The storytelling difference

There’s a huge difference between telling stories DURING a speech and telling a story WITH your speech.

Most storytelling advice aims at the former. It helps you tell anecdotes and share experiences effectively.

But too often it stops there. It’s used to decorate the communication or hammer home a point.

But the most compelling pieces of communication go way beyond that. They don’t merely tell stories. They turn the whole piece into a compelling story that takes the audience on a profound journey.

Interestingly, professional speakers often excel at the former but fail at the latter. They are super good at sharing experiences and telling anecdotes to hammer home a point. But way too often their speech as a whole lacks a compelling structure and a clear story arc.

When it’s over, it’s over

Another simple truth that great authors understand:
When the story is over, it’s over.

Great authors don’t repeat the end a second, third or even a fourth time.

They don’t hammer the take home message in a plethora of variations.

They say it once, but clearly. And then they stop.

The story has come to an end.

Business communication is different. For example, most business talks end with the speaker repeating their take home message over and over. These speakers don’t trust their stories to be clear enough. They don’t trust their endings to be convincing enough. So they repeat it. And again. And again. With the effect of weakening the impact each time they do it.

If your message isn’t clear and convincing, instead of repeating it make it clear and convincing.

The surprising diversity of success

I’m lucky enough to count some of the most successful people among my friends and family.

One of them is running a hidden champion.

Another one is helping startups become unicorns.

Another one is spending most of her days in the garden, nurturing and enjoying the beauty of nature.

Yet another one is a teenager turning time with her friends into moments to keep.

Success is a strange concept as it can take on so many different shapes. I’ve met vastly successful people of all ages and at every income level. Each of them had their very own, rather distinct definition of success.

What they all have in common is the fact that they decided to grab the pen and become the author of their own story of success. They have taken over their inner script and they seek out the activities and environments that contribute to this story.

A master in that domain is my friend Shane Cradock from Ireland. He has taken control of his own inner script when he was in his twenties to overcome a heavy depression. Today, 20 years later, he’s helping ambitious leaders take control of their inner scripts.

Why would leaders need that? Because, well, it turns out that what looks successful from the outside doesn’t sometimes feel that way from the inside. I’m sure you’ve met quite a number of people who from the outside appear to have it all and yet from the inside feel like they are lacking enormously.

I’m pleased to announce that Shane and I are launching a new program dedicated to finding clarity about the story of your success, flipping the script towards a more meaningful story of success, and taking action towards it.

It’s called Flip the Script and on June, 22nd we’re discussing some of the concepts in a free webinar. Just click the link to learn more and register.

But before you do so, you might be interested in what Shane has to say about success. I’ve asked him three crucial questions:

1. What’s success, anyway?

Success is a funny word because it can mean very different things to people. I think success very much is determined by the person themselves or should be.

Without realising it, a certain definition of success is conditioned into us in terms of what we believe we need to achieve or have in order to be seen as successful.

For me, success is living an authentic life in line with my values and highest aspirations as a person. Success is being true to myself in all aspects of my life. Within that, for me, a key measure of success is my sense of aliveness, my sense of playfulness and lightheartedness.

I’ve worked with many people who are seen by society as incredibly successful but they are seeking my help because they feel stuck in a way. These are all people who climbed the ladder of success, got to the top and then didn’t like the view.

2. What’s holding people back from trusting in their own definition of success?

What’s hindering people I think is a lack of belief and possibility.

It’s too easy to fall victim to your limiting beliefs and maybe you have given up on creating ‘better’ for yourself in various areas of your work and life.

For many, there’s also the issue of how to explore what success really means and where to start. Key is understanding your inner world and how vital clarity in that space is.

3. Is there a small shift that anyone can easily make to find better balance in their life?

Yes, there are things you can do to create better balance in your life. You could start today by looking at your phone less. Deliberately spend less time in email, have a set time to start your work day and a clear time to end it. Be more consistent with exercise – in particular weight resistance training as it has an incredible impact on your wellbeing.

These are just some very practical things that make a difference but there are more significant shifts available to everyone if they’re willing to go deeper – deeper into exploring how to get the best from yourself.

That’s why I’m excited about doing this new program, Flip The Script, with you, Michael – to be able to work with people who are open and keen to explore a different approach.

Part of my work over 20 years has been helping people to identify the limiting stories they’re telling themselves and then help them to create new ones that are more empowering and full of possibility.


I’m very much looking forward to helping you find clarity about your own story of success. Reserve your seat for the Flip the Script program. Or join us in the free webinar.

Keep reading

Here’s a simple truth that great authors understand:
We start reading. Then we keep reading.

In other words: The story unfolds. Step by step.

Specifically, a story is not told by dumping everything the author knows at once. We don’t learn the backstory of the hero on page 1. We learn it when we’re ready to learn it … when it’s exactly the information that keeps us reading.

Looking at storytelling through that lens means that it might be simpler than most storytelling frameworks suggest. Basically, we face two challenges:

  1. We need to get our audience’s attention.
  2. We need to keep it.

Specifically, we don’t need to tell our audience everything at once. We only need to make them keep reading. (Or listening. Or watching.)

