Women Of The C-Suite: “Make people feel truly heard, truly appreciated, truly special” With Donna Griffit

Make people feel truly heard, truly appreciated, truly special. There’s something remarkable inside of each person — they don’t always see it. If you can authentically show them their greatness, it’s a gift for life. Treat them like family, show appreciation — true appreciation. Don’t take anything they do for granted. Even the seemingly small things. Make people feel […]

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Make people feel truly heard, truly appreciated, truly special. There’s something remarkable inside of each person — they don’t always see it. If you can authentically show them their greatness, it’s a gift for life. Treat them like family, show appreciation — true appreciation. Don’t take anything they do for granted. Even the seemingly small things.

Make people feel truly heard, truly appreciated, truly special. There’s something remarkable inside of each person — they don’t always see it. If you can authentically show them their greatness, it’s a gift for life. Treat them like family, show appreciation — true appreciation. Don’t take anything they do for granted. Even the seemingly small things.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Griffit, Corporate Storyteller. Donna has worked globally for over 15 years with Fortune 500 companies, Start-Ups and investors in a wide variety of industries. She has consulted and trained clients in over 30 countries, helping them create, edit and deliver verbal and written presentations, pitches and messages. Donna has the ability to magically spin raw data into compelling stories that captivate audiences and drive to results. Through her guidance clients have raised hundreds of millions of dollars.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’m a huge believer in serendipity — happy accidents. Being in the right place at the right time so good things happen. But I also believe it’s not luck! We can actually put ourselves in those places if we pay attention to the signs! My career has been a series of “aha moments” that I was smart enough to take notice of and do something about.

I’ve been an actress since the time I could first speak, but from a young age something inside me told me that it was not enough — I didn’t want to be waiting tables at 30 while waiting for my “big break.” My first “aha” moment came at about the age of 16, when I learned that a profession “Drama Therapy” existed — it’s like someone created the perfect career for me — the combination of my 2 passions — acting and working with people. Everything I did from that point on was to fulfill the requirements I would need to be accepted into the Master program at NYU. And lo and behold, 6 years later, I was accepted! I found myself 2 weeks after handing in my final BA paper moving halfway across the world, at the age of 22, to live in NYC. It was a dream!

Another, less pleasant aha moment came when I realized that my dream career had a starving artist salary. I was shocked. I hadn’t given up my dream of acting to still be scrambling to make ends meet. As much as I loved the work, I thought “There has to be a way to take it to another level.”

The next “aha” moment came in a course I was doing to be certified as a Group Facilitator. One of the lecturers mentioned that she had a friend that traveled the globe, speaking and training groups. It was an aha crescendo moment! I could literally hear a choir of angels singing hallelujah! It was as if everything in my life was leading to this moment, everything I’d done, all my aspirations and passions were coming together in perfect syncronicity — this was really what I wanted to be when I grew up! A speaker, a corporate trainer — up in front of a group, entertaining, teaching, inspiring many people around the world.

I ran home and did some research and found that my Alma Mater NYU offered a Post Master certification in Training and Organizational Development. I signed up on the spot. After taking a few courses, which I LOVED, I started looking for job opps in Corporate Training. I saw an ad in Craigslist of all places, look for Trainers for Presentation Skills — Acting background a must. Aha all over again! It was as if they were describing me verbatim!

I sent my resume in and within 2 weeks, I’d been contracted by Brad Boyer, the amazing Founder of Boyer Communications Group to become a Trainer for his company. After shadowing him for a few months and getting the most amazing training for the job, I was sent out into the world, working with hitech companies, food and beverage companies, insurance companies and more. I was living my dream! I traveled from Tennessee to Taiwan, from South Carolina to South Africa — and everywhere in between. I got to do the work I love, help people become better communicators, better presenters, tell clear stories and create winning messages, and by the by I was seeing the world. I had to pinch myself sometimes!!!

Then came 2008. And things went “floop!” All at once, the spigot was shut tight, Enterprise organizations cut off any training that wasn’t “vital” — aka that wasn’t technical, and I found myself once again at a crossroads. I had never worked for a company as an employee, I’d always been an independent contractor — even with Boyer, what was I supposed to do now? Get a job? I was nervous, for the first time my steadfast optimism was wavering and I just didn’t know what to do. Serendipity stepped in once again.

I was doing a training to become a Life/Business Coach, when the trainer asked if he could introduce me to a client of his who needed help with his professional presentations. Of course I jumped at the chance. The clients was a prominent Cardiothoracic Surgeon who was the head of his professional guild. In addition to working on his professional speeches and presentations, he shared with me the 2 medical device startups that he had founded, and asked if I could help him with the investor presentations for a major Angel Investor Pitch event in NYC that he’d been selected to present at. I said sure, even though I had never worked with a startup before. But a story is a story right? How different could it be from helping corporate execs? We worked hard and long on the presentations, he even asked me to present on his behalf and he would field the Q&A.

