How To Use Storytelling In Business To Have More Impact W/Paul Smith
One of the, one of the CEOs I interviewed had a, a mantra that I thought was particularly insightful. He said , people are going to tell stories about you, whether you want them to or not choose which ones they tell. and the way you choose, what stories people tell about you is you tell them first, share your own stories with people, and then that's what people will remember. And they'll tell that story about you. But if you don't ever tell your stories, they're going to tell stories about you and you may not like the stories they tell.
But you can influence that by, by telling your own stories. Hello everyone. Welcome to the podcast today, we are talking to Paul Smith and Paul Smith is one of the world's leading experts on organizational storytelling. He was one of Inc.
Magazines, top 100 leadership speakers in the world in 2018. He is the author of three number one, Amazon best sellers. He holds a bachelor in economics, from Wharton business school of Pennsylvania.
And he also holds a MBA from Wharton. Paul is also a former executive and 20 year veteran for Proctor and Gamble, where he led a research division for their global paper business which is over a $6 billion business. That he was in charge of. He has trained executives at Google, Ford, Hewlett Packard he has interviewed over 300 CEOs and documented over 3000 individual business stories. His work has been featured in magazines like time magazine, Forbes and Success magazine among others. So when it comes to storytelling, this is the guy that you want to talk to.
Paul, welcome to the podcast. Yeah, thanks for having me on. I appreciate that introduction. . So I've read your amazing book Sell With a Story. And I know that your knowledge about the topic of storytelling is immense.
So my first question to you is what is it about storytelling that fascinates you? Yeah. That's an interesting way to phrase that question. Yeah.
Well, I guess part of what fascinates me is that it's such an effective tool and yet. They didn't teach me at school , you know? And that was one of the things that got me into this studying this is because they didn't teach me this in undergrad. They didn't teach me in grad school. They didn't teach me at Proctor and Gamble. They didn't teach me this at Accenture.
I mean, nobody even mentioned the word and I was just, it was not anything anybody took seriously. And yet it's such a powerful tool for leadership or sales or marketing. And so I that's how I got into it was I started studying it when I was in my, I don't know late twenties, mid, mid, mid thirties, maybe. Just because I noticed that the people around me who were successful happened to be very good at it. And so I started interviewing some of those executives and leaders and CEOs. You know that you mentioned earlier and at some point along the way, it became not just my selfish little learning journey, but became an idea for a book.
but to answer your question, yeah. I was fascinated with it that it was this, it was like this unknown or secret skill set that some people had and some people didn't have. And if you had it, it was just, I don't know, you were just born lucky to have it because they certainly weren't going to teach you that in school. And I found that interesting. That's a great point.
Yeah, you don't learn it really in business school. Unless you're going to the school to study fiction, writing or to write screenplays, or you're in the, you know, the arts college or the English, you know, journalism's maybe even not, that's a totally different type of storytelling. Yeah. The, , the other half of the college is not going to get any of this, so yeah.
Right. It's interesting. All right. So according to you, cause I know a lot of people have different definitions of it. What is the elements of a story? Yeah, so yeah. Great question.
And I'm glad you said according to me, because yeah, my definition is just my definition. I, you know, I can't tell other people what to call a story. But to me a story is a narrative about something interesting that happened to someone, that's it? I mean, it's the same definition that probably a 10 year old kid would give you. I mean, yeah.
All a story. That's when you tell somebody about something that happened to someone, all right. That's what a story is, you know, today, a lot of people use the word story to mean, I don't know their overall message or the big picture.
You know, idea or the key points of the, their message track or the main bullet points of their presentation. That's my story that, you know, basically they use the word story, like they would use the word idea. Yeah. You know, that's my idea that this, my thoughts, these are my thoughts. And to me that just waters down the word story to where it doesn't mean very much.
It means it means so much that it's, it's just not a very useful word. So to me, A story is a narrative about something interesting that happened to somebody as a result. They'll, it'll have several as you know, from reading the book, it'll have several attributes, there'll be a time place. There'll be a main character. That main character will have a goal of some kind, the probably be someone or something getting in the way of that goal and obstacle or a villain, if you will. And there'll be events that transpire along the way and hopefully resolve themselves nicely in the end and either a success or maybe a failure.
But to me, that's what a story is now. That's not just because your, your narrative has those attributes. Doesn't make it a great story, but it makes it a story. Now you got to do a lot of other things to it to make it a great story.
But to me, that's, that's like the minimum criteria for it to even be a story. And once you've gotten that, then you can work on other things to make it a better story, but it's got to have that to begin with. Awesome.
And in the context of business is there a story that you use when you introduce yourself and do you adjust it depending on which business the person is in that you're talking with. Well, let me to introduce myself. I, I probably tell the story. I told you a little bit earlier about how I got interested in storytelling, right. You know, when I'm talking to a sales and marketing audience, which I think is who I'm talking to now, right.
You know, at the beginning of a speech or a training course, I tell the story of pig Island that you probably read in the first chapter of the book. You know, it's, and that doesn't introduce me. So I'm not doing that when I introduce myself. But when I introduce this topic, when I begin to talk about storytelling for sales and marketing people, that's typically the story I tell to have them understand what I mean by a sales story as opposed to a sales pitch.
So, I mean, are you interested in me sharing that now with your audience? Sure. Yeah, that's a great example. Yeah. So and so this, actually, this actually happened to me a few summers ago with my wife. We were in Coney Island in Cincinnati.
And there is a Coney Island outside of New York, by the way. And it's in Cincinnati. Anyway, she, she was looking for a picture for our son's bathroom at home.
