Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts in business storytelling. One of Inc. Magazine’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers of 2018, Paul is also a storytelling coach and the bestselling author of Sell with a Story and The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell. He joins the show today to share his best storytelling secrets to help you become a more persuasive and inspiring leader.
Listen in as Paul explains what makes storytelling so important, as well as the 10 stories you need to incorporate into your business if you want to set a direction for your organization. You’ll learn why most great leaders are also great storytellers and what it takes to tell the kinds of stories that motivate and stick with people.
Learn about the importance of storytelling and why most great leaders are also great storytellers with @LeadWithAStory, author of THE 10 STORIES GREAT LEADERS TELL. #leadership #stories #communication Click To Tweet
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On Today’s Episode We’ll Learn:
- What makes storytelling so effective.
- The 10 stories you need to tell as a leader.
- Whether you can have too many stories.
- The difference between a story and a simple idea.
- How to set a direction for your organization through stories.
Key Resources for Paul Smith:
- Connect with Paul Smith: Website| Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook
- Amazon: The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell
- Amazon: Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire
- Amazon: Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale
- Amazon: Parenting with a Story: Real Life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share
- Amazon: Four Days with Kenny Tedford: Life Through the Eyes of a Partially Blind & Deaf Man’s Body
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Full Episode Transcript:
Welcome to Brainfluence, where author and international keynote speaker Roger Dooley has weekly conversations with thought leaders and world class experts. Every episode shows you how to improve your business with advice based on science or data.
Roger’s new book, Friction, is published by McGraw Hill and is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores everywhere. Dr. Robert Cialdini described the book as, “Blinding insight,” and Nobel winner Dr. Richard Claimer said, “Reading Friction will arm any manager with a mental can of WD40.”
To learn more, go to RogerDooley.com/Friction, or just visit the book seller of your choice.
Now, here’s Roger.
Roger Dooley: Welcome to Brainfluence. I’m your host, Roger Dooley. If you’ve been listening here, seen me speak or read my articles, you know I’m a big fan of using stories to inform and persuade. There’ve been some amazing neuroscience studies showing how stories take over the brain of the listener.
But this morning, I read an article that put an entirely new spin on the power of stories. Scientists visited a nomadic group of hunter-gatherers in the Philippines, they still exist apparently, called the Agta. Because scientists like to take surveys, they asked members of this group to identify which other members they would most like to live with. They also asked them to rate their fellow members on differing abilities like strength, hunting, foraging, and oddly enough, storytelling. They added storytelling as an afterthought, as they assumed that physical dominance and skill in providing food would be the most attractive characteristics.
As I read this, I couldn’t help wondering if arguments followed this exercise like, “What do you mean Gomu’s a better Hunter than I am? I’m the one who killed two wild boars in one day. He never did that,” but the scientists did not get into that. But when they tallied the results, the scientists were shocked, the most desirable partners were the ones that were the best storytellers. Even more interesting was the finding that when they compared levels of cooperation in different camps, the camps with the best storytellers cooperated with each other more effectively. The scientists studied the stories and found that although the content was fanciful, things like the sun and the moon fighting for the control of the sky or animals of different species talking to each other and so on, there were common underlying themes that emphasized cooperation and equality between individuals and genders.
These storytellers were true leaders, building the culture of their tribe by their storytelling skill. With that as a backdrop, I’m delighted to say that today’s guest is Paul Smith, one of the world’s leading experts on organizational storytelling. He’s a speaker and a storytelling coach, and the author of Lead With a Story, now in its 11th printing and in seven languages, and Sell With a Story, the book we discussed on his last visit here. Paul’s new book is The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell. Paul’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Inc., Time, Forbes, many others, and he’s helped firms like Google, HP, Ford, Bayer, Novartis, Wal-Mart, and lots of other big brands. Luckily for us, today Paul will share his best storytelling secrets to make us more inspiring and persuasive leaders. Welcome to the show, Paul.
Paul Smith: Hey Roger. Thanks for having me on, and thanks for sharing the story of the tribal storytellers. I’m going to have to add that to my database of reasons why storytelling works so well.
