I had the pleasure of meeting John Livesay when he joined the Speaker Adventure storytelling program that I hosted with hall-of-fame speaker Jeff Salz, and we’ve been friends ever since. John’s podcast, The Successful Pitch, which is a must listen for entrepreneurs and business leaders, focuses on how to make your pitch compelling, clear and concise.
John is a renowned keynote speaker who shares the lessons learned from his award-winning sales career while at Conde Nast. In his keynote Better Selling Through Storytelling he shows companies’ sales teams how to become irresistible so they are magnetic to their ideal clients.
It was such an honor to work with John on his TEDx Talk – Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life! from TEDxWilmington that has over a million views. We reconnected for a conversation on his podcast – Storytelling With Impact: The Secrets To Giving A TEDx Talk With Mark Lovett – and it was fun to share a few storytelling insights. Give a listen and let me know your thoughts.
I’m honored that we have Mark Lovett here from Lisbon. Mark and I knew each other when we lived in Southern California together. He was running the TEDx for San Diego for many years. He went on to do it down in between the border of Mexico and California. He even has done a TEDx in a prison. He is the expert not only on TEDx but how to tell a great story. Mark, thank you for joining us.
It’s a pleasure to be here, John.
Let’s have people know a little bit more about you. Would you mind expanding on your background?
I like to tell people that I was a former corporate executive who was saved by storytelling. I spent many years in the computer industry in Southern California. I got out of that and started consulting. It was one of my clients who started TEDx San Diego back in 2010, but that’s a program that only started in 2009. He was one of the first TEDx right out of the gate. He dragged me into the process to be a co-organizer. As the story goes, after one of the events, he puts something in my wine and I woke up the next day with a licensed to TEDx San Diego in my hand. Over a six-year period, we produced twenty TEDx events.
The big ones inside Symphony Hall were 1,800 people. You mentioned the one we did on the border where we built a stage in the United States and the stage in Mexico. There was the border fence right in the middle. We alternated our speakers back and forth from one country to the other. We did TEDx inside a state prison. One of our events was a youth event and that’s where the speakers, the performers, and the emcees were all high school students. My only rule was no adults allowed on stage.
I bet the kids loved that.
They were thrilled. It’s like, “We don’t have any teachers or principals and we’re going to run this thing?” That whole process got me into speaker coaching, which has been a wide variety of things, from seminars to one-on-one. You and I met through a Speaker Adventure, which was a program I put on with another amazing speaker coach. We would bring six people together for a weekend and do intensive storytelling training. Storytelling’s become a lot of fun and it’s the passion of my life.
What I find interesting is many people will say to me, “I don’t have a story and I don’t have any interesting things to talk about.” You’ve shown that everyone from a high school student to someone in prison has a story. Can you speak to that a little bit of how can people who may not feel that they have a story, where should they start looking?
That is a common comment that I get from people also. “I don’t have a story to tell. I’m just an average person and I haven’t done anything great.” I said, “Interesting. No story to tell. You’ve never had any experiences in life? You’ve never made any mistakes? You’ve never had any successes? You’ve never learned a single lesson in your entire life?” They go, “No, let me tell you about…” and they’re rattling off.
They were a football star in high school or they got in a car wreck and almost died but they recovered from it. When you dig into it, everyone does have a story. They have learned something. They have wisdom to share with other people. Once you can bring it out of them, then you get the ball rolling and then they get into the storytelling mode.
I once heard someone say that, “Your mess is your story.” That is a different way of looking at it because you’re saying, “You’ve never made a mistake. You never had any experience where you learned a life lesson.” Once we start to look at our lives, we think there is a story. The other issue is, “I’m not good at telling stories.” We’ve solved one problem. We’ve given people two places to look in their life, mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learned. Before anybody feels comfortable telling a story, even at a party, let alone in front of the people for business purposes, they think, “I stumble through it.” Let’s talk about that. How much practice is required when someone does give a TEDx Talk?
Let me back up a step to the overall point and then we’ll get into the TEDx. Unfortunately, there’s one of these urban legends that get out there that says, “People fear public speaking more than death.” I used to teach a class at the University of California, San Diego in storytelling and everyone would nod their head like, “I’ve heard that. I believe that. That’s the most frightening thing.”
I said, “I’m going to give everyone in the class a choice. Option A, you come up in front of the class and speak for five minutes. Option B, I have a guillotine out in the parking lot. You can walk out to the parking lot and it’s off with your head. How many of you are going to choose to go out to the parking lot?” Nobody raises their hand.
