Steve Jobs was the world’s greatest business storyteller.
He transformed the often unimaginative product launch into a theatrical production, complete with a cast, sets, props, and music.
At the center of it all, Jobs was the showman who used the classic components of narrative to inspire his audiences.
Remarkably, Jobs used the same 3-act storytelling paradigm found at the heart of many Hollywood screenplays: Setup, Confrontation, Resolution.
The formula is simple, although a lot of creative action takes place within the structure.
In Act One, we get to know the hero and the hero’s world as it exists before the adventure starts. Think of Act One as the status quo. In the first act, an “inciting incident” occurs that sets up Act Two, the confrontation, where the hero’s world is turned upside down and the hero must overcome a series of obstacles to achieve his or her goal. In Act Three, the resolution, the hero conquers the villain and makes the world a better place.
Transformative business pitches follow a similar template. For example, on January 24, 1984, Steve Jobs introduced Macintosh for the first time.
Act 1: Set-up
It is 1958. IBM passes up the chance to buy a young, fledgling company that has invented a new technology called xerography. Two years later Xerox is born. IBM has been kicking themselves ever since. It is ten years later. IBM dismisses the mini-computer as too small to do serious mini computing and unimportant to their business …
Act II: Confrontation
It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers fear an IBM-dominated and controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns to its last obstacle to industry control: Apple.
Act III: Resolution
Jobs walks to the center of the stage and unveils the “hero,” the first Macintosh. He pulls a floppy disk from his pocket, inserts it into the computer, and lets Macintosh “speak for itself.” With the introduction of Macintosh, the world sees “Why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”
The Macintosh story played itself out on stage just like a hit movie, complete with heroes, villains, props, and surprises. Steve Jobs was a great marketer because he was great storyteller and he used the structure of great movies to make his pitch.
In 2003 Steve Jobs returned to the structure to persuade consumers to pay 99 cents for songs. This was a tough sell, because many people were downloading music for free (illegally) on the internet. With the introduction of the iTunes music store, Apple revolutionized the music industry. Once again Jobs leveraged the 3-act storytelling structure to make his pitch.
Jobs began his presentation with a review of the status quo: “We all know that starting in 1999 there was a phenomenon called Napster. It demonstrated that the internet was made for music delivery. Its offspring, Kazaa, is alive and well today …”
Jobs continued to explain the “good side and the bad side” to the status quo. The good side included: vast selection, unlimited CD burning, and the fact that it’s free. “But there’s a dark side,” he continued: unreliable downloads, unreliable quality, and the fact that it’s stealing (“It’s best not to mess with karma”).
Remember, in Act Two, the hero must confront challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of achieving his or her goal. In the Jobs pitch, the goal was to make the world a better place for music lovers. The first obstacle was to acquire a broad set of music rights. Jobs said that Apple solved that problem by negotiating “landmark deals” with the big five record companies.
The next hurdle was to convince people to pay 99 cents per song. Jobs used another component of narrative to make his case — analogy. “How many of you bought a Starbucks latte this morning? That’s three bucks. And how many lattes got sold this morning? A lot.” Jobs said 99 cents was a great value in return for a vast selection, high quality downloads, and “good karma,” since the files were legally acquired.
Act III: Resolution
Jobs resolves the problem with a demo of the iTunes music store and its seamless delivery of high-quality files.
The introduction of the iTunes music store would not have been persuasive had Jobs simply said: “You’ve been getting your songs for free and now you’ll have to pay a buck a song.” Instead, Jobs had to build a case for his argument, and he did so brilliantly using the tools of narrative.
The next time you pitch an idea or a product, steal a page from the book of the Steve Jobs and Hollywood. Begin your pitch with a description of the status quo, identify the problem (villain) your audience is about to encounter, and show them how the hero (your product or service) will help them conquer the villain. Wrap up the pitch with a picture of a better world, and you’ll win over your audience. That’s the Steve Jobs way.
“The ability to sell our ideas in the form of story is more important than ever.” Great review of The Storyteller’s Secret in Canada’s Hamilton Spectator
BUSINESS BOOKS: If you want to sell your idea, a boring story won’t seal the deal
By Jay Robb
The good news is you’ve decided not to inflict death by PowerPoint.
The bad news is you’re giving your own version of a TED Talk. And you’re going to wing it.
You’ve watched the videos, so you know the drill.
Don’t stand behind a lectern. Don’t read from a script or use speaking notes.
Stand in the middle of the stage. Tell a personal story. Be self-deprecating. Throw a few photos and words up on the screen. Blow people’s minds with a big idea. Wrap things up in under 18 minutes. Be gracious when the audience gives you a standing ovation.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Someone needs to do a TED Talk about how hard it is to do a TED Talk. Show us the weeks and months of preparation, the search for the perfect story, the rounds of rewrites and the rehearsals with coaches who perfect every word, pause, inflection, expression and hand gesture. TED Talks look spontaneous and unscripted, but don’t be fooled into thinking you can do the same without logging serious hours of prep time.
