories, if your role as a PR practitioner is to convince your leaders that they should tell more stories, then you are a story-vangelist. You sing the praises and preach the advantages of storytelling, including:

  • enhanced recall
  • improved ability to teach a new skill or form a new habit
  • increased connections between people

Using Stories for Good and Evil

These are just some of the reasons communicators love stories so much, but the most powerful reason of all is that packaging information in story-form makes the transfer of ideas easier. Princeton University researchers have found that stories activate parts of the brain that convert the information contained in the story into the listeners’ own ideas and story.

Did you hear that?

Stories transfer ownership of ideas and information.

Marketers and journalists love this powerful aspect of storytelling when they’re using it to their advantage. They love it when you repeat an idea that they’ve been spoon-feeding you. It’s even better when you feel as if you just thought of it yourself.

In the car one day while passing Cleveland’s industrial smoke stacks, my husband scrunched up his nose and said, “Pee-eww.” I took a deep breath and said, “Mmm, smells like jobs.” I related this experience to a reporter friend of mine. Months later, a version of my story was the lead of the reporter’s story, only he was the one in the car in another part of the state. It was an honest mistake, but clearly my observation had planted an idea in his head that resurfaced at another time and place and while traveling the roads of Ohio past some smokestacks, he remembered the comment, “smells like jobs.” What he didn’t remember was that someone else had said it first.

As we’ve seen with Brian Williams, reporters are just as human as consumers and just as susceptible to the power of storytelling.

Therefore, professional communicators shouldn’t celebrate, harness, and advance the use of storytelling on one hand without also acknowledging the potentially negative aspects of the power of storytelling, which includes mis-remembering high-stakes information and events.

Stories are the Reason We Survived the Stone Ages

Our brains are designed to remember traumatic and emotional events from a first person perspective. This is an embedded survival tactic to ensure that if your friend from the cave next door told you about his close encounter with a saber-toothed tiger, you would put yourself in his loincloth, learn the lesson, and avoid the danger yourself.

We are wired for survival.

Our brains evolved to make sure that important information, whether gained through first-hand experience or through a story, was memorable. The more emotional the story, the more dopamine is released. Dopamine is associated with memory, so it stands to reason that highly emotional events create the most vivid and the most easily recalled events. It’s also a fact that memories are unreliable.

Neuroscience Wins Again

We are both saved and held hostage by the same set of chemical reactions.

On a winter day my friends I were on slowly driving along a snowy highway on our way to a ski resort. In front of our Jeep Wrangler, a vehicle suddenly slipped and started spinning. We were following far enough behind that we were able to stop and avoid an accident. The car in front of us also came to a stop, but it was facing the wrong way on the highway. We were eye-to-eye with the other driver. It was scary and you could bet that we talked about that close call the rest of the ski trip and for a long time afterwards.

A year later, I overheard my friend Lesley who was with us on the trip retelling the story at a bar. Only in her version of the story, we were in the car that spun around. When I corrected the story, Lesley looked stunned. Not caught-in-a-lie-embarrassed, but seriously confused. I didn’t understand at the time why these wired had crossed in her brain, but now I do. The other thing I realize now is that my version of the story might not be completely accurate either.

Doesn’t this Jeep ride sound something like a certain helicopter ride we’ve been hearing so much about?

Brian Williams said in his apology, “In fact, I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy. I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in ’08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp.”

So it appears that he remembered the story correctly for a while, and then sometime between 2008 and today, his neurons reconnected and transferred ownership of the events from the people he was with to himself. Knowing the reason stories work is the reason I can be forgiving of Brian Williams.

Being a public figure who shared a story that could be verified is the reason Brian Williams was “caught in a lie.” In reality, he is a victim of neuroscience and biochemistry that has been present since our ancient brains first took shape.

The Havoc and Destruction of a Fear-Based Culture

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.


Hashtag culture of fear…. Hashtag culture of fear

I must have repeated that phrase a dozen times while perched on a bar stool during happy hour as my childhood friend, Lindsay, shared her workplace woes. There were many. She’d stuck with the firm despite the challenging office environment in anticipation of a leadership transition. When the changeover finally occurred last spring, she was relieved to hear the new managing director promise in front of the entire company that the old ways would no longer be tolerated.

Sadly, for Lindsay and her co-workers, habits are hard to break and the MD’s speech did nothing to eradicate the despicable behavior patterns. Lindsay and her co-worked took to venting.

Their outrageous tales from the past were followed in quick succession by more recent, but equally disturbing, accounts of management’s bad behavior. After each story, I said “hashtag culture of fear” and shook my head. After each story, Lindsay took a sip of her gin and tonic with cucumber and then launched into the next example that somehow managed to be more alarming than the last one.

