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The Storyteller's Secret

Carmine Gallo

(NZ Herald)

Carmine Gallo knows how to tell a good story. He worked as a journalist for 15 years, became a bestselling author, and then started working as a communications coach and educational speaker. He recently published a new book called The Storyteller's Secret, which is all about how the art of storytelling can enhance your career and life. I interviewed the Californian-based writer over Skype to find out more about campfires, connecting with people, and spinning yarns to develop professionally.

In his latest book Gallo explores how famous leaders have utilised storytelling to get ahead. Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson is studied as he does something rather peculiar. Apparently big-shot-Branson physically sits around a campfire with his staff and shares stories. It seems odd, but Branson believes these cosy encounters bond people in a pure, "virgin" way, and eventually drive change.

Steve Jobs was another strong supporter of the power of storytelling. But rather than huddling around a fire roasting marshmallows, Jobs presented his new products in the form of stories. He would never just explain the features of an invention. Instead, during his launches Jobs would say what the world was like, what major problems existed, and how his sleek, overpriced tech gear would solve that issue.

He connected with people's inner desires through storytelling, and apparently every 5-year-old iPad warrior was listening very carefully.

Whether you are trying to sell an item, a company, or yourself, Gallo believes framing your sales pitch in the form of a story is the best way to do it. One real life example Gallo told me that is not in his book is of a 25-year-old in the States, who applied for a bunch of high-level IT jobs in San Francisco after only completing an 11-week computing course. His resume was rejected by almost everyone, but when he finally scored an interview, he got the job. Why? Not because of his experience or technical expertise, but because of his communication skills. Like Jobs, this man shared the company's story, introduced a problem, and then said how he could solve the issue. It worked like a charm, and he started that job on double his previous salary.

So how are these amazing, career-enhancing stories actually crafted? According to Gallo, in Hollywood most films are split into three acts. In act one the characters are introduced, which makes you care about the story. Gallo used the film Titanic as an example, as most of the movie simply showcases the love between the two leads. Then there's act two -- the conflict, or when the ship goes down. Act three is the conclusion, which is usually somewhat happy or satisfying. Gallo said humans are hard wired to like positive conclusions, so always give a happily-ever-after ending to your yarns. As even though Jack died in the end, Rose still survived, making the tale somewhat bittersweet and enjoyable. Titanic is a reasonably successful story, so it's probably safe to base your tales around its structure.

Another type of story people universally enjoy is the "rags to riches" narrative. Gallo says successful business leaders share their personal stories of hardship whenever they can. They do this to make people like them, because for some reason people always root for the underdog, no matter how rocky their odds may seem. Gallo recommends sharing your own personal stories of struggle at job interviews. But make them powerful and well rehearsed; don't just start crying about your deceased childhood pet.

In fact any story you tell should be extremely well practiced. Remember that 25-year-old IT dude? He rehearsed that company's story for eight hours before the interview. Some TED speakers have gone through their speech nearly 200 times before they take to the world stage. They get their presentations so polished they can speak clearly and beautifully, even with a stadium full of nerves in their belly.

Which brings me to Gallo's next point: delivery. When it comes to communicating, it's not what you say, but how you say it. Ever had a science teacher who somehow managed to make astronomy uninteresting? It's a topic filled with much mystery and wonder, but when packaged in a dull way, it can make your head become a black hole of boredom. Yet someone else could talk about rubbish removal trucks and hold an audience in absolute awe. That is the brilliance of speaking captivatingly and to do that, all you need is passion.

Gallo believes the most important quality any human could have is passion. When someone is absolutely obsessed with a topic, they study it continually and talk about it with anyone who will listen to them. Through this they become knowledgeable about the subject and therefore interesting to listen to. They are also able to deliver their message with a burning sense of energy and as Gallo says, "You need to be inspired to inspire others".

But why do well crafted, rehearsed, and vigorously expressed stories make our hearts flutter? According to anthropologists, fire has a lot to do with it. Gallo says that when fire was first discovered, it extended the day. This gave people extra time to share important information about their lives. Our ancestors would exchange grunts about how to hunt more efficiently and better deal with threats. They would also communicate personal insights, igniting each other's imaginations and curiosity. These stories saved people's lives and aided our evolutionary process, which may be why people are naturally inclined to enjoy stories.

To conclude, Gallo said, "Every great entrepreneur is a great storyteller, and that's not my advice, that's Richard Branson's advice, and he's a lot more successful than I am!".

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