In that class, the first night, there are a lot of nervous people. By the sixth class, everyone is up there delivering stories and they’re blown away by the other students. They’re all saying, “I had no idea you were such a great speaker.”
It’s not that we’re afraid of public speaking. As humans, we are afraid of doing anything that we’re not good at and that we’re going to do in public because we don’t want to embarrass ourselves. Once you can start practicing to your point and get used to it, you realize, “I can do this. I tell stories all the time. I still tell stories to my family, friends, and at work all the time. Up on stage is a little different, but I can do it.”
That reminds me of a book I read called Scared Speechless. My friend Steve Rohr wrote it. He said, “What’s going on in our brain is that from a tribal standpoint, stick with the herd. If you get hurt or you’re limping behind, that’s when you get picked off by a predator.” Our old brain is wired. If we’re standing in front of an audience, the herd is out there. You’re all by yourself. What are you doing? You’re going to get hurt. The other common thing I hear is that, “I get butterflies in my stomach. I get nervous and I hate that feeling.” I’m going to give everybody a solution to that, which is the goal.
It is not to get rid of those butterflies in your stomach, but to get those butterflies in your stomach to fly information. Get the nervous energy out of your stomach and into the room. If we make a gesture, then we’re putting energy into the room. It comes out of our stomach. The biggest thing is to get out of your head, worrying about how you’re doing. As you said, we’re afraid of embarrassing ourselves and of being judged, “Will they like me? Am I good enough?” The key to getting those butterflies in your stomach is don’t try to get rid of them. Get them to fly information. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s common. A lot of times, people think, “Only the amateurs get butterflies in their stomach.” I’ve talked to many professionals, they’ve been on stage 1,000 times and they still have that nervous energy. To your point, they turn it around to help them rather than to detract them from giving a speech.
What I try to tell people is, “Think about this before you’re going on stage. The fact that you have this honor to connect with an audience and you’re going to give them a gift of your wisdom. This is a lesson you’ve learned, an idea that you have, an experience that you have and you’re going to share it. The audience is sitting there because they want to hear your story. They’re not passing judgment on you. Instead, they’re showing love to you.”
When I tell that to people, they look at me strangely like, “What do you mean? These people don’t even know me. How can they love me?” They get out there, give a talk and then they come off stage. They go, “You were right. I could feel the love coming out of the audience. I could see the smiles. I heard the laughter. I got the applause.” They start feeding on that energy. Once you bring the energy of the audience and then the butterflies go away.
What I found when I gave a virtual keynote as opposed to doing it in front of an audience, we had that energy going back and forth. I wasn’t sure if the energy was going to come. I knew I could put the energy out, but I didn’t know because everyone’s on mute. I thought, “I’m wondering if this is going to still be the impact that I’m looking for.” Sure enough, it was. The element of connection and the joy of storytelling comes through virtually, which is fantastic to know. We can do a Zoom breakout rooms and we’ve got chats, we’ve got some questions here already.
Before we jump into that question, let’s just recap what we’ve covered so far. Everyone has a story. Look at your mistakes or lessons learned. Overcome your fear of giving the talk because you wouldn’t get those butterflies in your stomach to fly information. Get out of your head, worrying about embarrassing yourself. It’s one of the key elements, so we don’t feel like we’re going to stumble is practice. That would be the next logical thing of, “I know what I’m going to say. I’m not afraid of having to be perfect even.” The practice part also supports getting those nerves to go away.
The more comfortable you are, the more relaxed you’re going to be on stage. We used to always talk about when we did Speaker Adventure. There’s this process of moving the talk from your head down to your heart. It’s always in your head when you’re trying to remember, “What’s my next line? What’s the next thing I’m going to say?”
Once you rehearse it enough times, it starts to become easier and easier to recite. It’s what’s often called the happy birthday effect. I’d walk up to anybody on the street and said, “Start singing happy birthday.” They wouldn’t stop and say, “What are the lyrics to that?” They would start singing happy birthday because they’ve done it so often. For me, there’s this circular process of writing, rehearsing, and editing. I try to get students involved in that as soon as possible.
I’m a big proponent for writing out your talk because the writing is where ideas start to flow and then stand up and rehearse this talk. All of a sudden, you’ll start hearing yourself going, “That sentence doesn’t sound right. I would never say that word. This sounds a bit disjointed.”
