Why video is the true “killer app”

Question: If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many pictures is a video worth?

A lot.  We live in a video world.  More than 1.3 billion people use YouTube.  Almost 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every single day.  The total number of hours of video watched every month?  3.25 billion.  

And video isn’t just for personal use.  More than 9% of U.S. small businesses use YouTube.  “Business leaders are increasingly relying on video to disseminate their transformational stories across the organization,” Carmine Gallo writes in The Storyteller’s Secret.

“Video has become an essential component of delivering a story. Successful storytellers embrace the medium in a personable, friendly style that makes the viewer feel as though they’re having a one-on-one conversation with the speaker.”

Being comfortable being on camera is a skill.  Something we can get better at with practice, says Food Network star and New York Times best-selling author Giada De Laurentiis

“When I did Everyday Italian for the first time, it was a rough show.  I was awkward and uncomfortable in front of the camera and I had tons of anxiety,” she remembers.  “It was very humbling.”

Visual contents concept. Social networking service. Streaming video. communication network. 3D illustration.

With time and practice, she improved. “At the end of every day my brother and I would review my performance, which was nerve-racking.  Slowly and surely I became better.”

Video is a storyteller’s friend.  To master the medium, Carmine tells us we are wise to focus on three things: passion, smiles, and conversation.

Passion:  Storytelling, by definition, requires a performance, writes Carmine.  “It’s nearly impossible to be a successful storyteller without passion.  Passion leads to energy and without energy, enthusiasm, and excitement it becomes very difficult to hold an audience’s attention.”

Smiles: “You’d think smiling is easy.  When we’re happy we smile,” Carmine observes.  “Why, then, do most business professionals look like they’re miserable when recording a video?  Smiles are rare on professional business videos, but ubiquitous on the faces of celebrated television personalities. Giada is known for her radiant smile. Remember that storytelling is all about emotion and smiling has been associated with the strongest emotional reaction.”

Conversation: Video is an informal platform.  It rewards a more natural, conversational delivery.  Conversational speakers use short, simple words and make their message clear .

The Storyteller’s Secret? 

Giada’s recipe is worth copying.  Learning to communicate via video is one of our biggest opportunities to connect and persuade.


Reflection:  Am I currently using video as a way to communicate?  If yes, what have I learned?  If not, why not?

Action: Experiment with using passion, smiles, and conversation in my next video.

How “a nanny and a bodyguard” led to Shark Tank

Mark Burnett arrived in Los Angeles on October 18, 1982 with no job, no place to live, and less than $300.  

“A working-class kid from London’s East End with no return ticket,” writes Carmine Gallo in The Storyteller’s Secret.  Mark’s friend Nick picked him up at LAX and brought some good news: a family in Beverly Hills was looking for a nanny.  Mark had an interview that night.

The only problem?

Male nannies were rare in Los Angeles and Mark didn’t have any experience with domestic chores.

What did he have going for him?

He was a former British paratrooper.  It was like “hiring a nanny and a bodyguard at the same time,” he told the family.

Mark got the job. Which led to contacts and opportunities in the television business. In time, he would become one of the most successful producers in history, creating and producing SurvivorThe Voice, and Shark Tank

What was it about Mark’s “pitch” that persuaded the family to hire him as their nanny despite not having any experience?

He was “a nanny and a bodyguard.”  A textbook example of the power of metaphor.   

A metaphor is something that stands for or symbolizes another thing in order to show or suggest they are similar. Metaphors are one of our most powerful narrative devices.  “We often think and explain our feelings in metaphor,” Carmine observes.  

Have we ever suffered from a “broken heart”?  Or found ourselves “swimming in paperwork”?  Have we ever said, “All the world’s a stage”? Or heard someone say a chip is the “brain” of a computer?

Metaphors bring “clarity to abstraction,” writes Carmine.  Metaphors make it easier to understand the specific benefits of a product or person. 

Skilled communicators “experiment with every rhetorical device at their disposal, and often become expert at using the building blocks of narrative—analogy and metaphor,” Carmine observes.

Case study #1: Martin Luther King’s “Dream” speech. Examples include:

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” 

“Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.” 

“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The Storyteller’s Secret?  Metaphors turn the abstract into something concrete.  


Reflection: Think about how I can use metaphors in my next presentation.

Action:  Deliver it.

How a red backpack helped create the world’s youngest self-made billionaire

1: Every time Sara Blakely put on white pants that hung in her closet, she didn’t like what she saw in the mirror.  
Traditional women’s undergarments didn’t help.  They felt “uncomfortable and unsightly,” Carmine Gallo writes in The Storyteller’s Secret.

Then, inspiration struck.  Sara got out a pair of scissors and cut the feet from a pair of pantyhose.  

Voila.  Problem solved.

Sara was selling fax machines door-to-door at the time.  She had never taken a business class.  Still, she was convinced she could turn her invention into a business. 

One day, a buyer at Neiman Marcus agreed to meet with her.  Sara “left her Atlanta apartment, which had doubled as her factory and global headquarters, carried a red backpack that held her samples, and boarded a plane to Dallas,” writes Carmine.

Sara had 10-minutes to make her pitch, the buyer told her.  As soon as she started, she felt the buyer was losing interest.

“Then the light switch flicked on.  She would demo the product herself, explaining her product through her own story.  She dragged the buyer into the bathroom, where she modeled the product, and sure enough the buyer agreed to stock Sara’s footless pantyhose in seven stores.

2: “Twelve years later Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, appeared on the cover of Forbes as the youngest self-made billionaire in the world,” writes Carmine.

Sara sold 10 million products without spending a dollar on advertising.  Instead, she capitalized on her personal story to make her product “relatable and irresistible.” 

Sara invented a product.  Sold it in a department store.  And made a fortune.

While the preceding paragraph is a “story,” it fails to draw us in.  It certainly doesn’t inspire.