It’s not enough to just get up and tell us a story. Yes, we’re hard-wired for storytelling. But there’s an important caveat. We don’t like boring stories badly told.
The Neanderthals who grunted out lousy stories around the campfire were likely banished to the back of the cave or beaten to death with a bison bone.
Your audience will think the same thing if you’ve overestimated your storytelling abilities. Despite your best intentions, you may leave us longing for your supersized PowerPoint decks.
The harsh truth is that not all of us know how to spot and then tell a story.
To help us do better, Carmine Gallo introduces us to more than 50 leaders who know how to stand and deliver. Gallo profiles master storytellers who’ve given some of the most viewed and highly rated TED Talks.
“A good story can help explain an idea,” says Gallo, communications coach and author of “The Storyteller’s Secret.” “A great story educates, entertains, inspires and ultimately fires up our collective imagination. Tell great ones.”
Great stories are the coin of the realm, whether you’re an entrepreneur pitching to investors or a leader drumming up employee support for a new project.
“The ability to sell our ideas in the form of story is more important than ever. Your ability to package your ideas with emotion, context and relevancy is the one skill that will make you more valuable in the next decade.”
Sir Richard Branson is one of the storytellers profiled by Gallo. A select group of entrepreneurs are invited to Branson’s home in the British Virgin Islands for the Extreme Tech Challenge. They each have 10 minutes to pitch their idea or product.
“They must grab Branson’s attention, convince him that the idea has the potential to positively impact the world, and inspire him to make a substantial financial commitment to the company,” says Gallo, who’s coached some of the entrepreneurs who’ve pitched Branson.
Many initially plan to talk exclusively about financials, numbers and data.
“They are only partly right. These entrepreneurs are neglecting the core findings of neuroscience: emotion trumps logic. You cannot reach a person’s head without first touching their heart.”
Branson is a big believer in the art of storytelling to drive change.
“Telling a story is one of the best ways we have of coming up with new ideas, and also of learning about each other and the world,” he says.
Along with the storyteller profiles, Gallo opens the tool box used to educate, simplify, motivate and launch movements.
Raid the tool box before you ditch the PowerPoint and invite investors and employees to gather around the campfire.
Learn how to tell a great story and they won’t be overcome with the urge to beat you with a bison bone.
@jayrobb lives in Hamilton and works as Director of Communications at Mohawk College.
Business Insider Article
Harvard professor Amy Cuddy thought she had made a mistake.
In 2012 Cuddy, stepped on a TED stage to deliver a presentation on how body posture influences behavior. In addition to the data, she shared a deeply personal story of how she fought her own battle with “imposter syndrome” early in her career.
The story was unplanned and unscripted. Cuddy’s “mistake” turned out be lucrative, as the video went viral and sparked a New York Times bestseller, “Presence.”
Sharing a personal story changed Cuddy’s life, and it could change yours, too.
“What sets TED talks apart is that the big ideas are wrapped in personal stories,” Charlie Rose once said on the CBS news program 60 Minutes. Rose nailed it.
When a speaker is invited to take the TED stage, they’re sent a stone tablet engraved with TED Commandments. Among the most important commandment of all: “Thou shalt tell a story.”
In my analysis of 500 TED talks (150 hours) and interviews with some of the most popular TED speakers, a clear pattern emerges. TED talks that go viral are made up of:
65% personal stories
25% data, facts and figures
10% resume builders to reinforce speaker credibility
Duke professor Dan Ariely’s TED talks have been viewed 12 million times. Ariely often shares the tragic story of when he was involved in an accident as a teenager — an accident that left him burned over 70% of his body.
In the hospital, it took about an hour for the nurses to rip off his bandages to re-apply new ones. “As you can imagine, I hated that moment of ripping with incredible intensity. And I would try to reason with them and say, ‘Why don’t we try something else? Why don’t we take it a little longer — maybe two hours instead of an hour — and have less of this intensity?'”
The nurses assumed they knew better than the patient. They didn’t. The experience led Ariely to study behavioral economics and to write the bestselling book “Predictably Irrational.” Today, Ariely’s compelling personal story has made him a sought-after advisor to governments and organizations around the world.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is learning about the power of personal story. Sandberg’s TEDx talk on “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” has been viewed more than 6 million times and launched the Lean In movement. Personal stories make up 72% of Sandberg’s now-famous presentation. Remarkably, Sandberg wasn’t going to tell a story at all.
While preparing for the presentation on women in the workplace, Sandberg did what came naturally. The former management consultant amassed mountains of statistics on things like how many heads of state are women and how many women make up the C-suite in corporate America.
