Susan R. Estrich, professor, USC Gould School of Law; first woman to manage a presidential campaign; lawyer; and commentator for Fox News

Use Your Props Properly Or They Can Tank Your Story

Michael Dukakis was running for President of the United States and had a great health insurance program. But that image never really made it to prime time. In fact, when Peter Guber was walking to co-teach his UCLA class with Susan Estrich, Michael Dukakis’ former campaign manager, Guber passed Dukakis himself, who was a visiting professor on campus. As soon as Guber saw him, a memory from his campaign flew into Guber’s mind of a little guy wearing an ill-fitting helmet riding around in a tank for a photo-op. Unfortunately, that helmet, a prop in his story, helped scuttle his campaign.

Estrich, at class, sighed as she told the back story behind the helmet and the tank. “Here was a guy who was not strong on defense. Michael Dukakis had a great education and health insurance program. Had he gone to the healthcare factory and put on a little mask, with his nose sticking out, people would’ve said, ‘He looks a little funny, but he’s a healthcare nut, and he’s fun.’ We were never going to win if this was a fight about defense.”

Unfortunately, Dukakis’s other advisors felt otherwise. “So Dukakis goes to a tank factory,” Estrich recalled. “He gets on the tank. He puts the helmet on, and he fastens the strap. He thinks, ‘This is like riding a bike.’ It’s not like riding a bike! It’s riding a tank. You’re not supposed to have a good time on a tank!”

Wrong lead with the wrong prop at the wrong time in the wrong place – bad story! This artifact was not congruent with Dukakis’s authentic story, so it tanked his campaign.



blog-telltowin-linkTo validate the power of telling purposeful stories, Guber includes in this book a remarkably diverse number of ‘voices’ – master tellers with whom he’s shared experiences. They include YouTube founder Chad Hurley, NBA champion Pat Riley, clothing designer Norma Kamali, “Mission to Mars” scientist Gentry Lee, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, former South African president Nelson Mandela, magician David Copperfield, film director Steven Spielberg, novelist Nora Roberts, rock legend Gene Simmons, and physician and author Deepak Chopra.
After listening to this extraordinary mix of voices, you’ll know how to craft, deliver – and own – a story that is truly compelling, one capable of turning others into viral advocates for your goal.


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