The culture seemed permanently stuck in fear-mode, despite good people like Lindsay who wanted to break free from the terror.

Toxic Workplaces Harm Employees

Cultures with pervasive fear are of the most toxic variety. That’s because very few in management need to be infected for the resulting negativity to spread to everyone it touches. Employees soon find themselves reacting to unreasonable demands, cowering from the fall-out of problems, and enduring endless abuses and indignities.

The toxicity has detrimental consequences for everyone. Previously healthy, thriving individuals might find themselves experiencing dramatic weight loss or weight gain, ulcers, heart conditions, and mystery stress-induced ailments.

As a result, employees develop survival tactic including:

  • Responding to unimportant calls and messages outside business hours
  • Inviting everyone to every meeting every time
  • Copying everyone on every email message
  • Overusing “reply to all”
  • Kicking up decisions to the next level of management
  • Refusing to provide constructive push-back on management decisions

Each of these habits contributes to the problem. Added to the never-ending series of emergencies, the threats of retribution, and the anxiety over trivial details, the result is a very distressing workplace.

Toxic Workplaces Harm Businesses

It is not just individuals who suffer. The business as a whole is hurt because creative problem-solving, advancements, and productivity are replaced by this survival mode. Of course disengagement is also an issue, but it is perhaps the least of the business’ difficulties.

When “cover your a*#” strategies take precedence over doing the right thing, the culture has disintegrated to one of fear. Sadly, once fear takes hold, there is no room for anything else.

A culture of innovation is impossible because invention requires a healthy tolerance for risk, which is not at all compatible with a culture of fear.

A culture of customer care is impossible because employees must be truly empowered to do right by their customers without interference by a fearful and bureaucratic chain of command.

A purpose-driven organization is impossible because initiative should be fueled by deep-seeded personal motivations, not a desire to comply with the whims of management.

A values-driven organization is impossible because the collective higher ideals are mismatched with the leaders’ fear-driven objectives.

A culture of excellence is impossible because quality comes from a place of pride and commitment, both of which suffer under this tyrannical management style.

Safety is a foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In a culture where yelling, cursing, and disrespect flow from the top, every worker finds himself in harm’s way. Without a sense of security, aspirational cultures like innovation and excellence are unattainable.

I saw it in Lindsay; she was tired and defeated. The negative culture is forcing her to exchange job satisfaction for job survival. Her work and well-being are suffering. At some point, she has to make a decision: let the culture get the best of her or cut her losses. Any organization that treats good employees like Lindsay as disposable stands to lose the most.

No one should be in a soul-sucking job with an oppressive culture, but it’s all too common. What other bad behaviors are indicative of a culture of fear? Share them in the comments or tweet them to @connectedstrat with #cultureoffear.

Stories that Change: Event Hosted by Association of Change Management on February 11


photo by Dominic Campbell /BY CC

The Washington, DC chapter of the Association of Change Management Professionals is hosting a special free event on February 11, 2015.

Stories that Change: Winning Hearts and Inspiring Action (register) will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the North Highland offices in Rosslyn (1501 Wilson Blvd. Suite 900, Arlington).

Amanda Marko from the Connected Strategy Group will discuss the use of storytelling as a communications vehicle. If you are leading new initiatives, responsible for changing other people’s behaviors, or need to convince others that a different way of thinking is necessary, then you should learn these concrete communications frameworks that will make you a better leader.

After the event, head on down stairs for extended networking at Heavy Seas Ale house. We look forward to seeing you and your friends!

An Rx for Influence: The Two Story Solution for Change Management

two pills

photo by Dean Hochman / BY CC

This article was first published on

The problem with a negative story

Being negative is an easy trap to fall into.

When trying to prove a point or change someone’s mind, the natural tendency is to use a story that has a negative point-of-view to warn against an outcome and perhaps shock the listener a little.

The problem with a negative story is that it is only a warning and it is only attention-grabbing. Using a stand-alone cautionary tale tells your audience how not to behave, but fails to fill the void with a better idea.

A powerful anecdote I recently heard could effectively be used in many settings. For instance, if you were coaching a young professional about how to handle questions regarding their level of expertise.

Sometimes the wrong explanation can hamper your ability to move ahead in your career. Anna visited a doctor to discuss an elective procedure. She asked the surgeon the very obvious question, “How many times have you done this operation?” The doctor’s response was, “Five.” With that answer, Anna resolved that she would not be his sixth.

Certainly every doctor – or any type of professional – needs to gain experience and practice, but there has to be a better answer to that question because no one wants to be the guinea pig.

