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How to tell better stories | Matthew Dicks (Storyworthy)

Matthew’s background

Everyone loves the word storytelling in business it s a huge buzzword they love to think of themselves as storytellers but when they come to me they don t really want to be storytellers because to be a storyteller means you have to separate yourself from the herd and in their mind that risks them getting picked off right getting picked off by some predator but the alternative is you re in the herd which means you re forgettable. I mean how many times have you gone to a conference listened to someone speak and by the time you re pulling into the driveway you really can t remember anything that they said because that s what happens if we don t speak in story our minds are not designed to remember a pie chart or facts or statistics or platitudes or ideas that are not attached to imagery. So the risk you take if you re not telling stories is that you will be forgotten you will be forgotten today my guest is matthew dicks matthew is the author of my all time favorite book on storytelling storyworthy which a previous guest of the podcast recommended to me and i couldn t put it down. So i reached out to matthew and got him on the podcast matthew is a time moth story slam winner and nine time grand slam champ. He s also the author of nine other books including fictions rock operas even a comic book in his day job he is an elementary school teacher and on the side teaches both individuals and teams at companies like slack amazon lego and salesforce the skill of storytelling and public speaking through his company speak up in our conversation we get very tactical about how to tell better stories both in life and in work how to feel more comfortable speaking on stage how to come up with story ideas that you can deploy when the need arises why every good story is centered around one five second moment of transformation and so much more matt is an incredible human being. And i am excited to spread his message more widely if you re interested in this topic definitely pick up his book. Storyworthy it l change your life with that i bring you matthew dicks after a short word from our sponsors today s episode is brought to you by oneschema the embeddable csv importer for saas customers always seem to want to give you their data in the messiest possible csv file and building a spreadsheet importer becomes a never ending sink for your engineering and support resources you keep adding features to your spreadsheet importer but customers keep running into issues six months later you re fixing yet another date conversion edge case bug most tools aren t built for handling messy data but oneschema is companies like scaleai and pave are using oneschema to make it fast and easy to launch delightful spreadsheet import experiences from embeddable csv import to importing csvs from an sftp folder on a recurring basis spreadsheet import is such an awful experience in so many products customers get frustrated by useless messages like error on line and never end up getting started with your product oneschema intelligently corrects messy data so that your customers don t have to spend hours in excel just to get started with your product for listeners of this podcast oneschema is offering a discount learn more at oneschema co lenny. This episode is brought to you by maui nui venison a mission based food company bringing the healthiest red meat on the planet directly to your door i actually joined maui nui venison earlier this year after hearing their ad on the tim ferriss podcast and i m excited to be spreading the message further not only does this company provide the most nutrient dense and protein dense red meat available their operation produces the only stress free wild harvested red meat on the market that is the only one of its kind in the world actively managing maui s invasive access to your populations helping to restore balance to vulnerable ecosystems food systems and communities in hawaii also it is seriously delicious not at all gamey and easy to cook my wife and i made stew and steaks and all kinds of grilled goodies with the meat we also feel great about it as a protein from an ethical standpoint i highly recommend trying their all natural venison jerky sticks for an optimal protein snack as well as a wide variety of fresh cuts all available in their online butcher shop there are limited memberships available but you can sign up and get off your first order at mauinuivenison com lenny that s mauinuivenison com lenny matt thank you so much for.

The five-second moment

Being here welcome to the podcast it s my pleasure i m excited to be here i m even more excited to have you on the way i found out about you is a previous guest mentioned your book as a book that really transformed the way they think about storytelling and even marketing and i completely agree it s the most tactical practical also just entertaining book on just how to tell better stories and when i was reading i was just like hey what if i reach out to the author of this book and see if he d come on and here we are i m thrilled to be here. And i appreciate what you had to say i tried to make my book as actionable as possible i think the only reason i m successful in what i do is that i ve been a teacher for years. And i m a storyteller so the two of those things come together pretty well for me. Okay so i thought it d be fun to start with maybe the most mind expanding takeaway. I got from this book is this idea that all good stories are rooted in this five second moment of someone s life can you just talk about this insight and maybe share an example or two to make this real. Sure. Well that is true what you just said which is essentially every story is about a singular moment i call it five seconds it can be one second. Honestly it s a moment of either transformation meaning i m telling you a story about how i once used to be one kind of person. And now i m a new kind of person or more common is realization which is i used to think something. And then some stuff happened and now i think a new thing. And those changes they take place overtime or really what happens is it s an accumulation of events and feelings and thoughts that ultimately result in a singular moment where that flip actually happens. And i think that s true for almost everyone it feels like it took a long time. But there really was one second when you thought one thing and then the next second when you thought the new thing. And the purpose of a story is essentially to bring that moment to the greatest clarity possible to the audience so that the audience can in a way experience that flip that transformation or realization along with the storyteller so of the story is the context to bring that singular moment into fruition and that is true for stories that we tell out loud stories we tell on the page novels that i write movies that i watch television shows that i watch all of the stories of the world that are worth hearing and truly just about every story told that qualifies as a story has one of those moments that s a big statement is there an example too you could share of either stories we know or just tell a short story whatever is easier to give people like. Oh wow you re. Totally right. Sure. Well i l tell you one that happened actually today how about that. Amazing. So i m teaching math today i m an elementary school teacher. And i m teaching math. And i have a student in my class her name is eileen. And she s one of those kids that i worry about a little bit because she s got some anxiety. So she s not the most confident person in the world and in september i was aware of this. So i ve been working really hard at building confidence with her. And so today we re doing some math and i m calling kids to the board and i m looking at eileen and wondering is today the day am i going to call eileen to the board because doing so there s a risk there s inherent risk that she could be upset she could embarrass herself in front of the class in a way that means something to her. And i just wasn t sure. So i didn t call her to the board and so at the end of the math lesson i wandered over to her desk. And i said. So eileen i was thinking about calling you to the board today. But i just wasn t sure if you re there. Yet what do you think and she said to me first of all i don t like that cheeky smile of yours. And that is all i needed to hear that was my five second moment that was the moment of realization where i understood that eileen trusted me felt confident enough in my classroom that she could be herself that she could fire off a quip at a teacher sort of take a shot at me i knew at that point that now i can call her to the board that she s going to be. Okay. So essentially it is a very brief story that i could actually expand into something much more meaningful i could make that into a five or six minute story about my journey with this student which would include in the longer version of it the steps that i took to discover who she was the steps i took to help her reach the point she s at now i would probably pull in some backstory about students who i was not so successful with some of my failures before i learned how to be a better teacher. And then i d bring it to the moment where she says first of all i don t like that cheeky smile and that s all i need to hear so that is essentially a five second moment for me that is the same though as any other five second moment if you think about a movie like star wars the first star wars that came out that is a movie essentially about religion which people don t always see. But it is true there s a boy on a planet and he wants to go to space someday and fly a spaceship and use blasters to defeat the empire. And along the way he meets a religious figure to obi wan kenobi and he introduces him to a religion called the force. And when the final moment comes for luke skywalker to defeat the empire his vision of using technology a spaceship and a blaster to destroy the empire all of that goes away. And he turns off his technology in his spaceship instead he uses the force to guide his weapon to defeat the enemy and that is a story about a boy who once had no religion and then some stuff happened and he had religion in the end. And that s why a story like that resonates with us in a way that another story might not because we all understand what it s like to not believe in something and then find belief in something whether that is religious belief or i used to think cheeseburgers didn t taste good. And now i believe that they taste good either way we understand that process. And we can connect with luke skywalker in a meaningful way so every story essentially has those moments including i don t like that cheeky smile.