Just before she took the stage, Sandberg found herself unable to focus on the speech. She confided to her friend Pat that she was troubled about something that had happened before boarding the plane for the conference. Her 3-year-old daughter, upset at the fact that her mother was leaving, clung to her leg, pleading, “Mommy, don’t go.”
Pat suggested to Sandberg that she should share the story with the mostly female audience. “Are you kidding?” she responded. “I’m going to get on a stage and admit my daughter was clinging to my leg?” Sandberg eventually took her friend’s advice and opened the presentation with a deeply personal story revealing the challenges she faced as a working mother.
If it hadn’t been for a personal story, we probably never would have heard of “Lean In.”
By accident, Sandberg had discovered what neuroscientists are discovering in the lab: Stories alter brain chemistry that in turn triggers empathy in your audience. When the brain hears a compelling personal story, it triggers a rush of chemicals including dopamine, cortisol and oxytocin, the ‘love molecule’ that makes us feel empathy for another person.
At Princeton University, researcher Uri Hasson has discovered that when one person tells another person a story, the same regions of their brains light up on fMRI scans. He calls it “neural coupling,” which simply means the two people are having a brain sync.
No other tool of persuasion has the same effect as a personal story. If you want to “connect” with another person, tell more stories. It’s a commandment worth following in every pitch and presentation.
The business world is always looking for that great new idea, but what if the next big thing was something as old as humanity?
Great storytelling has been around for eons, but prowess in that skill can propel growth in a company or brand, attract new talent and boost employee morale. Carmine Gallo tells this story in his new book, The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t, on the Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111.
An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.
Knowledge@Wharton: What was it that got you started on this path?
Carmine Gallo: I’ve been studying communication for 25 years, and I was a journalist. I was a CNN journalist for quite a while. Today, I still write for Forbes and Entrepreneur, and a bunch of other outlets. And I’ve appeared at Wharton and Stanford and other business schools as well.
And what I keep hearing — over the last few years especially — is this lament that many business students and business professionals cannot communicate as effectively as they should be communicating. But what does that mean, to be a better communicator? The word “storytelling” seems to be coming up time and time again. So I wrote The Storyteller’s Secret, not because it’s something that I thought was important, but because this is what I heard.
It’s almost like I had to [write it, especially] when a person like Vinod Khosla, billionaire venture capitalist here in Silicon Valley, where I live, tells me that the biggest problem he sees is that people are fact-telling when they pitch him. They’re giving facts and information and he says, “that’s not enough, Carmine. They have to do storytelling.”
When Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, another big venture capital firm, tells me the most underrated skill is storytelling, or when Richard Branson, who I interviewed, said, “entrepreneurs who cannot tell a story will never be successful” — at some point, I have to agree that maybe they know something I don’t.
Knowledge@Wharton: It’s not that this is really a new concept. But the key here could be that maybe storytelling, at some level and among some people, is not viewed as an important topic.
Gallo: I think many business professionals today understand that they need to be doing this. They just don’t know what it means, because if you think about it, it is a somewhat esoteric or abstract notion: storytelling. Storytelling in books? Storytelling in movies? What does that have to do with my next business pitch? What does that have to do with employee engagement? I think some people understand — at least, the folks who listen to your show, they get it. They’ve heard of it. They understand that narrative is important. I’m just not sure they know exactly how to do it.
In The Storyteller’s Secret, there’s a whole chapter on Steve Wynn, the great Las Vegas hotel mogul. And we talk about storytelling in hospitality. Now, here’s a guy who has made an incredible success in hospitality. But he said he only discovered in the last five years the secret that has changed his business and his life was storytelling. And what he means by that — and this is something that applies to all of your listeners today — is that if you can get all of your employees and your management to begin sharing stories of great customer experiences, and what that means and how to do those better, that creates much more emotional resonance with the people.
“Many business professionals today understand that they need to be doing this. They just don’t know what it means, because … it is a somewhat esoteric or abstract notion: storytelling.”
Knowledge@Wharton: That obviously has a positive effect on the back end, where the feeling around the company is much more positive overall.
Gallo: At first I thought that would be hard to find empirically. But as I did my research over the last couple of years, it’s actually not. There’s plenty of empirical evidence to prove what you just said.
Southwest Airlines is a storytelling culture. As Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, had to move out of his position — he was the charismatic leader who started the company – they wondered: How do they keep his mission and values alive? Those were all about taking care of each other, and taking care of the customer and the passenger.
So they created what’s called a storytelling culture, where every week the HR teams go out, and they take videos of real passengers who have had a struggle, or have maybe almost missed a funeral or a birth, or a life-changing event, and stuff like that. But they were able to do it because of Southwest. Most of these are heart-wrenching stories. I’ve seen the videos. They send the videos out constantly, every week, and then they try to solicit more employees to be heroes of their own stories. So it’s almost like you’re taking employees and turning them into company crusaders. That’s where you see profits going up, and productivity [rising] higher, and higher employee engagement. But it all starts with narrative and storytelling, and getting people immersed in that culture.
