With Carmine Gallo, columnist and author of The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers To Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On And Others Don’t
Carmine Gallo is the two-time Wall Street Journal best-selling author of the book Talk Like Ted which refers to techniques used by expert speakers at TED Talks. He’s also a columnist for Forbes.com and entrepreneur.com. Steve speaks with him about his new book, The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers To Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On And Others Don’t.
Humans Love Stories
Successfully selling someone on an idea, product, or point of view goes beyond facts and requires storytelling. It’s probably part of our collective DNA, with the epical image of our ancestors sitting around a fire, electrified by wonderful storytellers.
While the art of storytelling hasn’t changed, Carmine Gallo believes the tools have changed. Today, we use PowerPoint instead of painting pictures on cave walls but still rely on sparking listener’s imaginations. As British entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, puts it, “If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you better have a good idea and you better be a great storyteller.”
Science backs up Sir Richard, with evidence that story is the most effective component of persuasion based on MRI brains scans and lab tests. Research at Princeton University found that when two people tell each other a story, the brains of both, the speaker and the listener, are in sync in a process called neural coupling, where blood flows to the same parts of their brains. Paul Zak, a California-based researcher, found that stories trigger a rush of chemicals that create empathy, and humans are hard-wired to react to stories.
With computers and automation replacing almost every human task, the one skill that robots cannot replicate is the power of emotion through story—making storytelling the ultimate competitive advantage in business and in life.
The Three-Part Structure Of Effective Storytelling
In The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers To Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On And Others Don’t, Carmine Gallo notes that good stories have a three-part structure. Part one is the setup which forms the backstory, the status quo, the hero’s world as it was. Part two is the conflict, where we get the villain. Part three is the resolution. And almost every successful story follows these three parts.
Effective corporate communicators invoke a similar three-part pitch at work. The first part paints a picture of the world as it is for that particular company or client. Act two states the problem or challenge and makes sure the client sees the iceberg that’s going to hit their Titanic. Part three is the resolution, where your business, idea, or service will keep their Titanic from sinking or make it move more efficiently. Sometimes, it’s all wrapped pretty tightly into a one-minute story.
The Best Level Of Language For Storytelling
While he has no research to back this up, Carmine says when your message needs to be communicated to a wide group, it helps to speak in sixth-grade language. Bill Gates, for example, takes complex scientific information and distills it down in easy English in his annual newsletter for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The same holds true for Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.
Develop a Story That’s Worth Sharing
Carmine Gallo’s book, The Storyteller’s Secret, says speakers must first be inspired by the story, visualize delivering it, overcome stage-fright, and actually believe the story is worth being shared. So if you’d like to become better at the life-changing art of storytelling, pick up a copy of Carmine Gallo’s book, The Storyteller’s Secret.
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Steve Pomeranz: Carmine Gallo is the two-time Wall Street Journal best-selling author of the book Talk Like Ted and in that he’s referring to the great TED Talks that can be viewed on YouTube and other outlets, and so on. He’s also a columnist for Forbes.com and entrepreneur.com, and today we’re going to delve into his new book, The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers To Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On And Others Don’t. So, Carmine, welcome to the show.
Carmine Gallo: Thank you, Steve. I appreciate it.
Steve Pomeranz: This whole idea of trying to convince somebody of your point of view, whether it’s to sell a product or to get them to do something that you know is in their best interest, having facts on your side just isn’t enough. You have to do storytelling. I guess it’s part of our collective DNA, the epical image of our ancestors sitting around a fire, electrified by wonderful storytellers. It’s something we can all understand. Has storytelling changed after all of these many millennia?
Carmine Gallo: The tools have changed. We use PowerPoint instead of painting pictures on cave walls. It’s exactly right, what you said, it’s in our DNA. What’s fascinating and fun for me to write The Storyteller’s Secret is to get into the science and to speak to neuroscientists who have studied this and anthropologists who say that storytelling goes back 400,000 years. When people were able to sit around the campfire and tell stories—that is the milestone in human development because it’s sparked our imagination. Well, I realize that we’re doing the same thing today. Things haven’t changed. Richard Branson, who I’ve interviewed a couple of times, gathers his team around a campfire at his home on Necker Island, and they specifically do so for the purpose of sharing stories. In fact, he said, not too long ago, Richard Branson said, “If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you better have a good idea and you better be a great storyteller.”