The good news is that this starts with the simple skill of listening. The better you listen, the better you’ll be able to understand what resonates so strongly that it will get – and keep – your audience’s attention.

The Cult of Storytelling

Who made the call that everything needs to be somehow fitted into a storytelling framework? That every single piece of information needs to be decorated with an emotional anecdote from our childhood?

These are just two of the many consequences of the Cult of Storytelling that we witness as soon as we fire up any social media. And it’s caused by a profound misunderstanding about the power of storytelling:

It’s not the story that we tell that gets us the impact, it’s the story that’s triggered in our audience’s minds that makes the impact.

And that’s a huge difference. Most importantly, for some people, these “internal” stories are triggered by a single number that we mention or a familiar situation that we reference with a simple statement (”Remember the iPhone keynote?”). These things can trigger a whole suite of stories in our audience’s minds. On the other hand, full blown “storytelling” stories might not trigger anything at all for some people as they just don’t resonate with our childhood stories, so it has no effect whatsoever on them.

Rather than fit everything into a storytelling framework, the more useful question to ask is: How can we trigger the right stories in our audience’s minds?

The future within reach

If you’re anything like me, a good story can trigger some deep emotions. Sometimes I can feel the hero’s pain almost physically. Or their hope, their struggles, their happiness … even if I’ve never been in a situation that’s even remotely similar to the hero’s situation.

That’s one of the fascinating aspects of stories. They allow us to experience a taste of a different life. A life that’s unlike our own, maybe vastly so. Stories allow us to participate in experiences we could (or would) never make ourselves – such as being cast away.

It works because as humans, we are exceptional at empathizing with others, even if their life is different than ours. What it takes to have these feelings from a story is not that it’s a situation that we have encountered ourselves but that it’s a situation that we can relate to.

The fascinating part is that this works even if the story is not real. Even if it’s about a fictional situation.

Or about the future – something that is not real, yet.

Through powerful stories you can give people a glimpse of a possible future. A future that they can taste now – through the story – and then, based on that experience and the emotions they had during the experience, decide to go for it (or not). If you start with empathy you can trust your audience with that decision.

Does your story achieve that level of tension?

Meet Rambo

We don’t meet Rambo when he was born. We don’t meet him in school. Not even in Vietnam.

We meet him after all of that has already happened. We see him walking down a path, arriving in Hope, Washington.

We meet him at the latest possible time in the story.

Most business stories are different. They start at the earliest possible time. Usually when the business was founded. And then they continue by telling us about the company milestones – all kinds of events that matter a great deal to the founder but not at all to the audience.

When they get to the interesting parts, they have long lost our attention. Rather than to make us curious about the story, the founders expect us to be already curious. Which we’re not.

It’s much better to do it like the great novels and movies. Start at the latest possible point. Speak about things that grab our interest. Give us a reason to care

When you do, it’s almost inevitable that we want to know the details.

Marketing stories that work

A great product solves a problem, resolves a struggle, or fulfills a desire.

It tastes delicious without me having to cook. It sounds awesome while being affordable. It’s efficient, sustainable, stylish. It gives me a feeling of mastery or pure joy. Or whatever it is for your product.

Great products transform me into a better person. One who eats healthier, takes better photos, works with more focus, or makes better decisions.

Essentially, it gets me from point A where I still have that struggle to point B where my struggle is resolved.

It’s that transformation that great marketing stories capture. They give us the feeling of being seen with our struggle and they light us the path to a better future where that struggle is resolved.

Marketing stories work when the struggle is real and the path to the future is accessible.

They keep working when the product delivers on the promise.

Making a speech funny

It’s easy to make a speech funny. Hire some comedians, gather them in a room and they’ll make it funny.

What’s hard is to make it consistent with your story, fit your brand, match your personality – and most of all: to make it relevant. This is inherently your job. You need to provide the direction and you need to make the final call.

(But when you do, I’m all in for more entertaining speeches.)

New information

“Have you heard the news about David?”
“Oh, yeah, yet another proof for how selfish he is.”

When new information becomes available, we immediately relate it to what we already know. If there’s a matching story, we fit the data into the story.

Rather than adapt the story to the data.

Because when we look closer, we discover that saying “no” to your support request for the project was for a good reason. He’s going through a rather difficult time and is uncomfortable speaking about it at work.

It’s actually a choice: When new information becomes available then either the narrative has to be adapted to the new information or the new information has to be integrated into the narrative. We either need to change the story so it’s consistent with the data or we interpret the data so that it confirms what we already believe.

The problem is that rewriting a story takes effort and it seems that the more effort it takes to adapt the narrative to the new information, the less likely it is that we actually do it. If it’s easier to interpret new information in a way that supports what we already believe, then that’s what will happen.

Keep that in mind when you try to convince someone. There’s no guarantee that they will interpret your data the same way you do.

Spread the Word

Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz