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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Mahfuz

E112. Build 3-Minute Stories That Sell with Dan Manning



Below is an AI-generated transcript and therefore it may contain errors.


Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

Welcome to the Storypowers Podcast, the show about the power of stories, the people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco mahfuz. My guest today is Dan Manning. Dan is a former fighter pilot turned chief story architect at build the story where he helps founders, coaches and consultants tell real life stories. Now apart from our love for storytelling, there's something else Dan and I have in common, his favourite clients shout obscenities at him and cry, which is pretty close to the effect that I have on most of my friends and family. So I'm sure we'll have lots to talk about, ladies and gentleman than many, then welcome to the show.


Dan Manning 0:43

Thanks so much. I'm really glad that we can get a chance to talk. Thank you.


Francisco Mahfuz 0:46

All right. So one of the things I don't do in this show, is asked people for their story and asked to take you all the way back in time. But there are particulars of your story that that I'm curious about. And the first one is to do with the fact that you were you were in the Air Force. Now, I gave a lecture a week or two ago about data storytelling lecture. And I'll actually I'll call it a lecture because it wasn't the NBA, it's not sort of funny word for a talk. So first of all, data storytelling. And one of the things I used in that lecture as a visual was a slide that got somewhat famous a few years back as perhaps the worst slide in the world, from I think it was the Pentagon. And it's one that General Stanley McChrystal shared from Afghanistan. And I think he famously said, the moment we you know, when we understand this light will win the war. So what I wanted to ask you was, was that type of thing, typical of the level of presentation and communication skills that you generally found there? Or was there some inkling that some people had some idea about storytelling and some of this other fun stuff that you now talk about?


Dan Manning 1:58

Yeah, that's a great question. Right? So it, there's multiple parts to that answer, like one it is 100% true that our ability to communicate inside the Department of Defence is not the best that the messages are obscured, that people don't necessarily get to the point that the images that get presented are cumbersome and almost impossible for any audience to sort of figure out. But it's not because people aren't smart, or aren't motivated or don't want to communicate, it's all these other like cognitive illusions that sort of cover up those things. Right? There's this idea that to be professional, it's just the facts. Right, and that the more facts I present, the more professional I am. But what what you know, and what, what I do, and the people that I work with know, are that it's not about what you say, it's about what actually gets into the mind of your audience. And that if that's your concern, then stories are the way to go. And that you can tell a story that sort of wraps those facts in a way that just goes down easy for your for your audience. But there are these huge, like mental barriers between people at the Pentagon that are trying to breathe and trying to be professional, and trying to communicate and not speak in acronyms and just speak English words, instead of, you know, a bunch of a bunch of letters, those cognitive illusions prevent them from being good communicators. But as soon as they walk out of that room, everyone that I've met has a great story to tell. And they'll tell those stories, and they'll share them, you know, over a cup of coffee or walking down the hall or just separately in the office. And they communicate so much more effectively there than they do when they actually go up. And they're standing in front of a PowerPoint presentation. So it's this weird dichotomy in the way that people people act in the the separation that they artificially create between themselves and effective communication.


Francisco Mahfuz 3:40

I've found that, of course, you're right, it is 100%, a cognitive illusion, this idea of being professional of what, what that type of audience wants the famous one that we hear all the time. I hear, I'm sure you hear too, which is people saying, oh, no, they just want the facts. They just want me to get to the point. But what I also think Is it there is the individual cognitive illusion, but a lot of the blame needs to lie as well with the culture. Because I what, what you've what I've found, and what you hear about as well is that some organisations have broken away from that type of presenting to some degree. You know, One famous example is Amazon and their narrative memos for the C suite meetings. And I know for a fact that that's also not the case for every part of the organisation with for the C suite, they don't allow slides in the presentations. But there is a big element of culture there. You know, if if you have a boss, who recognises that a lot of this typical ways of presenting are not terribly effective and says, I don't want that or I encourage you to do something different. I think it's more likely that people will break out of that argument of illusion, because I think, I think those two things blend together are the reason and not just the fact that people have this crazy idea in their heads about what works when it comes to communication, though.


Dan Manning 5:13

Yeah, I think you I think you're right. One of the challenges that that I had in the, in the airforce, I'm working in the Pentagon, I worked at the Pentagon for a total of, I think about four or five years, I was also a speechwriter for the undersecretary of the Air Force when I was there as well. But there's also not only is there this bias against telling stories, right, and this bias towards this idea of just presenting the facts, but there's also a bias against reading detailed memos, reading white papers, for instance. And part of that comes because people genuinely are, are not the best writers. And they're not so good about editing and really refining down, like what is the key message you need to communicate. So it's something that could be conveyed in one page, they'll send five pages, and now the the leaders get frustrated for reading you all that extra stuff, that doesn't matter, because people don't get to the point with the way that they react is by saying, I need your pretty much your three bullets that tell me your what I should do. If you can reduce this to a Facebook, thumbs up or thumbs down, that'd be perfect. So you just sort of like keep perpetuating this poor communication. And ultimately, there's only a couple of people even for some very big decisions that have actually like, read and thought about the decision that needs to be made. And we're really poor about communicating that in virtually every, every way that humans communicate.