This story is instructive, but only to a point. If the coaching ends here, many questions are left unanswered. Therefore, to truly change a mind, you also need to exemplify the desired behavior.

The perfect complement to a negative story

A second story that demonstrates the positive perspective is the perfect complement to the negative story.

A helpful secondary story could be:

A young surgeon was asked in clinic by a patient “How many times have you done this operation?”

She told the patient who was in need of a major surgery: “Never. I haven’t done this exact procedure before because every patient is different. I approach each surgery knowing that no two patients have the exact same anatomy, pre-existing conditions, or medical history. That being said, I’ve spent years training at some of the best medical institutions with world-renowned teachers and this has prepared me to take on any case, including yours.”

The patient responded favorably and was comfortable signing the consent forms because the answer was honest and it instilled confidence. That’s what you want to achieve when responding to a question about your capabilities so that lack of experience never hinder your career growth.

A prescription for success – the two story solution

For a young person preparing for a job interview, you can see how a revelation might occur after hearing these two stories. That’s because taken together, the negative example followed by a positive one is both a diagnosis of a problem and a prescription for success.

An example that serves as a warning certainly will catch the attention of your audience, but alone it probably isn’t enough to achieve your preferred result. Consider using the negative and positive story technique the next time you are leading change because influence isn’t authoritarian, nor is it restrictive. True influence is education with a dose of inspiration.


Why Meeting Texts are Killing Your Culture

Toxic Side Conversations

It used to be that “offline” conversations are what happened after a meeting dispersed and you followed your boss or colleague to her office to continue the discussion and gain additional insights.

Now, those offline asides are taking place online. And they are happening during the meeting. In offices everywhere, text messages related to the topics under discussion are popping up on the screens of many of the meeting or conference call participants. Raw conversations like:

>why wasn’t the reorg project included on your list?

>>It’s been nixed.


>>No tolerance by mgt to deal with the loud complaints and non-stop whining of a certain exec.

>news to me…i’m in shock

>>Hey, I’m the just messenger.
>>But you’re not the only one who feels that way.



Concurrent electronic communications circumvent the need to raise a point or initiate a conversation with the group. When covert messages are permitted to fly between participants, the active dialog occurs only as subtext and group silence seemingly indicates agreement.

If the purpose of holding a meeting is to share information, gain consensus, and make decisions, then texting during meetings gives everyone cover to avoid all three.

public service announcement - don't text and meet

Texts Reveal Your Culture

Leaders should realize that electronic asides provide a subtext for the meeting. If they are happening, then they are the only place that the truth is being spoken. In reality, the timid are choosing to raise valid questions and criticisms in a non-confrontational and non-productive way.

In this environment, meetings serve to make everyone feel like they are participating in an important and exclusive activity, when in fact no real dialogue occurs and everyone’s time is wasted. Worse, minor contentions, simmering hostilities, and valid differences of opinion are never raised.

Without a doubt, electronic side conversations are a poison to teamwork and they are indicative of a culture of fear.

How different would meetings be at your workplace if texting was banned?


Amanda Marko is president and chief connection officer of Connected Strategy Group, which helps leaders communicate their business strategy and engage stakeholders during times of change.

This article was first published on LinkedIn.

The Dotted Line : Eureka! How to Make Discoveries

It’s What Happens Between the Dots


The ancient Greek word for “I have found it” is an exclamation that commonly marks a moment of sudden insight.  Around 230 B.C., Archimedes reportedly shouted “Eureka!” while stepping into a bath and first realizing that water displacement could reveal the density of objects. The scholar was so energized by his discovery that he ran home without first getting dressed. 

Moments of unexpected discovery feel accidental, but they’re actually made possible by accumulating knowledge (dots) and then determining the surprising ways seemingly isolated pieces of information relate to each other.
Your ability to make these connections is how you create value. 
I played a role in a Eureka! moment a few weeks ago while presenting a business strategy workshop in Cincinnati. As soon as I finished speaking, I could see Paola, with her face lit up, making a beeline toward me. She was excited to share that just that morning her communications team had met to discuss ways to make her company’s strategy accessible to employees, but they had not yet come up with a plan. My presentation offered ideas for bringing strategy to life and she was inspired to pursue one that incorporates a video technique that Paola’s own husband has expertise using.
For Paola, the dots were in front of her, but it was during my presentation that she was able to connect them.
That’s the power of connection and I want to help you make them.
First, realize that more dots aren’t always the answer. A deeper dive that entails additional article searches, books, and references might make you smarter on a a new topic, but it won’t necessarily help you connect the information to what you already know. To do that, also try:
1. Revisiting familiar favorites. Re-read the sections you highlighted in your most treasured business books, scroll through the archives of your favorite blog, or flip through your idea repository or article files. Looking at old information in a new way is how many accidental discoveries like Velcro and Viagra were made.
2. Talking about it. 
Researchers, and personal experience, suggest that outlining your challenge and exploring your options aloud, whether to yourself or to a partner using the Talking Aloud Partner Problem Solving (TAPPS) method, will help you achieve clarity. Selecting someone who is a good devil’s advocate is an approach I used yesterday to explore how best to deal with a difficult business matter.
3. Being quiet. 
Even when you think you’re concentrating on the problem at hand, it’s inevitable that your mind is in fact doing a couple dozen other tasks. Stop all the thoughts, including your obsession with your current challenge, and instead find the space between your thoughts. You’ll be amazed at what you find there. Although silencing the mind is hard and it takes practice, it’s also life changing.