What’s missing?  Struggle, conflict, and resolution.

And details.

“Sara didn’t just bring her samples to Dallas, she carried them in a red backpack,” Carmine observes.  She “didn’t just pitch a buyer.  She dragged a buyer at Neiman Marcus into the bathroom to demonstrate how the footless pantyhose looked.”

3: Generalities don’t motivate us to take action.  Why?  Our brains aren’t good at processing abstractions.  

“Specifics add credibility to the story and transport the listener” into the world of the presenter, writes Carmine.

When we hear or read about sights, sounds, tastes, and movements, our brains make vivid mental simulations as if we are experiencing what is happening in real life, says Professor Jeffrey Zachs of Washington University.  

“The more detailed the description, the more vivid and evocative the story, the more deeply it sears itself into the listener’s brain,” Carmine writes.

The Storyteller’s Secret?

Stories which are rich in detail “fire up our collective imagination” and “breathe life into products and ideas,” Carmine observes.  “Leaders inspire movements and they do so with stories that provide specific, tangible, and concrete details.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection: Think about what details I can add to a story to help bring it to life during my next presentation.

Action:  Add them.  Deliver it.

How we can use the “rule of three” to connect and persuade

1: Pope Francis has spoken to some of the largest audiences in history.  In July 2013, he spoke to more than 3 million people on the beach in Rio.  Only to outdo himself two years later during his visit to the Philippines where he spoke to a crowd of 6 million people, Carmine Gallo shares in The Storyteller’s Secret.

No matter how large the audience, Francis often relies on one of the oldest and most powerful rules of storytelling: the rule of three.  The technique is straight-forward: he introduces a list of three and then provides details on each point in the body of his talk.

“First of all, I will talk about three things: one, two, three, like old-timer Jesuits used to do, right?  One, two, three!” Francis once told an audience as they laughed and cheered.

In his first talk after being elected pontiff, Francis summarized his faith in three bullets: journeying, building, and professing.  

During his talk in Manila, he said, “God has created the world as a beautiful garden… man had disfigured that natural beauty with social structures that perpetuate poverty, ignorance, and corruption.

On Ash Wednesday 2015, he remarked: “Today’s Gospel indicates the elements of this spiritual journey: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”

2: So, why do we find “three” inherently satisfying? Carmine asks.

“For example, movie directors say, ‘lights, camera, action.’  Sprinters are conditioned to listen to the command, ‘Ready, set, go.’  What should you do if you caught fire? Hopefully you’d remember to ‘stop, drop, and roll.’  If you had to recall 18 steps, you’d be severely injured before you completed the progression,” Carmine observes.

Our minds think in patterns.  Three is the lowest number of units that can establish a pattern or progression.  And, it is relatively easy to remember three items.

“The rule of three makes any story more effective because audiences are more likely to recall the content.  Great writers follow the rule.  Thomas Jefferson changed the course of civilization with three ‘unalienable rights’: life, liberty, happiness.  

“Our favorite children’s fables are grouped in threes: the three little pigs, the three bears, the three Musketeers, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, etc.,” Carmine writes.

We are wise to take note.  Our clients don’t want to know all 200 features of our product or service.  Better to explain three features they will care about the most.  They don’t want 75 different marketing ideas; we’re smart to offer our three best ones.

3: When telling a story, we can utilize the Three-Act Story Structure which dates back to Aristotle.  Almost twenty five hundred years later, most movies and television shows are structured into three acts.  Act I is typically about the first 30-minutes of a two-hour movie and creates the setting for what is to happen.  We meet our hero and the villain.  There is often an “inciting incident” or attention-grabbing scene which disrupts the hero’s world.  

Act II is the longest of the three acts, about 60 minutes.  Characters are developed and obstacles must be overcome.  There is conflict and tension.  The bigger the challenges, the more satisfying the climax.  Act III is the final 30-minutes where the hero and the villain square off and the story is resolved.

The Storyteller’s Secret?

Carmine tells us: “The world’s greatest storytellers stick to the rule of three because it accomplishes, well, three things: 1) It offers a simple template to structure your story. 2) It simplifies your story so your audience can remember its key messages. 3) It leads to the ultimate goal of persuasion—action!”

More tomorrow!


Reflection:  How can I incorporate the rule of three into my next communication or presentation?

Action:  Analyze the next movie or television show and break it down according to the three act structure.

What we can learn from Winston and Martin

1: The date was June 4, 1940.  Nazi Germany was on the verge of victory over France.  The situation was desperate.  Prime Minister Winston Churchill had to prepare the British people for a momentous challenge ahead.

“We shall fight in France.

We shall fight on the seas and oceans.

We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.

We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.

We shall fight on the beaches.

We shall fight on the landing grounds.

We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.

We shall fight in the hills.

We shall never surrender.”

Winston Churchill’s stirring speech that day is widely held to be one of the finest oratorical moments of the war and of his career.  His oration is an electrifying example of the power of anaphora, where we communicate using a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses and sentences.

This week we are exploring some of the ideas we can use to become more powerful communicators as outlined in Carmine Gallo‘s The Storyteller’s Secret.

“Anaphora is effective in the building of a movement because it increases the intensity of an idea, and intense ideas sear themselves into our brain,” Carmine writes.

2: The “master class” in anaphora?  Martin Luther King‘s Dream Speech.

Eight times Martin thunders the phrase “I have a dream…”  

Eight times he contrasts the difficulties facing the nation with his dream of a better future.

As he wraps up his iconic speech, he wields an anaphora once again.  This time speaking the phrase “Let freedom ring.”

“And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

3: Incredibly powerful, we think, but what does this technique have to do with me?

The Storyteller’s Secret?  “Actually,” Carmine observes, “anaphora can be seamlessly and comfortably incorporated into business presentations meant to inspire audiences to see the world differently.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection: What can I learn from orators like Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Action:  Experiment with anaphora to transform an otherwise functional presentation.