Knowing the ending

With this moment what s also interesting is you talk about how knowing that moment of change also tells you how the story will end so as a storyteller you l know how it ends based on knowing what this moment is which then also tells you how it s going to start roughly can you just talk about that realization because to me every time i watch a movie now i m like. Wow i know exactly how it s going to turn out just from the beginning. So we start as storytellers at the end. Well we start at the end if we are telling true stories about ourselves or our companies or our products things that we know i m also a fiction writer. So when i start my novels that s much more self discovery. I really don t know the end of it. But in the storytelling that we re talking about you have to know the end because you ve lived the moment and the end forms everything. So you know what you re going to say you found a moment worth speaking to that five second moment. And then whatever that moment is in my case i discover that eileen has more confidence than i realized and is ready to take a big step forward what s the opposite of me realizing eileen has confidence and is ready to step forward. It is eileen does not have confidence and i need to help her find that confidence. So that s the opposites that will work in a story essentially a story is about these two moments in time a beginning and an end and they re operating in opposition to each other sometimes more so than others sometimes exactly an opposition. But you re right if you watch a movie and you l pay attention to the first to minutes of a movie you will ultimately know how that movie s going to end you l see a character you l discover what that character needs or their flaw or their desire and you know that s going to be at the end the easiest one is a romantic comedy two people are not in love at the beginning of the movie you know they re going to be in love at the end of the movie even knowing it doesn t mean the story s ruined we can get there in a very entertaining way when harry met sally that movie when it begins harry and sally actually say they hate each other at the very beginning of the movie i hate you. Harry right i hate that man so much we know they re going to end up together and the journey is well worth the fact that we know what s going to happen at the end. So it ruins a little bit of storytelling for people who think like me and go. Oh well i know where this is going but you have to do it in an entertaining way filled with all the other things we talk about in storytelling. But yeah. Every story should be essentially a beginning and an end and opposition to each other and you should start at the end that guarantees that you have something important to say rather than what most people do which is they simply report on their lives they just tell you stuff that happened over the course of time in some chronological way that ultimately doesn t lead to anything you want to always be saying something of import. So we start at the end with that moment of import. It s funny as i was thinking of when harry met sally exactly as you were talking as an example my wife wants to watch that movie basically every night it s like the one movie she could just watch a billion times. Well that s the power of story i tell people this all the time why are we telling stories you ve never asked to see a powerpoint presentation a second time you ve never gone to bed and dreamt about a powerpoint presentation you ve never heard someone give a keynote and thought i hope i get to watch that keynote again tomorrow but movies you l watch a movie a hundred times because it s a story and our minds are wired to enjoy story over and over and over again you have a small child. Right eventually you re going to be reading to that child when your baby s old enough and you re going to discover kids want to read the same book times they re really no different than adults except kid books are so small you can read them endlessly a movie takes two hours so you don t get to read it as often as you might want or watch it as often as you might want. But harry met sally comes on and you re halfway through you re probably in even though every scene you can probably do the dialogue we re wired for story that s why it s so important why is something changing so important why is.

The importance of including a transformation

That so critical to a good story someone having a change or transforming well i think that actual moment of transformation lends importance to the story and allows the audience to connect to it if i report it on my day to you my day teaching in a classroom i am unlikely to connect with you unless you are also a teacher. And you experienced things similar to me my wife is a kindergarten teacher i m a fifth grade teacher. If both of us report on our day oddly we will not really connect very often she is teaching them how to write the letter c and i am teaching them how to use the standard algorithm in multiplication they could not be further apart. So reporting on the moments that you have experienced in the day is not a way to connect to people but when we talk about change has a great universal appeal so you might not be a teacher who s trying to teach someone to find confidence in their life but you might be a person who once lacked confidence and then found confidence in the way eileen did. Or you might be a parent or the boss of someone who is trying to bring confidence to your child or your employee your salesperson whatever it is when we do change when we re focused in on that change we increase exponentially the universal appeal to the story and our ability to connect to an audience even though the content we re speaking about has nothing to do with them the actual emotional appeal will cause people to connect to us.

The dinner test

Fascinating so building on that same thread of change you also have this kind of checklist for what makes a good story what is a good story and i think it s only a three point checklist one is there s a change that happens can you talk about the other two i think there s only other. Two. Well the dinner test is probably one that you re thinking of yeah that s. Right. So the dinner test is the idea that when you re telling a story in a formal way if you re performing on a stage or delivering a keynote or even delivering a pitch to entrepreneurs or a sales pitch essentially the story that you re telling should be very closely related to the story you would tell someone if you were having dinner so there should be no performance art included within your story or within your talk. So weird things that people do should not be done like opening a story with unattributed dialogue. So you re standing on stage and you open your story with jim it s time to come in for dinner. My wife said that s just weird. We don t talk like that as regular people so you should not speak like that ever in the history of the world you should never speak like that. But people do it all the time it s this weird appendage from childhood when bad writing teachers thought that this was a good idea or you start with a sound which is very popular in first grade you teach kids to start with sound mostly because teachers are not writers so they don t understand what writing actually is. And so they open with stories with things like bang the door opened. But if you and i were having dinner and you said hey how was your day matt. And i said well let me tell you lenny bang the door opened you would not have dinner with me again. So you have to be thinking that this is a slightly elevated version of the dinner story meaning you re probably not going to be interrupted in the middle of your story. And you want to have a little more shape to it and you want to avoid some of the verbal detritus that tends to fill our lives you don t want to be saying you know. And like i said all of that nonsense should get pushed to the side but essentially people should feel like you re kind of speaking in a very natural way so the dinner test is pretty important in that regard. Awesome. Yeah so the lesson there is when you re telling a story make it sure that it s something that you could potentially tell at a dinner party slightly elevated is the way you put it slightly elevated exactly.

You can’t tell someone else’s story

I think the third point you make is that it has to be your story you can t be telling a story on behalf of someone else maybe chat about that briefly. So if you re telling a story about someone else essentially you might as well be telling fiction because that person s not in the room and to the audience they don t really exist if they can t see them that person is just another human being who supposedly lives somewhere in the world or once lived in the world and because of that you are almost unable to express any vulnerability in your story you can t reveal anything about yourself and one of the key parts of storytelling is to be vulnerable with your audience. Meaning i m going to say stuff in a meaningful way i might say stuff that most people are unwilling to share in a public way. But i m at least going to offer up a little bit of my heart and mind if i offer up the heart and mind of someone else that doesn t really require any vulnerability the only vulnerability is i have to stand in front of people and talk which i know is challenging for some people but that doesn t mean anything to the audience we don t care if you re having a hard time presenting if it s making you nervous that doesn t mean much to an audience what we really want is someone to open up their hearts and minds. So stories have to be about you in some way there s tricks where you can tell stories about other people by taking that story and centering on yourself one of the examples i work with the children and grandchildren of holocaust survivors and in the past what they would do is they would just tell the story of the holocaust survivor who has often at this point passed away. And it really does feel like fiction a long time ago in a place that wasn t this. A terrible thing happened and there s a certain level of empathy and sympathy that you might feel but what i teach them to do is to tell stories about themselves. And then at some point in the story about themselves they re going to talk about how the experience of their parent or grandparent during the holocaust has informed or changed their own life too. So they get to dip into some history but that history is relevant to the storyteller so it s no longer history. It s now something changed in me because something terrible happened to my parent or grandparent.