And so we went booth to booth, to booth and we ended up at the one, this one booth of this guy named Chris Guglielmo, literally Google this guy. Cause he's fabulous. He takes these just mesmerizing, underwater, pictures of Sea anemones and coral reefs and stuff. And he's fabulous. Well, so she's flipping through his pictures and she just gets emotionally attached to this one.
Picture that, to me looked about as out of place as a pig in the ocean, because it literally was a picture of a pig in the ocean. Right. Which is just silly, you know what I mean? Pigs aren't seafaring creatures.
You don't generally find them out, you know? Paddling their way through the ocean. Right? So eventually I got my chance to ask a question. I said, dude, what's with the pig and the ocean. And that's when the magic started. Malick he said it was crazy.
He said that picture was taken off the coast of this uninhabited Island in The Bahamas called Big Major Cay and he said, apparently what happened was a few years before some local entrepreneur decided to raise a pig farm but he found out there was this Island that nobody lived on where he could keep the pigs for free. So he's no dummy, so he's going to keep them on the free place. Right. And he said, but look in the picture and , you know, I'm looking at this big photograph. He's got, he says, look in the picture, up behind the pig, up on the beach. What kind of vegetation do you see up there? And I've kind of squinted and looked at it and said, well, the only thing I recognize up there is cactus.
And he said, yeah, That's a problem, right? Pigs don't like cactus, right? Like literally there was nothing for them to eat on this Island. So that entrepreneur wasn't so smart after. All right. But he got lucky because apparently a local restaurant owner on a neighboring Island was boating his kitchen, refuse every night, over the big major K and dumping it overboard a few dozen yards off shore, like every night, whatever it was, kitchen scraps leftover. And so, you know, I mean, pigs are like any other.
You know, animal, right? If you get hungry enough, you'll, you'll probably do anything, right? So these hungry little pigs can see and smell this food floating around in the ocean. a few dozen yards off shore. And even though pigs don't normally swim, you know, one of them got brave enough to dog paddle or pig paddle his way out to get this food. And , then it was two little pigs and then three little pigs and four little pigs. And he said, here it is several generations later.
And all the pigs on big major Cay can sweat. Okay, so now I know how big you can swim. And he said, by the way, that was the easiest picture I ever took because when I got to the Island, before I even got to the Island, these pigs swam out to me, to my boat. I mean, they must've thought I was the guy from the restaurant. Right. He said, Oh, you know, normally I've got to put on all this scuba equipment and go under water and wait for something interesting to happen.
And he said, I literally just leaned over the side of the boat with my camera snap. Easiest picture I ever took and one of my best sellers. All right. So, you know, of course at that point I'm like, we'll take it right.
You know, so sold for cash right then because you know, it was just such a fascinating story about how he took this picture. So now I had to have it because it wasn't just a silly picture of a stupid pig in the ocean anymore. It was a silly picture of a stupid pig in the ocean that had a fascinating story behind it. Right.
So, yeah, that's an example of a sales story as opposed to a sales pitch, which, I mean, if he was going to sales, pitch me that picture, he would have said, look, Paul, there's three reasons why you need to buy this picture. Right. Right. First of all, it's the right size to fit in the bathroom where your wife wants to put it. Second of all, it's the right color palette to match the decore. I've already seen the picture that she showed me a little it'll match.
And thirdly, it's in the right price range that you already told me you're willing to spend. Right. That's why you should buy this picture. Right. I mean, those would have been three very logical, rational reasons to buy that picture either. The problem is there are probably hundreds of other pictures at that art fair that met all three criteria.
Right. But that was the only picture at that art fair that I was aware of that had a fascinating story attached to it. And so that's why that, that's the picture that's hanging up in my kid's bathroom upstairs. Right.
And if you ever come to my house to visit, you're going to see the picture. And I'm going to tell you the story again, because I love telling the story. I mean, I ended up buying a picture with a story attached to it, or maybe more accurately a story with a picture attached to it. Right.
Exactly. And that brings a great point. How storytelling can raise the value of of something immensely, because I think you mentioned in the book about a case study, right? Yeah. About some guys that, yeah. They wrote stories, to items and put them on eBay. Yeah, you're right.
Yeah. They, they ended up buying just a bunch of junk at a garage sales and then sold them all. On eBay. But instead of putting a description on eBay, you put a picture on a description, they put the picture, but instead of the description, they just wrote these fantastical stories, just completely fictional, made up stories.
And it says right at the beginning of the story, this is a completely fictional made up story. So it's not like this item is not special in any way, it's just junk, but they gave them these fascinating stories with it. And people paid lots of money to buy this junk. You know, that had an interesting story attached to it. I think it's like 2700% more than they paid for them at the garage sale. And they sold them on eBay because they had interesting stories.
Yeah. That's incredible. So, so yeah, and, and it feels like if you, if you look at society and some of the most successful companies they also have amazing stories attached to them. Disney is a great example.
Of course, it's a very, very, very easy example to make. But we can also look at companies like Apple which always had a great storytelling aspect to them. But as I did my research on you for this interview, my favorite story, the story that actually stood out to me that touched me since, you know, as a marketer, we want to use storytelling to influence behavior. I thought the story that really caught me was the story that your dad told you. That kind of influenced one of your decision.
Could you, could you share? Yeah. Yeah. This is yeah, the, the letter my dad wrote to me is that the one you were talking about? Yes. Yeah. So you want me to share that with your audience right now? Yeah, sure.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So he, yeah. Yeah. Well, when my first book had just come out and this was lead with a story back in 2012, and I was debating whether or not to quit my full-time job at Proctor and Gamble and becoming a full-time author and speaker, and doing what I do now. But you know, I was in my mid forties and I had a wife and kids at home to, , support and college funds to build. And, you know, I was too young to retire and that's just, there's a lot of security that comes along with a steady corporate paycheck and there's no job security in being an author and speaker.