One of the big reasons is that we read differently than we hear. When you’re reading a book, it’s not the same as somebody giving a speech. When you start writing your talk, you’re going to write it as though you’re reading it and it’s going to read well. When you start speaking it, you’ll notice all these things that don’t work quite right. You sit down and you start to edit it. Make your sentences shorter, more concise, use simpler words, and then get up and rehearse. When you do that, 30, 40, 50 times, some people roll their eyes and go, “I can’t believe I’m going to do it that many times.” You start to feel it. You start to get that happy birthday effect.
I love that happy birthday effect. That is clever. One of the mistakes that I see a lot of people are making is pushing out a bunch of information and I want to talk about that. What’s causing that? I’m going to tell his concept of, “We have to get people to know, like, and trust us.” People say, “What does that look like?” The problem with know, like, and trust is, you think, “If I have to get people to know me before they want to trust me, that’s going to cause me to push out a bunch of information.” You’ll get confused about it. You think, “I’ve got to explain to everybody why they would need to know me and why they need to like me.” When that happens, people get bored and they checked out because nobody remembers a bunch of information. That’s where storytelling comes in.
The old way of doing this is you got to know, like, and trust, therefore, “I got to give you a bunch of information, then maybe you’ll like me and trust me.” I tell people, “You’ve got the order wrong. You need to start with trust,” That’s a gut thing. In fact, the handshake came about to show you didn’t have a weapon in your hand. It goes from the gut to the heart. The more you show empathy for someone and can describe what their pain point is, especially as you were describing the mistake you might have made when you share that in a TEDx Talk or any situation. People feel like, “I have empathy for what that felt like. I’ve been in that situation.” It goes to our head where we want to have a story that gives people some actionable takeaway where they think to themselves, “This advice you’re giving me would work for me.” Tell me about some of the best TEDx Talks you’ve seen and coach people giving that use this formula.
I go all the way back to the ancient Greeks and the Romans, which is where rhetoric started. Aristotle had three principles that mirror what you talked about. Those are ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is where we get the word ethics and it’s your credibility. Whether somebody believes in you, whether they trust you, whether they feel confident that you know what you’re talking about. Pathos is the emotional side, which is liking somebody. You want to touch somebody emotionally. I love the fact that you reverse the order on these because it’s the third one, the intellect. Logos is where we get logic from. Your argument needs to come off as being logical, but that logic comes after the emotional connection and after that credibility.
That gut, heart and head are important there. One of the ways that you do that is by being authentic on stage. Dumping out a bunch of information, then you sound like a college professor, “I’m reading from a textbook and here’s all the information that I’m trying to convince you that this information is true.” People need to be able to connect to you as a human first. One of the ways to do that is to put a human story within your story. Even if your story is technical, let’s bring in that human element. For example, we did a TEDx at the Salk Institute. I coached all the speakers. One of the scientists, his specialty was electron microscopy.
It’s a beautiful technology, but he would get down to the molecular level of what they’re seeing. They’re watching cells split and divided, all this stuff. I said, “I love all of that. Let’s take a step back and tell me who you are. How did you get into this?” I was certain he was going to tell me, “I knew I wanted to be a scientist when I was five years old. I had a microscope and I would look through a telescope.”
He said, “When I was growing up, I wanted to be a tennis pro.” I said, “Unbelievable.” He goes, “I realized I wasn’t good enough, so I decided to go to college.” I said, “You wanted to be a scientist?” He said, “No, I was a Philosophy major.” It turned out his girlfriend had told him he needed to take an elective and she said, “Why don’t you take one of these organic chemistry classes?”
He stumbled into this class. He got into the lab and he says, “This is it. I’m hooked.” It completely changed his life. I said, “We need to put a piece of that in your talk so the people can understand you took a human journey to get to the point where you became a scientist. You weren’t born a scientist. You weren’t running around in your diapers with a little stethoscope.” He ended up giving a great talk connected with the audience because almost everybody’s had this issue of, “What’s my career? Am I going to change careers? What am I going to be when I grow up?” He tapped into that, “What am I going to be when I grow up?” It took him into the information piece.
When I work with people in the business world, salespeople, or helping people with their own story for an interview to get a job, I talk about the four parts of a story. You’d exhibited them brilliantly. I can refer back to what you said. The first part is the exposition, the who, what, where, when. You describe a problem, and then there’s a solution, and then there’s the resolution. Harry posted a question about, “How do we approach a complex story and reduce it to eighteen minutes for a TEDx Talk?” The same is true whether you’re given an hour in front of a client, if you’re a salesperson. Many times in my career they said, “I know we said you have an hour, you only have twenty minutes.”