Francisco Mahfuz 6:32

Something that is curious to me is how and this is this doesn't only apply to the Department of Defence, but applies to pretty much every organisation is that there are always parts of the organisation or at least relevant people in the organisation, that will be a lot better at this stuff. But that won't necessarily travel. So for example, in the Department of Defence, I know that Kendall Haven who was one of the first people to do any science, work with storytelling, a lot of the things we know today about the the impact of stories came from some of the work he did, and a lot of the work he did was for the Department of Defence more specifically to DARPA. So they were hiring him and people like him and us to some extent, to work in countering the interaction tactics with storytelling, but then you get to other parts of the organisation. And that knowledge and that acceptance of stories as a powerful tool hasn't quite gotten there. And you know, in companies, we see this all the time as well. There's, there's one boss, or a few bosses that are great storytellers themselves. Everyone else in the organisation sucks, but they think they cannot tell stories, because the leadership wouldn't accept it. It's, it's kind of maddening.


Dan Manning 7:52

It is. And there's also not just among the people, but also among the like the domain of the presentation. Because you mentioned I was a fighter pilot for a big part of my career. And a big part of being a fighter pilot is telling stories and their stories, not just because it's the thing that you do in the bar on a on a Friday night. But there is like genuine learning that happens from those stories. One of the things that we would say is I was a an instructor, and you're teaching people to fly. One of the common sayings was that you will never live long enough to make all the mistakes yourself, you have to learn from the mistakes of others. And the way that you learn from the mistakes of others, is through storytelling. So when you would go into the bar on a Friday night, whether you were a drinker or a non drinker, you were there to hear the stories from other people from the mistakes that they had made from the baby the few successes that they would, you know, that they would talk about when they were there. But then you incorporated that into your own learning into your own experience into what you were able to, to apply later. But then those same people would leave from that environment and go into a formal presentation and abandoned all of that great communication and all those lessons that they learned for some dry slides, some charts that nobody can read, and for print that's too small, and then believe that they've done a great job communicating,


Francisco Mahfuz 9:08

I guess that the secret to great communication. And perhaps the secret to wisdom is to put our lives at risk a little more often. Perhaps that our lives are too easy. For the most part. We're not we're not about to be killed, if we don't learn things fast enough. And this is why some of us are getting to the second or the second half of our lives, if not the last third of our lives, not knowing your great deal about this thing we're doing on this on this earth. No,


Dan Manning 9:41

yeah, I think that's me. I think it's right, you know, to to some extent, right that you have to get beyond what like people say is right, or what people say you should be doing or what people expect you to do. And then when you start finding yourself and you start doing the things that you want to do or You start realising that the most effective way to communicate is the way that your audience needs. Right? That is not about you, as a communicator, it's always about your audience and about the message you're trying to convey. And you just need to find the best, most effective way to get ideas from your brain, into your audience's brain and do whatever it takes to to make that happen.


Francisco Mahfuz 10:21

So I know that a lot of the work you did before he decided to focus on storytelling was to do with how to think better. So there are a couple of concepts that I wanted you to talk about a bit that I've come across from some of your writing, or some of the things I've heard you say in other in other podcasts. And one of them was this connection between critical thinking and cognitive load, and how they interact with stories.