Right. So it was a difficult decision to make. And so I wrote my dad a letter and asked him for advice. Cause he's, he was 80 years old and hard of hearing.
So I couldn't call him on the phone. Anyway, he wrote back and told me a story about himself that I'd never heard before. And neither had any of my siblings.
He said I assume this is the one you're talking about, right? Yeah. Yeah. He said yeah.
I knew what I wanted to do in life. When I was five years old, he said I wanted to be a singer like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, or Sammy Davis Jr. You know, that's his, his Genre right.
And he said, I knew that for sure. The first day of the first grade when the teacher. Asked all of us, if any of us had any special talents, like magic tricks or dancing or something. And he said, I raised my hand and I said, I can sing despite the fact that he'd never sung in front of anybody, but his mom in the kitchen. Right.
He's a five-year-old kid. So what do you, what? Well, you know, this if you heard the story, like the, you know, the teacher on hearing this, and of course the teacher says, well, Bobby, why don't you get up and sing us a song? You know, so a little five-year-old Bobby Smith stood up and he belted out his favorite song right there, acapella in front of everybody. And he said, in this letter to me, he said, I nailed it.
I got all the words and all the melody. Right. And I was so proud of myself. And he said the other students and the teacher, they stood up and they applauded me.
And I got a standing ovation my first time to sing in front of an audience other than my mom. And he said, that's the moment that I knew this is what I'm destined to do. With my life. And he said unfortunately that turned out not just to be the first time I ever sang in front of an audience that turned out to be the last time in my life that I ever sang in front of an audience. And he said, you know, life just got in the way. But the truth is son that I just, I just never had the courage to go through with it.
And there's not been a month that has gone by in the last 75 years. That I have not regretted that decision. And as if that wasn't enough and it was, he closes out this letter with these words, he said, I'd love to see you achieve your dream, but that doesn't mean in your lifetime son. That means in mine. Wow.
And I just thought, Oh my gosh, right. Tick talk. Right. The guy's 80. Right? I mean, what kind of pressure is that to put on me? But it's exactly the pressure that I needed. Right.
So literally two days later I walked into my boss's office and I resigned from my 20 year career to pursue this dream. And it was absolutely the best decision I ever made and I would not have made it nearly that soon if my dad hadn't shared that story with me. So. Yeah, I, that story was in my second book parenting with a story, and it's an illustration of how you're never too old to impact your children's lives with a good story.
I mean, in that case, my dad was 80 and I was 45 and it changed my life. That story that my 80 year old father told me changed my life. So you're never done parenting. No.
That's amazing. And, yeah, a great story that I think could benefit so many people . And even if the story isn't actually about you in a way, right? It was about your father. I mean, it still has an effect on me even.
And when you tell me that so amazing. Im glad to hear it, but yeah, yeah, that, that's a good point too, that we shouldn't just walk past, like, I mean, you you've just asked me to tell a few stories about myself. So I did, but most of the stories I tell are not about me. Oh, you know, 95% of the stories I tell, have nothing to do with me. Right.
They're about other people. And so yeah, when you hear a good story, use it, right. I adopt it let's make it. That doesn't mean change it and make it pretend that it was you in the story. That means no, you can tell a story about some guy named Paul Smith and the person you're talking to will have never heard of me. And it won't matter because it'll still be a great story.
Right? So your repertoire of stories you tell should include a lots of stories about other people. Otherwise, You're the guy who only talks about himself. Right. And nobody wants to be that guy. Right. You don't want to be the guy that only tells stories about himself and how awesome he is.
And that's not good for anybody. Very true. So yeah, let's dip back into marketing a little bit. So what would be typical marketing story , for example, releasing a new product or introducing a new product into the market. Yeah.
So the kind of stories that I typically traffic in I mean, so the, the book that you're talking about is sell with a story. So it was primarily for sales people, but obviously there's a lot of blend over into marketing work. In general you want to tell a story of where your brand is, not the hero of the story. And that may sound surprising to people, but like we tried that at Procter and gamble when I was there. For decades, we would tell stories where our brand was the hero of the story.
Okay. And we finally figured out what would be far more effective is if the consumer was the hero of the story and our brand was more like their assistant, their tool belt now. So I mean, the the best analogy I've heard is like a star Wars analogy. Like, so your brand shouldn't be Luke Skywalker. No, your brand should be Obi wan Kenobi, right? You're the guy who helps the guy.
Who's the hero, right? So you want your consumer to be the hero and solve the problem and save the day. And you're the coach or mentor, you don't want your brand to be Batman. You want your brand to be Batman's toolbelt. Right, right. Because you want your consumer to be Batman. I mean, your consumer wants to be the hero, but you know, the, the mom at home who's, if it's just a silly, as, you know, bounty paper towels cleaning up a mess in the kitchen, you don't want bounty to be the hero.
You want mom to be the hero or dad to be the hero and clean up the mess before anybody slips and falls on it before it creates a problem before you know, it, , it gets out of hand, but you want bounty to be the tool that they go take to solve the problem, but you want them to be the hero? Not. Your brand. And so that that's a total mind-shift and we do, I think all of our commercials that way now. But , that's a mind-shift that marketers, I think really need to think about is, is not making their brand, the hero of the story, but making their consumer the hero of the story.
Right. So yeah, not just focusing on the, all the amazing features and whatever that your product has, but focusing on, or at least showing some empathy for. The main character of the story, which is the client and their problems, I guess. So yeah, that's a, that's a really important takeaway. And what is it about storytelling that makes it so efficient? according to you.
So different people , have different versions of it on why storytelling is so efficient. What's your takeaway from it? I've probably have 10 or 12 reasons in the book, but the most important one is that human beings don't make. The rational, logical decisions that we'd like to think we do, right? We we'd like to think that we've got this computer on our shoulders and we're, you know, very rational, but most of the cognitive science thas been done in the last two or three decades tells us that human beings make subconscious, emotional.