Roger Dooley: Yeah. I’m curious as you were listening that, and I should tell our listeners that I did not discuss that with you before, so you were hearing it for the first time as they were, but I’m curious whether you saw any ties to your findings in corporations.
Paul Smith: Yeah, I think it’s just simply that is human nature, right? It’s always true that, or it always has been true in the past that storytellers were the politicians, the leaders, the ones that pass down generational information from generation to generation. It’s natural that those people in today’s modern society would be the leaders, so that doesn’t surprise me at all, but I hadn’t heard about that particular study.
Roger Dooley: I think memorability is so important, because I guess a leader in that hunter-gatherer tribe wouldn’t have much success if he or she said, “Hey you guys, you’ve all got to get along and cooperate better because we’re running low on food, you’ve just got to work together more.” That would work about as well as a CEO giving that kind of direction to his team. When it’s coached in terms of inspiring story, it tends to stick with people. They’ll remember it more and it’ll embed itself deeper into their consciousness.
Paul Smith: Exactly, and in fact, memorability is one of the big reasons why storytelling has always been so effective. Because in the old days, there was, in fact pre-writing, in prehistory, you couldn’t write things down. That was the only way that people passed down important information, like where the best places to find that wild boar, or when the best time is to plant your crop. They had to be passed down in the form of stories so that people could remember them from generation to generation.
Roger Dooley: Yeah, and evolutionary psychologists would say that people evolved to pay attention to stories for that reason, because in those days it meant survival, and it was a key difference, because other species could not pass along information in that same way. They couldn’t pass it from individual to individual very effectively or from generation to generation, so there’s a lot of good science there. You start with I think a very important sentence. The very first sentence in the book is: “Every great leader is a great storyteller.” I’m curious, do you find that to be pretty much universally true?
Paul Smith: Yeah, I think so. I mean, “universal” is a pretty absolute word. I’m sure you can find a handful of great leaders who are not, but I think the vast majority of people who reach a point in their career that people would call them a “great leader”, they’re almost certainly going to be a great storyteller. The frustrating thing is, almost none of them were taught that, they just kind of learned it, and which is why I do what I do for a living. Because they don’t teach you to be a great storyteller in business school, they don’t teach you that usually when you join the first company that you joined. You either have to be born with it or learn it from somebody like me who teaches it for a living, but this is just not a commonly taught skill set. That’s unfortunate, but that’s why I have the mission that I have in life.
Roger Dooley: Right. I would guess we have some people in our audience who actually run their own operations, probably not all that many fortune 500 CEOs, but a lot of people who might be part of that corporate ladder. One way to climb the corporate ladder is to use those stories effectively, because when you communicate, you will be seen as being more effective when people remember what you say. It’s not just today’s leaders that need stories, but I would say that it’s also tomorrow’s leaders that need them.
Paul Smith: Yes. I would say it’s not just leaders, if what you think in terms of a leader as somebody who manages a large group of people, which is kind of the typical definition of the term, but solo entrepreneurs, like me for example, need to be better storytellers, because you almost always have to influence other people, whether it’s bringing in new customers or delivering the results of your analysis to a client. We’re all working with other people, almost all of us are working with other human beings, and storytelling makes you more effective at communicating your ideas. It’s not just for the leader looking down at 30 people in his or her department that they’ve got to influence and inspire today, it’s almost all of us.
Roger Dooley: The title of the book is 10 stories. Ideally, should leaders, or as you broadly defined leaders, have all 10 of these ready to go?
Paul Smith: I think so, and this particular book maybe is more specifically for leaders of people. Most of my other books are on storytelling in general that I think everybody in the business world and outside the business world need to have. One of those books was on parenting with a story, but this particular one is more for people who are setting the direction for the organization of people. Yeah, I do think they need to have all 10. In fact, I winnowed this list down from a much larger list across the the three books I’ve written so far, Lead With a Story, Parenting With a Story, and Sell With a Story that we talked about last time, I went back and I counted, and I think there are 70 different types of stories that I think these people need to be able to tell.