Vacation stories

Just as a tangent you also have this funny useful checklist for how to tell vacation stories well first try not to right. I think that s step one do not tell vacation stories most vacation stories are just simply a recounting of your vacation at the expense of another person. So unless something happened on that vacation where you experienced one of these five second fundamental moments of change nobody cares about your vacation and if something did happen only be talking about the moment when it happened so if i had a moment of change that took place on a thursday night at dinner that story is now going to take place on the thursday night at dinner. And it s irrelevant that i m in aruba. The fact that i am on vacation is almost completely irrelevant to the story other than i may want to offer my location. But i m not going to talk about the beach the day before or the scuba diving or the plane all of that goes away we re telling moments in our lives and it doesn t matter where they happen if your location is paramount to your story because you want people to know you were in aruba then you have to understand no one actually cares that you were in aruba and you re just a terrible person for trying to dump that on someone and use up their time so you can relive your vacation and perhaps humble brag about how much fun you had this will be a good segment for people to send their friends if they want to tell them their vacation stories and here s a tip for how to do this better. Exactly and just understand why it needs to be on a thursday in that dinner is the advice there keep it very focused and small unless there s some really essential reason to share the context around the dinner. Yeah exactly the shortest version of every story is the best version of every story starting as close to the end of a story is always the best place to begin so if i had a moment of realization during dessert in a restaurant in aruba i may never tell them i m in aruba. I might start my story with the dessert hits the table and my wife says something that causes me to begin thinking and that would be the beginning of the story the fact that i m on an island in the caribbean may never come up in the entire story because it doesn t turn out to be relevant to the story there s a lesson that another guest shared west cow about she calls it when the bear starts eating your tent or something like that jump to when the bear is eating your tent don t do this whole introduction to why or how you got to this tent it s just like the bear is eating our tent that s where the story should start yes kurt vonnegut said that kurt vonnegut said start as close to the end as possible he was talking about short stories written on the page but it is a true notion in oral storytelling too. And it is of all the things i help people with their stories the most frequent suggestion that i make for revision is you ve started your story in the wrong place i want to shift to business context advice.

Adding stakes to the story

But before we do that there s another really important element of storytelling which is having stakes and having important stakes so could you just talk about what is a stake and why is it important to have stakes and then just what are examples of adding stakes to your story to make them more encouraging. Sure so stakes are essentially what your audience should be worried about what they should be wanting for you what they should be concerned about what they should be wondering about if your audience isn t wondering what you re about to say they re no longer listening to you. And you have to internalize that in a deep and fundamental way when i work with people in business they are constantly under this misconception that people want to hear what they have to say some vice president of marketing thinks that because they re a vice president of marketing and everyone is sitting in a chair and looking at them that they automatically have that audience s attention i assume all the time of the time that no one wants to hear anything i have to say and so i am relentless in my attempt to get the audience to be constantly wondering what the next sentence is and stakes are a big part of that stakes are i wonder what s going to happen. Next. I m worried about this guy will he get what he wants will he get his comeuppance because he seems like a kind of a jerk in this story all of those things are stakes what is at stake for the storyteller the company the product whatever it is. And therefore what the audience is worried about as well it s why star wars opens with a big spaceship shooting at a small spaceship we don t even know who s on it. Yet. But we re already on the small spaceship side we re already worried that a small spaceship is being shot at by a big spaceship. Right that s why stories start this way alfred hitchcock has a movie where it opens with a police officer is chasing a man across a roof we don t know who to root for but something is at stake here. And now we re wondering what s going to happen next we have to do the same thing with our ordinary true life everyday stories we have to put stakes into stories there s something that you teach around surprise.

The power of surprise

And the power of surprise as a part of stakes i forget exactly what that is but does that ring a bell. Well i l separate them really. So with stakes there s lots of ways to insert stakes i always say you should have what i call an elephant at the beginning of the story which is actually a big spaceship shooting at a little spaceship or a police officer chasing a guy across a roof we have to immediately know that something is at stakes we have to be worried about something in my little eileen story that i told you i said i m teaching math and i ve got this student and i m worried about her because i want to call her to the board. But i know she might lack some confidence right away i have to make it clear what kind of story we re at in a movie you get a trailer you don t often go to a movie and not have any awareness about what s about to happen. But when you open your mouth to begin telling a story nobody knows what you re going to say you need to land something immediately that nobody knows what you re going to say you need to land something immediately that causes an audience to go. Oh okay. Well what s going to happen here. So that s an elephant that s like plant some big thing in the beginning of a story it doesn t actually have to be what the story s about either. Sometimes it takes a little time to get to what the story s about. But you plant something there to at least get the audience to be worried. And then you can use some other tricks i call something called a backpack which is you tell the audience what your plan is before you carry out your plan so that they sort of have your hopes and dreams packed up with them as well if you watch an ocean s movie you know what the plan is before they go into the casino. So as the plan goes awry you can go oh no because you know what the plan is if you didn t know what the plan was you would not be able to go. Oh no. So that s loading your audience with your hopes and dreams so that they can feel those stakes they can actually be hoping for you as well there s things like breadcrumbs where you offer a little bit of what s going on but not the complete idea sort of drop a hint the classic one is sort of the gun there s a gun in the room and there s a gun in the room and it seems like it s not going to be relevant. But if you have a gun in the room it s going to eventually go off there s something going on there that s like a bread crumb eventually we re going to get to that gun don t worry it s going to happen there s hourglasses which is when you get to the moment where everyone is about to discover what s going to happen that s the moment to slow time down you load your story with details because suddenly you know have the audience on the edge of their seat and you want to leave them on the edge of their seat as long as possible when i know my audience wants to hear the next sentence that is when i prolong the arrival of the next sentence by. I say turning over an hourglass and letting the sand run for a while and making them wait for it there s crystal balls where you can predict a future you don t have to predict an accurate future you can just predict any future. So i could have said something in the eileen story like if i get this wrong eileen is going to begin to cry she s going to cry in front of kids who for the rest of the year will continue to stare at this girl and remember the moment she cried that s a crystal ball that s me predicting a terrible future because i put that terrible future in the audience s mind now they re worried. So that is a stake i have planted a false stake a false future. But they re going to be worried about it because it s also a realistic future. So all of those things are used to continue to get the audience to wonder what s going to happen next which is a little different than surprise is just that beautiful delightful amazing moment where the audience didn t see something coming and then it was almost like it was inevitable surprise happens and they understand why it happened i think it s the best thing you can ever offer an audience is a moment of surprise. And every story has a surprise at least one because whenever we suddenly realize something for the first time i hate the word suddenly but what happens is we used to not think something. And then we think a new thing and that s often a surprise for us if we make it a surprise for the audience too that s a delightful thing so surprise is so powerful and wonderful and always ruined by storytellers i was just listening to an interview with i think his name is david mamet and he made this point that endings of books and movies always has to be both inevitable and also complete surprise.

The benefits of storytelling in business

Yes both of those things so inevitable means there has to be enough information placed earlier in the story so that when the surprise happens the audience goes. Yes. But also you have to be clever enough to plant that information in such a way that the audience doesn t see the surprise coming you build information into the audience s mind that will allow the surprise to land in an inevitable and yet surprising way that is the best surprise you can offer someone easier said than done. Yes well there s lots of tricks to do that as well but it takes some time. But essentially what you end up doing is you re hiding the information that they need to know in a multitude of ways so that when it lands they go. Oh my gosh abcd. They don t connect it until the surprise hits. And then they go of course abcd. So you place abcd in a story but you don t place it in such a way that they can connect the dots until you want them to connect the dots i feel that s a whole other hour of podcast conversation to figure that out that s like ninja level next level storytelling which is very teachable everything i say is very teachable and doable by anybody. But yes it s a trickier thing to accomplish. Okay that l be for a second podcast episode just to summarize you shared i think five ways add stakes just to summarize one is crystal ball you basically predict the bad thing that l happen if you don t do this thing hourglass which is when something is about to happen slow time down. I think of pulp fiction and tarantino in this often of just like you know some violence is about to happen and they go next door and like let s just eat a cheeseburger instead for a while. And then this backpack idea of they know exactly what you re trying to do and it s on you and the entire movie breadcrumbs where you give them a little bit of information along the way i think maybe that s it. Maybe there s one more. And then the elephant at the beginning. Oh the elephant just like the big ol here s the steak i wish you got to have something i heard some advice in either your book a different book about adding stakes is just drop a dead body every new dead body is additional stakes that are added to the story i don. T know how often people can do that in random stories but what you can take from that is so often people load the front end of a story with all of the stakes because they re worried that the audience will not pay attention to them so they think i m going to throw everything right in front and that l hold an audience for the rest of the story and that s a mistake what we want is stakes continually to build throughout a story so dropping a dead body really means drop a new steak don t load it all don t front load it give us something to wonder about and then gauge when we need the next thing to wonder about and spread out those stakes we need most of the stakes to occur within the first half of a story ideally the second half of the story is now the rollercoaster to the end. So we might drop one in there at an appropriate time or just through plot sometimes they just happen to need to be in a place but so often i hear people front load stakes because they re worried about audience attention.