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah. I can imagine Richard Branson on one of his islands sitting around a campfire, but I have a feeling that campfire is something digital or different. Is it?
Carmine Gallo: There’s actually a … he commissioned a local artist to create the most beautiful fire pit you’ve ever seen, so you’re absolutely right.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I knew it had to be something like that. What is it about it … what does the science say which proves our basic human response to storytelling?
Carmine Gallo: Well, this is the most fascinating part. We now have more evidence in the last ten years that story is the most effective component of persuasion. We’ve learned more in the last ten years than we’ve ever known because we have MRI, we have lab tests, we have data now. We’re learning several things. They’re doing research at Princeton University where they’re finding that when two people tell each other a story, the brains of both the speaker and the listener are in sync. It’s called neural coupling, which means that if I tell you a story, they can see the same regions of our brain having that same blood flow. They call it neural coupling, I call it having a brain sync. We’re just in sync with each other.
Paul Zak on the other end of the coast in Orange County California, in Los Angeles is studying oxytocin. I’ve had a couple of conversations with Dr. Zak. What he finds is that when you are watching a gripping or heart-wrenching story, that when they take a blood draw, there’s a much higher level of the molecule oxytocin, which is the love molecule. That creates empathy between two people. They’re finding that a higher level of oxytocin is more likely to incite someone or persuade someone to give money to a charity. In other words, when we hear stories, it’s doing something to our brain. It’s triggering a rush of chemicals, cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin, so stories actually do work on our brain. That’s because—getting back to what we just talked about Steve—we’re hard-wired for story. This is the way we process information.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, we live in an age which is increasingly being dominated by robots and automation, and I guess the question is, is storytelling a purely human endeavor? Can it be replicated automatically or autonomously through robots, or is that going to be the great differentiator?
Carmine Gallo: Well, this is why I’m excited about the topic because I started writing about storytelling because … strictly from a business perspective… because venture capitalist, billionaires like Richard Branson, VC’s, great leaders, they were all telling me the same thing. They were all telling me, Carmine, if you speak to entrepreneurs or small business owners or business professionals, please tell them that facts alone are not enough, they’re not doing story-telling. They have to wrap their data in narrative, an emotion, and story. This was for me, a pure played business book until I started to realize, and I read a lot of material on this subject, that computers and automation are replacing almost every human task, and it’s quite frightening because there are tasks, which just a few years ago we didn’t think would ever be automated, more creative tasks. It is frightening and it’s displacing jobs, but there is one skill that—so far at least, and in the foreseeable future—robots cannot replicate, and that’s the human power of emotion through story.
Steve Pomeranz: I see.
Carmine Gallo: To me, now, it becomes an even bigger ultimate competitive advantage, not just in business, but in life.
Steve Pomeranz: Saying that the emotional aspect of the human condition is something that is maybe the fundamental differentiator between us and robots.
Carmine Gallo: Absolutely, and it’s going to be your ultimate competitive advantage, so you remain relevant in the workplace.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah. Very good point.
Carmine Gallo: Yeah. Not too long ago, I mean just real quickly…
Steve Pomeranz: Sure.
Carmine Gallo: I spoke to a young 25-year old man who had some technical experience, who’s looking for a new job. He had some technical experience but not much, so on paper he didn’t look that good compared to a lot of other candidates. In his first job interview, he said he had read some of my work and really practiced communicating what that company’s vision was and their products and all that. They hired him in two days. He doubled his salary.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Carmine Gallo: They told him specifically, they said, we have plenty of plenty who know the technical part, but not that many who can communicate it well.