I think I gave a total of 250 or more examples of those 70 types of stories. I eventually, I just got challenged actually by a new publisher, who said, “You know, you really should focus a little bit. That’s a lot of different stories people need to have in their head.” I do think leaders need to have dozens if not hundreds of stories at their disposal, but the truth is not all of them are as important as the others. This was my attempt to figure out what are the most important 10 that I think organizational leaders need to be able to tell at a moment’s notice. Yeah, if you are a leader of just about any sized organization, I think you need to be able to tell all of these 10 stories and probably dozens more, but at least these 10.
Roger Dooley: Why don’t you talk a little bit about what kinds of stories those are, Paul?
Paul Smith: Yeah, so the first four kind of go together, because they’re about setting the direction for the organization. It’s where we came from, so that’s a founding story, why we can’t stay there. That’s a case for change story, usually companies need to change to be more successful in the future, where we’re going, so that’s a vision story, and how we’re going to get there, which is a strategy story. If you can tell those four stories, you’ll be much more likely to have your organization get wherever it is that you want them to go, because you’ve been able to clearly, articulately, and engagingly, and in an inspiring way explain to them where we came from, why we can’t stay, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there. That’s kind of the basics of setting direction for an organization, right? That’s the first four.
The next four kind of go together as well, but they’re more about who we are as an organization. It’s what we believe, and that’s a corporate values story, who we serve, so a customer story, a story about who our customers are so we can understand them on a more personal level, what we do for our customers, so that’s kind of a classic sales story, a story about what it is our product or service does, and then how we’re different from our competitors, which I call a marketing story, because marketing’s job is basically differentiating yourself from your competitors. If you’re able to articulate those four stories, you’re basically explaining who we are, what we do, who we do it for, and how we’re different from other people that do that. I mean, every leader’s got to be able to explain those things in very simple terms, and illustrate them in the form of a story that anybody at the organization can understand.
That gets you through the eighth one. The last two kind of go together as well, but they’re more about who you are as a leader, so they’re more personal stories. It’s why I lead the way I do, so that’s a personal leadership philosophy story, and number 10 is why you should want to work here. “you” being the audience I’m talking to. Why should you want to work here? That’s a recruiting story, because if you can tell those two stories, you’re going to be able to attract smart, capable people to the organization, which is not just the job of the HR department, that’s every leader’s job, and they’re going to want to follow you as a leader. Those are the 10, now you could argue that they are maybe different ones you should add to it or detract from it, but I spent a fair amount of time thinking through the logic behind why those are the most important 10, and I think most people hearing that list would probably say, “Yeah, I need those 10 stories.”
Roger Dooley: As a process, Paul, would somebody who says, “Okay, that kind of makes sense,” actually like sit down with a blank sheet of paper and start sort of filling in the blanks saying, “Okay, well here’s my origin story, or here’s my why we’re different story.”
Paul Smith: Yes. In fact, each of these chapters, it’s one story per chapter, there’s an example of each of these stories, and there’s some tips in the back of each chapter for how do I do that with that blank sheet of paper, what are the questions I need to ask myself? Where do I go find the information for the story? Then in the last chapter, the book is kind of an outline of the structure that all of these stories should follow, essentially what are the eight questions that every story needs to answer, and a couple of tips for creating emotional engagement or creating a surprise ending. Yes, if you follow this process for each of these, you’ll be able to craft each of these 10 stories for yourself. Like I said, I’ve got an example in the book, but the example is from some other company, right? You need your own story for each of these things.
Roger Dooley: If you have the kernel of an idea, it seems like a lot of people or companies might have a story, but you say, “Well that’s not all that interesting. You know, it’s a story all right, and it says something about our company, but if I tell it, it’s going to sound like either I’m bragging or it’s just not going to be all that interesting to the listener.” How do you take the kernel of and what might be a good idea and polish it into something that people will actually want to listen to?
Paul Smith: Yeah, that’s a great question, and that probably is beyond the scope of this particular book. Some of my other books do that better, and that’s what I do in the personal training courses, that I teach people how to take lousy stories and make them better. The first problem is that in most cases, when you say it’s a bad story, it’s because it’s not even a story at all. For example, the vision story, which I think is number two on this list, is one of the hardest ones for leaders to tell, they’re the ones that they do the the worst on, I think. The reason is because their vision story isn’t even a story, it’s a vision statement, and more likely it’s just a mission or a goal. Like if your company vision is to become the fastest growing restaurant chain on the east coast or to build the world’s quietest jet engine, well that’s not a vision.