You have to be agile and flexible. If we look at what you described for us, the Salk Institute. That’s Jonas Salk, who created the polio vaccine. You’re doing a whole TEDx. We know that’s going to be complicated and scientific. You then tell the story of all the problems this scientist was getting into the real nitty-gritty. There was no emotional connection to what he was saying. The solution you came up with was an unexpected story. It was not a linear story. Suddenly, we know about his life by chance of discovering how much he loves science and had a knack for it. That becomes a huge resolution to the story of whether you’re thinking if you might stumble upon something just like scientists do when they discover a cure, where they’re not even trying to cure something.
We know many examples of that, like penicillin or even Viagra. Many things were not originally discovered that way. Something that’s complex about molecules and scientists, we’ve taken them on that journey using exposition, a problem, a solution, and then I feel that the secret sauce to a great story is the resolution. I talk about The Wizard of Oz. Part of what hooks that movie is that little 3, 4-minute when Dorothy’s back home and saying, “You were there.” Suddenly she puts all the pieces together of what life is all about. If that movie ended with her in the hot air balloon going back home, then we’re like, “Okay.” We need those takeaways, don’t we?
In the story that I told about that speaker, once he connected with the audience and he got into the technology of electron microscopy, how they’re able to watch the AIDS virus, how it infiltrates a cell and how it replicates and all of this, he came out of that. He said, “What we’re learning now, we’ll be able to use to investigate many other diseases.”
I’ve been thinking about him lately because of COVID-19. The fact that his research is exactly the research that looks at that molecular level to say, “How is the virus acting? Is it mutating? Is it changing? How is it affecting humans? Why is it killing one person and the other person doesn’t even know they have it?” He brought it back to that human level. He was saying to the audience, “Even though what I work on is very technical, the reason I do this is because it will change your life. The scientific discoveries that we’re going to make will change the world of disease prevention and control.”
The people walk out of that talk feeling like, “My life is going to be different. Especially, my children’s lives are going to be different because of what he’s doing.” It came right back to that human aspect.
Let’s give everybody another example of storytelling. I was hired by Olympus Medical to be their keynote speaker for their 250 salespeople that call on doctors. They wanted to bring storytelling into their culture. Tapping into another TED speaker, Simon Sinek, who’s all about the why and not the how or the what. The thing is it was an a-ha moment for their executive marketing director. This started the journey where they said, “Everything we’re putting out in our marketing materials and what’s coming out of the salespeople’s mouth is about the what and the how, not why we’re doing this. Let’s find a speaker who can talk about storytelling and selling and help us get to our why.”
They started their journey of looking and used Google search. My Better Selling Through Storytelling book came up. They saw I was a speaker and then I was up against another speaker. What’s ironic about all this is I help people use storytelling to sell their product or service better, and yet the audience forget that I had to sell myself using the same skills. I talked to them about, “What does it look like? What would this be?” I tell a story of how I helped an architecture firm win $1 billion airport renovation by telling a story that took people on a journey as opposed to showing a bunch of before and after pictures with statistics. When I started to work with the Olympus Medical people, I said to them, “What are you saying now?” “Our equipment makes surgeries 30% faster.”
I said, “That’s a nice feature. There’s no story there. There’s no emotional connection.” It’s very left brain analytical. They start doing the math for how many more surgeries? How much money could you make? I said, “What does that mean? How long is a typical surgery without your equipment?” “Two and a half hours,” “With it?” “Thirty percent faster is an hour and half.” I said, “How about if we tell this story to a doctor? Tell the story of another doctor.” Here’s the secret, everybody. When people see themselves in your story, they want to go on that journey with you.
They said, “Dr. Higgins was using our equipment compared to what he had been using. You can imagine how happy he was that he was able to go out into the waiting room and tell the patient’s family who was waiting to know if their loved one was okay or not, as they look for cancer, made it and got good results an hour and a half earlier than normal. For that family in the waiting room, if you’ve ever been there, every minute feels like an hour.”
The doctor said, “This is why I became a doctor because I wanted to be able to deliver good news. The fact that I could deliver good news and heal people earlier than making someone out there waiting.” They said, “That gives us chills. We’ve never thought about the patient’s family benefiting from this.” Let’s talk about characters in a story that we bring in. How do we target people’s heart strings, so inevitably they want to open their purse strings and buy from us? What do you think about the importance of describing characters like that?