Sometimes irrational decisions in one place in the brain. And then they justify those decisions logically and rationally in a conscious thinking part of the brain, a few nanoseconds later. Right? So you leave the decision-making only being aware of these logical rational reasons for the decision, but you're unaware of the subconscious emotional reasons.
So literally your emotional self makes a decision and then the rest of your brain is trying to catch up. So, if you want to influence what people think feel or do, in other words, leadership or marketing or sales, you need to speak to both parts of the brain. And storytelling is just uniquely well-qualified to speak to both parts, not just the rational, logical thinking part, you need both, but most of your PowerPoint decks and your sales pitches and your, you know, only speak to the rational, logical thinking part of the brain it's the emotional part that you need to reach as well. And let me, storytelling is also more memorable, , than a typical features and benefits type sales pitch. So there are a number of really practical reasons why, but that's the main one is that human beings don't make decisions the way we thought they did.
And you really need stories to help them make those decisions. That's a great explanation. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. In fact, I, some sometimes shocks people, but there's nothing wrong with.
Helping people use their emotional brain to make decisions. You know, in fact, we have a word for people who don't properly use their emotional brain when they make decisions, you know, do you know what that word is? sociopath. Yes. Right. Sociopath. Right.
Sociopath's don't use emotion and making decisions. Okay. It's important to use your emotional brain to make decisions that keeps you making human decisions and not horrible, horrible decisions. Right. Anyway, so yeah, you need to speak to both parts of the brain. So yeah.
So let's go back to your asking what, you know, what are the stories that people need to tell? As you know, from the book I laid out 25 different types of stories. That salespeople mostly need to tell throughout the entire sales process. And there's probably a handful of them that are really important to marketers. Too.
So those would probably be you know, how we're different from our competitors story. In fact, I think that's probably the most important one for marketers to tell. In fact, I sometimes just call that a marketing story because marketing is typically about differentiating yourself from your competitors.
You know, one of them is I call a problem story. So it's a story about the quintessential problem that your product or service. Solves you know, the most obvious one is a success story, a customer success story.
I mean, that's the most frequently told type of sales story is a customer success story, right? Somebody runs into a problem. They buy your product or service. It fixes the problem. Everybody's happy, right? I mean, you know, it's, it's not just a testimonial, but it's a full story, but that's basically what it is. Stories to help you negotiate price. There are stories you can tell to create a sense of urgency to get people to buy now.
But those are probably the most important ones for a marketer. Is that how we're different from our competitors? And what the problem is. Those two, I think, are critical. And if you want, I can share an example of one or both of those at some point.
Yeah, that would, that would be very helpful. Yeah. Especially like the one about the problem. When, when you speak about the problem and I think I do use that a lot professionally because I've noticed that a lot of customers feel like their problem is unique, they say, yeah, well, you know we're only doing business to business or, you know, our target market looks like this, or we only looking for this.
But like you said, if you can use a story to say, well, I actually heard about a company just like yours, and this is how they did it and how this is how they solved this problem. Then they get like, wow. You know, they don't, they don't have that defense anymore because it's a common defense, right. Yeah, it is.
So, so what you've just described, I would say it's probably more of a success story. If you describe there's another company like yours. Yeah. They have this problem you're having, and here's how they solved it. That's more like a full success story. But a problem story to me, a problem story is really just the first part of that.
It's a story just about the problem and it may never have been resolved. In fact, it's usually better if it's not, because you can say, look, I mean, here's somebody that, you know, people have this problem. You may have this problem too. In fact, this story is best told if your audience, your prospect, your customer, your potential customer doesn't even know they have the problem that you solve this that's when you want to tell the stories for them to realize, Oh, I probably have that problem too.
And look how, how bad of a problem it is. Look how many look, what bad happened at that company, because they had that problem and they didn't solve it. Right.
So, so the problem story is there's not a happy ending. There's a sad ending it's problem happened. Didn't get solved. And that was awful. Here's the negative ramifications of having that problem and not solving it. Right.
For example, my favorite one is about this guy named Kevin molten. So he sells what he described as internet security protocol systems, which is a mouthful cybersecurity speak is basically his company creates the program so that when you buy something online or get money out of a ATM machine, that nobody steals your credit card information. Right. So it's very important stuff. Anyway, so he calls on banks, but banks will have to buy the software from him.
And when he goes to call on a new bank, he goes through his sales pitch, of course, but he always tells a story about himself when he was in Las Vegas a few years earlier, he said, you know, I was there for a sales conference and you know, how sales conferences are in Vegas. You go to the conference during the day and then you go eat a cheat meal and it's Vegas, right? So you go to casinos at night. So he said, I was at the casino and I was losing some, and then I was winning some and that I was losing some and I was losing more. And then I was losing more and eventually I ran and out of money.
So I went to the ATM, put my card in, put my number in. And it said transaction denied. I tried another machine transaction denied. Like I couldn't get any money. And he said, and I knew immediately what the problem was.
Right. I live in New Jersey, all of a sudden I'm 2000 miles away. It's the middle of the night.
I'm trying to get a ridiculous amount of money out of this machine. They think somebody stole my credit card. Right.
And he said, and he said, I don't have a problem with my bank looking out for me like that. I like it, that my bank is trying to protect me that way. He did have a problem, however, with what they did about it.
Right. He said, they called my wife in the middle of the night. Back in New Jersey to ask for her approval on this transaction. And he said, can you imagine what that phone call sounded like? Well, I'm sorry to wake you up at 4:00 AM Mrs.