That’s a goal, or maybe a mission. Those are great goals and missions by the way, there’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t think that that’s a story. I mean, a story is a narrative about something that happened to someone, there’s a time and a place and a main character, and that main character is facing some kind of a challenge and they either overcome it or they fail to, and there are events that transpire. A story is not just a sentence about what you want to accomplish. That’s the main problem people have, is they think that they can articulate the idea behind these 10 things, but they have no idea what a story is and how to tell a story. Now sometimes it’s, “Yeah, that’s a story all right, but it’s a lousy story.”
That’s what I tend to do in these courses, is we go through the story, and we pick out what’s not working with it. Well, your main character is not relatable, or you didn’t actually use any dialogue, or you didn’t explain the challenge that the main character was facing. Here the eight questions that they need to answer and you only answered three of them, so it’s just a terribly incomplete story. There is a science behind storytelling, and as much as one can create a science with an art form like storytelling, but there are some things that the stories have to have. Most of the time, your story is just missing some of the pieces.
Roger Dooley: I think the origin story is probably one of the more obvious ones, and we talked about that last time a little bit. That one’s probably relatively easy to articulate, because usually there were some kind of a situation that identified a need, whether it was the Uber guys couldn’t find a ride when they needed one and so on. A few of the others, like one that I find pretty intriguing is the how are we different from our competitors story. Every marketer knows that differentiation is important. There’s actually a well known book you’ve probably seen, Differentiate or Die, which is actually, it’s an excellent book because it does point out that companies who don’t do that end up out of business. Usually in differentiation, marketers focus on their product, their service, or maybe some aspect of their customer experience.
Paul Smith: Their features and benefits, usually.
Roger Dooley: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, we’re faster, we’re better, we’re cheaper, we’re something. Give me an example or two of a story that would fit that category.
Paul Smith: Yeah. The best example, or the example from the book on that chapter for the marketing story is about a guy named Sharad Madison, who’s the CEO of United Building Maintenance. That’s a commercial cleaning company, so they’re the folks that come into your offices at night and clean up. When he calls on a new prospective client, he almost always tells them about what he does when he gets a new client. what he does is, it sounds kind of strange, but he says, “I always kind of basically sneak into the building in the middle of the night to see what they’re doing.” The reason he does this is because there’s a 30-day transition period between when they sign the new contract and when his company takes over. For 30 days, the old cleaning company is still doing their job, but most of those employees are contract employees.
When he takes over at the end of the month, he’s going to acquire them as part of the contract, so he wants to know if they’re doing a good job and if they’re equipped to do their job well. He’ll go in at two or three o’clock in the morning and see what they’re doing. He said, “So last month we took over the Verizon contract for the Verizon building in New Jersey, so I went in there at two o’clock in the morning. I find a guy out vacuuming the carpets, and he’s using the same kind of residential quality vacuum cleaner that I use at home.” He says, “Now those corridors are 12 feet wide, and it’s a total of a half a mile around. It’s going to take that guy a month just to vacuum the carpets with that little vacuum cleaner, and by the way, it’s going to break down in a couple of weeks because it’s not made to handle this kind of volume.
“When we took over, we put them into a triple-wide industrial grade vacuumer that’ll do a much better quality job, do it in a fraction of the time, and by the way, that machine will last forever because it’s made for this.” He said, “I went to another floor, found some guy shampooing the carpets.” He said same kind of story, “He’s using the same kind of residential quality, squeeze bottle walk-behind shampooer that I use at home. Again, it’s going to break down soon, it’s not going to do a good job. We put him into one of those riding shampoo or machines, you know it looks like—”
Roger Dooley: The Zamboni shampooers.
Paul Smith: Exactly, it looks like a Zamboni driver at the ice skating rink. It does a much better job in a fraction of the time, and it gets the guy off his feet.