Dan Manning 10:46

Yeah. So. So ultimately, when you when you go in for a presentation, generally, most of the people that I work with are driving to some decision, it even the the presentations that I would make in the in the military, I'm trying to help lead my lead my boss, to the place where they can make some decision about something. If you're an entrepreneur, maybe you're trying to get a customer to decide to buy, where you're trying to get an investor to decide to invest. Or even if you're just trying to build your team, you're trying to get other people to buy into your vision and say, Yes, I want to be a part of that. And I want to join this team. But the problem is, is that we often use up our audience's cognitive resources before we ever get to the decision point. And there's lots of research that shows that we have this limited amount of cognitive resources that we can devote to decision making. And decision fatigue is real. Right. There's several studies that show that, for instance, in like parole decisions, if you are up for a decision to be paroled or release from jail, and your your case is one of the last ones in the day, you're least likely to be paroled, you want to be early in the day when the decision fatigue hasn't, hasn't set in. But what we do as presenters who are not considering our audience and not simplifying our message, is we use up all those resources before we ever get to the, to the slide or to the question that says, you know, is this something that you that you want to do. And every time that I show a slide that has too many words, or a slide that isn't clear, or I give a call it like a factor lunch, right? It's like an avalanche of facts. Like here's fact one fact to factory, it's really hard for humans to hold on to those and to put them in context to understand what it means. And then when you get to the end, you asked for the decision, and there's just no energy left. There's no way to do that the way that stories help that out, is that story show up with context attached. Right? Every story that you tell has a context that's in it, whether you're talking about the the date, or the setting, or your feelings or the challenge what those problems were, what that change was, you're making it relevant to your audience, so that your audience is sort of inserting those pieces that you haven't provided them they're filling in for themselves, and the way that humans evaluate stories. Is that the end, right as a whole, like, does that story make sense? Do the characters do the things that we expect them to do? Does this story mean something for me in the decision that I want to make with facts all along the way, every fact I'm individually assessing, that takes time, it takes attention, it takes my attention away from the speaker, so I'll miss something else that they say, stories, just make it go down, go down easier, you can put all those facts into a story, you attach the context. And even if you just use a story to lead off your presentation, you give that full picture of what your audience needs to see, and just makes it easier by the time they get to the decision point they're not wrestling with, what's he saying they're wrestling with is this the thing I want to do?


Francisco Mahfuz 13:36

This might be a little evil. But I I've always given people the example of decision fatigue, the thing that happens to a lot of us every day, when it comes to what you eat, and how you spend the last few hours of your day. So the experience I've had and I think a lot of people have had as well is the hardest your day, the more likely that you're going to eat whatever you consider to be crap food. And you're going to watch something that is perhaps not very edifying on TV. So you know, you're more likely to ask for a pizza and watch some some brainless TV show on Netflix, if you really tired or stressed out then if you had a great day. So in other words, you do the easy thing. Now, perhaps not the best thing. Now was just wondering, if you actually do the decision you want your audience to make was the easy one. Would you not be better suited loading the hell out of their cognition, just so they have nothing left to decide appropriately? And just go? Oh, sure. I'll do this day. You want me to do it?


Dan Manning 14:45

So I mean, so that's an interesting and interesting approach. I think we could put together a good study to figure that out. But one of the things that complicates our decision making is that the harder a decision is, the more likely we are to stick With the status quo, the more likely we are to keep doing the thing that we've always done. So if you want to, or if you wanted to lead someone to the decision to just keep doing what we've always done, then your strategy would be, I think, very powerful and very, very effective. But most of the people that I work with, and I bet probably most of the people that you were working with, are people who are trying to create change, right, they're trying to move to something to something different. And that is, there's all sorts of cognitive biases attached to changing anything. And I need my my audience to be fresh and ready to at least consider that decision by the time they go by the time they get there. Otherwise, like you said, it's like going to the grocery store when you're hungry. When I go to the grocery store hungry, I buy all kinds of crap, because it's, I need instant satisfaction. And I need to delay that and make sure I've had a sandwich or something before I go there.


Francisco Mahfuz 15:50

The other idea I wanted to hear a bit more about is something I think what you actually said was Big Ideas poison your brain. But stories are the antidote. I'm pretty sure I understand what you mean by that. Can you elaborate on it, please?


Dan Manning 16:04

Yeah. So too, as you get, as you try to convey bigger and bigger ideas, they become more and more complex for the audience that you are trying to, to persuade, or you're trying to get your idea into, into their brain. So it's that same sort of, like build up of, of not just decision fatigue, but also just cognitive fatigue, right, people get more and more tired, the bigger the idea is, and as you give them big ideas, if you were engaged with your audience, they're trying to imagine that future, right, they're trying to imagine what life would be like, in this new world that you're talking about creating, especially if you're creating a world that's maybe two steps ahead, like one step ahead, they can sort of understand like, here's what the world is today. And here's what he's talking about. But two steps ahead, they have to sort of remove themselves from what they know now, and start thinking about something else. But stories are the antidote, because they give that context to help move the person to that place. And a good storyteller is going to make sure that the examples that they use are relevant to the audience. So the audience can see themselves in the story, they can see their own challenges, and they can see how it changes. One of the ways that I talk about stories is that you have got two dogs. And if I need to give them medicine, sometimes I'll try to hide their medicine, maybe in a rolled up piece of a piece of bread, or put some peanut butter or something around it. And they eat the bread, they eat the peanut butter, and they get the medicine along the way. And stories are sort of the same thing, that you are able to get facts included and sort of wrapped in a story and you get them into your audience's brain without them realising that's what you're doing. But when it comes time for them to use those facts, they're there and they're accessible to them so they can make a good decision. You are the