An example of adding stakes

Just to give people something concrete to think about when they re thinking about this area is there a story of yours that s online that we can point people to see an example of really good stakes in action so the one that i reference in my book which you can go watch online is charity thief it needs a lot of stakes because two thirds of the story nothing really happens two thirds of the story is explaining how i end up on a porch so that s not super entertaining unless i build in lots of stakes along the way i m not inventing anything i m just presenting the actual events in a way that makes you wonder what s going to happen next. So there s an elephant at the beginning of that story which is actually not what the story s about because i say the elephant can change colors along the way. But i give you something to wonder about along the way i know i use a backpack and i use a breadcrumb and an hourglass and a crystal ball i do it all in that story mostly because it s not super entertaining some stories you don. T have to worry so much about i perform as a stripper in the break room of a mcdonald s restaurant when i m years old for a bachelorette party there are stakes in that story. But i don t need to put any of them in because everybody wants to know what s going to happen already. Sometimes you just have a story that the stakes are already pre built because the ridiculousness of the moment but most of our stories are not like that most of them are far more benign and we have to jack up the stakes by using some tricks to get people to the point we want them to be in that stripper story i ve also watched and i l point to it. And i love it s connected to another piece of advice you always shared people just say yes to stuff at the power of yes. I don t want to get into it. Yet i want to come back to that.

Storytelling in the workplace

I love that point. Okay so let s transition to helping people in business learn all these skills and translate them to becoming better in their work. And maybe actually to add some stakes what benefits do people get what problems do they run into if they aren t great at storytelling versus if they learn the skill and can implement it at work what happens what good things come out of that. Well if you don t tell stories as part of your business whether you re looking for investment or speaking to your people or speaking to customers or clients anything if you re not telling stories the good news is you re just like everybody else the bad news is you re mediocre just like everybody else you re in a lane that everyone else is in which means that you re going to be forgettable i often say most communication in business is round white and flavorless intentionally so because a lot of people are afraid to stand out when i try to get people to tell stories everyone loves the word storytelling in business. It s a huge buzzword they love to think of themselves as storytellers but when they come to me they don t really want to be storytellers because to be a storyteller means you have to separate yourself from the herd and in their mind that risks them getting picked off getting picked off by some predator but the alternative is you re in the herd which means you re forgettable how many times have you gone to a conference listened to someone speak and by the time you re pulling into the driveway you really can t remember anything that they said my wife and i actually attended an educational conference recently she s a teacher i m a teacher there was a bunch of speakers the first person came out with his childhood lunchbox put it on a table and told a story about how his parents had nothing while he was growing up. And yet they somehow kept him in new shoes and a new backpack every year and sent him to school with a lunch every day and how much it meant to him and how as an educator today he thinks about every single kid in his class like he was a kid who had nothing except for all of his parents hopes and dreams i l never forget that story it was a story it was a story of vulnerability and humor and meaning there was another person who spoke a sort of executive we l say and he did a great job in terms of being fluent and presenting ideas and speaking well and speaking confidently and minutes after the conference i said to my wife who is a teacher and understands storytelling because we do it together. I said what d you think she said well i m never going to forget that guy with the lunchbox i said i will not either i said what d you think about the other guy. And she goes he was great. I said so what did he say five teen minutes after and she went i actually can t tell you a single thing he said this is a woman who s a teacher and invested in storytelling and communication her impression was he was fluent he was amusing he said some numbers he said some things that seemed to mean something. But it was all forgotten because that s what happens if we don t speak in story our minds are not designed to remember a pie chart or facts or statistics or platitudes or ideas that are not attached to imagery. So the risk you take if you re not telling stories is that you will be forgotten you will be forgotten when people hear this they may think oh man there s this guy at work and he s always telling stories and we re like shut up just tell me what we need to do to make it a little more real of just what does storytelling look like where it s not annoying it s not like. Okay everyone gather around let me tell you the story of our vision what are some simpler ways and maybe non annoying ways to think about what storytelling looks like in the workplace that s not just like a public speaking like hey everyone i m going to give you let me give a couple of examples i have a storytelling book coming out next year on business. So there s a couple of heroes in that story one of them is named boris his name s boris levin he is a factory owner here in connecticut. He s the one who convinced me i could start working with businesses i thought it was just a storyteller who spoke about himself on a stage boris one day saw me for some fundraiser and said listen i want you to come and help me i said i can t do that i just tell i m using stories about myself. He said no you can help me and it turns out he was totally right so boris has done it the right way boris has decided to become a storyteller who will then translate his stories into his business so a great example was one of boris s early stories he came to me and he said my son was at bat in the little league championship game the bases were loaded if my son got a hit the team was going to win the championship. And if my son struck out the team would lose the championship. It s a three and two count it is like the ultimate baseball moment and his son strikes out. He watches his son drag that bat back to the dugout. He s devastated his son s devastated and boris is devastated so he is trying to collect himself so he can figure out the right thing to say to a boy who s just lost the championship for his team by the time he makes it onto the other side of the field to catch up with his son he sees his son running up a hill with his friends and they re already laughing they re heading to the cars so they can go to ice cream and they can enjoy themselves so boris is falling apart. He s still devastated but his son has already moved past the failure boris takes that story and he crafts it as a beautiful story that he could tell on a stage and perform and make an audience laugh and cry once the story s done he says to me. So what are we going to do with it. How are we going to apply this to business and ultimately what happens is this he s got a sales team and quite often salespeople do not land the big account they re hoping to land and boris knows that when his salespeople fail to achieve what they want to achieve they will often sulk for days they l wander around the office and be useless because they re still trying to get past the fact that they just lost the million dollar contract so he tells the story about his son and he says listen there s nothing wrong with being sad being upset with failure. But we cannot allow it to slow us down as much as we are right now we have to think about my son my son dragged his bat back to the dugout. He sat down he sighed his buddies patted him on the back he collected himself and he moved on that s what we need to do when we fail we re going to take a moment to collect ourselves to think about the mistakes we made to decide what we re going to do differently. And then we re going to move on that becomes a really important moment in his company it s much better than him standing up in front of his people and saying listen every time you guys fail to land a big sale you wander around this office like you re dead and you re wasting our time it ends today from now on when you fail you re going to move on the story becomes something meaningful to everyone because it reveals something about boris. He s a father he s a father who cares about his son he s the kind of father that most of us are in life he shares of himself with his people and he creates a tangible vision of what the sales team can do he does that all the time he comes to me and he s not looking to solve problems through story he s looking to develop stories that he can then deploy into his business. So i compare it. I say band aids versus bricks if you re building bricks you re a storyteller that s capturing stories and building bricks then you can eventually deploy into business if you re a band aid person which is fine that happens i have a problem matt. And i need a story to solve it essentially what i m doing there is i m putting a band aid over a problem but you re not becoming a better storyteller you re just using me as a consultant to help you generate a story that will solve a problem that s fine but you re going to need me the next time too you re going to keep needing me because you re not really becoming a storyteller boris is building bricks he is building a vault of stories that he can then deploy into his business he understands how to tell them and how to connect them to business so that s something that you can do very easily another example the other star of my book is a woman named marsha rakofsky. She used to be the director of corporate communications at slack and now she s sort of doing work on her own. But when she was with slack. She and i were working closely together. And she had to create the narrative that was going to compete against microsoft teams essentially microsoft came along and said hey we copied your product and it s free and everybody already has it so slack had to find a way to combat that and marsha was the one in charge of doing it that s why we connected she found me and said i need to tell a good story please help me tell a good story so she crafted a brilliant narrative that worked fantastically we worked really closely together and it came out. Great. The way she came up with that narrative was a tuesday night she had broken up with her boyfriend she was alone. She was feeling pretty lonely it was in the midst of the pandemic she had two glasses of wine in her sitting alone on a tuesday night she suddenly had an inspiration she wrote three words down on a napkin and those three words become the story that we develop that allows slack to compete against microsoft when it comes time to her present that narrative i say you re going to include the tuesday night and the two glasses of wine and. All that right. And she s like. No i m not that s not what we do in the corporate world we do not insert ourselves into our narratives and to her credit. She didn t put it in. And it still worked brilliantly. She was fine. But about a month later she was presenting that same narrative to a smaller group lower stakes i said let s just put it in just try it this time and to her everlasting credit she did she put in a second anecdote about tuesday night two glasses of wine feeling lonely in the middle of a pandemic she said to me later. I can t believe the difference that second anecdote meant to the narrative because suddenly when i reached the end of the narrative people wanted to talk to me people came up to me and the first thing they said was oh god. I remember i was feeling the same way during the pandemic people connected to her because instead of being a corporate monolith sort of like slack spokesperson without personality which is what we tend to be in business she was an actual human being who had an inspiration on the tuesday night and then was bringing it forth in a meaningful way to an audience and from that point on she always has been doing those things in storytelling she s always looking for a way in her narratives to insert herself or if she s working with a client let s find a way that we can work the client into the.