He says, “So I don’t have as many workman’s comp issues, and which means my client doesn’t have as many workman’s comp issues. He said the last thing he wanted to see was how they’re dusting the offices, the desks and file cabinets. I went into the offices and I look on top of the file cabinets, and sure enough, I see on top of there what looks like a half a moon swiped out on top. He said, “I know exactly what that means,” and you probably do too. He said, “Those file cabinets are standard five and a half feet tall. A lot of the people doing the cleaning are probably not that tall. It’s not that they’re too lazy, it’s just they physically can’t reach the back of the cabinet. That’s what leaves that kind of half moon swiped out on top.”
He said, “The truth is, they’d be better off not dusting it at all, because it’s the contrast between the clean part and the dusty part that makes it obvious that it’s not being cleaned properly.” He said, “So when we took over, we gave him all these, just these little cheap 18-inch plastic extension wands for them to reach the back of the cabinet, problem solved.” There in that story, that like two-minute story, he has illustrated the difference between him and his competitors. Now imagine instead, if he did it the old feature benefit way by saying, “Well look, the the main reasons why we’re different than our competitors are these three things. We use industrial grade, triple wide vacuum cleaners, we use commercial grade riding shampooers, and all of our office dusters use 18-inch extension wands, and that’s why we’re different.”
Now, that’s true, those are the three differentiating characteristics, but the story does such a better job of illustrating those three benefits in action and in a way that you’ll remember it, the buyer will remember it. I mean you can see, and I know you can, you can see that Zamboni driver right now in your head shampooing the carpets, right? The story about how we’re different than our competitors is just much more powerful than a list of reasons why we’re better than our competitors.
Roger Dooley: Yeah, I think that takeaway right there makes this whole podcast worth listening to. Just our natural tendency would be to talk about how our service is better in terms that describe that accurately. We use industrial equipment, we inspect surfaces, we do stuff like that, but the examples really bring it to life, so hat’s really great. Do startups or even new businesses inside bigger companies have a problem with stories, where they’ve put together some people from different walks of life and different past jobs and whatnot to form this organization, and there’s not that much going on yet, they don’t have a long history with customers and so on. What you do in that situation? Can you borrow stories, use individual stories, or what do you do?
Paul Smith: Yeah, so good question, I’ll give you a couple of answers. One is, I see the challenge if it is a brand new company, yeah, they don’t have a whole lot of of history, but they definitely, like you mentioned earlier, they’ve got a founding story. There was some reason that their founders started the business, and nobody ever in the history of humanity has ever quit their safe corporate job, risked everything to start a business for a boring reason, right? It’s just never happened. There’s got to be that moment where the Uber guys were just really frustrated that they couldn’t get a cab. There’s that time where Fred Smith wrote his FedEx paper at Yale and it got a C, and he said, “Well, I’m going to do it anyway,” or Bill Gates walks out of Harvard, says, “I’m going to start Microsoft.”
I mean, every company has one of those moments, so you’ve definitely have story number one, and you probably have some of the others just getting to the starting line of a company. But, to answer your other question directly, if you don’t have a lot of stories, yes you can borrow them. My favorite example of that, some guys up in Toronto at a company called Hot Spec, so it’s a market research firm, a very creative market research firm, and one of the stories they tell is about the Febreeze fabric and air conditioning refreshing spray that’s made by Proctor and Gamble. They tell the story about how Febreeze started and was a complete flop at the beginning, and it’s because the brand folks and nobody really understood why people were using it that liked it, and why people that didn’t use it weren’t using it.
The initial launch was just a failure, and they up doing this really creative set of research to figure out why people that liked it liked it, and they repositioned the brand and relaunched it, and it was a phenomenal success the second time. He tells the story because his company does the type of creative research that got them from the initial failure to the relaunch successfully. However-
Roger Dooley: Even though their company didn’t actually do it themselves.
Paul Smith: Exactly. His company had nothing to do with it, but it’s exactly the kind of research that he did. Now he’s got lots of stories of his own clients who went through that process, but they’re not as well known as Febreeze and Proctor and Gamble, and it’s proprietary. His clients don’t want him to tell their secret sauce stories, but the Febreeze one was published in a book somewhere sometime. Actually, it was in one of my books, and he tells that story now because it’s just part of the public domain. Yes, if there are stories that other people will know and recognize better, and it really is articulating the same thing that you would like to, you can borrow it.