How to win over an audience

“Show me an MBA and your sales numbers, that’s fine.  But tell me a great story about how you got started and your vision, and we’ll talk.” —Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank

1: Bryan Stevenson  was nine and playing with his cousins.  A small gesture was about to set him on his path to becoming a prominent civil rights attorney, Carmine Gallo writes in his book The Storyteller’s Secret.  

Bryan’s grandmother pulled him aside and said, “Bryan, I’m going to tell you something, but you don’t tell anybody what I tell you.”  She looked at him and said,” I want you to know I’ve been watching you.  I think you are special.  I think you can do anything you want to do.”

She then asked him to a make her a promise he would never drink alcohol.  Being nine, he willingly agreed.

About five years later, his promise was tested.

“One day my brother came home and he had this six-pack,” Bryan shares in his TED talk.  “And he grabbed me and my sister and we went out in the woods.  And he had a sip of this beer and he gave some to my sister and she had some, and they offered it to me.  I said, ‘No, no, no.  That’s okay.  You all go ahead.  I’m not going to have any beer.'”  

His brother became agitated and insisted he tried it.  “What’s wrong with you?  Have some beer.”  

Then, he looked at Bryan and said, “Oh, I hope you’re not still hung up on that conversation Mama had with you…. Oh, Mama tells all the grandkids that they’re special.”

“I was devastated.” Bryan pauses.  “I’m going to admit something to you,” he tells the TED audience.  “I’m going to tell you something I probably shouldn’t,” he pauses.  “I’m 52 years old, and I’m going to admit to you that I’ve never had a drop of alcohol.  I don’t say that because I think that’s virtuous; I say that because there is power in identity.”

2: To win over an audience, most speakers fail to think about how stories move people.  Instead, they spend a majority of their presentation providing facts, figures, and data.

“The world’s most inspiring educators do just the opposite, devoting 65 percent or more of their content to stories that establish trust and build a deeper, emotional relationship with their audience,” Carmine writes.  Only then, “once they’ve connected, can they educate.”

Two-thirds of Bryan’s TED talk is narrative.  Facts, figures, and statics make up about 25 percent and information intended to bolster his credibility is about 10 percent.

Bryan establishes his theme: the power of identity, at the outset of his talk.  He then tells his first story about the day his grandmother had him swear off alcohol.

Next, he begins his second story: the day he met Rosa Parks.

“Ms. Parks turned to me and she said, ‘Now Bryan, tell me what the Equal Justice Initiative is.  Tell me what you’re trying to do.’

“And I began giving her my rap. I said, ‘Well we’re trying to challenge injustice.  We’re trying to help people who have been wrongly convicted.  We’re trying to confront bias and discrimination in the administration of criminal justice.  We’re trying to end life without parole sentences for children.  We’re trying to do something about the death penalty.  We’re trying to reduce the prison population.  We’re trying to end mass incarceration.’

“I gave her my whole rap, and when I finished she looked at me and she said, ‘Mmm mmm mmm.”  She said, ‘That’s going to make you tired, tired, tired.’

“And that’s when Ms. Carr (Ms. Park’s friend) leaned forward, she put her finger in my face.  She said, ‘That’s why you’ve got to be brave, brave, brave.’”

3: As communicators, we are at our most powerful when we engage people’s hearts rather than just their minds. “Remember,” Carmine tells us: “Data delivers information. Stories educate by adding soul to the data and, by doing so, force people to reconsider their closely held beliefs.”

Educating audiences on complex topics—topics that face habitual resistance—can feel overwhelming.  

“Storytelling not only helps; it’s essential,” Carmine observes.  

“Most people who watch a presentation with compelling stories and narratives are at loss to explain why the presentation inspired them,” Carmine notes.  “They just know they were moved. They want to be ‘friends’ with the speaker. They want to be part of the journey.”

The Storyteller’s Secret? “Facts are a necessary component of persuasion, but facts must be balanced with the skillful use of narrative to transport listeners to another time and place,” writes Carmine. “Once listeners are figuratively walking in the shoes of the protagonist—the hero—they feel as though they have a stake in the outcome and are willing to do whatever is necessary to help the hero reach his or her final destination.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  Prior to my next meeting or presentation, think about what stories I can tell to help others understand my point.  

Action:  Do it.  Today.

How to make complex topics understandable? 

1: Adam Levine struggled in school.  He “found it impossible to sit still, stay focused, or finish his schoolwork.  He was hyperactive and impulsive,” Carmine Gallo writes in The Storyteller’s Secret.

Years later, as an aspiring musician, he continued to have trouble focusing – not in class, but in the studio.  “I had 30 ideas floating through my mind and just couldn’t document them…  When I can’t pay attention, I really can’t pay attention,” Adam recalls.

He was diagnosed with ADHD and decided to “own” his treatment.  “With renewed focus Adam threw himself into his music career, and together with his band Maroon 5, went on to win every major music recognition, including Grammy, MTV, and Billboard music awards,” Carmine writes.

Now, as a host of The Voice, he has become a media sensation.

“Adam Levine is lucky.  Eighty-five percent of adults who have ADHD don’t even know it,” observes Carmine.  “Many are in prison.  Many bounce from job to job.  Many have experienced a string of failed relationships.

ADHD is a well-known condition within the medical community.  Within our larger society, however, it is surrounded by “myth and misunderstanding,” writes Carmine.  “ADHD is a grossly misunderstood medical condition.  Some parents chalk up their child’s inability to focus as a normal part of being a kid.  Some parents think their child will grow out of it.  Wrong and wrong.

“By openly sharing his story, Adam Levine helps thousands of people recognize the symptoms in themselves and encourages them to seek out an accurate diagnosis,” Carmine writes.

2: Carmine asks: Which of the following statements do you find more compelling?