Moulton. But your husband's dead at casino in Vegas, trying to get a boatload of cash out of the machine, you know, do you approve this transaction? And he said, she was so mad at me and I was so mad at them. He said they, they did not remain my credit card company for very long. So he said, now, can you imagine.
First of all, you probably have people like this at your bank, too. You probably have customers that run into this problem. You just don't even know about it. Right. And so, so by the way, that's the end of the story the story ends with him firing his credit card company. But there's no solution, right? That there's no happy ending to this story.
The point of the story is just, that's a problem because it messes with people's lives and then he can easily go onto that. Now they're more interested in hearing his solution to that problem. And then he can tell a success story later about.
Some other company that had a similar problem and he sold them the software to solve their problem, but you need to establish the problem first. And that story does a better job of establishing the problem than him saying something like we know our research shows that 32.5% of your banking customers are slightly to moderately dissatisfied with their interaction with your banking units or some other such statistic. I mean, if he's got a stat like that, he should definitely use it. But the story does a much better job of illustrating on a human level.
What a problem is if you don't have good internet security protocol systems. Right? Exactly. Yeah. He's like it puts you right there. And also I think another thing that I got from the book was when you said that you should try to get your clients to tell a story. Hm.
And that, that way you can gather much more information than if they would just tell him, , specific facts. Yeah. In fact, if you, if you don't get them to tell their stories first, how are you going to know which of your stories to tell, you know? Yeah. In fact, I think there's a whole chapter on just, how do you get your. Prospect to tell you stories, not just answer questions, but to tell you stories because it, and because you hearing stories is important, just like it is for them to hear stories from you because they're are more compelling and they're more educational, you get a more real human feel for what their problem is.
If you ask them to tell you a story, or don't sorry, don't ask them to tell your story, but get them to tell you a story. If you just ask them, they probably won't know what you're talking about, but. But like, I imagine, you know, you could ask them, what's your biggest problem right now? Cause I'm gonna solve it. Right.
I'm the sales person. That's got what you need, I'm going to solve your problem. If you just ask them what the problem is, you know, they might say something like, Oh, warehousing, warehousing is our biggest problem. Well, you don't really know much now do you, but if, instead, if you had say, if you'd asked, tell me about the moment that you realized your biggest problem was your biggest problem.
Yeah. Oh, now, now they have to tell you a story. They can't just say warehousing. They have to explain it.
They have to say, Oh, well, you know, that would have been probably a couple of months ago when our biggest customer called and placed a number of a last minute order, you know, a big, huge order. And we went out to the warehouse and we didn't have any of the product on hand. So we had to schedule a special production run just to make it all. And it cost a whole lot of money. And then we had to expedite the shipping, which costs more money, but it got there just in time and they were all happy.
And. Then we went out to the warehouse and found the product that they were after, right. Where it should have been all along.
Okay. Now, you know what they mean by a warehouse problem, they have a problem managing their inventory and identifying where things are in their warehouse. Right.
And just telling you, I have a warehousing problem, it doesn't tell you much, but the story will tell you a lot more. So, yes. It's important for you to get your customers, your prospects, to tell you stories, just like it's important for you to tell them stories. That's a great point. And I don't think a lot of people think about that actually or see it that way. They only go to, well, give me the details, give me the specific facts, you know, and they just go kind of deeper and deeper into that.
Literally little small thing, like you said, instead of talking about the whole process or what is actually going on. So that's something that I'm going to take with me now. So, so thank you for that as that's a great one. And also terms of stories, when you have.
Maybe four or five or 25 different stories, where do you keep them? And do you have to practice them or how does it work the real world? Yeah. So I'm laughing. Cause I just, I was talking to a colleague of mine about this very question yesterday.
You can keep them, however, is most convenient for you. So I have some. Big clients who have, you know, a huge IT department and they build these sophisticated databases and they have a database of stories.
You know, there are some off the shelf solutions and online places, you can do stuff like that. You know what I do, I just keep them in a Microsoft word document. So , like literally , I'll write a story , and I'll put them all in the same document. One big, huge document. Not.
Individual documents. And the reason for that is so that I can search for the one I need when I need it. Right. I just have one document to open and I can search for it. Oh, w what was that story about? Las Vegas with the, Oh, the ATM machine. Oh, ATM I'll search for ATM or Las Vegas.
I'll search for Vegas and boom. I find it right. Or what was, what was that story about the pigs? There were some pigs, there were some pigs swimming, right? I don't remember where it was, but what pig pig. And then I find it, right.
So to me, that's the simplest way is just write them all down in a type them all up into one big document. And then you can find them. In an instant whenever you need them. You know, you'll, I think I did this in a Sell with a story at the back, I've got a matrix that shows, , the 25 different types of stories , and what page, you know, it's on my first book, I did something like that to create a matrix, , that's maybe more sophisticated than most people need. But what's important is that more people have access to it than just you.
Yeah. I mean, if you, if you work by yourself and you're selling yourself and you run your own company, then that doesn't apply. But if you're a sales person in a company and there are 30 salespeople at that company, you really need all 30 people have access to the database of stories. So that they can all be telling the most effective stories. And if there's 3000 salespeople at your company, it's even more important, right? Because 30 people can get together once a month and have lunch and share, , some of their best stories, but 3000 people can't do that. So it's more important if you have a database, the bigger your company is.
So whether it's. In one big word document or a more sophisticated database with PowerPoint slides and some of my clients who videotaped themselves telling their stories and they have those videos available for any other sales person can watch their videos. Some of mine actually the sales manager well, tell the story first, and then everybody has to watch his or her video and kind of practice after that. Oh, and you, you asked about practicing too.
Yeah. I, I, you know, videotaping yourself is a good idea. Cause a lot of times these stories will be told face-to-face or over zoom or something like we are now. And then watch it and then rerecord it and do it over until you're happy with what it looks like and feels like, and sounds like, and then you've got it right. Nice. And as an old researcher tell me how you tell stories with numbers and data.
