Don’t Be an Energy Sucker!

In this excerpt from his new book Tell to Win, author Peter Guber relates his discussions with TV producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) to explain how authenticity and energy is important in Leadership.

Tell to Win

Like intention, authenticity and energy cannot be faked. If you’re telling a story you don’t believe in, your audience will sense it instantly. They’ll feel it and act on that feeling, even if they can’t justify their feeling in words. The good news is that they will pick up just as instantly on your genuine enthusiasm and conviction. You don’t need to stand on your head or shout or sing to show that your passion is real. You just need to let yourself feel it instead of suppressing it. Authentic energy is contagious. If your story truly excites you, and you let that excitement show, it will resonate with your audience.


How do you convey energy or enthusiasm for a product if the product’s not so great, or if you’re number three or four in the market? Unfortunately, for many businesspeople, that’s reality. But it’s not an insurmountable problem. The trick is to find something about the product or service that does excite you, even if it’s something as small as the color of the item or the look of the service’s website. Then focus on the aspect of your story that makes you feel genuinely enthusiastic.

One of the most high-octane advocates of telling to win that I know of in any business is Mark Burnett, who pioneered reality television. Since 2001 Burnett has been nominated for forty-eight Emmy Awards–for series such as Survivor, The Apprentice, The Contender, Martha Stewart, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, and The MTV Awards. Because Mark has turned personal enthusiasm into career rocket fuel, I wanted him to discuss this element of the tell with my UCLA grad students.

Burnett was even more emphatic than I’d expected in stressing the role of passion in the telling of business stories. “Our success or failure is determined by our level of energy,” he said flatly. “I tell my people, ‘Much more than our creativity, our level of energy inspires the people around us.’ ”

To explain how this works, he told the students the story he tells his employees. “The problem for successful businesspeople is really one of energy conservation. I put in a fourteen-, fifteen-, sixteen-hour day, and I need so much energy. Think of that figuratively as a bathtub full of water that you fill every morning to the brim. You crack that plug and let it drain, so by the time you come home the last drop has gone through the drain.” Ideally, he emphasized, there’s still some energy in the tub to get you home, but if you’re confronted by “energy suckers,” you’ll be running on empty before noon.

By “energy suckers” Mark was talking about people who are focused only on themselves, who don’t really care what they’re offering, who have no passion, no zest, and whose affect, voice, and presentation drain energy from everyone around them. Energy is transmitted by the attitude of your body as well as your mind. If you slouch in your chair or lean on your podium, that tells your audience you’re tired–maybe too tired to tell them a story of value. Standing or sitting up straight and looking your audience in the eye, on the other hand, tells them that you’re alert, aware, and excited about the story you’re about to tell. That energy transmits an unspoken promise that you can excite them, too.

The whole point of telling a purposeful story is to energize audiences around your mission or cause, and if your presentation sucks the energy out of them, then you’ve defeated your purpose. But does this mean that you can only tell an effective story when you’re feeling upbeat and happy? Not at all! Energy takes many different emotional forms, and it’s often most compelling when combined with vulnerability.


Read an interview with Tell to Win author Peter Guber

Excerpted from Tell To Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story Copyright @ 2011 by Peter Guber. Reprinted by Permission of Crown Business, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.