“ADHD is a neurological disorder associated with a pattern of excessive inactivity in the frontal lobes of the brain.  It is characterized by distractibility, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.”

Or…  “ADHD is like having a Ferrari engine for a brain with bicycle brakes.  Strengthen the brakes and you have a champion.  People with ADHD are the inventors and innovators, the movers and the doers, the dreamers who built America.”

The second statement is from Dr. Ed Hallowell, a leading psychiatrist and best-selling author.  His approach has made him a “media darling,” having appeared on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

3: Ed makes complex topics understandable.  How?

By using analogies.

An analogy is simply a comparison of how two things are similar.  Analogies make abstract concepts more concrete.

“With ADHD, a list of symptoms doesn’t show the power of the traits these people have – they are creative and imaginative,” Ed says.  “Who would get on a boat in the 1600s and come over here?  You’d have to be a visionary, a dreamer, and a risk-taker.  That’s why our gene pool is loaded with ADD.  I see it as the American edge.”

Here are some of the other analogies Ed uses to explain ADHD.

“As ADD folks, we have new ideas all the time.  It’s like a popcorn machine.”

“The mind of an ADD person is like a toddler on a picnic.  It goes wherever the mind leads it without any regard for danger or authority.  Sometimes it goes off and gets into trouble, other times it’s discovering penicillin.”

“Telling someone with ADHD to try harder is like telling someone who’s nearsighted to squint harder.  It’s not a matter of effort and will, it’s a matter of how you’re wired.”

Why do analogies work so well?

Because they simplify complex topics.  

They “help us understand material we know little about because we can associate the content with something we do know something about,” writes Carmine.

As storytellers, we use analogies to create mental pictures in the mind of our audience.  

In fact, the science shows “simply reading metaphorical language activated areas of the brain associated with sights and smells.  For example, when the subjects read words such as ‘cinnamon,’ ‘perfume,’ or ‘coffee,’ scientists could see regions associated with smell light up the MRI machine,” Carmine writes. 

The storyteller’s secret?

Great storytellers use analogies to create a vivid portrait of an experience or event.

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  Think about a complex topic I struggle to describe.  What is a useful analogy to make it more concrete?

Action:  Be intentional about using an analogy today to make a complex topic more understandable.

Why complexity is your enemy

1: One of the biggest mistakes we make as presenters is being overly complicated and sharing too much information.

“Any fool can make something complicated. It’s hard to make something simple,” says Virgin founder Richard Branson in Carmine Gallo‘s The Storyteller’s Secret.  

“From the beginning, Virgin used clear, ordinary language,” Richard recalls.  “If I could quickly understand a campaign concept, it was good to go. If something can’t be explained on the back of an envelope, its rubbish.”

Be clear and be concise, Sir Richard believes:  “Say what you mean and mean what you say and preferably in as few well-chosen words as possible.”

2: To be a good storyteller, we are wise to begin with a single “big” idea before expanding on the details.

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers,” says Colin Powell.

“Every great story needs a title,” writes Carmine.  “In a business pitch, the title is the headline—the one sentence that’s going to grab my listeners’ attention and put the narrative into context. It should be specific, succinct, and ‘Twitter friendly’ (140 characters or less).”

3: Who mastered this practice?

Steve Jobs.

He “was a master of simplicity and turned the business presentation into an art form,” Carmine writes.

Whenever Steve introduced a new product, he would describe it using one perfectly crafted sentence.

The iPod was “1,000 songs in your pocket.”

The MacBook Air was “the world’s thinnest notebook.”

“Simple can be harder than complex,” Steve once said. “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

The storyteller’s secret?

“Great stories start with great headlines that capture the one key message behind an idea.” 

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  When presenting, do I tend to share too much information?

Action: Summarize my next presentation into a single sentence that tells the audience why they should care.

What explains the most watched TED talk ever?

1: Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk has been viewed over 71 million times making it the most viewed talk in TED’s 30-year history.


How our educational system kills creativity is “certainly a topic of popular interest,” Carmine Gallo observes in his book The Storyteller’s Secret.  Yet, this alone does not explain its popularity.

“What does explain it?” asks Carmine.  

“If they’re laughing, they’re listening,” says Sir Ken.

In the first five minutes of his talk, Ken elicits more than 10 laughs from the audience.  “At two laughs per minute, that makes Robinson’s talk funnier than the movie Anchorman (1.6 laughs per minute) and on par with The Hangover (2.5 laughs per minute),” writes Carmine.

Humor is what molecular biologist John Medina calls an “emotionally charged event.”  Similar to joy, fear, or surprise, humor causes our brain to release dopamine into our bodies.  

2: We might think: That’s great.  But I’m not funny.

“The funny thing about humor is that you don’t need to tell a joke to get a laugh—you just have to be able to recognize a funny situation,” Carmine writes.  “Great storytellers ditch the urge to be clever and just tell people about an experience or event that elicited a smile. If something made them chuckle, there’s a good chance their audience will, too.”

Poking a bit of fun at ourselves also scores points with our audience.

When Sir Ken was asked about the popularity of his TED talk, he responded, “Mind you, my son showed me a video on YouTube recently, which is 90 seconds long. It’s of two kittens that look like they are having a conversation. And that’s been downloaded 20 million times. So I am not getting carried away. Kittens still win.”

3: The key point?

Presenters like Ken Robinson “use humor not for the laugh itself, but for what follows: to grab attention and tee-up the key story that supports their product or idea,” Carmine observes.

“The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening,” says sales coach Jeffrey Gitomer. 

After making his audience laugh, Ken tells the story of Gillian Lynne, the accomplished choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera.

As a child, Gillian struggled in school.  Her teacher sent a letter to her parents, “We think Gillian has a learning disorder.”  