Cause I know you got a couple of different versions of how to do that. Yeah. So, so first of all, when I say, tell stories with data, I don't mean data visualization, which is an important thing. And that's not my forte. So I'm not talking about just making prettier charts and graphs or better presentation slides or something like that. I mean actually telling stories.
With numbers like you would, with words using the same technique. So a story structure, emotion, surprise, things like that. And you can do it, but you can't do it just by making a more effective chart or graph the words have to come out of your mouth. But you're using numbers in that.
So, you know, one example there's a guy named Andrew Morefield who back in the year, 2000 started an online bank. To make loans to small businesses. This is in London, England. And at one point like most startups there's at some point cash is tight, right? And so at some point he didn't have enough money to pay his employees cause it was a startup and it was year 2000 and the.com bubble and burst was happening anyway when he realized he wasn't going to have enough money to make payroll. He called all employees into this conference room, 25 people.
He went up to the whiteboard and he wrote a number at the top of the board. And he said that was our bank account balance at the beginning of the month. And then he wrote two other numbers underneath that. And he said, those are the revenues we're going to get this month.
And the expenses were going to have to pay this month to keep running the business. And then he drew a line under it and he did the math and he wrote the answer at the bottom and he said, and so that's how much money we'll have left at the end of the month to pay your salaries. And he circled that number.
And then over here he wrote another number and he circled it and he said, and that is how much money your salaries add up to. And then he just stood there and let them assess the dilemma in front of him because this number, the salaries was three times the size of this number, which is the bank account balance. That's a problem. Right? So then he asked them, what do you think I should do about it? Or what would you do about it if you were me, which, and they ended up thinking of all kinds of interesting ideas for how to solve a problem. And he thought they would just say, well, pay everybody a third of their salary, but they ended up coming up with a smarter idea.
They, you know, they said, no, we want you to pay. A third of us, all of our salary and two thirds of us, none, which just shocked him. And he said, well, how am I going to have, decide who to pay and who not? And they said, Oh, well, we'll figure that out. And then they did, they figured it out amongst themselves. They decided , who would volunteer to go without and who not.
And so it's, it's solved the problem so much easier than if he just came in there and said, look, money's tight this month. So I'm going to decide who gets paid and who doesn't or I'm going to just give everybody a two thirds pay cut. Nobody would have been happy with that. But the way he did it, everybody was happy. And most importantly, if anybody ever told a story with five numbers on a whiteboard, it was Andrew Morefield on that day. Right? I mean, you can, you can see the structure of it.
Like a story. The beginning of the month balance what happens in the middle of the month with the balance at the end of the month. And you can see the , surprise when they realize, you know, salaries add up to more than that. There's a surprising element.
There's some emotional things going on when they have to decide what to do about it and who not to pay and who to pay. So he took what could have been just a very, you know, rational. Management decision and turned it into an interesting story that the audience got to participate in, in drawing the conclusion. Right. And because that's one of the things about storytelling is the audience gets to draw the conclusion.
If you're making a speech or presentation, you're telling people what to think and do right. When you're making a sales pitch, you're telling them you should buy this product. When you're telling a story. You're not doing that. You're making them want to buy the product. And then , you're making them decide to buy the product on their own.
It's their decision. Right? So those employees decided with what the conclusion was, that's a problem. And they decided the recommendation, what to do about it. That's the way it works in storytelling.
And so you can tell stories with numbers, just like you can, with words, if you follow the same, technique. That's a great point. I think any person who has been in sales for a long time or been in business for a long time have experienced when they're had a presentation and you do it in such a good way that you can almost hear how the audience just gets it. Right. It clicks without you having to state the obvious you just show them, like you said, discovery journey that, you know what, I went through the numbers this month, I saw this and then I saw this and then, they can feel, , okay. I get it.
So the one you just described as the second method, the discovery journey method. Just to, to explain that the difference between those two methods is the first method that I illustrated. I think I call it a, how we got here method.
The main character in the story is the business. Or in this case, the bank account, you're telling a story about what's happening in the bank account. We had this much money and then this much came in and then this much went out and we're left with this much, but that's problem because, you know, we gotta pay salaries, so the business in chronologicol order was the main character of that story. The discovery journey method. The story you tell you are the main character of the story.
You, the analyst, the person doing the analysis. So you're saying I went and investigated this, and then I tried, then I did this analysis and it didn't work. Or then I thought about this solution and I investigated it and it turned out not to be right. And then I tried this and that didn't work.
And then eventually I figured this out, right. So you're letting them. Go along your journey of discovery in whatever order, the order you did, it doesn't matter, but you tell them the order that you, whatever you did it so they can follow all the wrong turns and the ups and the downs.
And then finally, you know, discovering the pot of gold at the end of the story. You want them to have that feeling of discovery. So in that story, it's the story about you and what you did, and then you stop right before you draw your conclusion to let them have that discovery moment. You let them discover.
The thing that you discovered in your analysis so that they have that aha moment themselves, that that's a really powerful one. Yeah. And they can also see kind of how you think through your problems as well. So for example, , if you're being interviewed for a job position and they ask you what's , one of the challenges that you've had, throughout your experience and probably a discovery type of story would be a good one to tell so yeah, so brilliant one.
we could just go on and on, because I think that , this stuff is so interesting. But one thing that I've recognized now about storytelling is that we're constantly telling ourselves stories and that you basically don't have a choice about choosing storytelling or not choosing storytelling because your audience is going to tell a story to themselves in their head anyway, , with the facts that they have. Do you have an example on when. Storytelling went wrong or how it can go wrong.