Using personal inventory to make stories relatable

Story as well because people don t want to hear spokespeople present information they want to hear human beings connect with you and then offer you something that perhaps will have value that is a really interesting lesson so is your advice just when you re telling stories in business try to find a way to make it personal about you as the person telling the story. Yeah i have this tool i use with corporate folks called a personal interest inventory it is a list of all the things that you should be saying about yourself in clever and strategic ways that i teach each one of them has an addressable market. So how many people could this potentially hit. And then the intensity of the connection so for example if you re married you should always make it clear to people you re married especially if you re a man. Because if you re a man and you re married you re safer in the world because men are inherently just dangerous human beings we just are if you hear that there was a shooting you never think. Oh i wonder if that was a twenty three year old blonde woman you know who did the shooting almost all the time. So if you re married what you re essentially saying to people is someone has agreed to spend theoretically their life with me. It s like a validation that i have at least hygiene and some decency most people are in a committed relationship so that means that a total addressable market is large if i say i m married you re either married also or you re in a committed relationship so the connection is going to be large the total addressable market is large the possible connection probably moderate. I say it s like it s. Okay. But weird ones are like runners i m not a runner and there s not a lot of runners in the world. But if you re a marathoner your total addressable market is very small there s not that many marathoners. But if you happen to find a marathoner the intensity of that connection is enormous marathoners are almost automatically friends upon meeting what i ve discovered if you re. Just. Oh you ran a marathon i ran a marathon they re best friends already. So if you ve run a marathon and you re in a room and you discover someone else s run a marathon you have to find a way to bring that out because the possibility of that connection is incredibly intense so as a person in the corporate world you should not be seeking to be round white and flavorless you should be seeking to be full of color and full of edge and full of flavor you want to be an individual that people remember as opposed to what most people are trying to be which is i am just operating this corporate or this business sphere. And i m not trying to stand out which is just a foolish thing to want to do i could see why people wouldn t naturally do this if i m a head of comms for a company the last thing i want is to make it about me and what you re saying is you actually should because people will find it a lot more interesting. Yeah you don t want to make it all about you. But there s just little tricks the easiest trick is if someone asks you how are you doing today if you say i m doing great you ve just really screwed it up that s the stupidest answer you can offer if you ask me how am i doing today i m immediately going to think to myself elementary school teacher is probably my best personal interest inventory item because if i m an elementary school teacher everyone loves me. They think i m doing god s work even though they don t want to pay me a dime to do it. So if you say how are you doing today i will say to you pretty good. My fifth graders were actually decent human beings today they didn. T try to kill me so in that way i m going to slip in the fact that i m an elementary school teacher by answering your question i m going to demonstrate a bit of amusing content in the process and maybe a little self deprecation. But whenever i m asked a question i am trying to include an item of my personality my life something that might be of interest to people while also answering the question you don t want to walk into a situation and say hi i m a married elementary school teacher with two kids and two cats but that s what i want to do because i know that s going to make people feel connected to me. So i have to find strategic ways to work it in i teach people to do it all the time. But it starts with understanding what about you might mean something to other people and how can i get it in there without me sounding like i m only talking about myself.

Four ways to keep people listening

What else. So we re basically talking about ways to become a better communicator and storyteller in business you ve shared a few tidbits here one is think of this personal inventory about yourself that makes you relatable try to share it in stories you tell and presentations and things like that what else can people do to become better storytellers in business i know this is a big question but let s see where it goes let s go back to the idea that in business you have to accept the fact that nobody wants to hear anything you have to say that is not accepted by most people even after i say it so once you understand that and once you truly believe it there s essentially four ways to keep people listening to you in any story really but especially in business because really no one wants to listen to you in business. So the first is stakes which we ve really talked about already you have to have stakes in every good product story and. Every good powerpoint everything there are stakes and they re set out and exactly the way i ve described all five of the stakes that i ve described to you that i use in that story charity thief can also be used in every business story every powerpoint deck every entrepreneur pitch everything so stakes is one of them another one we ve talked about is surprise i should absolutely be surprised in every talk that you give steve jobs was a master of it. We could look at one of his talks and i could show you how he planned it perfectly some others include suspense so keeping an audience in suspense and often suspense leads to surprise so mastering the ability to be suspenseful and then humor daring to be funny which no one in corporate america can do everyone wants to be funny every person i ve ever met who i ve worked with every business person in some way wanted to be funny but that s really not actually what they want they want to have been funny because being funny means you must take a risk you must say something that you believe is funny and you expect an audience to also feel it s funny. And if it doesn t happen that hurts so people oftentimes tell me they want to be funny. But when i tell them how they need to be funny they say well i can t say that.

Using humor in business storytelling

So i was working with a guy sort of an executive at a company that you interact with every day he was delivering a talk at the javits center and he was going to be funny. We built in a talk lots of jokes he was ready to go he went to the javits center and four hours later he called me. And i said how d it go. He said i pulled out all the jokes i said why did you pull out all the jokes he said the first two speakers weren t. Funny at all i felt like if i went on stage. And i was funny. I was going to stick out like a sore thumb i said no you were going to rise from the ashes like a phoenix that everyone has been waiting to hear all day it s the best thing in the world to follow two terrible people and then go out there and land some jokes. But again he thought i have to stay within the confines of the herd rather than doing something different. But humor is a brilliant and beautiful and simple way to differentiate yourself from other people but you have to be willing to try to do it s a scary thing for people. But i say it stakes it s surprise. It s suspense. And it s humor those are the ways that you re going to stakes it s surprise it s suspense. And it s humor those are the ways that you re going to hold people and keep them listening. And if you re not engaged in one of those four things while you re speaking people are not listening to you anymore. This episode is brought to you by vanta helping you streamline your security compliance to accelerate your growth thousands of fast growing companies like gusto calm cora and modern treasury trust vanta to help build scale manage and demonstrate their security and compliance programs and get ready for audits in weeks not months by offering the most in demand security and privacy frameworks such as soc iso gdpr hipaa and many more vanta helps companies obtain the reports they need to accelerate growth build efficient compliance processes mitigate risks to their businesses and build trust with external stakeholders over fast growing companies use vanta to automate up to of the work involved with soc and these other frameworks for a limited time lenny s podcast listeners get off vanta go to vanta com lenny that s v a n t.