They recommended she see a specialist.  After meeting with Gillian, the doctor asked her mother to step outside for a moment.  “As they went out of the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk.  And when they got out, he said to her mother, ‘Just stand and watch.’  And the minute they left the room, Gillian was on her feet, moving to the music,” Ken recounts.

The doctor turned and said: “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick; she’s a dancer.  Take her to dance school.”

The storyteller’s secret?

Deliver serious topics with a side of humor.

More tomorrow.


Reflection: Do I typically use humor or poke fun at myself when I present?   

Action: Be intentional about using a bit of humor in my next presentation.

Is PowerPoint the enemy?

1: A standing ovation following a TED talk is a rare occurrence.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield had the TED audience on their feet after his 2014 talk “What I learned from going blind in space.”  

The critical moment of Chris’s story?

When his eyes slammed shut in the middle of a space walk while his spaceship was traveling around the world at five miles per second, Carmine Gallo shares in his riveting book The Storyteller’s Secret.

2: Chris’ strategy to transport his audience into his spaceship?


His PowerPoint deck included 35 slides.  

All photos.  No text.

“I’m a big believer in the power of a compelling visual,” says Chris.  “A really good visual isn’t just beautiful; it makes you think. You draw conclusions from the depth of the information that’s in it.”

Why he was inspired to be an astronaut at an early age?  Chris showed a photo of himself as a nine-year-old inside a cardboard box rocket.  

To trigger a deep emotional reaction of what it feels like to be scared?  He showed photos of a black widow and a brown recluse.

3: Our slide deck should complement the story we are telling.  Not mirror it.

Audiences become bored and restless when our words and our slides are the same.  “Using pictures to tell stories is a technique well established in the neuroscience literature,” writes Carmine.  

The research shows people can “remember more than 2,500 pictures with at least 90 percent accuracy several days post-exposure, even though subjects saw each picture for about 10 seconds,” writes Molecular biologist John Medina

“Accuracy rates a year later still hovered around 63 percent.”

Contrast this with 10 percent recall when we simply hear information.

John calls our ability to recall images “truly Olympian”.

Ever seen a PowerPoint slide containing more than 200 words?

That’s a “document masquerading as PowerPoint slides,” Carmine observes.  

“PowerPoint is not the enemy,” he writes.  “A lack of creativity is the culprit.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection: What’s the ratio of words to pictures in my typical PowerPoint presentation?

Action:  For my next presentation, be intentional about adding images or visuals to replace what I would normally present as text.

Why Elon Musk uses simple words

Elon Musk is wicked smart.

“But when he explains technology to consumers he uses language even a sixth-grader can read,” observes Carmine Gallo in his book The Storyteller’s Secret.

“Welcome everyone to the announcement of Tesla Energy.  What I’m going to talk about tonight is a fundamental transformation of how the world works, about how energy is delivered across Earth,” Elon Musk began his remarks about Tesla’s new Powerwall offering.

“This is how it is today.  It’s pretty bad.  It sucks.  I just want to be clear because sometimes people are confused about it.  This is real.  This is actually how most power is generated, with fossil fuels.”

The Flesch-Kinkaid readability test measures word length, sentence length, and other factors to assign a grade level for a specific text.  Articles in the Harvard Business Review are scored at grade level 17.  New York Times articles score at ninth grade.  “Texts to be read by the general public should aim for level of around 8.”

The Flesch-Kinkaid score for Elon’s remarks above?

Sixth grade.

Elon continued: “The solution is in two parts.  Part one, the sun.  We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun.  You don’t have to do anything.  It just works.  It shows up every day and produces ridiculous amounts of power.”

Flesch-Kinkaid score?

2.9. Meaning a child finishing second grade gets it.  

What’s missing?

Talk about nominal current or amps at peak output or technical specs or backup applications.

Steve Jobs also understood the power of simple words.

In 2003, Steve transformed the music industry and persuaded millions of music fans to pay 99 cents per song when many were getting nothing for songs from peer-to-peer sharing sites like Napster.

“How much is 99 cents?  How many of you had a Starbucks latte this morning?” Steve asked.  “Three bucks.  That’s three songs.  How many lattes got sold across the U.S. this morning?  A lot.  Ninety-nine cents is pretty affordable.”

The Flesch-Kinkaid score for Steve’s entire, unabridged introduction of iTunes?

4th grade.  Fourth graders could follow along.

Elon, Steve, and other effective communicators don’t use jargon or overly-technical phrases.  Instead, they carry the day with simple, straight-forward language.

More tomorrow.


Reflection: Am I surprised by Elon and Steve’s communication style?

Action: Test my content for an upcoming presentation at www.readability-score.com

[Aside: I ran this post through the Flesch-Kinkaid readability test and scored grade 6.]

What was one of the secrets of Winston Churchill’s incredible ability to communicate and motivate?

It’s not what we think.

“Short words are best,” said Sir Winston.

“The shorter words of a language are usually the more ancient,” Winston is quoted as saying in The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo.  “Their meaning is more ingrained in the national character and they appeal to greater force.”

The manuscripts of Winston’s speeches show crossed-out longer words replaced with short ones.  “Liberated” became “freed.”

Take note of Winston’s famous observation about the British fighter pilots and bomber crews to establish air superiority over England against Hitler: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” 

“In six words, Churchill told the entire story of British courage and what it meant to the rest of the world: so much, so many, so few,” Carmine observes.  “Those six words summarize stories that fill entire books.”

Note also: only four words in Winston’s sentence are more than one syllable.

“While trying to look intelligent, a lot of people do things that make them look dumb,” says Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Shellenbarger.

We use big words in an effort to impress. 

“The exact opposite is true,” writes Carmine.  “If you want to sound smart and confident, replace big words with small ones.  Big words don’t impress people; big words frustrate people.”

Remember: Short words are best.

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  What can I learn from Winston’s suggestion about using short words?

Action:  Experiment with intentionally using short words in an upcoming talk or presentation.