4. Doing something else.
Science has figured out why your best ideas often arrive when you’re in the shower or exercising. The magic formula for creativity is dopamine production + relaxation + distraction of the conscious mind so that the subconscious mind can take over. Therefore, taking time to listen to music or engage in whatever activity delivers these three benefits isn’t procrastination at all. 
Your next great idea is lurking in one of these places, waiting to be found. But just in case you’re tempted to look elsewhere, you are very unlikely to make profound connections while:

  • watching a reality TV show
  • scrolling through your Facebook or Twitter feed
  • staring at a blank sheet of paper
  • sitting around a conference room table
  • reviewing a list of best practices
  • talking to people who are just like you
  • failing to have a plan for making connections
Dots Seeking Connections
Change Leadership and Communications Resources
Communicate Better to Grow Your Influence
from Simply Hired
No matter where you sit in the corporate hierarchy, you can learn to be more influential.
Don’t wait to get into the c-suite to change minds, impact the business and leave a lasting impression. Be influential immediately.
What Good Leaders Can Learn from Howard Stern
from LinkedIn
The most controversial and successful media personality of our time has evolved into a critically acclaimed interviewer. Building trust and deepening relationships are two of Howard Stern’s surprising skills.
Just like Howard does with his A-list celebrity guests, making your employees comfortable enough to share sensitive information is a hallmark of an exceptional leader, one who strives to improve the team’s – and perhaps the the entire company’s – effectiveness.
Tips for Picking Effective Storytelling Training
from Anecdote
Now that companies and professionals understand the power of storytelling, it seems everyone is offering storytelling training.
Knowing you need a story and actually learning the techniques and frameworks that will help you find, share, and elicit stories are two different things. If you’re vetting business storytelling training programs for your leaders, make sure the program contains these eight components.

Do these dots connect to your current challenges? 
Let me know.
I’d love to hear about the connections you’re making.
Listen Up! 
I was Jesse Lahey’s guest on the Engaging Leader podcast this week to discuss how stories open people’s minds to the idea of change.
During the 20-minute interview, I tell a few stories, share the science of storytelling, and demonstrate that facts are forgettable while stories are memorable as I try to recall how many times the plastic water bottles we throw away every year wrap around the earth. (Hint: I can’t remember because statistical evidence alone isn’t effective.)
Listen or download here or on iTunes.
Improve Your Influence in 2015
Let’s Connect 
ring either Storytelling for Leaders or the new Storytelling for Sales to your team, company, or corporate training academy. The next public workshop is in Boston on Thursday, March 26, 2015.

Book a speaker
on the topics of change communications, corporate culture, employee engagement, or business strategy.

Project Guidance

Request assistance
communicating and engaging stakeholders to make your next change project or new initiative a success.
Claim the one new spot I’ve opened for an executive who wants to learn communications and influence skills that will enhance their effectiveness in the boardroom, behind the podium, or across the desk. You’ll be led through a proven program that’s customized to your specific needs and current workplace challenges.

Happy Holidays

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, too

This year’s Rockefeller Center Christmas tree came from a few miles from my home.
Isn’t that an interesting connection?

For a holiday treat, I leave you with the touching story of how a wrong number, a sweet little boy, a gruff Army colonel whose heart softened, and a joke by some airmen began the
U.S. military’s annual tradition of tracking Santa on Christmas Eve. Enjoy!
Connected Strategy Group was founded by Amanda Marko, president and chief connection officer, to help leaders increase their influence through deeper connections that enhance the effectiveness of business strategy, change management, employee engagement, and corporate culture initiatives. Amanda recently became one of only a handful of people globally – and the first in the U.S. – to partner with Australia-based Anecdote to deliver their Storytelling for Leaders program. Storytelling complements her consulting work to help leaders better influence, engage, and inspire others.