The big day arrived, the pitches went off without a hitch! It was such a rush! But then I saw the other 2 companies that had been selected to travel thousands of miles to pitch get up there. As I watched them get shot down within 30 seconds, my heart broke into smithereens. They were so ill prepared! They didn’t have the right message for this very prestigious audience! Why hadn’t they hired someone like me? Hear another aha moment coming? Yep, the startup pitch niche was not terrible populated back then. There was nobody that I could find working directly on this. The “aha” bells were ringing once again!I I declared that I was now going to be a Storyteller for Startups. Many people scoffed, said that startups had no money, that they wouldn’t pay, that they think they know it all and wouldn’t take guidance. I called on my life motto — “Aut inveniam viam aut faciam” Latin for “I shall either find a way or make one.

I started approaching startup pitch competitions, offering “services as sponsorship” — I’ll coach your pitches for free to be considered a sponsor. At first nobody would listen, they only wanted sponsors who would give them money. But then I got a desperate call from a Pitch Competition producer saying that the pitches were in such bad shape — could I come do some training? I said — certainly — all you have to do is put my logo on your sponsor slide and roll up, and thank me at the competition if the pitches were good. Which they were. Darn good. And when they did thank me, people started walking over, asking for my card, asking what exactly I did, what my business model was… Within 2 weeks my calendar was booked solid. And in the past 10 years I’ve established myself as one of the leading pitch coaches/storytellers around. I love what I do, I’m excited to start each day, and I get paid to do what I love! It doesn’t get any better than this!!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Oh goodness one story? So many interesting things! I get to coach and train the most fascinating, brightest entrepreneurs in the world! I’ve worked on companies ranging from Hardware to Software, Life Sciences to Lifestyle, Mobile Apps to Mobility — heck I even wrote a deck for an entrepreneur who created the first brand of organic Absinthe! Every day my jaw drops — just when I think I’ve seen it all, I get surprised all over again. There’s nothing better than hearing an entrepreneur say to me at the end of the meeting that they finally feel that their message and story works — that they have the confidence to explain it to anyone. Every day is a new, interesting story!!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was giving a training in Oregon at a large hitech company. It was going great, but there was a very rambunctious participant who was constantly joking around, testing the limits, being the “class clown. We had become friendly at breaks and he was loads of fun, but man he was being disruptive! At a certain point I blurted out “Jesus Christ! Can’t you just follow instructions?” A silence fell over the room. All of the trainees (except for my rambunctious friend, who was silently chuckling) were staring at me, jaw agape. I realized that I had spoken out of line, and done something offensive, even though I had not intended to. I immediately apologized if I had offended anyone. The training went on.

At the end of the 3 days, one of the trainees came up to thank me for a great workshop. He told me that despite the fact that he loved it, he would have to inform HR in his feedback that I “took the Lord’s name in vain.” I was mortified. I apologized again, profusely, we smoothed it over and I followed up with another apology email.

I learned at that moment to be much more careful with my choice of words, to know my audience well (there were many devout mormons at this site) and to not say something that could potentially be insulting, even if I simply saw it as a term, it could be highly offensive. Words are everything. It takes a lot of self awareness to make sure things like that don’t slip out — but I’ve gotten better 😉

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

This is the note I got today after a meeting. It was sent to a whole group of people: “As I write this reply I’m walking out of session with Donna Griffit ( at her home in Mountain View, CA (the heart of Silicon Valley technology scene). Donna quickly reminded me that great ideas and being a great entrepreneur alone are not enough. We must clarify the problem, the solution, and the why through a compelling story. If we don’t, our chances of success with customers and/or investors diminish to nothing. As I look ahead to mentoring entrepreneurs back home, just know that I too am a student and am grateful to share all that I know with each of you.”

This was after an HOUR meeting. I can do even more with 2 hours :). I don’t think that there’s anyone out there that can “get” the story of complex technologies and craft them into winning stories quite as fast and precisely as I can. That’s what keeps a steady flow of entrepreneurs from around the world contacting me. I take away the pain of endless hours of attempting to create pitches and messaging with mediocre results. They work with me — bam — in a few hours, it’s done!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m putting the finishing touches on my ultimate online pitching course! This is for people that want to do it on their own and need some more guidance. It’s more affordable than a one on one session with me, yet it guides them, in 1–2 min increments, through the complex process of creating a winning Investor pitch deck. I’m excited that I will be able to reach and help even more people, especially young entrepreneurs just starting out!