How Winston Churchill overcame a shipwreck and changed history

Winston Churchill was 29 years old.  He was a newly elected representative to the House of Commons.  The year was 1911. 

His talk started off fine.  But then he experienced a moment we all fear in front of a large group: He forgot the rest of his speech.  For three long minutes he stood frozen in front of his new colleagues, Carmine Gallo writes in his book The Storytellers Secret.

Winston heard the snickering and laughter of his political enemies.  “Worse, his supporters whispered to one another and looked at the floor in an attempt to disassociate themselves from the catastrophe unfolding in front of them,” writes Carmine.

He finally sat back down and covered his head in his hands.  He was sure his career was finished.

“Shipwreck” the newspaper exclaimed the following morning.  A well-known doctor remarked Winston was suffering from “defective cerebration,” or early senility.

Winston Churchill decided he would never make that mistake again. 

“From then on, he worked tirelessly to refine every word of every speech and made sure the only words he spoke were those he wrote himself and believed in with all his heart,” Carmine observes.

Fast forward thirty-six years to May 28, 1940. 

“Nazi Germany had conquered much of Europe.  British soldiers were trapped at Dunkirk, and France was about to fall as German soldiers were marching toward Paris.  

“The British island was alone,” Carmine writes. 

As the newly appointed Prime Minister, Winston was under tremendous pressure from a majority of his cabinet to make a deal with Adolf Hitler.  “A majority of the British people agreed that only an agreement with Hitler would save them,” Carmine reflects.

Winston called a meeting on his entire cabinet.  He would not give in to the pressure: “If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground,” Winston asserted.

“In the span of two weeks and six speeches, Churchill successfully turned around public opinion.  An entire population ready to cave to Hitler’s demands was motivated to pick up arms and fight to the death,” observes Carmine.

“If you read the history of the period, you realize how close the British were to making a deal with Hitler.  If they had, Hitler would have remained unchecked and democracy would have been dethroned in much of the world, replaced with unconscionable evil, ‘the abyss of a new Dark Age,’ in Churchill’s words,” writes Carmine.

Winston’s early public speaking setback and his resulting determination to become a better speaker was “a triumph of effort and preparation” which changed the course of history.

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  Looking at my past, are there any setbacks that fueled my desire to improve my abilities and capabilities?

Action: Take a moment to give thanks for Winston Churchill.

What were Herb Kelleher’s storytelling secrets?

1: “One day in 1966, two men met for drinks at the hotel’s bar. One was a Texas businessman; the other a chain-smoking, whiskey-swigging lawyer, writes Carmine Gallo in The Storytellers Secret.  “Herb Kelleher and Rollin King had been kicking around a business plan, which they now sketched out on the back of a cocktail napkin. First, one of the men drew a triangle in the center of the napkin.  At the top of the triangle, they wrote “Dallas,” on the bottom left, “San Antonio,” and on the bottom right, “Houston.” Their vision was simple—to create a small, local airline connecting three Texas cities.

“That business plan, sketched on the back of a St. Anthony Hotel cocktail napkin, would transform the lives of millions of Americans,” Carmine observes.

Southwest Airlines origin story captures the informal and audacious company culture which drives the airline to this day.

In the 1960s, prior to Southwest’s founding, air travel was uber expensive and only 20 percent of Americans had flown on an airplane.  Today, airfares have dropped thanks to the airline’s business model, and (pre-pandemic) more than 90 percent of Americans fly more than 700 million flights a year.

2: We are continuing our exploration of the important role stories play in creating and strengthening workplace culture.

There are many legendary stories about Southwest founder Herb Kelleher who was always looking for ways to communicate his message about the pecking order at Southwest:  employees first, customers second, and shareholders third.

One of Herb’s stories involves a passenger who wrote a letter to Southwest complaining about the airline’s flight attendants being humorous during the “fasten your seat belts” safety information.

Herb personally answered the letter with six simple words and two pieces of punctuation.

We will miss you.

Love, Herb

Employees first.  Customers second.  Shareholders third.

3: Herb talked about workplace culture continuously.  Culture is a story that must be shared every day.  One of Herb’s storytelling tools was to honor their associates’ lives inside and outside of work.

“One of the things that we do is continue to emphasize that we value our people as people, not just as workers. Any event that you have in your life that is celebratory in nature or brings grief, you hear from Southwest Airlines.  If you lose a relative, you hear from us. If you’re out sick with a serious illness, you hear from us,” Herb shared.  “What we’re trying to say to our people is, “Hey, wait a second, we value you as a total person, not just between eight and five.”

Successful leaders use storytelling to build great workplace cultures.  Herb’s approach to telling stories to recognize and appreciate front line associates who were passionate about delivering exceptional service made a huge difference at Southwest.  

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  What about Herb’s approach connects with me?  Are there tools here I can capitalize on?

Action:  Journal about how I might put these ideas into action.  Today.

What we can learn from a young girl with a powerful story

1: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 started out like just another normal day.  

A 15-year old school girl boarded a rickety covered truck and three benches in the back.  The “school bus” made its way down a muddy road.  Suddenly it stopped.  Two masked men came aboard.  One of them pulled out a Colt .45 and fired three shots at the girl, one of which hit her in her left eye, Carmine Gallo recounts in his book, The Storyteller’s Secret.

She was treated at a hospital in England and survived.  She still lives there because there is too much risk for her to return to her native Pakistan.


“Her first name alone has become a symbol of resilience and courage,” Carmine writes.

“At any one time there are 66 million girls out of school around the world.  Every three seconds a girl becomes a child bride, and 4 out of 5 victims of human trafficking are girls,” Carmine reports.  

2: “Those numbers are staggering, but the human mind doesn’t handle abstraction very well.  And that’s why one face, one story, can humanize a global atrocity and give voice to millions who can’t speak for themselves.