Francisco Mahfuz 17:45

second person that I've had on this podcast that has used the peanut butter for medication trick example. Richard, Richard Mulholland was the other one. Now I've had a dog and what peanut butter is not very popular in Brazil. So I think we use that trick with with different types of foods. But yeah, it's, it's curious, that seems to be the the con food of choice for fooling dogs about their mitigation. So so I've been mostly agreeing with most of the stuff you're saying. Now, let me let me potentially disagree with something that I've also heard you say, and it's to do with this concept of, I think you you called it dopamine pumps. So it was this idea that if you understorey to trigger dopamine, which has to do with with excitement, or with tension, both, depending on what type of storytelling, you want to trick the brain into, into going for that. And I think the lines you use are things like, you know, but nothing I tried worked until, or I'll never forget what I saw. But then something changed. And we're not disagreeing with that. I think it definitely works. But at the same time, I find myself very rarely using those things. Because I tend to tell stories in the present tense. And you can't, I mean, you can do that. But it often saw it you trying to, you're twisting the tense of the story a little bit too much if you're trying to do that, because in theory, you're telling it as it's happening. And if you've tried to foreshadow, it becomes trickier. And my concern with things like that for a lot of people is that the one that will do thing, one thing I should don't think they should ever do, which is use the word story before, like this is a story about which I'm very much against. And the other thing is, I think sometimes this is a hack to make the story exciting or to keep the story engaging. Whereas if they've put the things that are supposed to be in the right place, they wouldn't need to hack it that way. Now why why am I potentially wrong?


Dan Manning 19:51

So I think we're all always potentially wrong, right? So when I think about is when when I when I tell stories, and I'm in the middle of the story itself. I'm usually speaking in present tense as well, it just brings your audience into that place. And it's more vivid for them. But sometimes I'll do something different. Sometimes I'll talk about myself and I'll be a little bit more introspective. I'll tell you what some things that you can't see, I'll tell you some feelings that I might have that you might not be able to observe. And when I do that, it, if I've built the trust with my audience that I'm going to take care of them, I'm going to deliver them a lesson that is useful for them, they'll follow along with that. So when I talk about the dopamine pumps, it's these things that are the little attractors that bring the attention back, right dopamine, were usually associate it with a good feeling at the end. But dopamine itself is a seeking chemical. Dopamine is what drives us when we're hungry, to get up and go find food, right to get out of our camp, and to go on the on the hunt, right to go to the grocery store to do something else. And that the more dopamine that you have, the more aggressively you're seeking the end, that will allow that dopamine to be released, we get the pleasure from the dopamine being released, but only if that dopamine has built up to this pleasurable point. And when I talk about the dopamine pumps, I'm adding to that dopamine in the story so that I can get the payoff at the at the end. And it's it's never about tricking my audience. Because if I trick my audience, or if they don't deliver, or if you see online all the time, it's like, you know, here's one weird trick to do this thing for, here's your seven facts that you've never heard of. And number six will surprise you. And after you get to number six a few times and like it doesn't surprise me at all, I stopped paying attention to that at all. Because I learned that it's not worth the seeking for the payoff. But where the dopamine pumps work is when when I'm able to continue building that trust and my audience that I've got you, I'm going to take you somewhere that you want to be at if you stick with me, I'm going to make sure that I amp up that dopamine along the way also by constructing a great story that's delivered in the way that the human brain is ready to receive. And I'll just make the payoff even better by keeping that dopamine flowing. And now I can use my audience's dopamine to pull them through the story. I don't have to fight for their attention or even fight so much for their interests, because their own dopamine is pulling them through because they want to find out what happens. So


Francisco Mahfuz 22:14

what I want from experience, not from experience, but perhaps from taste, I've tended to do more than then use lines that foreshadow or, or perhaps hint at a twist or pay off of some kindness. So two things. The first one is, what I've noticed is that if the problem is not clearly important enough to the characters early on in the story, so if the stakes are not high enough, in relatable, then the attention is just not going to be there. So what I've tended to find that with a lot of stories, what benefits a lot of stories is one line or two that explains what the problem why the problem really matters. So the example of given loads of times is someone talking about struggling to finish a marathon. And I heard the story once at at dmba teach. And I said okay, so why why should I care? Right? Why should they care that you can finish this marathon? And somehow because I've trained so hard because it's so difficult? It's like, I don't care? Like what what does it matter if you don't finish, it's just a marathon, right? It's not. And then, and it wasn't really the reality of this person. But I said, Listen, if you're gonna tell me that, you used to be really big into sports, it was a big part of your identity, and then you got long COVID. And you could barely get out of the house for six months. And now you finally started feeling better you started training, and the you completing this marathon is evidence to yourself that you're not broke him, then now now I get I have something to care about right now. Now, it matters to me, if otherwise is just, you know, sucks to be 60 an hour to finish a marathon to train for it. But I try in most of my stories is to just have that interest short as I can right at the beginning. So people can relate to it and want to see the problem resolved, even if they don't necessarily expect or know that there's going to be some bigger learning or message at the end. So that's, that seems to be the approach I take when I either tell a story or help someone tell a story. I'll tell you the second one. But if you have anything to add to that one yeah, disagree. Yeah. So