So we’ve got Southwest. We’ve got KPMG. We’ve got Whole Foods. We’ve got Apple. Now Wynn Resorts. Many of these companies are examples of storytelling cultures.
Knowledge@Wharton: The interesting part about that is realistically, to push that needle doesn’t cost a lot. That’s the investment that people make in themselves, in their co-workers. That can be the best way, sometimes, to make a company’s message resound more strongly with consumers.
Gallo: Ritz-Carlton was one of the first to do this, and they’ve done an extraordinary job of elevating that customer experience to a gold standard.
They’ve been doing storytelling forever. What they did – and this is what I try to tell other companies to copy, because it’s free — in a Ritz-Carlton hotel, every day, every department meets for 15 minutes. It’s a group meeting. And instead of just going over the day’s events, here’s what the housekeepers need to know about this floor, or whatever, they start telling stories. And they ask the question of the employees: “Is there a great customer experience that you’ve been a part of, that you can share with the rest of us?” I was part of one of these. I checked it out. It was really fun. They start sharing stories with one another, and then they start competing for who has better stories. They get recognized publicly. That was the key. The president of the Ritz-Carlton said, “The key is, you are recognized publicly for being the hero of your customer’s story.”
And I remember leaving the Ritz-Carlton after I studied that, and saying to myself, “Wow. That was free.”
And how do you replicate that emotional engagement other than narrative? You can give perks all you want. That’s fine. But it’s very difficult to replicate that deep emotional connection with the brand.
Knowledge@Wharton: When you think of storytelling in general — not in strictly this business sense – it’s something that is, in most families, passed down. Your mom and your dad are going to tell you all kinds of stories over the course of your lives about family members. You would think it would be a natural thing for people to just have within them.
Gallo: I think that storytelling … is so natural to us, especially in families. That’s the way you raise courageous kids, in my opinion — telling stories, epic stories of heroes. I have several examples of people like Malala Yousafzai, the 18-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner, who talks specifically in her documentary and in her books about how she got the courage to face her enemies only after spending her entire youth listening to mythical stories of heroes that her father taught her. So we know that storytelling raises people’s courage.
I think it’s just a little more abstract when you begin saying, “Well, wait a minute. How does that apply to business?” Also, let’s not forget that a lot of people don’t want to be vulnerable. They don’t want to be too transparent — they feel like they’re being vulnerable. So when it comes to individual storytelling, one of my biggest suggestions — and this is a hard hurdle for people to get across — is, if you have had times of struggle and triumph over adversity in your life, the best thing to do if you really want to engage people, is to share those stories.
Knowledge@Wharton: That transitions nicely to one of the people you talk about who I wanted to bring up: Howard Schultz of Starbucks, and how the struggles his dad had when Howard was younger really inform the culture at Starbucks right now.
Gallo: Isn’t that interesting? Howard Shultz has said that people who come from uninspiring origins — here’s the full quote, because we have to get the quote right, it’s beautiful — he said, “The more uninspiring your origins, the more likely you are to use your imagination and invent worlds where everything seems possible.”
Here’s the guy who embraces what I call the backstory. That’s what movie-makers call it. You cannot feel connected to a particular leader or an initiative unless you understand the backstory. That’s why the first third of all great commercially successful movies introduces you to the characters. If you don’t like the characters and you don’t get to know the characters, you don’t care what happens to them. Backstory is very important.
Howard Schultz has a great backstory, and he shares it very openly. He talks about the day that his father was injured at work. They were living in the projects, in the Bronx, and they did not have health insurance. Money was tight, and it scarred the young man. He was about 16. And he said, “If I am ever in a position to help people in my life, that’s never going to happen to them.” And that is the “why” — you folks have talked about this endlessly, right? The importance of the “why” behind your initiative.
That story underpins the “why” behind full-time health benefits for part-time workers. It underpins why he wants to pay for college education for his employees. Or hire vets. Sometimes he pushes the envelope in a way that gets him a little backlash on social media. Like when he wanted to talk about race in the morning. That didn’t go over too well. But what I celebrate about him is that he is willing to be open and transparent and authentic, and to use his backstory to make business a better place.
“We want to hear information through stories, with heroes and villains and characters, and a hero to rally around. It’s the way the world and our brains work. We’re wired that way.”
Knowledge@Wharton: Is it also that he recognizes that the value of his employees grows over time, especially in that type of industry, where you can see a lot of rapid turnover? How much of this is him recognizing that if you are invested in the people that work for your company, in the end, they will be successful — whether with you, or somewhere else?
Gallo: He has a wonderful quote, too, that reminds me of what you just said. “Treating employees benevolently shouldn’t be viewed as an added-cost that cuts into profits, but as a powerful energizer that can grow your enterprise.”
