There is no question about the power of a good story to touch minds and hearts, and thus move people to action. A good story emotionally transports you. You inject yourself into the story. You empathize with the characters. You love them or hate them, but either way you find yourself rooting for something to happen to the character. A good story makes you want to retell it to others.
Good designers, writers, and speakers know this, and are adept at exploiting the power of story in their craft. Only recently, though, has the importance of a central role and knack for storytelling in the broader context of general business come to the fore in books and articles of a "how to" nature.
When one of those books is by an individual who personally produced, or executive-produced, film stories such as Rain Man, Batman, The Color Purple, Midnight Express, Gorillas in the Mist, The Jacket, Into the Blue, The Witches of Eastwick, The Deep, Missing and Flashdance, you might want to read it.
When that book happens to also be written by an incredibly successful, highly visible personality and serial CEO/entrepreneur, the book becomes a must-read.
Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story, by Peter Guber, is just such a book.
I received an advance copy of the book, which will be published March 1 (but is available now for pre-order). It's a personal memoir disguised as a business narrative, jam-packed with private anecdotes and experiences with superstars in business, sports, and entertainment. It's also a fun read with some good advice on building your storytelling ability.
I'm usually not attracted to empty buzzwords, but when a meme with meaning comes along, I pay attention. "Emotional transportation" is just such a concept, and the big idea in Tell to Win. Emotional transportation happens through "purposeful stories," defined as those created with a specific mission in mind. Purposeful stories are absolutely essential if you want to engage people, capture their emotions, and motivate new behaviors.
"Today everyone -- whether they know it or not -- is in the emotional transportation business," writes Guber. "More and more, success is won by creating compelling stories that have the power to move partners, shareholders, customers, and employees to action. Simply put, if you can't tell it, you can't sell it."
Woven throughout the narrative is the Peter Guber story. Guber is the founder and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, and the proud new co-owner of the NBA's Golden State Warriors. Prior to Mandalay, Guber was chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, co-Owner of the Guber-Peters Entertainment Company, chairman and CEO of Polygram, co-Founder of Casablanca Record & Filmworks, and president of Columbia Pictures.
The "voices" in Tell to Win are a broad and deep cornucopia of drop-worthy names, the likes of which generally need no introduction: Chris Anderson, Magic Johnson, Michael Jackson, Wolfgang Puck, Norma Kamali, Pat Riley, Bill Clinton, Michael Milken, Tim Burton, Barry Levinson, Nelson Mandela, Mark Burnett, Nora Robers, Anderson Cooper, Steven Spielberg, Susan Estrich, Arianna Huffington, and about six dozen others, all talking about plying the power of story to achieve success.
At the end of each chapter, there's a recap of key takeaways entitled "aHHa!" which Guber explains as "your story's moment of truth... when your 'ah' meets your listener's 'ha!'" Here's a sampling of my favorites:
- Stories make facts and figures memorable, resonant, and actionable. Data dumps are not stories -- dump them, don't tell them!
- Your firsthand or witnessed experience is the best raw material for your story.
- How to build a story: First, get your listener's attention with an unexpected challenge or question; then, deliver an emotional experience by narrating the struggle to overcome that challenge or answer the question; finally, ignite their response with an eye-opening resolution that calls them to action.
- Get your audience to step into your hero's shoes.
- Heroes come in all shapes and sizes -- teller, listener, customer, product, location, and tribe; choose the hero that fits your goal.
- Successful stories turn "me" to "we." Show you've got skin in the game -- align interests.
- To tell a great story, make preparation your partner.
- The context in which you tell your story colors the story you tell.
- Be dialed in; your listener's prejudices can hijack even your best story.
- Bring high energy -- the catalyst for great story telling.
- Choose carefully the props, tools and resources that support your tell.
- Be ready and willing to drop your script when the situation calls for it -- and it always calls for it.
- Surrender control and proprietorship of your story; your audience has to own it to tell it forward.
- Create a multiplier effect. Find the core audience who can be apostles for your message and encourage them to tell your story through the power of their own words.
Among all the characters and dialogue and first-person anecdotes, you'll find some very insightful and practical writing, which is far more impressive than all the big names combined. For example, in a section entitled "Express Authentic, Contagious Energy" (page 177):
"If you're telling a story you don't believe in, your audience will sense it instantly. They'll feel it and act on that feeling, even if they can't justify their feeling in words. The good news is that they will pick up just as instantly on your genuine enthusiasm and conviction. You don't need to stand on your head or shout or sing to show that your passion is real. You just need to let yourself feel it instead of suppressing it. Authentic energy is contagious. If your story truly excites you, and you let that excitement show, it will resonate with your audience.
"How do you convey energy or enthusiasm for a product if the product's not so great, or if you're number three or four in the market? Unfortunately, for many businesspeople, that's reality. But it's not an insurmountable problem. The trick is to find something about the product or service that does excite you, even if it's something as small as the color of the item or the look of the service's website. Then focus on the aspect of your story that makes you fell genuinely enthusiastic."
What People Are Saying:
"If anyone knows how to survive in business, it's Peter. This book is a manual for that. It gives you the two keys to success -- first, everything starts with a good story, and second, don't drop names (actually Frank Sinatra told me that)." -- George Clooney.
You can see Peter Guber on the weekly national TV show, "In The House," on Encore, and every Friday on Fox Business News as a media & entertainment analyst. You can connect with him through his Facebook page and Twitter.
Matthew E. May is the author of The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change. You can find him on Facebook here, and you can follow him on Twitter @matthewemay.