Tag Archives: selling

What Mad Men Can Teach Nonprofits & NGOs About Story-Telling

I love the television show Mad Men. The characters and their storylines were immediately and continually compelling and surprising to me. The sets and costumes evoke ever-fading memories of my early childhood – I remember some of those outfits on my mother and the styles of kitchens in particular.

I’ve been rewatching Mad Men in the last few months, and I was struck by something I hadn’t remembered: how much I love the fictional advertising firm’s use of simple storytelling for clients in order to sell ideas. I am as spellbound as the pretend clients on the show during these sessions. With no Powerpoint presentation, no high tech, just words and maybe a still image, the advertising staff use compelling words, tone of voice, eye contact and subtle body language to sell concepts that evoke emotions so strong that, sometimes, clients tear up. It’s theater, without the clients knowing that it is, without the clients knowing there is acting happening. It’s the art of story-telling through talking.

Here are three examples of how effective the Mad Men low-tech approach could be:

Note that the first thing the ad person in these scenes does is set a mood, just by talking. You see moving images as they start pitching an idea, even though no moving images of whatever they are trying to sell are shown. Every time, they are telling a story, and you want to hear that story. You are intrigued, and you listen.

I have no idea how many times I have sat in an audience or meeting room and waited for someone to get the computer started, get the wireless network connected, get the software booted up, make sure the sound is working, and on and on, in order to start or continue telling me about some idea. By the time they begin, or continue, the room is often not in-the-moment anymore, and there’s nothing the presenter can do – the presentation can’t be altered based on the changed mood of the audience and the presentation can’t adjust the message to the moment.

I also have no idea how many times I’ve changed how I am going to do a workshop or presentation because of reading the room. I walked into a room to do a workshop and found just five people in my audience, so instead of turning on the overhead, I had everyone come up to the front of the room, we sat in a circle, I opened my laptop in case I needed to reference it, but I did a discussion instead of the lecture. We talked. I still did my presentation, but it didn’t feel like a presentation. It wouldn’t have worked with 50 people. As a result of experiences like this, I always ask to have a flip chart and markers in the room where I will present because I may suddenly find that we need to have a spontaneous brainstorming session in order for me to keep the room engaged and to ultimately sell the idea I’ve come to pitch to the group.

Mad Men reminds me of the importance of being able to not rely entirely on a pre-programmed presentation and technology, and instead, knowing what the heart of a message is, the key points, the essence, and being able to say such in a way that feels honest. Polish isn’t the most important thing – the substance and feeling of sincerity is, as well as a clear speaking voice. Yes, of course, I use visual aids and technology sometimes – but I always remember that it’s the message, not the tech, that needs to shine.

I’ll save my thoughts about the way Mad Men perfectly shows what women in the workplace face, even today, for another blog…

Also see:  PowerPoint / slide shows: the antithesis of thinking

Proud to fool courts re: community service

justice“Jay” of this IP address: (he didn’t give a real email address) commented on the most popular blog I’ve ever written, one where I exposed a company called Community Service Help, Inc. and its affiliated nonprofit, Terra Research Foundation:

I completed approx. 300 hours of community service online with some site and it was affiliated with the Terra Research Foundation back in about 2013. I work full-time and have far better things to do than complete community service and jump through the endless hoops the court system makes you go through in their attempt to “fix” me over a minor violation. I presented the hours sheet to my Probation Officer and he never asked what I was doing for community service exactly, and guess what, I never felt the need to tell him either. That’s his job to find out if it’s legit or not, not mine. He approved it once I completed all the hours and that was the end of it, I haven’t felt a single ounce of remorse for it either. We all moved on with our lives. So, kudos to anyone who has “fooled” the court system by completing online community service by watching videos. You made the right decision.

I’m so glad Jay wrote. Like others who regularly write to insult me regarding this blog, Jay really wanted to mock me for my hardline advocacy over the years against Community Service Help and Terra Research Foundation – both of which have taken down their websites and, apparently, have gone out of business (hurrah!). But instead, he provided a perfect comment that shows exactly why these organizations are unethical and even illegal: here’s a person admitting that it wasn’t really community service. He’s admitting it was a lie. He got away with it but, of course not everyone does. And, thankfully, at least some companies are getting targetted by law enforcement and paying a steep price for what the courts are seeing as not just inappropriate activities, but illegal activities.

The other downside of organizations selling letters affirming community service when, really, none has been done, is that this will make courts and probation officers all the more suspicious of virtual volunteering. As I’ve blogged before, I’ve worked with some people as online volunteers who needed community service hours for the courts, and they’ve all been terrific volunteers. Virtual volunteering is real volunteering. Organizations selling community service harm that message.

So, thanks Jay, for the great comment!

My other blogs on these companies that sell virtual volunteering and other community service in order to fool probation officers and courts, which include links to the various media articles about these companies:

Selling community service leads to arrest, conviction, July 2016 update on how Community Service Help has gone away, and the owner of the notorious the Caffeine Awareness Association pled guilty to a false-filing felony.

Haters gonna hate, November 2014 update on Community Service Help and other similar, unethical companies

Community Service Help Cons Another Person – a first-person account by someone who paid for online community service and had it rejected by the court.

Online community service company tries to seem legit, a November 2013 update about efforts these companies are making to seem legitimate

Update on a virtual volunteering scam, from November 2012.

What online community service is – and is not – the very first blog I wrote exposing this company, back in January 2011, that resulted in the founder of the company calling me at home to beg me to take the blog down

Online volunteer scam goes global, a July 2011 update with links to TV stories trying to expose these scam companies

Courts being fooled by online community service scams, an update from November 2011 that is the most popular blog I’ve ever published