. Well, first let me respond to what you said about people have a story in their head and even about you. Right? So one of the, one of the CEOs I interviewed had a, a mantra that I thought was particularly insightful. He said , people are going to tell stories about you, whether you want them to or not choose which ones they tell.
and the way you choose, what stories people tell about you is you tell them first, share your own stories with people, and then that's what people will remember. And they'll tell that story about you. But if you don't ever tell your stories, they're going to tell stories about you and you may not like the stories they tell. So, but you can influence that by, by telling your own stories. Yeah, so stories when storytelling tends to go wrong, it tends to go wrong for a few pretty predictable reasons. One of those is telling the wrong story at the wrong time.
That typically happens when somebody just has a, a story that they love and they just look for , any excuse to tell it. And it's just, you know, it's obvious that they're doing it there. They, you know, they've interrupted the conversation and they thrown in a semi irrelevant story just because they like telling the story and it's. You know, it's distracting and it was just kind of a waste of time or stories when the person telling the story is the hero of the story. You know, those tend to not go over very well. Cause it just sounds like you're bragging about yourself.
You're far better to tell stories, right? When you failed your failure stories, it doesn't make you the villain, but you know, telling your failure stories, especially when I teach this class to leaders. So not necessarily the salespeople, but people in leadership positions, whether it's sales, marketing, engineering, whatever I teach them, you need to tell your own failure stories. And the reason is because. Nobody wants to work for a boss who cares more about their own ego than they do about their people's growth and development. They want the opposite.
They want to work for a boss who cares more about his or her people. Than they do about their own ego. And so if you will tell people about the three biggest mistakes you made in your career and how first the, my biggest mistake I ever made got me fired from my first job.
Second biggest mistake I ever made cost me a million dollar contract. Third biggest mistake. I made almost got somebody killed. I don't know, whatever, you know, but you know, over 30 years you're allowed to make three mistakes. It's okay to admit that you've made some mistakes, but tell people about them and tell them what you learned from it.
Right. And the reason people want to hear your, your failure stories is so that they won't make the same mistake you did. And as a boss, that's why you should want to tell them your failure stories so that they won't have to make the same mistakes you did so that they can benefit from your experience. But lousy bosses are egotistical ones who will never tell their failure stories because they're too embarrassed. That's a bad boss. You want a boss who is.
Not too embarrassed to tell their own failure stories, that's leadership. So so you should be telling those and not the, all the time about why you're awesome. And you're a hero and that just gets old. Maybe the , one of the thing that makes storytelling go bad. Of course it's when it just goes on too long.
Right? I mean, these stories should be two to three minutes long. Yeah. That's it. I think all the stories I've told you probably within two to three minutes when it gets to be seven, eight, nine, 10, 15 minutes.
Yeah. You know, you can tell a two hours story and a movie theater, but not around the office, that's just too long. And so that's, that's what the structure of the story, the eight questions that I cover in the book, you need to answer these eight questions and answer them succinctly and then get out, you know, your, your story's done as opposed to just droning on and on and on. That's a really good point. And also for me, a branding perspective.
And now that you have your own practice and you just kind of promoting yourself, how has storytelling helped you and how can you use storytelling for your, for your own personal brand? Yeah. Well, I guess it's kind of weird for me because I'm what I'm selling is. You know, storytelling training. Right.
So I, I definitely use storytelling, cause that's, what I'm selling. So you know, when people, you know, hear me on a podcast like this, or see me, you know, at a keynote or whatever, I'm telling a bunch of stories but that's the product that I'm selling. I'm teaching you to tell stories, effective stories like this. But probably the one that sells me the most when I'm talking to a prospective client who's considering hiring me for their sales kickoff meeting or for sales training, engagement or something , is when they ask. . What got you fascinated with storytelling or how did you learn about storytelling? And I tell them about. All these, these hundreds of CEOs and executives that I've interviewed as I was trying to learn about this.
And, you know, each of them told me eight to 10 or 12 different stories. And, you know, if you do the math and I've probably collected 3000 individual business stories and you know, how that frustrated me, that nobody ever taught me that in business school. And so , that whole story about how I went from. You know, being a guy in an office nine to five, at a corporate job to being the guy who writes books about and talks about storytelling all day long. You know, that tends to be an interesting story for people.
And plus just gives me some credibility. Like , , I've interviewed hundreds and hundreds of really successful people about their use of storytelling and documented literally thousands of stories. And not many people can say that, I think.
I know what I'm talking about, but I'm also not, some academic who's never spent a day in corporate life. I spent most of my career, , in an office environment. Needing to tell these types of stories.
So I know the kind of stories that leaders and salespeople and marketers need to tell which is why a large part of my books. Are documenting what stories you need to tell. And then I spend some time telling you how to tell them most people who do what I do. It's the opposite.
They're like, well, I assume you need to know the stories you want to tell. I'm going to tell you how to tell them, Oh, there's gotta be this narrative arc and there's gotta be a hero's journey and there's gotta be, you know, and they get all Hollywood on you and you know, which is fine and it's fun. But if you don't know what stories you need to tell, none of that matters. so what I spend most of my time with my clients doing is helping them figure out what stories they need to tell. Right? I mean, I'll go through the 10, most important stories for any leader to be able to tell I'll go through the 25 types of stories, that salespeople need to tell , for my parenting class. There's lots of different stories.
Parents need to tell. So that to me, I think is a little bit of a differentiator for me versus my competitors. That's a really good one. And do you go anything into tonality and kind of the cadence as theyr'e telling the story or I don't. And here's why I tell people the story is more important than the delivery, right? I think I've got a chapter in that, in the Sell With a Story book on delivery, but just one chapter right out of 20 or 30 chapters, I got one chapter on delivery.