Roger Dooley: Yeah. I liked that idea. It could be too, even if you’ve got stories for, eight out of 10 categories maybe you ended up having two that, well I don’t have a good one, but I can adapt one from something else that will fit the bill if it need be.
Paul Smith: Right, and you’re not stealing. I mean, he doesn’t tell that story and then claim that he did that research. He says, “No, I had nothing to do with this, but I tell you this story because that’s similar to what I do,” and that’s the way you would articulate the story as well. “This is not my story, it’s not about me, but please listen because it’ll give you a better idea of what I’m trying to tell you.”
Roger Dooley: I guess big companies would be the sort of opposite problem where in a Microsoft or a Toyota, there’s probably thousands and thousands of great stories, but how do you tease out the good ones?
Paul Smith: Yeah, well first of all, you’ve got to collect them. They do have lots of stories, but they’re typically just in people’s heads. Some of my more creative clients have systems they put in place to collect the stories that they know are out there in people’s heads. Like once a month there’ll be a story circle lunch, and 20 random people are chosen differently every month to come to lunch, and the only thing they’re allowed to do at lunch is eat and tell stories. That way they start, and somebody there to take notes, and other other clients of mine will, at every weekly staff meeting, somebody’s job is to tell one story. This week it’s my week, and next week it’s your week, and Sally is the third week and everybody knows when their week is, and so they’ve got to be prepared by and looking for an interesting story to tell the third week of February, because they know that’s their time. Well, by the end of the year, they’ve got 52 great stories.
You need to kind of systematize it and incentivize people. I’ve got clients who actually create contests, that people will videotape themselves telling an interesting story, they’ll upload it to the company intranet website. Everybody watches them, they vote on them, and whoever wins the best story gets, I don’t know, a few extra days off work or a little bonus or something. That way, they’re collecting all of these great stories, so creating incentives for them really helps.
Roger Dooley: Yeah, I like that idea, and that could work in any size organization, but particularly in a big one where there may maybe layers of management and everybody doesn’t know everybody. That’s a great concept, Paul. I envision a situation where a leader is facing a difficult situation in the business, sales are down, a big customer defected, maybe layoffs are in the cards. Is there a kind of story that can work under those conditions to rally the troops?
Paul Smith: Yeah, so inspiring and motivating the organization is obviously one of the jobs of leadership. Now, I didn’t pick that as one of these 10, simply because one of my criteria for picking these 10 was stories that you’ll need to tell over and over and over again, and hopefully your company’s not constantly-
Roger Dooley: Right, if you need that one a lot, you’re in the wrong business.
Paul Smith: You have another problem, telling stories. In fact, gosh, one of the most creative examples of that I’ve seen was, this was back when I worked for Proctor and Gamble, we were going through a really hard time and the stock was down and the profits were down, and layoffs were already happening and more were looming in the future. The CEO literally, and this is the story that was told, I wasn’t in the room, but my boss was there, and he said he came in and he read an article from the local Cincinnati newspaper, but just the first few paragraphs about P and G and how awful things were.
It was a really very honest and direct and embarrassing look at what was going on in the company, and basically predicting that the company would fail or get broken up or bought out by somebody else or whatever. He finished reading the article, and he said, “That was published right here in the Cincinnati Enquirer 75 years ago last week. Okay, we’ve been through this before, we’ll be fine.” It just let everybody relax and say, “You know what? This company is 170-some-odd years old, and we’re going to last another 175 years.” Yeah, things like that can, stories like that really can help pick up the group when they’re down.
Roger Dooley: Paul, can you have too many stories, can stories be fatiguing after awhile? If ever you’re having a discussion and the person you’re talking to has a story for everything, can you overdo it?
Paul Smith: Yes, I think you can. In fact, I counsel people that probably only 10 to 15% of the words that come out of your mouth should be in the form of a story, which means 85 to 90% should not be story. I pick that number just because if you’ve got a one-hour presentation you’re giving to some group, six, eight, nine, 10 minutes of that probably should be in the form of storytelling, and that might be three, three-minute stories, but the rest of the time you’re just talking to people the same way you talk to people today. I think if you just went from one story to another to another, yeah, I think it would get tiresome.