I think it’s key. I had a wonderful opportunity to work with an entrepreneur. He was starting a brand new company. They were still in stealth mode. Nobody knew they existed. Their product hadn’t been released yet. I came in and I said, “This is odd. I work with entrepreneurs and CEOs, but they have existing businesses.” He said, “I want all of my employees to become storytellers. I want them to start thinking about stories in what they do.” We brainstormed a couple of options. One was I gave a workshop to everyone on the general principles of storytelling.
We had a unique idea that we got everyone to buy into. That was we were going to make a commercial for a product that didn’t exist yet. We storyboarded the process and we said, “This is not you as an engineer or a marketing person telling the world how great your product is. We’re going to focus this little movie on two people, the one person who’s bringing out this product and the other person that is going to be one of the customers.
Tell us a story of who this person is who’s developing this product. Once that product gets in the market and a customer gets a hold of that product, what are they going to do with it?” The focus was that the customer’s life was going to be better or to your point, they were going to be happier because every successful product ends up with a happy customer.
They have a smile on their face, they’re satisfied. Maybe it solved a pain point. Maybe it reduced the amount of time. Maybe it relieves stress. We did a storyboard. A couple of the employees in the company were pretty good with cameras and a couple of the engineers had daughters who would have been in theater. We wrote this out and they filmed a little movie about these two people. It humanized the whole process of why their product existed in the first place and the change that happened to their customer. When they showed this little video to the rest of the company, everyone’s eyes got big.
They were watching someone’s life change in front of them. For most businesses, you don’t get to see that. You can make the sales call, you win the order, you ship the product, and then that company might sell that again to somebody else. You don’t get to be in that waiting room to touch on your story and you don’t get to see the look on the family’s face when they go, “Thank you so much. We were sitting here worrying minute by minute. It’s good to hear this news sooner rather than later.” By doing that, they were able to visually show that customer being happy. I would encourage other people to do something like that, to envision how the customer’s going to feel when your product has an effect on them.
Here’s a big myth like, “I’d rather die than get up and speak.” Another myth is people buy logically. There’s no emotion in any decisions. People buy emotionally and then back it up with logic. A lot of my tech engineer audiences and clients are shocked by that because they think everything they’re doing is logical. I said, “I promise if you go into an expensive sports car dealership, they’re not talking about how many miles per gallon it gets. They’re talking about how sexy you’re going to look and feel and how much fun it’s going to be.” That part of the joy of storytelling is it elicits emotion and then drives us going from there. This concept of storytelling. I want to go back to that with another story and then an example of that. This premise that, “Do we have a story or not?” Everybody has a story.
As we’ve talked about, you can tap into your stories from looking at the mistakes that you’ve made or lessons that you’ve learned. Businesses tend to talk about things through a case study, which has been around forever. It’s boring. They usually go, “We worked with this client.” You’re listening to someone recite a bunch of information. The magic is when you turn a boring case study into a compelling case story, almost like The Wizard of Oz that goes from black and white to color, people are suddenly pulled in saying, “I want to go on that journey.” When I was working with that architecture firm, we turned that fairly traditional boring case study.
I said, “What’s the exposition?” “Years ago, Jet Blue hired us at JFK to renovate the airport. One of the problems we had to deal with was wrapping up all the floors in the middle of the night. We had all our vendors on call from 9:00 at night until 9:00 in the morning in case something went wrong. At 2:00 in the morning, a fuse blew and we had the vendor there in twenty minutes fixed it. At 8:59, the last tile went down and then all the stores opened on time at 9:00 AM. A year later, sales are up 15% because we’ve designed a place that attracts and keeps people shopping longer.” That’s a case story as opposed to a lot of before and after pictures. Instead of getting up there and saying, “We use critical thinking to anticipate problems.” That was part of the story. We had all our vendors on call. Even the little visual of, “At 8:59, the last tile went down.” A little bit of drama in a story is important. Would you speak to that of how good TEDx Talk could use this?