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Make people feel truly heard, truly appreciated, truly special. There’s something remarkable inside of each person — they don’t always see it. If you can authentically show them their greatness, it’s a gift for life. Treat them like family, show appreciation — true appreciation. Don’t take anything they do for granted. Even the seemingly small things.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I don’t manage a large team, so not a relevant question for me

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are 2 people that have moved my career to where it is — the most significant men in my life: Brad Boyer, Founder of Boyer Communications Group, who taught me the basis of messages and how to turn even the driest, most boring data into compelling messages. I told the story above about how I ended up working for him. He was more than just a boss or a mentor, he’s like a father, and I am forever indebted to him for showing me the way.

The other man is my amazing husband Jonathan who is constantly strategizing crazy ways for me to grow, get ahead, expand, increase revenues. Jonny is my driving force, the wind beneath my wings. His belief in me and his support are truly invaluable. And in return, he has a personal storyteller for all his business endeavors. Not a bad deal 😉

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I do a ton of pro-bono work mentoring young startups, students, entrepreneurs that come from another country to Silicon Valley and more. I’m always happy to give my time and skills to a cause that I know I can make an impact with. Mostly though, I am passionate about working with women, empowering them to own and tell their story with power, conviction and authority. I work with female entrepreneurs and when it comes to the part of “boasting” their amazing achievements, they often shy away from it, feeling that it’s immodest, arrogant. I ask them “Do you think a 22 year old male Stanford grad would miss the opportunity to talk about his successes? Then why should you?” No more apologizing for success ladies — it’s our time to own it.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

You are worth it! If you provide a truly value adding service, product, solution — you are worth people paying for. I struggled with raising my rates over the years, and was shocked to keep closing deals even when I did. That goes to show that we often undervalue ourselves.

If you don’t ask, the answer is always no! Never shy away from asking for something — whether it’s a discount, an invite, a meeting, an improvement in conditions in your job, a raise, a recommendation on LinkedIn, etc. The worse they can say is no — but if you don’t ask, you got that no anyway!

Find your “Ikigai!” — Steve Jobs said: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” I firmly agree with that! But it’s more. I didn’t settle for things that I loved that I wouldn’t be able to make a sustainable living with. And then I saw this:

Ikigai — a Japanese concept meaning “A Reason for Being.” And I was like YES!! If you can live smack in the middle if your Passion, Mission, Profession and Vocation, you are one lucky person. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t say “I love my job! I’m so lucky!”

Have an “Attitude of Gratitude” — When I was going through my major professional crossroads during the financial crisis of 2008, I was struggling to maintain my optimism. As I was training to be a Life Coach and Master of NLP, I was introduced to “The Secret” which was all the rage back then. I watched the movie dozens of times. And while many things resonated with me (and some didn’t), what I really adopted as my way of life is the “attitude of gratitude.” Always be grateful and thankful for what you have, even when times are tough. And then more things to be grateful for follow. Every night, before I go to sleep, I take stock of all of the wonderful gifts in the world and I say thank you — to myself, to the universe, to the higher powers, to karma, to God — whatever you belive in personally. I go to sleep with a smile on my face. I am blessed. Try it — see for yourself!

Don’t Listen to “The Voices” — Well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) people will often say to you “oh that won’t work” “oh don’t waste your time” “oh you’ll never accomplish that.” Stay true to yourself, your inner passion, your North Star. You might have to alter your path slightly, but if you believe that you can do it, thank those well-meaners for their care, and keep doing your thang!!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

For women to learn how to speak their value from a young age, powerfully, unapologetically. I see my feisty 5 year old and 2 year old. I pray that nobody ever extinguishes their fire — I’ll do my darndest to keep that sassy spark and self confidence alive and kicking!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Of course I’m an optimist — I don’t see much point of being anything else!” Winston Churchill. You can always choose to look at the good or bad in a situation. What is more empowering? It’s always great to be excited of things to come, a positive exuberance. Even when things don’t work out the way I want them, I let myself be pissed for awhile and then I remind myself, something much better is right around the corner. Being negative is such an energy drainer — for you and people around you. I’m allergic to negativity.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Hands down, Ben Horowitz. Since I read an interview with him where he said: ‘Storytelling is the most underrated skill. Companies that don’t have a clearly articulated story don’t have a clear and well thought-out strategy” He’s overcome so much strife, invested in the most interesting companies out there and he just gets it! I’d love to strategize with him how we can help more startups become better storytellers. How cool would that be?? The Silicon Valley Storytelling Taskforce! 🙂

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