“And when the face belongs to a brilliant storyteller, a movement begins,” Carmine observes.

One year after the shooting, Malala spoke in front of the United Nations about the millions of girls around the globe who are denied the ability to attend school.  Her talk received several standing ovations and launched a movement to unlock the potential in young girls.

Her book I Am Malala spent over a year on the New Your Times bestseller list.

In 2014, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize

As we discussed yesterday, a transformative story requires (1) a hero with whom we can empathize (2) whose world is turned upside down by an unexpected challenge who (3) triumphs over hardship and adversity (4) which sparks a call to action or lesson learned.

3: Austin Madison is a story artist and animator at Pixar who has worked movies like Brave and Toy Story 3 gave a presentation on the 7-step process that all Pixar movies follow.

1. Once there was a ___. [A hero with a goal is the most important element of a story.]

2. Every day he or she ___. [The hero’s world must be in balance in the first act.]

3. Until one day ___. [A compelling story introduces conflict. The hero’s goal faces a challenge.]

4. Because of that ___. [This step is critical and separates a blockbuster from an average story. A compelling story isn’t made up of random scenes that are loosely tied together. Each scene has one nugget of information that compels the next scene.]

5. Because of that ___.

6. Until finally ____. [The climax reveals the triumph of good over evil.]

7. Ever since then ___. [The moral of the story.]

Carmine notes that “Malala’s speech perfectly follows Pixar’s 7-step storytelling process.  I doubt that she did this intentionally,” he comments, “but it demonstrates once again the theme in this book—there’s a difference between a story, a good story, and a story that sparks movements.  Below is Pixar’s storytelling process overlaid on Malala’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

1: Once there was a little girl who lived in a ‘paradise home’ in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, ‘a place of tourism and beauty.’

2: Every day she had ‘a thirst for education’ and would go to class ‘to sit and learn and read.’

3: Until one day the Swat Valley ‘turned into a place of terrorism.’

4: Because of that girls’ education became a crime and ‘girls were stopped from going to school.’

5: Because of that Malala’s priorities changed: ‘I decided to speak up.’

6: Until finally the terrorists attacked Malala.  She survived.  ‘Neither their ideas or bullets could win.’

7: Ever since then Malala’s voice ‘has grown louder and louder’ because Malala is speaking for the 66 million girls deprived of an education.  ‘I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it’s not,’ Malala said.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  What is a goal in my life right now?  Who do I need to persuade?  Think or find a persuasive story that will move my audience toward my goal.  Outline my story using the Pixar 7-step process.

Action:  Journal my answers to the questions above.  Deliver my story!

Are challenge, adversity, and transformation the keys to great storytelling?

1: “Growing up in the hot Las Vegas desert, all I wanted was to be free,” so begins Amy Purdy‘s story.

The day after graduating high school, Amy moved to the mountains in Utah where she pursued her passion for snowboarding.  “For the first time in my life I felt free, independent, and completely in control of my life…”

Until she wasn’t.  

This week we are learning how to tell powerful stories as outlined by Carmine Gallo in his terrific book The Storyteller’s Secret.  Today, we explore the classic “three-act structure.”  

“Enduring stories tend to share a dramatic arc, “observes Professor Paul Zak, “in which a character struggles and eventually finds heretofore unknown abilities and uses these to triumph over adversity.  My work shows that the brain is highly attracted to this story style.”

“Inspiring speakers build a story structure for every important pitch, presentation, meeting, or conversation,” Carmine observes.

2: Act I introduces (1) the protagonist, our hero: Amy, and (2) the setting where our character is living their everyday life: the hot Las Vegas desert.  

In Act 1, we aim to create empathy for our hero.  We want our audience to see themselves in our story: “We identify with characters we care about,” Carmine writes.  All of us relate to Amy’s desire to be free.  We admire her gumption for moving to the mountains the day after graduating from high school.

“The first act also establishes the turning point.  It ends with the introduction of the conflict,” Carmine writes.

“I went home from work early one day with what I thought was the flu, and less than 24-hours later I was in the hospital on life support with less than a two percent chance of living,” Amy shares.

Act 2 is all about struggle and adversity and hardship.  We introduce the villain, in Amy’s case, bacterial meningitis which resulted in the loss of her spleen, part of her kidneys, and both of her legs below her knees.  

At the moment we think things can’t get any worse, they do. 

“I thought the worst was over until weeks later I saw my new legs for the first time,” Amy recollects. “My darkest days were when I went home and had to walk in these metal legs for the first time.  I had to rethink the rest of my life.  I felt so out of control.  I was at the bottom of the barrel.

“I was absolutely physically and emotionally broken,” she remembers.

Somehow Amy forges ahead.  But more challenges await.  Four months later, she wills herself back onto a snowboard.  But she falls and her prosthetic legs, still attached to her snowboard, go flying down the mountain, traumatizing the skiers on the chairlift.  “I was so discouraged,” Amy recalls.

Tension and ultimately triumph are key.  According to Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns: “The road to satisfying experiences must necessarily pass through the terrain of discomfort.”  

In Act 3, the conflict reaches its climax.  Everything seems hopeless.  “Our hero must dig deep within her soul to find the emotional strength to fix the problem and rise above the seemingly insurmountable odds.  This is the climax,” Carmine writes.

Amy refused to quit.  She worked to create prosthetic legs and feet that allowed her to compete in snowboarding.  Today, she is one of the top-ranked adaptive snowboarders in the world, winning a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics. 

At this moment, the hero turns the harrowing experience into a lesson: “My legs haven’t disabled me, if anything they’ve enabled me,” says Amy.  “Instead of looking at our challenges and our limitations as something negative or bad, we can begin to look at them at blessings, magnificent gifts that can be used to ignite our imaginations and help us go further than we ever knew we could go.”