I love that visual that you mentioned of putting down that last tile. We are geared these days to the Hollywood version of that storytelling. It’s right down to the last second and the hero has no chance of winning. He pulls it off in this miraculous fashion and we feel good because the hero was successful. There’s that emotional connection between the success of the hero and our desire to be successful also. Back to your point about the emotions versus the logic, it’s true. There are a lot of studies that have been done where people say, “I make my decisions logically. It’s based on the facts.” Studies have shown that emotion always leads. Once we are emotionally attached, there needs to be the logic underneath. Without the logic underneath, it’s just a feel good story and there’s no takeaway from that. That’s important for people to remember that they do need the data, but it needs to support the emotional piece of the story.
When we are working with TEDx speakers, that’s much the same process. They start off with, “Here’s all of the data that I want to put out there.” We come back and say, “How can they connect to you? How can your data connect to the audience?” In the case of the scientist, what he was doing was technical, but the result of what he was doing was going to touch people’s lives. We had a young woman on our stage talking about the integration of San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico and the fact that these two cities sit on the most heavily trafficked land border in the world. People think it’s far away and it’s a foreign country. When you bring people together, you see how cultures interact. Instead of this becoming a political issue or a physical issue or even some immigration issue, all of a sudden, she brought them down to culture.
She’s like, “Think of the music that we share across this border or think of the art that we share.” She even told a funny story inside of her big story, which was, “When your friends come to town, they all want to know where can I get the $2 tacos?” The Taco Tuesday had become this religion in the United States.
She brought this laughter into the audience where everyone in the audience could connect because they all knew what Taco Tuesday was. If you need to know about commerce across the board, maybe they didn’t understand all of the ramifications of two cultures, but it brought it down to this very common point. When you can do that, then you can layer the statistics on that. People now trust you because you’ve met them where they are. You’ve put yourself in the audience’s shoes.
Harry has another question for us. It taps into what you were saying about how Hollywood has influenced our perception of what a good story is and how we get pulled in and Robert McKee is known for being a big teacher of scriptwriting. There’s Joseph Campbell, who’s also known as creating the story structure of the Hero’s Journey. I’ve got some examples of how both of those things intersect to Hero’s Journey within movies. Did you pull from both when you’re working with people on their TEDx Talks and companies?
I like to pull from a variety of sources. I love to go back in history, so I can bring some of Aristotle and Cicero into the mix to say, “Look how old storytelling is. Before any of these electronics came out, the only way we could convey a message was through verbally speaking in front of a crowd.” Get into the Hollywood genre, which the Hero’s Journey is a part of that. Some people like to talk about the three-act play in the theater. There are some elements you can pull out of that. There’s a whole area of expertise called narrative nonfiction.
This is where you take a nonfiction, but instead of presenting it like a newspaper report, you present it as a story. If you’ve ever seen movies like The Right Stuff or Black Hawk Down, true stories, but they were wrapped in a narrative. You can pull techniques from each of these different genres to convince people that onstage, you can be telling a true story. Do it in a narrative fashion where you have characters, emotions, plot points and a resolution. These basic principles can all be pulled together.
Let’s share with people some of the genres of storytelling and then we’re going to talk about a movie that uses it and a brand that uses it. Rags to riches is a common example of storytelling. The movie that uses it is Cinderella when she gets completely transformed into something amazing. We hear rags to riches stories when we hear about Oprah. She was born poor. The fact that she’s a billionaire, brands use it. Johnnie Walker Scotch used to be this poor Scottish farmer and now he’s Johnnie Walker. When I was giving a talk at the Coca-Cola Summit for their CMOs, I met the Marketing Director at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, which are sold in airports and shopping centers. I said, “How did this all start?” She started selling pretzel on a farmer’s market and clearly scaled up from there.
The next one is a quest, going on this journey. For me, nothing says that better than Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings is all about finding that ring, “I must get that back.” Their tagline is used to be, the pursuit of perfection. We’re on this journey together and how do we get there? The next one is a rebirth genre. This is It’s A Wonderful Life, when he’s trying to figure out, “How I can get a second chance at my life?” Prudential uses this in their brand marketing. They talk about in terms of storytelling structure. They say, “Your retirement is your third act. It’s not a continuation of middle age, it is a rebirth.” It’s very obvious. Back to our favorite, your decision of, “Do I stay home or travel?” It takes on all kinds of meaning during the COVID-19 situation but from a storytelling standpoint, that is The Wizard of Oz.