Advice for adding humor

Which i was going to ask what do you tell people to become more funny what are some tricks. Well i have currently strategies to be funny some are better for business than others i will give you two that we can use in business all the time the first one you can use is nostalgia because nostalgia is always funny. The fact that the first vcr i had was pounds and had a remote control attached by a cord that was thick enough that i could trip my brother as he walked through the living room is funny. The fact that i grew up and no one was allergic to anything. And we all ate bread packed with gluten and baked in asbestos factories and no one ever wore a helmet while they rode their bike all of these things can be made to be funny. And it s so easy in business because oftentimes you are rolling out a new product or a new service or you re updating a product or service in a way that allows you to speak nostalgically about the past i was working with this company and they failed me. They did not listen to my advice which was a mistake they re like an indeed company they re helping find employees for companies they re one of these people and i wanted to start their narrative with the idea of in the primary source of employment was a year old kid riding on the back of a schwinn throwing newspapers at doors and in that newspaper which was like a paper version of the internet you would turn to the back page and on that page there was the help wanted ads and that was essentially all you had to find a job in everything was geographically based meaning you only could look into three or four towns around you to find a job. And it had to be in the paper. And you had to own a phone connected to a wall so you could call a company within business hours and hope to get an interview all of the power lived with the employers in and a year old who was dropping a newspaper off at your porch every day that s funny. Again i didn t even try to be funny with it i just stated the facts we could have punched that up and made it really funny. And then we flip the script again the opposites in story in the beginning employers had all the power today employees have all the power because today you can work in singapore or chattanooga while you re living in orlando and today you don t have to wait for a year old to deliver the paper with all of your job opportunities every single job opportunity on the planet is now accessible to you on the internet. And you can work basically anywhere from anywhere so that s why we need companies like indeed or the company i was working for because they have to actually gain some power for the employers so that was the narrative we were going to tell and the beginning would ve been funny. And the ceo of the company said i don t like it. He said nobody cares about the s which was the dumbest thing he could have said because stranger things was the biggest television show on television at the time which was nothing but in s. And if he just looked around he would see that s fashion is coming back s music is being popularized again we re remaking s music all the time taylor swift put out an album called whether or not the s are relevant or not it s relevant to talk about the past as a company to demonstrate your expertise in your field to understand that we know the market backwards and forwards for the last years we have expertise and we can demonstrate it by telling a story so that s the power of nostalgia and we can use that all the time in business to make people laugh the other one i l give you again there s a whole bunch but a simple one is a game they used to play on sesame street which is one of these things that s not like the other. Essentially it s three things two of them are expected and one is unexpected and the unexpected one will be funny. So you can say like well my competitor they have this my hardware competitor the guy down the street he does sell shovels just like i do that s true. And he does offer a wide selection of nails just like i do. But there s a nameless faceless machine at the front of the store that you have to swipe your own stuff through and your credit card there s not actually a human being in the store. And we can make that funny by showing that the third one is unlike the other two. So it s essentially a simple game once i ve told it to you l see every comic do it all the time they just say thing that s expected thing that s expected unexpected thing and you make it funny. So it s a simple trick that we use in business all the time this is awesome. This list you re talking about is this going to be in your new book that you re writing not all of them because some are not the best business ones in the world but a large number of them i think i maybe have the top that work best in business in terms of humor. But you can just take a humor class i teach humor all the time i teach all strategies it s something that can be practiced the beautiful thing is so often many of the strategies that i offer in business if it doesn t end up being funny you re still telling a story it s not a ba bum ching joke we re not telling those jokes we re telling humor in the confines of a story so that if this joke doesn t land we re still telling a story and oftentimes people don t even realize we were trying to be funny i m going to come back to where story can.

An example of how storytelling helped a biotech company sell product

Help you in your work so obviously giving a public talk is the classic way to use this maybe giving a powerpoint deck in a meeting is there any other maybe non obvious places that you think this skill can help you in that s not just like hey everyone welcome to my. Well i ve worked with a lot of scientists in biotech and places like that i worked with a biotech company five of their scientists were going to a conference. And essentially it s a company that sells tubes all of their competitors sell a tube for experiments and you have to retrofit the tube to fit your needs the company. I was working with they sell different versions of the tube better sized so you don t have to retrofit it much more expensive but the reliability of your experiments are improved by using their properly sized tubes. So i prepare all the scientists and they all do a good job they all tell stories of some sort and they go off to their conference one guy though doesn t present any data whatsoever. He just tells a story he tells a story about going to the grocery store and when he goes to the grocery store his family is really annoying when it comes to apples because everyone likes a different apple. So he s got to go and he is got to buy three honeycrisp for his wife and two gala for his daughter. And they re baking a pie this week so they got to get some mcintosh. And he likes red delicious. He said it s a nightmare buying these apples so he tells that story about the nightmare of buying apples and then he says that s what my company does there are companies that say we offer mcintosh make do with it you re going to make your pies you re you re going to eat it all of the things that you want to do with an apple all you get is mcintosh good luck. We believe you should have access to all the apples we believe that you have particular needs and specific requirements and we re going to make sure you have it just like my family gets all the apples they want it s all he said a longer version of it. But that s it. No data he got more leads at the conference than the other four scientists combined now the vice president of marketing was not happy about this at all when i met i met with her because she s a scientist. She s years old for her entire life she s been sending scientists to conferences and presenting data. And she said to me. So what am i going to do send scientists to conferences now and not present data. And i said well i mean maybe because it worked. And she said well what about the data i said now that he has the leads you don t think they re going to want the data he s going to get on the phone and they re going to say tell us about the data. But now they ve established a connection and the best thing about that story the thing she didn t even understand was every single time someone at that conference goes into a grocery store now and they re looking at apples they re going to think about that company. And it s a positive feeling that they re going to have about that company if they have forgotten to call. But they meant to call when they re picking out a honeycrisp at the grocery store they re going to make a note. Oh right i got to call that company and look into the tubes that they sell we create positive connections with items in the world related to our company by telling stories and that means we ve built advertising into people s lives without them even being aware that we ve done it.

Advice for people who don’t want to become storytellers

You touched on this two way approach one is you have a problem let me think of a story to help me solve this problem versus i m going to become a storyteller come up with this whole brick wall of stories. And then i l deploy them. You said that the first approach is not something you d recommend. I imagine most people are probably going to be in that bucket like i don t want to be a storyteller i just want to solve my problems and stories can sometimes help me there so maybe in that bucket do you have any advice for how to find a story that somehow helps you with that problem on demand or is it just like that is not going to work you re not going to think of a story every time you have some problem i think sometimes you will i have a company that calls me metaphor man they call me essentially and say i get that we ve added a boring feature to our boring platform and we need to make people understand what it does will you give us the metaphor we need they don t understand that i m not really generating metaphors i am just taking stories from my life pulling myself out of the story. And if you take yourself out of a story often what s left is a metaphor a simile an example. And then i just offer that to them. And i tell them if you just use some of my storytelling generating techniques you could do the same thing. But they re a bandaid company. They just want me to fix things. And i understand that if you re trying to do it the best way to tell a story about something that you want people to understand is to do what i call speaking with adjacency which means we re not going to match content to content instead we re going to match theme meaning or message so that scientist for example he wasn t talking about tubes he was talking about how people deserve to get what they want in life his family deserves to get the apples they want and you as a business deserves to get the tubes that you want but so often in business what people think is content to content. Well i got to find a way to talk about these tubes to make people understand how important they are. And i say well let s not talk about the tubes let s talk about something else instead. And then we re going to move what we were talking about over two tubes we are going to snap it in place that snap when someone realizes you were telling me about apples. But really you were telling me about tubes that snap is so powerful i use it with students all the time a student acts like a fool gets in trouble sitting at my desk i m not talking about their behavior i m telling a story that they have no idea why i am telling them the story they re like i m in trouble why is he telling me about his dog why is he telling me a story about his dog when he was because i m going to snap it into place because i m not talking about content theme meaning or message so when they come to me and they say here s what we ve got i m not thinking about the thing i m thinking about what is the theme they want to convey or the meaning that they want to convey or the message they want to convey and what story do i have that will match that or what story can i get out of them the scientist did not come to me with the apple story the scientist came to me with the tubes. And i said well it sounds like you re a company that wants to give people what they need let s find a story in your life about a time when you have to give people something that they need. And we brainstormed it. And when we landed on apples i knew we had it because he was going to be able to talk about i m a father i m a husband. I m the husband who takes apple orders from his family before going to the grocery store i m going to be able to be funny because befuddled husbands in grocery stores are always funny. So it wasn t that he came to me with a story i came to him with the idea of let s look at theme meaning and message and then snap it over to the tubes that s what we want to do when we re putting a band aid on we don t want to think about what we re talking about we want to think about the feelings we want people to have about what we re talking about. Amazing. Okay. So the advice here essentially is you re trying to find a story to tell about something to help you convince someone of something you want to think about what is the theme of this problem that i have what is the meaning behind it and what is the message. Yeah usually one of those. Yeah. And then you also touched back on make something in the story relate to something personal about you so that people are like. Oh i m a runner too. I got to pay attention to this guy. Or i m shopping i shop all the time for apples. Yes see so we re stacking strategies which is a really good thing to do so we re pulling in all of the things i ve talked about and it really makes for a powerful moment for people and a memorable moment because the most important thing is that we re becoming memorable we are in a conference amongst other scientists and we re actually the one who s being remembered so that was the band aid approach then there s.