Steve Pomeranz: My guest is Carmine Gallo. The book is The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers To Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On And Others Don’t. So we all know one archetypal typical story is them rags to riches story line. What are some of the other archetypal stories that we’re very, very familiar with?
Carmine Gallo: Well, first of all, rags to riches? Keep telling them, we are wired, here’s something else in this literature, we are wired to love rags to riches stories because we need to hear them. We need to find meaning in struggle. If you have struggled or you have failed and learned something from it, by all means, continue to share those personal stories because they make a connection with people. The other structure that I like is by stealing a page from Hollywood. All commercially successful movies have a three-part structure, and you can use this in your very next business pitch or presentation.
Steve Pomeranz: What are they?
Carmine Gallo: Part one is the setup. There has to be the back story, the status quo. Here is the hero’s world as it is. Part two is the conflict. That’s where we get the villain. Part three is the resolution. Every movie, almost every commercially successful movie, has to follow the three parts. In a business pitch, Steve, it’s very simple. Let’s say you are advising someone, or a new client, or a prospect. Paint a picture of the world as it is for that particular company or client. Act two, there’s a problem or a challenge. They’re about to hit an iceberg in Titanic. They may not even see the iceberg, but you’re going to show them that conflict. Part three is the resolution. That is how your business, your idea, your service is going to make their world a better place. Three structures, you could do that in one minute. One-minute story.
Steve Pomeranz: You know the one story that comes to mind when you describe this is, basically, the story of Cinderella. Which, as I understand, is told in many cultures— the back story, the poor young girl, and the back story about the evil sisters, and there’s your villains and then, of course, the rise to final fame and fortune, and so on. When you-
Carmine Gallo: A screenwriter taught me that Cinderella and Rocky, those movies work because there is a very strong dramatic arc.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Carmine Gallo: They can’t just be not doing well. They have to be really down in the dumps. Then they have to get a castle at the end. There has to be a big dramatic arc.
Steve Pomeranz: There’s a great Kurt Vonnegut video … YouTube, it’s on YouTube and he must have … he was lecturing—I don’t know, it must have been thirty or more years ago— on a blackboard and he discusses just that. The exact arc of Cinderella. I’m going to send it to you. You’re going to love it. What level of language in business or otherwise should you be using? Should you be speaking at a college level, at a high school level, or what’s the best level of language to use?
Carmine Gallo: Well, I hope we don’t offend anybody on our radio station today. Sixth-grade level.
Steve Pomeranz: Sixth grade?
Carmine Gallo: Okay, and I do have a lot of proof for this. Let me add this caveat. When— and this is actually an important caveat—when you have a message that needs to be communicated to the widest possible group of people, it helps to speak in sixth-grade language. Sixth-grade language meaning a typical sixth grader could probably understand and read it and that the words are short, the sentence structure is very simple, there isn’t a lot of jargon, it’s not very confusing, just very simply laid out. I have a lot of evidence for this. Bill Gates, in his newsletter every year, Bill Gates sends out this beautiful newsletter that talks about philanthropy and the world and some of the challenges that he and Melinda Gates see. Take a look at the last newsletter. I took all of the content from it. I put it into a tool that actually measures text for grade-appropriate levels, and it turned out to be about sixth grade. He … what Bill Gates has done beautifully is he has learned to take complex information and reduce it to a very simple language.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Carmine Gallo: We’re seeing this a lot. Steve Jobs did this all the time. Elon Musk, I have a whole chapter on Elon Musk. I took an entire presentation of his that, again, meant for the masses, meant for the masses, not just two engineers. Meant for the masses, and it’s about sixth-grade level. He would say things like, this is real, pollution is real.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Carmine Gallo: Our air is dirty-
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I saw that.
Carmine Gallo: This is the answer. This is the solution. It’s called the sun. Very simple language.
Steve Pomeranz: Right. Right. Now, actually, I just saw on YouTube, him rolling out the battery for the home and that’s the exactly the terminology he used. We have this big fireball in the sky that gives us unlimited energy. We can all see that image.
