Effective Storytelling and the 2010 Winter Olympic Bid

Effective Storytelling and the Olympic Bid

As many of you know, I was the presentation and speech coach for the Winter Olympic Bid in Prague (July 2nd 2003). One of the factors that helped Canada win was effective storytelling.

Bid Team Building

We were mostly a volunteer group, all working together to bring the Olympic Winter Games to Canada. There were eight different presenters in the final presentation. During 5 days of rehearsals, it became apparent that the challenge was how to effectively present our story in the 20 minutes allowed. Informational storytelling is always challenging, especially with multiple presenters and a tight time line.

It was quite a challenge, as I had speakers with incredible presentation skills, such as Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and BC Premier Campbell (who were used to no limits). I had some good business style speakers, including Jack Poole and John Furlong. Then there were our media-aware athletes, Steve Podboski, Christina Le May Doan, Wayne Gretsky, and Charmain Crooks all with limited presentation experience – and some with great fear.

Each had such diverse speaking styles that the challenge was to somehow connect them and present a consistent message. It was a mess when we started. However, when John Furlong spoke about when he arrived as an immigrant from Ireland in 1974 and the customs officer greeted him with “Welcome to Canada. Make us better”, this became our theme.

Effective Storytelling and the 2010 Winter Olympic Bid

Using that theme, we built a speech around “make us better”, tying it into the Olympic story. In the rehearsal each speaker spoke to the same theme, each passing it along like a baton in a relay race.

During presentation rehearsals it was very hot in our room and sometimes very tense (really it was very tense), especially as I used a stop watch for timing. I asked for more and more editing of each individual story. This hot palpable tension was broken by Premier Campbell, when he took of his jacket and said “lets get this done”, and he allowed some editing of his piece and time.

We also managed to get Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who was making the opening remarks, to use part of the message that Baron Pierre de Coubertin used to found the modern Olympics. This tied Cuobertin’s ideas to Canada’s vision of a modern Olympics.

It was very dramatic, and a successful use of a storyline. I wrote very detailed scripts and directions for each speaker. We Won!

“Authority alone does not make a leader; the ability to get your message across to persuade your listener is key. Nothing happens until communication begins; great ideas have no impact until they are given voice.”
– Geoffrey X. Lane

When To Use Storytelling

Start developing your storyline early, before you submit any technical materials, then use it in the response to the RFP and develop it all the way to the final presentation/pitch. Doing some basic storyboarding in the early stages of bid development can really help keep things cohesive.

People make decisions based upon feelings – many bid responses have become so technically specific that they read like an academic paper, forgetting that it is a person/people who will decide. Structure and tell your stories with purpose.

Have fun and get great results with effective storytelling!