We talked about the importance of this resolution. This is all part of the storytelling. When people are going to go back to traveling again, Expedia uses this genre when they say, “Go book a trip on Expedia, had this amazing adventure and then come back and tell all your friends about it.” It’s important that people are taken on a journey so that they can relate to it. One of the biggest problems I help companies and salespeople do is become memorable. When I was talking to an executive search firm, he said, “It’s between us and two other people. We each get an hour to come in and present.” We always say, “Can we go last? We’ve done some research hoping that whoever goes last is more memorable.” I said, “If that’s what you’re depending on to be memorable, you’re in trouble.” Can you speak to the power of how stories make us more memorable?
I did a webinar with a bunch of hosts from Airbnb and these were their experiences. They’re used to people coming into town and having these great experiences. Right now, there are no travels. They’re looking at, “Once travel opens up, how am I going to retool myself? How am I going to improve my company?” I said, “People when they’re in storytelling mode, it happens in three phases.”
This happens in a lot of industries, but travel is the top example. I said. “The first storytelling that they get into is when they see your product. They start telling themselves a story of, “When I have that experience, what is it going to be like? I’m going to be walking through a city. I’m going to be surfing. I’m going to be tasting wine.” They have to have a good enough story in their head for them to hit the buy button and to even purchase your product in the first place.
The second level of storytelling is when they do go on vacation. They’re in your city and you’re taking them on a hike out through the mountain ranges. They’re in a real-time story. It’s no longer imagination. Every step is a little piece of the story, the other people who are on the tour, and all of the things that they see. The third part of the story is once they go home and that’s when they’re telling all of her friends. That’s where that memory becomes solidified because they started out envisioning the process and then they experienced it. They’re telling their friends.
I think Apple did this well. To give one quick example, I remember these giant billboards when the iPod came out. It would have this girl dancing with headphones. She’s holding an iPod. They were like, “That’s it.” There’s no text. There are no specs, there’s nothing there. The whole story was people driving by that billboard, “I could be that person. If I was that person and I had that product, I could be listening to music everywhere.” They go out and they buy the product. They’re running on the beach and they’re listening to their favorite music. The third part of that story is they go tell all their friends, “You can’t believe how great this product is. It’s changed my life completely. I can listen to my favorite music everywhere that I’m at.”
Once you get someone to become your brand ambassador and sell your story, they have more impact than you telling your own story. When you’re trying to get a client to hire you as a speaker like I do, or to get a client to buy your product versus another product for a hospital or whatever it is you’re selling, you need to have somebody inside who can remember your story. They’re not going to remember 30% faster necessarily, but they’re going to remember that story. There are a lot of decision-makers these days. You need someone who can remember your story and tell it for you.
That’s why I’ve created an online course called Better Selling Through Storytelling to help people learn how to become better storytellers, so that they are able to start increasing the amount of sales that they’re closing. They just keep going up to bat and going, “I’m not getting anything.” They get burned out. I know I was there. I was on that roller coaster of pushing and pushing and hoping something stuck on the wall like spaghetti. With storytelling, you don’t have to push hard. You can pull people in. One of my clients said, “We are tired of coming in second place when we go up for these presentations.” They go, “We looked at three and sorry you came in second.” Unlike the Olympics, there’s no reward. There’s no medal for second place in business. You just don’t get the business.
When I started working with them, they’d sent their team through this course to learn how to turn these boring case studies in the case stories, they won three new pieces of business back-to-back. They were statically happy. When I was working with Gensler, the architecture firm renovating the Pittsburgh Airport, the stakes are so important in a story. You have to have people to care. I’ve never worked on anything that had the stakes that high, $1 billion with its stake on who told the best story during that interview hour. This concept of nobody wants to be pushy. A lot of people hate even saying that they’re salespeople because of the image of an old used-car salesman pushing stuff.
Kurt Beecher, who was the CEO of Sugar Mountain Foods, they make this amazing cheese up in Seattle. He said, “Can you come teach my team how to become persuasive but not pushy? How would you do that?” I said, “Teaching them how to tell stories,” because when you teach people stories, they’re in the story. You’re not pushing. You’re pulling people in. We touched on the importance of people forget what you say right after you leave the room. That’s why going last was a hope strategy, which is not at all something you can control, but you can control telling the best story.
Even if you have to go first, you set the bar and people will remember you and then share that story. I love this phrase and I hear it a lot in the healthcare industry. People say, “I’m trying to talk to the doctors in between surgeries. I feel like I’m an annoying pest.” I said, “Stop pushing out a bunch of information and tell him a quick story. The story doesn’t have to be something about your product. ‘You look overwhelmed. You reminded me of another doctor who was so overwhelmed. He didn’t have time to go to the bathroom and get his lunch and I bought him his lunch. Would you like me to do that for you?’” It’s amazing. “I can’t wait to see you again. Do you have any more stories for me?”