Carmine Gallo: That’s exactly right.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah. Yeah. Now you interviewed quite … I think fifty storytellers, and it was quite a range. You mentioned Richard Branson, but you’ve also interviewed or you write about Howard Schultz from Starbucks, but even Joel Osteen, the incredibly successful televangelist. What’s different, what’s the same about those very three vastly different characters, and other characters that you’ve written about, and what’s really the same?
Carmine Gallo: Well, the first third of the book, and this is, again, I did not intend for this to happen, but the first third of the book talks about how you need to reframe the message or the story you tell yourself. You will never inspire others unless you’re inspired yourself, unless you actually believe and have confidence that your story is worth being heard and shared. Joel Osteen, this is not a religious book in any way, but Joel Osteen, obviously, is a very successful, motivational speaker. For seventeen years, seventeen years, he did not believe that he belonged on stage. Today he sells out Yankee Stadium. He sells out stadiums around the world. Can you imagine how nervous most people would be speaking to fifty thousand people? Yet seventeen years ago or for seventeen years, he never saw himself doing that. The first time he preached, Joel Osteen told me he was absolutely paralyzed with fear. He was shaking at the lectern.
Steve Pomeranz: I know a lot of people can relate to that for sure.
Carmine Gallo: Yeah.
Steve Pomeranz: Now his father was a pastor…
Carmine Gallo: It all starts with changing your internal thought structure, speaking different to yourself. It all starts in the head.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, is it the Stuart Smalley thing from the old SNL…I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, or is it something, and, gosh darn it, people like… or is it something a little bit more sophisticated than that?
Carmine Gallo: It’s not that much more sophisticated. Visualization, we know from great athletes, great winners, they visualize themselves.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, they visualize. Yeah.
Carmine Gallo: You have to … If you have a fear of public speaking, you absolutely have to go through the motions and visualize yourself as a strong speaker. Shonda Rhimes, the Greys Anatomy producer, was paralyzed with fear of public speaking, and she wrote a book called The Year of Yes. You may have heard of it. The year of saying yes, where she actually accepted opportunities that she never would have accepted before. She had to say yes to everything, and she realized that she became more confident by doing those things which she originally feared.
Steve Pomeranz: You know, I hadn’t heard that, but I actually have gone through my own personal experience with a period of saying yes to things I had formally said no to, so that’s quite interesting for me. We’ve had Barbara Corcoran on which is one of the people in the book but you mention an individual by the name of Brian Stephenson. Not a household name by any imagination. He’s a TED speaker. Tell us quickly about him.
Carmine Gallo: Brian Stephenson is a human rights attorney. He earned the longest standing ovation of any TED speaker in TED’s thirty-year history, so look him up, Brian Stephenson. He is a very successful attorney who wins cases before the U.S Supreme Court. He knows how to persuade. If you watch a fifteen- minute presentation by Stephenson, there’s three personal stories. What he does is he tells a personal story, then he delivers the data that he intends to communicate to his audience. Personal story, data, personal story, data. There are three stories, the data reinforce the story, but the data doesn’t come first. Whereas in most business presentations, what do we all do? It’s all just a data dump.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Carmine Gallo: There’s no emotion. Brian Stephenson knows, and he’s told me that narrative is hugely important in persuasion.
Steve Pomeranz: Personal story, data, personal data, people relate to who you are and the struggles you’ve dealt with in your life, and that’s the way to start setting up the image that you’re trying to portray.
Carmine Gallo: Or in business or business pitch, it could be a case study. I know you’re an investment advisor, it can be … obviously, you have a million case studies of people who did something or who did not take a plan of action.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Carmine Gallo: And may have suffered because of that, so those are equally as powerful as personal stories.
Steve Pomeranz: Very interesting. The book is The Story Teller’s Secret: From TED Speakers To Business Legends, Why Some Idea Catch On And Others Don’t. My guest is Carmine Gallo. Carmine, it was wonderful. Thank you so much.
Carmine Gallo: Thank you.