The power of β€œHomework for Life”

The way you recommend it was just build a bank of stories i imagine this is where the homework for life framework you recommend comes from so maybe let s transition talk about that because i think that has a lot of benefits beyond even just coming up with a bunch of story ideas. Yeah. It s the most important thing that i teach whether or not you re ever going to speak in your life if you plan on being a hermit and going off into the woods and never speaking to someone again you should be doing homework for life regardless it s a process i came up with maybe years ago now essentially when i began telling stories on stages i fell in love with it immediately. And i got worried that i was going to run out of stories i saw a lot of storytellers on stages performing and they would tell the same stories every time and i didn t want to be that guy i wanted to have a brand new story every time i took the stage so in a fit of panic i decided to assign myself homework being an elementary school teacher it s natural for me to have that inclination. So i just decided every day before i go to bed i m going to look back on the day and find one moment that would ve been worth telling as a story even if it wasn t really worth telling i was going to write it down. Now i don t write the whole thing down that s. Crazy. It s not doable what i do is i took an excel spreadsheet two columns the date. And then i stretched the b column across and in that b column essentially the length of the computer screen that s where i write my story my goal was i find one new moment per month new stories per year that would be amazing instead something far more amazing happens i discovered that my life is filled with more stories than i will ever have time to tell and i m not a unicorn thousands of people all over the world are doing the same thing right now and discovering that their lives are filled with stories moments like eileen which years ago i would ve forgotten that moment within days and now i ve held onto it because it s going to be a homework for life moment. So i start writing those moments down. And i discovered that i m developing a lens for storytelling i see the moments that i did not see before in fact i just did some analysis for my new book in the first year i did homework for life i found moments per day so you can find more than one eventually i started recording more than one so moments per day i now find moments per day it s not because my life is more interesting it s because i have a better lens and i understand what to look for what to see and what is worth remembering. So i ve become a person who has an endless number of stories like boris does homework for life. It s why whenever we meet he s got three new stories to tell me. And then we work on the stories and then figure out the business applications for them so it s so important because what we do is we throw our lives away people say that time flies and it doesn t what happens is it goes by unaccounted if you can only remember days of in a year of course time flies because you had and you only remember it s going to feel like it went by quickly it s not going by quickly you re just failing to account for each day and each day has something worth remembering homework for life is the acknowledgement that every single day should have something the prompt that i actually use for myself is this i say if someone kidnapped my family and said you can t have them back until you stand on a stage and tell a story about something that happened today what would you tell that was what i would think in my head every night and then i would write it down to be honest nowadays i m not sitting down at the end of the day and writing them all down i m recording them as the day goes on my laptop is around me my phone is around me when i hear something my son says a bit of dialogue i can t believe he just said i see something for the first time or the last time or a stray thought enters my mind i have a new thought that i had not occurred before all of those become moments for homework for life not everyone becomes a story i did some analysis on this too about of the things that i write down ultimately either become a story or a part of a story but the other it s just as valuable because i m holding onto my days and the other amazing thing that happens is once you start doing this you l crack open. And all of the stories that you ve left from the past the ones you ve forgotten they l start to rise up they l bubble up. And i include those in my homework for life too as memories because once you start looking through the lens of storytelling you see something like you see eileen find confidence and suddenly your brain connects to other students or moments in your life or moments in your children s life where confidence was an issue. And you think oh that s. Right. It s just like that kid. And now i have another moment that i ve recovered from the past a day has returned to me. It enters my homework for life and suddenly i have more stories than i ever have time to tell and it s not just me like i said thousands of people all over the world my own children and my students do homework for life and all of them will tell you it s the most valuable thing that you can do. And i think you touched on this. It s not just to collect a bunch of stories there s a therapeutic element to this too that you talk about. Yeah. Absolutely many therapeutic elements first is you re recovering your time and slowing time down which is beautiful. My kids are and thank goodness. I started homework for life just about when clara was first born because they feel and to me they don t feel like they were just born yesterday which for a lot of parents they do lots of parents say things. Like oh my god you re not going to believe what my kids said i got to write it down. But nobody writes it down you re not going to believe what my kid said is in homework for life for me. So i m holding onto the moments stretching out time you also start to do things like you start to see patterns in your life that you don t realize unless you really think about your life. And i think you should storytellers tend to be slightly self centered in a positive way meaning we afford ourselves time to think about ourselves you start to see patterns if you start doing this. So i think what i talk about in my book is i always tell people my wife and i never fight we ve never raised our voices to each other we really don t ever argue. But i noticed in my homework for life a moment when she had asked me to put in the air conditioners before i had central air in the house. And i hated it i hated it because we agreed to never buy a house without central air. And every year the air conditioners somehow get heavier. I don t understand the physics behind it. But every year it s worse. And she always asks on the degree day. Hey can you put the air conditioners in. And there was a day when i was like. No i m not going to do it s really hot. And she was like. Okay no problem. And then minutes later i m in the basement pulling them out complaining grumbling arguing only to myself banging them on purpose so she can hear she s like what s going on. I m. Like i m putting in the air conditioners. So that becomes a homework for life moment. And then a month later she asks me to mow the lawn on a degree day. And i said i m not going to mow the lawn i m busy. And it s really hot. And she goes. Okay no problem maybe tomorrow. And then i sit for a while and i stew. And then i m mowing the lawn. But i m doing it aggressively i m running and just angrily mowing the lawn. And when i see these patterns i suddenly go oh i do fight with my wife on my own i fight in a way that she s not aware i m doing it i yell at her through chores and she s not aware that it s even happening that becomes a story that couples love they think it s hilarious. You also start to see stories that you would ve never seen so it was a day last may when the neighbors to my left and the neighbors to my right came over to the house and had a cookout the first one of the year. And that was a day when i didn t find anything in the day i had one moment which is very unusual for me. And i remember thinking really all you got is you had a cookout with the neighbors that s the best you got it s not even really a story. But it was the best i had so i wrote it down. And i moved on about four months later the neighbors to our left announced they were getting divorced it devastated us because they have two kids we ve got this big communal backyard with the three houses three boys to the right two kids to the left friends couldn t believe it that they re getting divorced known each other since high school we just never saw it coming one day later neighbors to the right announced they re getting divorced left and right within a day of each other. And it becomes a story about how you never understand what s going on in a marriage unless you re in that house. But i don t have that moment in may when there were three couples on a porch one of them was happy i thought all three were happy i don t get that moment unless i m doing homework for life and i write it down. And now i see a trajectory of a story i have the opposite now i actually have an opposite moment which is i m serving hot dogs to people i think are happy but they re only pretending to be happy for our sake. And then they re returning to their homes to discord and eventually to disillusion of a marriage so homework for life gives you all of that you don t normally have in life because we tend to live day by day and we leave that last day behind i got tingles listening to that story.