So it's not that it's not important at all. But it's not nearly as important as the story. So , if you tell the right story at the right time, you've chosen a good story to tell and it helps your audience, it helps them make a decision. And you've got the structure of it basically.
Right? You've got one emotional element in there. You've got a surprise ending in there. You get the basics of.
Storytelling down. But you, I don't know, you, you stutter and you don't make good eye contact and you're fidgeting with your hands and you don't project very well. You don't have the tonality, right? You don't have the cadence of it. Right. Your audience will forgive you for all that stuff. And the reason is because you're probably not a professional speaker or actor, they're not expecting some perfect delivery.
What they expect you to do is to be helpful. Right because you're a leader, you're a sales person, you're a marketer. You're the boss.
You're you know, they expect you to help them make a decision. And if your story helps them do that, they won't care about all that other stuff. But if you tell them a boring, irrelevant story, but you deliver it in a way that would make a Shakespearian actor proud, you know, you've got all the delivery performance aspects nailed.
They will never forgive you for wasting their time. Right? You are not an actor. You are a sales person, you're a marketer, you're a leader. You're a business person. Like do not pretend to be on some Hollywood stage.
You're not, you don't need that. Yeah. Now, will your stories be more effective if you're, if you're a little better at those performance aspects? Yeah, absolutely. But I just want to focus on what I'm good at, which is teaching people, what stories you need to tell, how to find them and how to craft them in the most effective way. And if you want to go take a speech class or an acting class or an improv class, great.
Knock yourself out. I don't think you need it, but if you do, you'll be even that much better. That was a great, great point. So just keeping it simple and authentic to learn. Yeah. Authentic.
That's the right. That's the word I was looking for. Kevin, keep it real, right.
I mean, I think in that delivery chapter, and I think I even quoted, I looked up some studies about and I'm doing it right now where they call them filler words. a filler word is like or. You know and I know I'm doing it again, right? So an average person, when they're speaking, I think has three or four filler words per minute. So every 60 seconds, about every 15 seconds, an average speaking person does that. Your story should be the same, right? It should sound like a normal conversation. In fact, if, if the tone yes.
About tonality. If the tone of the conversation changes, when you start to tell a story, you're doing it wrong, right. Your audience, it shouldn't feel like, Oh, Oh wait, he's telling a story now. Like, it's like, Oh, he's, he's performing now.
It's like, Oh, the sales pitch is on now. Right. You don't want, in fact I one of the questions I asked the buyers that I interviewed for the book. So I interviewed lots of salespeople, obviously for the book, but I also interviewed professional procurement managers as well. Right. Professional buyers.
So one of the questions I asked the procurement managers, the professional buyers, when I interviewed them for the book was what is it that makes a sales pitch sound like a sales pitch? And they almost all told me the same thing. They said the moment, the tone of the conversation, switches from conversational and extemporaneous to something that sounds scripted and memorized. They said, that's the moment that I know that the sales pitch has started.
Right. And they say the hairs on the back of my neck would stand up and I like immediately get defensive. And I'm like, you know, ready to, poke holes in everything they're saying. And you don't want your audience to have that reaction to what you're saying.
Right? , if, when you start to move into telling a story during a conversation in a sales call, or like, you don't want the tone of the conversation to switch, you don't want it to sound like, Oh, this is the scripted memorized, performed. Part of the conversation. Well, now I know you're just selling to me. You want it to just sound exactly like you and I are talking now there should be three or four um's and ers in it.
You should be just as halting with your conversation and just as. Uncertain as how that sentence is going to end as you would be when you're just having a conversation. It should sound just the same. So, and so that's another reason why I tell people don't worry too much about the performance aspects, because if you do, I'm more afraid that you'll do too good of a job than too bad of a job. You'll do such a good job that now it just sounds fake. It sounds inauthentic.
It lacks a genuineness. So. Don't spend too much time worrying about that. That's a great point.
Well, this has been such an interesting conversation and the time has just flown by. But, I guess that's the art of storytelling. That's part of it. Yeah. Yeah. So for my last question what would be your advice for a young professional just starting their career? And now that they're kind of learning about storytelling maybe for the first time how can they use this secret tool to kind of move their career ahead? Yeah.
So I guess the main thing would be. Treat storytelling, like any other skill set? That in business. Right.
So study it, right. So if you wanted to be better at marketing, you'd go take a marketing class. You want to be better at finance. You'd go take a finance and accounting class.
Right. Treat storytelling the same as those, right. It's a legitimate important skill for you to develop. So go read a book, take a class, watch some YouTube videos to, you know, learn it, learn it, but don't just. Don't just say, Oh, , I'll just start practicing my stories. Well, that would be like me saying, Oh, I'll just start practicing my guitar playing.
I've never played a guitar. I can, you know, if you don't know how you don't know how so study from somebody who knows, I'm not, I'm not the only one that does this, , but find a book, find a class to take and learn how, and then once you've learned the techniques, then you can practice them. But to practice before, you know, the techniques , is , not a good idea. So treat it like anything else and study it. Great.
Great advice. And yes, please visit leadwithastory.com. That's Paul's website, and also pick up a copy of his book, sell with a story. He also has lead with a story and , the 10 stories.
Great leaders tell. That's my shortest book. You've probably read that one in an hour. So if you're, if you're looking for a place to start with storytelling, probably start there. It'll, it's a really short book, but it'll give you a big picture of what stories you ought to be telling. That's a brilliant one.
And is there any social media where it's the easiest to find you at? Is it Twitter, LinkedIn, or I think it's a lead with a story. It just about all of them, but you can find me on LinkedIn. There Twitter's the same, Facebook's probably the same lead with a story. You'll find me. Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time, Paul.
This has been very educational and useful, so thank you so much hope to speak to you soon. Yep. Cheers.