Business Storytelling Essentials for Leading Change

Engaging Leadership Podcast about Storytelling for Business Leaders Who Lead Change

Jesse Lahey hosted me on his Engaging Leader podcast to discuss why storytelling works in business when change is afoot.



During this 30-minute exchange we cover business storytelling essentials for leading change, including:

  • the impact of change fatigue on change initiatives
  • the art and science of business storytelling
  • how to convince skeptical business leaders that storytelling is effective
  • how facts change minds versus how stories change minds
  • the role of facts in business storytelling
  • how to construct a business story
  • the power of story to transfer idea ownership
  • the role of empathy in changing minds


The episode is available for free and immediate download here and on iTunes.


The Dotted Line: Calling All Change Agents

The October 2014 issue of The Dotted Line features news + resources for leading change. Subscribe to receive future issues of The Dotted Line delivered to your inbox.



Be the Change By Telling the Story

The last Storytelling for Leaders public workshop of 2014 will be held on Monday, November 17 in Washington, D.C. at the Le Méridien Arlington. Get details and register or take your chances trying to win a seat at the training by heading over to Facebook.

If you can’t make it to D.C., bring Storytelling for Leaders to your team, company, or corporate training academy. 2015 dates are already being booked. Find out more.


Resources for Change Agents (Like You)

How to Make Yourself Memorable
from Business Insider

Whenever you meet someone new, you can be sure that they want to know two things about you. No, it’s not where you’re from and what you do for a living. Those superficial questions are actually trying to ascertain what you’re about and what you want.

Your employees also seek the same information from their leaders, especially during times of change. Until you provide answers, they are going to resist change because they doubt your sincerity, ability, and motive. Find a way to connect with everyone you meet by using these four steps for creating your own connection story that will improve your effectiveness as a leader.

The Cure for Micromanaging
from Simply Hired

Leading change is a stress-filled endeavor, so don’t make it worse by breathing down the necks of everyone on your team. Micromanaging won’t make you a better leader (unless being annoying is your goal). This cure for micromanaging results in the need for less direct oversight and fewer rules, while encouraging more engagement. It’s sort of like a magic pill, but it’s not bitter at all.

No One’s Favorite: Flavor of the Month Leadership
from LinkedIn

Humans are hardwired to seek consistency. That’s the reason we hate hypocrites and are justified in demanding some degree of certainty at work. Leaders violate that trust when they roll out a new initative or switch the strategy too often. As a result, employees revolt by refusing to participate, their reason being that “it’s just the next flavor of the month”. Put an end to this complaint by taking a hard look at your organization and identifying which of the five root causes apply to you.


 Executive Coaching
*  One Opening  *

One-on-one coaching works for busy executives who want to learn communications and influence skills that will enhance their effectiveness in the boardroom, behind the podium, or across the desk. You’ll be led through a proven program that’s customize to your specific needs and current workplace challenges.

Just last week a client in Atlanta used these skills to deliver a presentation to a skeptical executive team and he was elated to report that he ultimately won their support for his initiative.

I have opened only one new spot for an executive who is ready to improve his or her communications and leadership skills. Inquire today.


Upcoming Events

Storytelling for Leaders public workshop
in Washington, D.C.on Monday, November, 17.
Reserve your spot.

Make Your Strategy Stick: Storytelling Roles of Management and Communications in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Thursday, November 20. Sponsored by the International Association of Business Communicators. Sign up.

Little Stories that Pave the Way for Big Change podcast interview with Jesse Lahey of Engaging Leader to air in early 2015. Learn more.

Request a speaker on the topics of change communications,
corporate culture, employee engagement, or business strategy.


Connected Strategy Group was founded by Amanda Marko, president and chief connection officer, to help leaders increase their influence through deeper connections that enhance the effectiveness of business strategy, change management, employee engagement, and corporate culture initiatives. Amanda recently became one of only a handful of people globally – and the first in the U.S. – to partner with Australia-based Anecdote to deliver their Storytelling for Leaders program. Storytelling complements her consulting work to help leaders better influence, engage, and inspire others.


Strategic Storytelling Workshop for Corporate Executives Who Want Training in Using Stories to Improve Their Leadership



The last public Storytelling for Leaders workshop in the U.S. is on Monday, November 17. Learn more and register.

Additional public training sessions in strategic storytelling will be scheduled in 2015.

Go here for details about bringing oral business storytelling to your workplace, attending a public workshop, or receiving executive coaching in storytelling techniques.





My Recent Tweets

Trusted Partners and Resources