Practical tips for starting Homework for Life

For someone that s now motivated to try this i know there s a template that we l link to in the show notes where you give people it s very simple. But i think seeing it will be helpful but what s something someone could do tonight to start on this process and maybe set a habit to do how do you actually go about doing this well they have to start homework for life. And i have a ted talk about it that i go on for minutes about. So i suggest watching it because you l just get more than what i just told you and i think that s important. And you have to decide to do it every single day even on the day when the best you have is a cookout if that s all you got that s what you got and you write it down. You have to have some faith too that it s going to happen over time. Remember i started with and now i m up to and that s over more than years it takes for me to make that jump so in the beginning you re not going to be very good at it you re not going to see the right things and that s just the way it is if i go back to my original homework for life i see myself looking for stories and you re not really looking for stories you re just looking for moments that touch your heart touch your mind that s all you re really hoping for and some of those will become stories so you ve got to start homework for life right away. And then if you can just find some people who are willing to listen and begin telling some stories that s really helpful because most people are unwilling to listen there s not a lot of good listeners in the world everyone says they re a great listener but active listening is a skill that most people do not possess in any way whatsoever. But if you find people who are willing to listen you got to start telling stories you got to start practicing in meaningful ways and your first stories aren t going to be great but the good news is most people s stories are terrible most storytelling in the world is not very good. So if you put a little thought into what you re about to say you re going to be better because storytelling is not about facility with the language or your vocabulary it s all about decision making that s all it is storytellers are people who think before they speak they make strategical tactical decisions before they speak. And ultimately they make enough good decisions to entertain people ultimately no matter what you re doing whether i am teaching a fifth grader how to behave better or presenting a new product for a large company or helping someone deliver an all hands the first and most important thing you have to be is entertaining you have to entertain or people will not listen to you. So you got to practice you got to get reps i want to talk about public speaking skills but just to close the loop on that. So if someone was trying to do this homework for life exercises the idea would you recommend at night before they go to sleep open up google sheets on their phone and just add something is there something else you d recommend. No. Yeah. That s what i would do although ideally as you go through no. Yeah that s what i would do. Although ideally as you go through the day things get forgotten quickly your son says something hilarious and by the end of the night you can t remember what it was. So if you can start sort of tracking it through the day a little bit maybe you make it a habit where at lunchtime you re going to ask yourself what happened that morning. And when you get home from work you re going to say what happened in the afternoon and then in the evening you re going to say what happened since then and then sort of take a whole view of the day and then be open to those memories allow them to come back i record them in my homework for life as memory sort of a capital m e m o r y. Because what happens is you start to build up so many homework for life memories that you get confused you re like what when did i see a deer. And then i go oh that s a story from when i was. But you get confused because it s sitting on when you re. Years old. So you mark them as memories you hold onto them you put them into spreadsheets because eventually you re going to want to move that data around and keep track of it in some meaningful way. But yeah get started today because if you don t you will lose today every day that you don t do homework for life is a day that is going to be lost to you forever and just very practically you recommend like google sheets i imagine is what you use i actually use old fashioned excel. But yes google sheets would work too because i started so long ago right excel was the thing i used and excel is the thing i still use i mean it s backed up in places because it s the most precious thing i have other than my wife and children cats. But yeah that s what i would suggest to use awesome. Okay just a couple more questions before our very exciting lightning round in your book you say that you ve only been nervous.

Dealing with nervousness in public speaking

Twice on stage giving a story most people i don t know is that. Yeah that s true i m. Like. Okay i can remember the two times it was. Yeah it was ptsd related and seth meyers cost of ticket. Related. Oh i remember that story. Yeah. Okay. So most people are not like you most people are nervous including me every single time i get on stage tell a story what advice do you give people to help them get better with the nerves of getting on stage and telling a story classically it s the thing people fear most in life. Well the first thing you have to understand is that of your nervousness is actually before you begin speaking once you begin speaking almost all of your nervousness falls away. And that is the experience of most people. So what you re really suffering is from pre talk nervousness. And when you find that out that s kind of a relief because if you do it enough someone just spoke in the netherlands and today i m waiting to find out how it went he spoke it for the florida state legislature same topic and he was really nervous about going into today he was also really nervous speaking to a bunch of scientists in the netherlands. But i told him i said after you began speaking in the netherlands once the talk began how nervous were you. And he said oh actually when i began speaking i was. Pretty. Okay. I was incredibly nervous before the talk. And i said well that makes sense so if you own the fact or you believe the fact that oh most of my nervousness comes before the talk. But once i start speaking i m pretty good. That s really relieving for a lot of people because what we imagine is that we re nervous while we re talking which is often not the case particularly if you re kind of prepared if you know what you re talking about so be aware that most of your nervousness happens before you speak and that s a normal thing and you re just going to have to accept that until some day when perhaps it starts to go away through repetition through continued performance on a stage for some people they re always nervous i was performing with i won t say her name. But someone who you have watched on television before and we were both backstage. And i was chatting up the room. And she finally said to me this very famous person would you stop talking because the rest of us are trying to keep information in our head and stay calm i m a terrible person backstage because i m always calm i never care. So i have to sort of sequester myself from these people because i torture them. But once she began speaking all of her nerves fell away so that s a good thing to know the other thing to know that s really great is everyone s nervous except for me. I m the only monster in the world. So if you re feeling nervous you re just like everyone else including a very famous person who you see on tv all the time that person was nervous you re nervous you re in the same camp right you re in the same boat and then preparation is going to reduce your level of nervousness one of the things that i tell people to do that is most helpful. Is it s good to practice your talk or practice your pitch whatever you re doing but one of the best ways to prepare for it is to record it and listen to it listen to it passively listen to it while your grocery shopping listen to it while you re folding laundry doing the dishes what happens is i really believe this as you start to listen to it over and over again it just sort of seeps into your soul. And so it becomes part of you i have done this technique i ve told a story a decade ago haven t told it since someone hears it on youtube and says hey can you tell that story at our event i say. Yes i can listen to it once. And it comes right out again because i allowed it to sort of sink into my memory in the same way that when harry met sally has sunk into your wife s memory she can replay that movie in her mind probably perfectly if you listen to your talk enough you will get to the point where you can retell it with ease the other thing you can do is some active listening with it most people don t forget their talk. They forget the transitions in their talk. So i m talking about this. But then i got to transition to this then i got to transition to this. So when i m listening to my stories or a talk that i m going to give i m playing a game with myself. So i m listening and i go. Oh okay. This is closing out and the next thing i have to talk about is this and then the next thing i have to talk about is this. And if i don t know what i m going to if i m like. Ooh what am i going to next that s where i go oh i got to create a mnemonic there i got to create a bit of memorization there to train myself for that transition once you re in a new section of a talk even if you re following it up a little you re going to be okay because you re like. Oh i got to talk about the data related to the this or. The that. And if it doesn t come out perfectly you still know what you re talking about but what happens when you re done with the data related to this or that you go ah damn what am i supposed to do next. Right. So we re working on building those transitions before a talk or before a story let s say i will do something like i m going to start in the car. And then i m going to get out into the store. And then i m going to head out to the parking lot. And then i m going to be in the park. And then it s. Three weeks later. I don t tell myself the story i m just bouncing between the scenes because once i know the scenes and i know. Okay there s seven scenes and here they are and here s the transitions again if i follow up each scene that s okay because i m going to get the information out it might not come out as perfectly as i hoped you also if you can avoid memorizing that l save you a ton of suffering because memorizers they re the most tortured souls in the world so avoid that if all possible remember your talk without memorizing your talk.

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