Knowledge@Wharton: Richard Branson is another one of the people that you talk about in the book. Talk a little bit about how he fits into this realm.
Gallo: Love Richard Branson. I think he’s the real deal.
I’ve spent some time with him. I’ve interviewed him twice. What you see is what you get. I love that about people. I just love that about authentic leadership. He’s very inspiring. He carries his mobile phone around with him, and he tweets. It’s not delegated to a whole team of people: It’s him. So it’s authentic. It’s a natural voice, and he loves to have fun, as you know. He says, “What’s business if you can’t have fun?”
Knowledge@Wharton: And he does all this in the scope of working in industries — especially considering what he’s doing now in aerospace — where he is trying to literally take that philosophy out of this world.
Gallo: That’s exactly right. He’s dealing with some very complex stuff, and big visions. But for him, storytelling is everything. Now, storytelling — these are direct quotes from Richard Branson. Storytelling, he said, can be used to drive change. It’s the best way we have of coming up with new ideas.
So Richard Branson — this is interesting — is doing the very same thing that humans began doing 400,000 years ago. According to anthropologists, 400,000 years ago, we started gathering around a campfire to share stories. On Necker Island, where Branson lives, he commissioned a local artist to build this big, beautiful fire pit. And that’s where he gathers his team.
In his own storytelling, there’s a lot we can learn about him. He gets pitched all the time, and he’s given me a few tips over the years. One is, you have to keep your language simple. He’s acknowledged that he has dyslexia. “Growing up having dyslexia, I had to keep things very simple. Very short, very concise,” he said, “but it actually helped me to be a more succinct and clear speaker.” So he’s looking at that dyslexia as an advantage. As many great leaders do, don’t they?
They look at some of their past and their experiences as advantages. So he wants things to be very simple, very clean. When he gets pitched, he said, “It better not be more than 10 minutes. If you’ve got a PowerPoint that lasts more than 10 minutes, you’re going to lose me.”
Branson said, “Carmine, if your idea cannot fit it on the back of an envelope, it’s rubbish.”
Because he was saying, if you don’t understand your idea well enough to encapsulate it clearly on something as simple as the back of a small napkin — outline it, at least — you haven’t thought through it clearly enough. As Steve Jobs said, simple is harder than complex.
“If you don’t understand your idea well enough to encapsulate it clearly on something as simple as the back of a small napkin — outline it, at least — you haven’t thought through it clearly enough.”
Knowledge@Wharton: Obviously, companies with leaders who subscribe to the storytelling idea have an advantage over companies with leaders who don’t subscribe to it. How difficult is it, though, for leaders who aren’t on that page to change their path and tap into that storytelling aspect? I think we agree that everybody has it. It’s just being able to pull it out.
Gallo: It’s in our DNA. That’s the beauty and the power of story. And I won’t go too far into the science. But I have many pages in the beginning on how storytelling is hard-wired in our DNA. We process information through story. We want to hear information through stories, with heroes and villains and characters, and a hero to rally around. It’s the way the world and our brains work. We’re wired that way.
So the best thing you can do, especially to engage your team and build brands and pitch products and sell products, is to wrap those ideas in narrative. I believe that ideas that catch on are wrapped in some sort of narrative. No, it’s not the easiest thing to turn around a larger company. But I’ve seen it done, and I’ve seen it done in a couple of famous areas. One was KPMG, one of the big four accounting firms, now in consulting. KPMG actually came up with a pretty extensive study not too long ago — they found that morale was declining somewhat. They were having all of those issues, especially around young people, that many global companies are having these days.
And here’s where it saves us all a lot of work. They studied thousands of managers, and they sent out thousands of studies and surveys. And they came to the conclusion that people, young people, especially, wanted to be part of a bigger mission. A purpose. OK. We’re starting to understand that. That’s fine. Now, how do you teach them about the purpose of your company? Through storytelling.
So they literally took their managers, and helped transform them all into storytellers, so that the managers were constantly telling stories of the history of KPMG — how KPMG has shaped the world; how they continue to shape industries and lives, and make the world a better place.
And they said as they got immersed in the storytelling culture, engagement scores went up substantially. Turnover was reduced substantially. And this is a study that is online. They’ve broken it down. They’re showing to you empirically how profits began to soar. So in all of those empirical models that we look at, storytelling helped transform that company in a big way.
Now, I’m a storytelling guy, and [even] I can express some skepticism. Was that really the reason? According to KPMG, it certainly was. So I think that we are seeing companies that get it. It does have to be pushed from the top, because the top leaders need to be the chief storytelling officers of the brand.
If you don’t get it from the top, then there’s very little chance of transforming yourself into a storytelling culture. But it is happening at big companies.
Carmine contributed an article to Director. Director is Britain’s top magazine for business leaders.