Dan Manning 24:31

no, no, I don't I don't disagree at all. I tried to go I try to take that like one more like one more step. people all the time say that we have shorter attention spans than before. But then the same people will go on the watch eight hours of Netflix, I say that we it's not that our attention spans are shorter. So we have a lower tolerance for things that aren't interesting to us. And nothing is more interesting to us than ourselves. So if I were working with a person who wants to tell some story about about a marathon and about how they thought about Quitting on mild 20 or something, I would want to expand that straight to some more universal lesson, something that would resonate with with virtually all humans. Unless they're speaking to a conference of just marathon runners right, then that might be something that's interesting to them how to finish. But for instance, the problem that I would hand that is using the marathon is a metaphor for doing hard things, or about not giving up in life or about your the work is worth the payoff, or maybe even a story about how sometimes you work hard, but quitting is the right thing to do. And try to expand this to this broader lesson for anyone listening to the story, whether they run marathons, or they run a business, or they run a home or they run a family can see themselves and are looking for this lesson about whether they are going to give up or whether they're going to keep doing this this hard thing. And if I do that, right, again, it's their dopamine because they're seeking this answer to this thing that will help them to understand themselves better, and to contextualise their own life better inside the story. And if you if you do that, right, people cannot turn away, they have to know how that story ends. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz 26:05

so I've often said that good story has a relatable character with a problem they care about. So, to me, what you said is all in the relatable character piece, and characters are sometimes relatable by who they are. But more often, they're relatable by what they feel. Because you can if you're not writing fiction, you can change the details of who you are, who the character is to fit your audience, that's not going to work. But if the feeling that character has, is relatable, then you can reach a broader audience. Even if the details of the story are irrelevant. I don't run marathons, I couldn't care less about marathons. But I have tried things in my life that were hard, or I have struggled to do something that I used to be able to do, or I had, I had challenges that came up in my life that that affected my sense of identity. So you know, to me that those are the things that will make the story relatable more than necessarily the environment or the specific demographic of the character or anything like that. And the other thing that I found that sometimes is the problem, because I think I remember I read you talking about this in the context of you having you had done a story for a client. And as they were reading it back to you found it wasn't as exciting as you thought it was originally. And one of the things I've learned was, there's the you know, the South parks, and Burton, therefore, which you might have heard from them, you might have heard from Randy Olson, who has the abt storytelling technique, or Matthew Dix who has the button, therefore, which is the same thing. And for anyone who's not hearing that is that sometimes the mistake we make when we tell a story is we have too many ends. And I did this end, and I did something else. And you're eventually going to get to the problem the but in the conclusion, which is that, therefore, but you have too many ends before that point, or the problem arrives, and then it's end and end. And their approaches add, but or replace AMS for buts. So keep finding ways to complicate the story, even in small ways, or to change direction. And that that often is what brings the attention back into it. So I don't believe I'm telling you anything you don't know. But this is what I normally do instead of necessarily using dopamine pumps of the type of describe.


Dan Manning 28:36

But what you're doing actually is also pumping up the dopamine, right that you're creating this, this complexity, right? There's a story that I often tell when I kick off a storytelling workshop, about how I learned the power of story, or the first time they really understood the power of story. I was doing about 350 miles an hour in a dive and encased in ice. And then I started telling the story about how I learned about storytelling. But clearly, I somehow survived that. Right? I went from that that position to talking to you today. So there's this gap that exists inside there. And the more that I can complicate the path from from that initial situation to where I am now, the harder it is or the harder you want to work to figure it out. Because you're hoping that that payoff is going to is going to be there. So you're you're doing the same. You're the same thing along the way. Yes,


Francisco Mahfuz 29:27

I think I just I'm choosing to do it by in a sense I'm trying to do trying to do it without delivering any knowledge to the audience that I wouldn't know at the time. So the what I'm trying to do when I tell the story in the present tense is I don't know anything as the story progresses that I didn't know at the time. So I don't know that I'm going to learn a big lesson. I don't know that this is going to be the hardest night of my life. So I'm just trying to not just In the presence of the story, but having said all of that one technique that I've seen done before I sometimes do it, I've seen lots of people recommend this. And I've recommended in some cases, is the teasing the point of a story before you tell it as a way to lead into the story. So I think you have seen a line you used at some point, if something like this thing that happened with my neighbour will change how you think about suffering from food insecurity. And then you can just tell the story, and you probably don't have to say anything at the end. Because the point is, they know what the point is going to be. They just don't know how you're going to arrive at that point. So I think that works well, I think he's just a preference that I tend to try to be as little out of the story or, you know, have knowledge that is out of the story as possible. And some people like that some people like to break out of the story and like, talk to the audience about something I prefer, in general not to, but I think they're just different styles of doing pretty much the same thing. Okay, so something else I wanted to talk to you about is has to do with the process you you go through, because a lot of the work you do now is this thing, or you you spend an hour with a person, and you get their story out of them, and you tell it back to them. And you're always aiming for a three minute story, which I agree stories should be three minutes or less, because that's a perfect lens to do a lot to get a lot done without getting carried away and boring people to death. So I've seen you talk about the types of questions you ask and you know, things like what what action do you want the audience to take? Or What feeling do you want to engender stuff like that. But what I haven't found anywhere? are the types of questions you ask that are beyond aiming the story. So those are all sorts of things like, Okay, what's our objective? What are we trying to do with the story? Great. Okay, so the problem of your customers is that whatever, there once we know that, what types of questions do you ask to get the story out of them?