Roger Dooley: You mentioned three-minutes stories, is there a typical length range that you suggest for a story? I’m sure it varies depending on the content, but like what’s too short and what’s too long?
Paul Smith: Great question. Sales and marketing type stories tend to be shorter, they tend to be in the 30-second to two or three-minute range. Leadership stories, the kind of story the boss might tell during the company offsite or around the water cooler or whatever tend to be a little bit longer, three to five minutes, averaging around four minutes. But none of them are 15 minutes or 30 minute or hour long stories, I mean that’s just way, way, way too long or that’s not a story. You might have a one-hour presentation, but you don’t have a one-hour story. You have a the one hour-presentation, and you tell three or four three-minute stories in it. Yes, this kind of storytelling I’m talking about really is a minute, two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, that’s kind of the range.
Roger Dooley: Great info. I’ll ask you one last question, Paul. It’s been almost two years since we last spoke, and at the time you had a personal story database of 315 stories. Have you added to that?
Paul Smith: Yeah, and actually, I don’t even remember exactly what I was referring to with that number, because I’ve probably interviewed now in the last seven years 300 or so individual CEOs, leaders, executives at companies all over the world, 25 countries around the world, dozens of industries. Each leader I’ve interviewed has probably given me eight to 12 different stories, so if you do the math, I’ve literally documented over 3000 individual stories at this point. The best ones, obviously they’re the ones that make it into the book. Maybe that 315 was my own personal stories, I can’t remember what I told you.
Roger Dooley: That’s what you were referring to, that in terms of presenting yourself to potential clients and presumably other situations where you want to pull a story out. I think that concept of a database, formalizing this rather than just relying on your memory to come up with a good story at the right moment, if you are intentional about it, like in this book you talk about the 10 stories, but looking at other types of stories that you might need for particular situations, and putting that in something, a Word document, an Evernote or whatever, you have at your fingertips as opposed to thinking, “Oh man, I should’ve told that story, it just didn’t come to me when I was talking to that potential client.”
Paul Smith: Yeah, it’s very important and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Like you said, mine are literally just in a single Word document, and one Word document. The reason is because that makes it so easy to search, I can just search, “Oh, Zamboni. What was that story about the Zamboni guy with the vacuum cleaner? I can’t remember.” Boom, it’s there. Just a simple low-tech solution like that will help capture your stories, because everything else is databased, right? I mean, a whole company’s payroll is databased, and production schedules are databased, and all the accounting records are databased, but our stories that are really some of the most valuable company assets we have are just stuck in people’s heads, which means they can forget it or when they leave the company they’re gone. You definitely need to database your stories in some kind of a way.
Roger Dooley: Right. I guess you could say they are a form of intellectual property that should be managed just like you do your other intellectual property.
Paul Smith: Absolutely. That’s a good way to put it.
Roger Dooley: You can use that one, Paul.
Paul Smith: Thank you.
Roger Dooley: Let me remind our audience that today we are speaking with Paul Smith, author of the new book, The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell. Paul, how can people find you and your ideas?
Paul Smith: Yeah, thanks. Probably the best way is to start at my website, which is leadwithastory.com, and it’s got links there to all my books, and the training courses I give, and my contact information is in there as well, so start there.
Roger Dooley: Great. Well, we will put a link to there in the show notes along with links to all of your books and to any other resources we spoke about on the show notes page at rogerdooley.com/podcast, and we’ll have a text version of our conversation there too. Paul, thanks for being on the show.
Paul Smith: Hey, thanks Roger for having me back on.
Thank you for tuning into this episode of Brainfluence. To find more episodes like this one, and to access all of Roger’s online writing and resources, the best starting point is RogerDooley.com.
And remember, Roger’s new book Friction is now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and book sellers everywhere. Bestselling author Dan Pink calls it, “An important read,” and Wharton Professor Dr. Joana Berger said, “You’ll understand Friction’s power and how to harness it.”
For more information or for links to Amazon and other sellers, go to rogerdooley.com/friction.
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