3: Carmine believes the three act structure is the key to telling a great story.  “One of the major findings in this book is the fact that most great storytellers have struggled in their life and they’ve turned their adversity into victory. Their failures make them more interesting because, we are hardwired to love rags-to-riches stories,” he writes.  “We derive meaning from our lives in the form of story.”

Great storytellers “work tirelessly at crafting and delivering an engaging story,” writes Carmine.  “There’s a difference between a story, a good story, and a transformative story that builds trust and inspires people to dream bigger,” Carmine observes.

To tell a transformative story, we are smart to ask ourselves the following questions:

  -Is my hero someone with whom my audience will empathize? 

  -Do I grab my listener with a question or unexpected challenge, a humbling moment when all goes wrong?

  -Does my story involve hardship and struggles, climaxing in a personal transformation where my hero rises above failure?

  -What is the life lesson learned or to call to action that results from the experience?

More tomorrow.


Reflection: Prepare to deliver a story using the three-act structure.

Action:  Deliver it.

Why writing down your stories will make you more successful

“100,000 years ago, we started developing our language,” David JP Phillips says from the Tedx stage.  “We started using storytelling to transfer knowledge from generation to generation.

“27,000 years ago, we started transferring knowledge from generation to generation through cave paintings. 

“3,500 years ago, we started transferring knowledge from generation to generation through text. 

“28 years ago, PowerPoint was born. 

“Which one do you think our brain is mostly adapted to?” David asks.

Short answer?

Our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to storytelling.  

As leaders, we are wise to develop our storytelling skills.  “Our ability to tell stories, to package our ideas with emotion, context, and relevancy, is the single most important skill in the coming decades,” Carmine Gallo writes in the The Storyteller’s Secret.

This week we’ve been exploring three of the neurochemicals that are released when we hear a well-told story: dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.  D-O-E.  Or, doe for short.  What David calls “the Angel’s Cocktail.”

As storytellers, when we build suspense or create a cliffhanger, dopamine is released in our audience.

When we create empathy for the hero of our story by sharing their vulnerabilities, oxytocin is released.

And, when we make our audience laugh, endorphins are released.

David suggests we put this new-found knowledge to work by learning to be what he calls “Functional Storytellers.”

“Functional Storytelling means that you do these three things,” says David.  

1: “You have to understand that you don’t have to be a bearded old man in front of a fireplace with a dark voice in order to be a great storyteller.  In my experience when I train people, everybody is a good storyteller from birth. The only problem is that you don’t believe in it.

2:  “Write down your stories. You’ll notice that you have three to four times more stories in your life than you thought that you had.”

3:  Finally: “Index those stories.”  Categorize them by the neurochemical: Which of your stories creates suspense, i.e. create dopamine?  Which makes people feel empathy, i.e. oxytocin?  Which of your stories make people laugh, i.e. create endorphins? 

Then, David suggests, “The next time you go into a meeting, you pick the story you want to release the hormone you wish in the person that you’re talking to, to get the desired effects that you want.

“That’s a beautiful thing.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  Reflect on examples where I’ve experienced the effects of dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.  What stories can I tell to put this brain science to work ?

Action:  Begin keeping a story journal as David suggests.  Categorize my stories according to the different neurochemicals.

What is the Angel’s Cocktail and how can we use it to our advantage?

David JP Phillips gets the call.

He’s invited to come to Stockholm by a woman who represents one of the biggest training companies in Scandinavia.  David is a speaker and trainer and she tells him they are interested in hiring him to train their trainers.  

“We think you are a perfect pick. Would you like to come to a meeting?” she asks.

“Wow! I’m honored, I’d love to,” he recalls in his Tedx talk .

On the agreed upon day, he arrives in Stockholm.  “What I didn’t know then is that I’m walking into one of the absolute worst meetings I’m ever going to have in my life,” he remembers.  

Upon entering the offices, he is met by the person who called him, “David, just so you know, I’m not the one you’re going to have this meeting with.” 

She points to a conference room where three men are sitting.  

“Are you ready?” she asks.

“And I’m like, ‘Yeah, what should I be ready for?’”

“Well, in that room you have three gentlemen,” she says.  “They’re all majority owners of this company. They’ve all got an ex-military background and none of them wants the training that you are going to pitch.”


“Come on!” he says  “Why am I here?”

“Well, all the trainers want this but the management can’t see that they need it. So it’s pretty simple: the only thing you have to do is go in there and just prove the opposite.”

All of a sudden, “sweat is coming down my palms. My heart is racing,” he recalls.

She begins to escort him toward the office. “David, I’m going to give you a tip.”

He turns to look at her.


In his Tedx talk, David looks at the audience and says, “If I don’t tell you what she says, is that annoying?”

Ahh, yes!

He never tells us the end of the story.  Why?

“To prove to you what it feels like to have high dopamine levels,” David says.

In telling this story, David demonstrates to the Tedx audience (and now us) how stories release chemicals in our brain, in this case, dopamine.

When we have high levels of dopamine in our blood, we have more focus, more motivation, and we remember things better. 

“Would you say that your focus was increased, your attention was increased?” David asks.  “You’ve probably already figured out what that room looked like, correct?” 

Scientists now know the specific chemicals that the brain releases when we are listening to a story.  “We know what triggers those neurochemicals,” Carmine Gallo writes in his book The Storyteller’s Secret.  “We know what stories work, why they work, and we can prove it scientifically.”

How do we create and release dopamine in our audience?

We build suspense.  We create a cliffhanger.

“And the most beautiful thing of all is that all storytelling is per definition dopamine creating, because it’s always something that we’re waiting and expecting,” David states.

Dopamine is one of the three chemicals which storytelling generates in our brain, what David calls the “Angel’s Cocktail.” 

More tomorrow.


Reflection: What are some of my favorite movies or shows?  How do they use suspense and create cliffhangers?

Action: How can I create suspense in an upcoming presentation?  Do it.