Dan Manning 32:04

Yeah, so So I'll tell you like, this is something that I that I think about a lot because I have my my storytelling course that I'm doing as well. And I think this is something you have a skill that I would like to be able to convey to other people. But I'm having a hard time like, describing sort of a step by step of how to do it. When I talk about finding the story of starting to talk more about it like I'm I'm hunting, right, you're on a hunt for this creature. And, you know, often like where these creatures hide, and, you know, sort of the behaviours of these creatures lots of times, but you don't know exactly like you don't know this one. So this one may have some special characteristics. And you have to, you got to look for it, you got to look in places that maybe you haven't looked before. So I asked those initial questions for a couple of a couple of reasons. One, like I want to know, like, what are we trying to do, so that I can I can frame that. But to I start getting the person I'm interviewing in this habit of answering questions, you're with me, and trusting that we're going to get to someplace good when they start asking the question about like, what do you want your audience to feel at the end? I want them to start thinking not just in terms of facts, but also in terms of feeling some sort of priming their brain to get to that place, but I'm listening closely, because their answers are going to be the things that helped me to find where that story is hiding. So after those first few questions, the next set are probably going to be more about like, who are we talking to? Who is your audience? Who are you trying to sell to what types of investors are you are you looking for? Because we need to find those challenges, just like we've been talking about that are relevant to that audience. So we've got to understand what's the shape of the story that I'm that I'm trying to find, right. And I do that, but then the rest is listening intently. It's listening to people, because what I found is that you're doing your lots of these that people will give you this peak, they'll sort of lift up themselves just a little bit and show you what they really want to say. But they're not sure that it's safe to say that they're not sure that this is an acceptable thing, or they're not sure that they want that to be a part of the story that they that they tell. And I always tell them, you'll get the final cut on the story, like you're the one telling it. So you get to decide what you're going to say. But help me to understand the context. Like why were you like, why was that scary to you? Why was that something that was terrifying? Or, you know, some people might say you this thing, but you said it a different way. Or I'll say your three times in this conversation. You've brought up something about your family growing up and about how it influenced your decision, like what do you have in mind there? What is the thing that you're talking about? I mean, the magic happens when you create a connection, where you show them the connection, rather, that has existed in their life all along. But they never put those things together. And then in the process of building the story, you show them that that connection is there. It is incredibly powerful. And that is actually the reactions that you see in the little, little video and people who shout obscenities at me is that they that they finally see that that's the place that those things go together. And they've been trying for years to say that and in talking to me for just a little while, I was able to put into words, something that they felt for so long and haven't been able to communicate.