In a busy market, getting your company’s story to the attention of potential customers can be challenging. In new book The Storyteller’s Secret Carmine Gallo reveals techniques used by stellar leaders to get their message across. Director took a sneak peek…
With the average internet user bombarded by the equivalent of 174 newspapers of data every day, it’s little wonder that our hunter-gatherer brains are finding it difficult keeping up. To stand out amid the maelstrom of messages, the need for businesses to craft a concise, coherent and convincing story is more important than ever before. Here’s a selection of the famous leaders Carmine Gallo examines in his new book, and the storytelling lessons you could learn from them.
1. Steve Jobs, Apple founder
Storytelling secret: Being passionate
Jobs’s candid 2005 “stay hungry, stay foolish” commencement address to Stanford University graduates racked up 20 million YouTube views. The entire text is now embedded in Pages, the Apple Mac’s word processing application.
What you can learn Share the passion that motivates you.
2. JK Rowling, author
Storytelling secret: Structure
In her 2008 Harvard commencement speech, Rowling adhered to a triumvirate-led construction for her story, comprising: 1) a ‘trigger event’ (chronicling her jobless, single parent years) 2) details of an epochal transformation (writing Harry Potter) and 3) the life lesson she learnt (“You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity”).
What you can learn Craft your own personal legend, highlighting any struggles you’ve encountered.
3. Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO, Starbucks
Storytelling secret: Repetition
By retelling the story of discovering espresso culture on a work trip to Italy as a Starbucks employee in 1983 Schultz helped boost the company’s sophisticated coffee-drinking credentials. Another favoured speech motif is repeatedly linking Starbucks’ famed CSR with the tale of his nappy-deliveryman father being badly treated by his company when he broke his ankle.
What you can learn Summon any personal experiences or events that inspired your company, repeating it until it becomes embedded into your company folklore.
4. Bill Gates, Microsoft founder
Storytelling secret: Surprise
In a 2009 TED talk on malaria, Gates opened a glass jar of mosquitoes, letting them fly around the auditorium. “There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience,” he told the stunned crowd.
What you can learn Shock your audiences with well-timed stunts, plot twists, and by trampling on their expectations.
5. Sara Blakely, founder, Spanx
Storytelling secret: Focusing on a challenge
By repeatedly regaling audiences with the story of how she cut the feet from a pair of tights to create body-sculpting undergarments, Blakely drove forward a revolution in lingerie and created a$1bn (£690m) fortune.
What you can learn Teleport listeners into your world: give them challenges they can identify with.
6. Sir Ken Robinson, education expert
Storytelling secret: Humour.
Robinson’s 2006 “Do Schools Kill Creativity” speech is still the most popular TED talk of all time. Peppering his speech with killer gags, his speech is almost like stand-up comedy. At two laughs a minute, the speech was funnier than the movie Anchorman (1.6 laughs a minute). “If they’re laughing, they’re listening,” noted Robinson wisely.
What you can learn If you’ve got serious stories to tell, try lacing them with humour.
7. Sir Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group
Storytelling secret: Simplicity Branson developed the art of a business pitch at boarding school when selling his student magazine to sponsors via a payphone. “Dyslexia shaped my – and Virgin’s – communication style,” Branson said. “Virgin used clear, ordinary language. If I could quickly understand a concept, it was good to go.”
What you can learn Succinctness. As Branson says: “If something can’t be explained on the back of an envelope, it’s rubbish.”
8. Pope Francis
Storytelling secret: The ‘rule of three’ The pontiff’s Jesuit training taught him that the human brain can remember things set in triplets easier. “Man has disfigured natural beauty with social structures that perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption,” he told six million people at an outdoor mass in Manila last year.
What you can learn Three is the magic number – a strong rhetorical device used since Aristotle.
9. Chris Hadfield, astronaut
Storytelling secret: Pictures The Canadian spaceman’s TED talk “What I Learned From Going Blind in Space” received a standing ovation. Its pièce de résistance was his PowerPoint deck of 35 slides of photos illustrating the terrifying incident when his eyes stopped working in the middle of a spacewalk. It’s backed up by neuroscience too: photos are easier to recall than words – studies have shown people can remember more than 2,500 pictures with 90 per cent accuracy for several days after.
What you can learn Strong visual images (or even using vivid analogies) are perfect for creating a scintillating story.
10. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer, Facebook
Storytelling secret: Emotion over data At the 2010 TEDWomen Conference, Sandberg ditched the data she’d prepared in favour of homilies about her three-year-old daughter clinging to her leg before she flew to the summit, along with the difficulties of women getting into leadership. The speech went viral, and Sandberg eventually wrote a book (2013’s Lean In) about the stories she received from women who were inspired by the talk.
What you can learn Don’t give listeners too much data – EQ (emotional quotient) is stronger.
Storytelling is the fundamental building block of communication. In a world where people are bombarded by choices, story is often the deciding factor in whom we decide to do business with.
It turns out that storytelling is equally influential in recruiting — and whether the candidate decides to work for you — or another company.
Smart organizations are leveraging the power of storytelling in their employer branding. Storytelling is also a great tool to turn employees into brand advocates.
Here are some great examples of how companies are using storytelling to court their constituents.
The Power of Employee Stories
On any given day, Marriott International has up to 10,000 job openings. As the hotel chain sifts through 2 million applications a year, it must find candidates who will maintain its reputation for customer service and who are genuinely passionate about hospitality.
After studying the behavior of job candidates across 15 countries, Marriott’s human resources leaders came up with the “Picture Yourself Here” program which leveraged existing employees’ stories to attract job candidates.
Marriott HR vice president Kristy Godbold told me that two key findings came out of their research: first, job candidates glazed over wordy job descriptions on the Marriott website. Instead they were attracted to pictures and videos.
Second, job candidates, especially Millennials, were more likely to find Marriott an attractive place to work when those videos showed real employees sharing authentic stories of their experience at the hotel chain.
“Our employees are the people who deliver on the brand promise for our customer. It’s critical that we get this right,” says Godbold.
Marriott is just one of many global brands that are leveraging the power of story to attract the best candidates. Today, job candidates are increasingly attracted to companies with a purpose. Stories are one of the best ways to share a company’s purpose.
Story and Employer Branding
How can leaders instill a sense of purpose among their employees? Quite simply, storytelling.
In a paper titled “An Integrative Review of Storytelling,” Australian professor Robert Gill makes the case that leaders who tell corporate stories strengthen employee engagement, which improves a company’s external reputation.
Employees who internalize the company’s vision through stories are motivated to become “reputation champions.” According to Gill, “Stories enable staff to identify with the narrator on a personal level, and through their interpretation take a form of ownership over how the brand is represented.”
Communicating a Sense of Purpose
The fastest growing of the Big Four accounting firms – KPMG — discovered that storytelling is a powerful recruiting and retention strategy.
KPMG conducted an internal study of thousands of managers and employees and found that “a workforce motivated by a strong sense of higher purpose is essential to engagement.” Storytelling was the secret to delivering that purpose.
After creating a storytelling culture at KPMG, employee turnover plummeted, morale skyrocketed, profits soared and a higher caliber of job candidates came knocking on the door.
KPMG’s stories revolve around the role that the accounting firm has had in shaping historic events, beginning with an agreement to provide $60 billion in life-saving resources to the allies in World War II.
In addition to shaping history, KPMG’s videos focus on stories from some of the 8,000 employees who are the first in their families to go to graduate from college. Survey results found that, “for them, the firm is more than a great place to work, it’s the gateway to the American Dream.”
Creating Culture Every Day
Southwest Airlines is yet another company that has turned storytelling into a competitive advantage, a legacy that began with co-founder Herb Kelleher.
Kelleher built one of the most profitable brands in the airline industry by creating a unique culture based on “an audacious commitment” that put employees first, customers second and shareholders third.
Unlike most leaders who give lip service to the importance of company culture, Kelleher talked about it incessantly, sharing stories about employees who went the extra mile.
As a storyteller, Kelleher understood that culture is not something that a committee brainstorms once and moves on. In fact, culture is a story that must be shared every day.
Kelleher is no longer in charge of Southwest, but the storytelling culture lives on, through internal videos that highlight employees and passengers sharing stories about the company and how it’s made their lives better.
Herb Kelleher said the core of the company’s success is the most difficult thing for a competitor to imitate. “They can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty — the feeling that you are participating in a crusade,” Kelleher said.
Do your employees feel as though they are participating in a crusade? Do job candidates want to join your cause? In business as in life, great storytellers build great cultures — and great culture attracts and motivates great people.
Remember: storytelling is not something we do. Storytelling is who we are.
Storytelling is not something we do; storytelling is who we are. About 400,000 years ago humans gained control of fire and began telling stories around a campfire. We haven’t changed much. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson likes to gather his team around a fire to swap stories. “Storytelling is the best way we have of coming up with new ideas,” Branson once said. Branson believes that the ability to sell ideas in the form of story is critical to career and business success.
Branson is a great communicator who fits into one of five storytelling profiles. These include leaders who educate, simplify, motivate, launch movements or ignite our inner fire.
Storytellers Who Ignite Our Fire
These are the leaders who inspire us to reach higher. They light up our spirit and make us believe that we, too, can accomplish the impossible.
Storytellers who ignite the fire include motivational speaker Tony Robbins who tells the story of living in a 400-square-foot apartment and washing his dishes in the bathtub. It includes billionaire John Paul DeJoria who tells the story of living in his car and selling shampoo door-to-door. It includes Shark Tank investor Barbara Corcoran who tells the story of failing at 22 jobs before turning a $1,000 loan from an ex-boyfriend into a real estate empire. “The more uninspiring your origins, the more likely you are to use your imagination and invent worlds where everything seems possible,” says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz looking back on his experience growing up in a Brooklyn housing project.
Their stories work because we’re wired to crave rags-to-riches stories. Struggle is a part of nature and we find stories of triumph over hardship to be irresistible.
Storytellers Who Educate
These are the men and women who offer a new way of looking at the world in which we live. They challenge our belief systems.
For example, human rights attorney Bryan Stevenson received TED’s longest standing ovation. Personal stories made up 65% of Stevenson’s now famous TED talk. Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy delivered TED’s second most-viewed talk of all time. She told the story of surviving a brain injury and dealing with the shock of a lower IQ because of the accident. Cuddy thought that sharing such a personal story was a mistake. Until, that is, support from around the world began to pour in. Those stories from people who watched her TED talk inspired Cuddy to write what has now become a New York Times bestseller, Presence.
Effective educators use data to support their ideas; but they rely on stories to move people to open their minds.
Storytellers Who Simplify
These are often entrepreneurs like Richard Branson who once told me, “If your pitch can’t fit on the back of an envelope it’s rubbish.” These are leaders like Bill and Melinda Gates who, as I wrote in this column, are brilliant at explaining complex subjects using simple words. You might be surprised to learn that many technologists who successfully communicate complex topics often use language that a sixth grader might understand. You may have the greatest idea, but if people can’t understand the problems it solves, they’ll never buy into it.
Effective communicators simplify the story, and they craft the message in words that are so simple an elementary school student can understand it.
Storytellers Who Motivate
These are leaders who run some of the world’s most admired brands such as like Google, Southwest Airlines, the Apple Store, or Unilever.
“Great brands and great businesses have to be great storytellers,” says Apple Store chief Angela Ahrendts. “We have to tell authentic, emotive, and compelling stories because we’re building relationships with people and every great relationship has to be built on trust.” Ahrendts and other brand leaders use the power of story to motivate employees to raise their game. The result is often improved employee engagement, better customer service, lower turnover, and higher profits.
“Storytelling changed my business and my life,” says Las Vegas hotel mogul Steve Wynn. Wynn discovered that the secret to building happy customers starts with happy employees. Employee stories are shared daily in every department meeting and employees are praised and rewarded for playing the hero in a customer’s memorable experience.
Storytellers Who Launch Movements
These are the storytellers who trigger a movement bigger than themselves. When Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was preparing to deliver a presentation about women in the workplace, she admitted that her original presentation was “chock-full of data and no personal stories.” A friend convinced Sandberg to open up about her own challenges as a working mother. A reluctant Sandberg did just that. Sandberg’s talk went viral and launched the book and the movement, Lean In. Sheryl Sandberg reminds us data points don’t spark movements; stories do.
View the Gallery of 10 Business Storytellers Who Win Hearts And Minds on Forbes.com. If you’d like to hear me narrate a presentation on this subject, this Prezi covers the storytellers I featured in this column, and others.
In a world where people are bombarded by choices, who we decide to do business with often comes down to who tells the most compelling story. In the business world storytellers are all around us. Isn’t it time you shared yours?
Carmine was interviewed by JJ Ramberg of MSNBC’s Your Business Show. Every small business owner needs to be excited about their company. Whether you’re trying to raise money, get new customers or land a partner, you need to be able to tell your story in a way that makes your business attractive. Communications advisor Carmine Gallo tells us how you can create an irresistible pitch. Watch Interview
Carmine was interviewed by Michele Price of Breakthrough Business Strategy Radio on the topic of violating audience expectations.
A great idea can only prosper if the person who has it can inspire others to believe in it. Great review of The Storyteller’s Secret audiobook in the leading magazine for business education and training.
BizEd magazine targets leaders and stakeholders of management education and business schools. Presents coverage of trends, practices, developments, innovative products and services, ideas, issues, facts, and insight related to educational management and the community of business schools worldwide. Targets leading business schools, corporate universities and management/corporate leaders.
A great idea will only prosper if the person who has it can inspire others to believe in it. Journalist and communications coach Carmine Gallo believes there’s one sure way to do that: Tell a compelling story. Gallo does just that, spinning tales about successful businesspeople from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, before sifting through the tales for the useful lessons. For instance, he analyzes the career of TV producer Mark Burnett, who launched such megahits as “Survivor” and “The Voice,” and concludes that Burnett exhibits the essential trait of optimism. Gallo goes on to quote neuroscientist Solomon Snyder, who discovered that scientists who have made the greatest breakthrough discoveries all possessed an optimism so great it qualified as audacity. “Successful storytellers believe in the strength of their ideas,” he concludes. And they persuade others to do the same. (St. Martin’s Press, US$15.99)