There’s always time for a good story, not for being bored by a bunch of information. People talk about, “Is there anything storytelling can do to help me become better? I feel invisible. My calls didn’t get returned. People go, ‘Who are you? What’s the company again?’” I said, “You got to start with a story to get on somebody’s radar.” Have a catchy line in your subject line and your email. I help people do all of this. They go from invisible to feeling irresistible and then you get people wanting to work with you. You’re not pushing anymore. You’re pulling them in.
This online course goes through everything we talked about but in much greater detail. You can do it at your own pace. It’s only ten-minute modules. There’s a little quiz to make sure you understood things. You don’t even have to do it in order. I’ve made it so it’s not cumulative. Rob Angel, the creator of Pictionary said, “I skipped around on the things I wanted to learn first.” I said, “It’s designed for you to do that.” He was able to use what he learned in this to help him tell better stories for his talks as well as when he was getting interviewed for his new book. If I’ve put together a lot of bonuses and for everybody on this particular mastermind, not only do you get invited to a Facebook group where you can work with me once a week with everyone else in the course and have me help you with your pitch.
I’m giving people a one hour bonus to work with me one-on-one that normally goes for $500 an hour. You can see the value of signing up will give you an hour after you’ve gone through the course for me to help you do this. If you’re selling something for $50,000, like the Olympus Medical people do, and you’re closing five out of ten pitches and through becoming a better storyteller, you close six out of ten. That’s a great benefit to you. The course investment is only $497 and I come up with a 60-day guarantee. If your sales aren’t up by 10% after taking the course, I give your money back. Why? I don’t want people to feel like this is a risk. I’m passionate and my purpose is to help as many people as possible become storytellers because I know it can help change the way you feel about yourself and the impact you have on people.
If you go to this website, JohnLivesay.com/sales, you can sign up and you’ll get the bonus hour to work with me one-on-one. The Olympus Medical people put their entire team of people through it after my keynote. They kept reinforcing what they’ve heard. You’re in a similar situation where you’ve heard a mini version of my keynote and the course will reinforce this. You can imagine how much better your life is going to be where there’s storytelling in your toolbox instead of a hammer, as Maslow said, “Looking for something to hit a nail.” Mary Ann, thanks. She said she loved that there’s always time for a good story. You talk yourself out of it saying, “No one has time to listen to my story.” If you’re going to learn how to be clear, concise, and compelling with your stories, people always have time for that. Don’t you find, Mark?
The key thing to remember there, and you’ll hear about storytelling all the time, is to know your audience. Every audience is going to be different and every audience has a unique perspective on the experiences they’ve been in. Even if you sell one product to 100 different clients, all 100 of those clients are going to have their own story. You do need to do your homework. Put yourself in their shoes and understand what does success mean to them. Success to you means, “I made the sale,” there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re focused on what is success for them, what does that story look like? Your story can be more tailored to take them on a journey in their mind, from where they are now to a place where they’re successful. We talked about customers being happy, that’s the same thing. They want to feel like, “This was a good choice. This was the wise move. This made my life, my company, and my customers better.”
I want to thank you, Mark, for giving us your wisdom and your insights and all that experience putting on many TEDx Talks and now you’re helping people around the world. If anybody’s interested in learning how to give a TEDx Talk, I’ve referred several of my friends to you and everyone. You coached me on mine. I will forever be grateful for that incredible experience. Storytelling is it, gang. That’s why I wanted to invite Mark on because we’re both in that same mindset of whoever tells the best story has the best TEDx Talk or the best chance at their career. Thank you all for joining us and I’m looking forward to getting to work with you, hopefully on telling your story. Someone’s asking how people can get a hold of you, Mark?
If you go to StorytellingWithImpact.com, that has all my information. You can connect to me through there. Like John, I also have an offer on my website for people who want to get on a Zoom call with me. My rates are similar normally, but in this time of COVID, I’ve been giving people a free hour session with me. It’s been amazing. I’ve heard a lot of great stories, not just about business, but mainly about what people are experiencing going through quarantine. You can book a time with me if you want, and we can chat too.
You get an hour bonus with me if you sign up for the course. Mark’s been generous enough to throw in an hour of his time. I can tell you will get a lot out of it than I have. Thanks again, everybody. Go out and tell great stories.
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