Francisco Mahfuz 35:05

Yeah. So it's a tricky one this, you know, so, you know, what is the set of questions that finds as the, the perfect story for everything because, you know, these are this variable, variable stories, right? So the way I tend to think of it is, so as a set of things, right, I've often used the Spider Man story, you know, the Spider Man's origin story. And to my mind, there, there are two major elements of that story. People tend to think of superhero origin stories as where they got their powers. And that's kind of important, but the most important thing tends to be where they got their purpose, okay, and that will almost always be connected to some type of pain. So when, when I'm trying to come up with something for someone that is kind of an origin story, what I tend to look for is, okay, so there is a pain you're trying to solve in the world. When did you feel that pain first? Or when did you feel that pain last? Because sometimes the last one is the one that pushed you to action, right? So maybe it's something you've been suffering? Since you were a kid, you've noticed this thing in the world. And it bothered you maybe something you suffered, maybe something your parents suffered that friend in school, but maybe you never did anything about it, until a day where something pushed you over the edge. And this is now why you're doing this thing you're doing so. So it can come back to the first last words, the best thing that I use for finding stories. So when was the first time you felt this pain? Or the in the last time? Sometimes it's to do with the power? Right? What what makes you the person to help anyone with this? Any might be what, you know, how did you become able to, to help someone, but the purpose goes with the pain to a great extent. So I think to me, those are the ones that I find more often than to uncover the type of story. But But you're right, I think it's, it's weird, what ends up being sort of the best story. And I think for a lot of people there probably five or six episodes in their life that you could use to tell the exact same story. Sometimes it's just the first one that surfaces when you're having these conversations, and not necessarily the perfect one. So the other thing I wanted to ask you about that is, is something that's perhaps better illustrated by a strange case study that you and I have that I didn't know we had until yesterday. And the case study is machine. Hm. Right. So you work with machine last year? Yeah, not not too long after I had her on the first episode of what I call the Storypowers. Lab, right, where we were trying to find a story to fix a specific problem that she had. So the work you did with her, you did a more origin story type of thing. And she posted that and he went bananas, I think she called it mini viral. So it does what 60,000 Plus views or something which I don't know if it's an official definition, but for our purposes worth it. Whereas where I did was very different. What I did is we were talking about how she presents herself to clients, or potential clients in a way that shows one particular expertise, but also that connects her to their problem. And we ended up with a completely different story that hadn't come up, at least haven't come up in the final story she pulled out from the work she did with you. I don't know if he came out in the interview, the whole Tenerife thing and being in a cinema festival day or whatever, I realised that we might have had completely different briefs. So I'm not necessarily trying to compare the work is done in that way. But my question was, is it more common that when you end up with is the origin story more like an A an outline or overview of their journey? Or do you sometimes find that you end up with something like what I ended up with her and which is what I ended up with a lot of my clients, which is a moment that serves as an example, for a lot of the other things we are trying to talk about? Yeah,


Dan Manning 39:23

so I mean, so So a couple things like one when I'm when I'm doing an interview with a story, like my goal is to is to get to the place where what would this person write if they had the time to dedicate to it and the skill that I have in storytelling, so that I try to not replace your myself into the story that they're sharing. It's very much a skill as a as a speech writer trying to write in someone else's voice and trying to be faithful to that. So I am cautious about the questions that I ask because I don't want to inadvertently you steer them in a direction that that I think might be the story I've got to, I've got to be really attentive to what the actual story is that they are that they are giving. So like with with machine, when we first started working together, she, she had shared actually the same story that we wrote, she did a video clip of it when not her. It was one of her earlier video clips, not the the, the fantastic ones that she's doing doing right now. But I'm like, you know, that is a great story. But I think it could be told better, I think she could get more impact with that story. So the so the brief was, let's, let's see if we can tell that story in a more effective way to get to that end. So when I'm working with a client to do that, we're definitely trying to find that one example, right, that one moment of change that demonstrates that that thing, right that we're that's the story like literally, your pivots is the point of the story where things go from the way they used to be to where they are now. And in fact, in the interviews that I do, I'll spend 45 minutes, just trying to find that right moment of change, because the entire story depends on that on that place. So it's very much about finding the example. But I want to find the example. And then give the story back to them as the story that they would tell if they had the time and the skill that that I have. Yeah, and


Francisco Mahfuz 41:15

I think machine is a particularly difficult candidate for that. Because she has like 15 moments of change. Or there's, there's so many instances of the problem that she talks about in her personal story, which is essentially that she never did the thing that she was meant to be doing. There, there should have been one point of inflection, there's like seven, and most of them she didn't actually take, she didn't actually do the thing that she was meant to be doing. She had opportunities to take a different role than didn't, which I remember when we were talking about it. It was also very, that seemed to me kind of a dead end for trying to tell a story in like a minute, or a minute and a half, which is what we were trying to do. Because to my mind, it was just it would be a montage of a whole bunch of things. And it wouldn't work as much as a story, if we were trying to keep it that short. That that is that that was the feeling I had. Because the challenge I have sometimes is that when people tell what's more like an origin story, what I've seen a lot is it ends up being a lot more telling than showing, because it's not a moment in time, with some leading up to it and some some resolution, a lot of people and I'm not saying that's what you do. But I've seen a lot of times in origin stories as people want to cover a very long period of their lives, and ends up being exposition pretty much, which I think works well on LinkedIn, I don't think it actually works particularly well. If you're trying to do that live, like you're in a podcast, you're in a talk, it just becomes kind of repetitive, because it's not immersive enough is not engaging enough is not enough to get the brain going. So that's why I was wondering, if you if the way Hurston doubt was an element of again, worked perfectly for LinkedIn. But is that? Do you find that that's more like that's an example? Or is there an exception that kind of proves the rule of what you're not really trying to do?


Dan Manning 43:21

No, no, I think it very much lines up with what I'm what I'm trying to do. Like the one thing that I'll tell my clients is that the story is not what happened. It's how what happened change you. So we'll have to sometimes we'll cut out, you know, major segments of their life, something that's an out, tell them like, I know, this is something that's important to you. And it's something that in your overall scheme of your life, it's something that was that did change and did shape who you are. But it doesn't serve this story. It doesn't serve this point that we're trying to make, it doesn't drive our audience to that action or to that feeling that we identified right in the very beginning. So what I'll do is work with them to find that moment of change that serves the story. It's not the only moment of change in their life. Right and may not even be the only moment of change in that series of events that led up to to that decision that they ultimately made. But like one of the questions that I would have asked machine is so you, you thought about quitting your job for four months prior to this, like why was that day different? Why was that the day that you walked in? And you said, I'm not going to play around with this anymore? Like I'm done. And then that sets off this whole series of multiple other changes that she makes in her in her life from that but what I want to find is that day, and Matthew Dixon, his book story where he talks about the five second moment of change, and it's it's really hard sometimes for people to find that five seconds. So we'll find that like a representative you'll five seconds if they especially it's things that happened a long time ago, but the tighter we can get on that moment, the more powerful the story is going to be.


Francisco Mahfuz 44:55

Yeah, I find that sometimes people forget Is that when you telling a story? It's not a journalistic recounting of events? Now, does that matter? If it was the exact moment where where you made the decision, or was one of many moments that made part of it right, as long as you representing the truth of the story, I mean, doesn't matter if it was that week or the week after that, those things don't really matter, as long as you're not fabricating stuff just for the convenience of the story. And and I think that as long as you using the story as an example of real life, it doesn't need to be actually exactly what happened, that you would be able to find out only with a time machine, because our memory doesn't work that way. So it's not, oh, no, I'm just going to pretend it happened that way. Because it works for the story. That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is, you don't actually remember, like, unless you recorded it somehow, you don't actually remember that it was right after that conversation with your partner. It's like, if you speak the part, it's like, no, there was six months before you actually quit the job. And you remember that differently. So you know, I think there's only so much we can try and find the absolute truth of those things. And one challenge I love taking on when we're cutting out large sections of people's lives, is what are the what is the line, or the few words that we can add to the story, that pack in a lifetime of explanation. There is one story I tell in most of my keynotes and workshops, which is the one about my, about my kid, and when I kind of completely lost my mind and, and screamed at her from the top and lungs. And the word that does that for me is again, so she was about to hurt her baby sister again, in I did what I always did. So again, and always are all the context that story needs. Without me saying my kid is having a lot of trouble with her baby sister. And I find I find that it's great when you manage to do that with with someone else's story. And as a couple, there's all this stuff, and then that's fine. We're just,


Dan Manning 47:08

I mean, what I say is that the I tell my clients, like your story doesn't have to be 100% True, but it has to be unfailingly honest. Right? So we will adjust the story to serve our audience will compress timelines, we will maybe even provide some dialogue that you know, wasn't the exact dialogue, but it has to be honest to your experience. So you're not going to completely make up something that's, that's different. That changes sort of the point of the story or, or what happens or puts you in a in some different light, we're going to be honest about that. But it's always going to be in service to the audience, even if we don't have the ability to make it 100% True. Because we're not replaying a 30 year movie of everything that happened in my life. We're just talking about this important event that happened there. Yes. And


Francisco Mahfuz 47:55

I think that even if we could replay what happened, for anyone that has ever watched a family video of someone's holiday, it doesn't matter how exciting that holiday was no video of that is ever going to be exciting unless you somehow caught on camera at the exact moment that a shark jumped out of the water in almost h2o. Because those things that there's just too much in them. And we don't we don't want that that's not what we want to. We don't want to bore people with the story just because the story has destroyed to encompass too many things. Right. So the last question I have for you is something very, very specific and tactical, because I know you work a lot with founders. And I saw briefly some of the types of stories that you say you help people put together when they are founders. And there was one that didn't immediately was not immediately obvious to me what the difference was, so I know what the founder origin story is, or the origin story or the founder story or whatever you want to call that. But I wasn't immediately obvious to me the difference between that and what you called, I believe, a venture origin story. Could you clarify those for me, please?


Dan Manning 49:06

Yeah, absolutely. So so we all know the stats that 90% of all startups fail. But 90% of all startup founders don't great startup founders will will start something they'll try it is likely going to fail. And then they decide to do something else. And then maybe they go take another job. Maybe they work for a different startup, maybe they immediately pivot to some other some other idea and they build another venture. So usually, the founder origin story is something about what took them away from a relatively safe and secure corporate job to this life of entrepreneurship, which is much more uncertain, which is much higher risk, but usually, it's the thing that more closely aligns with their own personal values or the things that they that they believe, and they'll try some something and maybe it works or maybe it doesn't. The venture origin story instead, particularly if you're trying to pitch to investors is like why am I the person doing this? business. Why is this the business that I'm involved in now? And the difference is that it is in the founder origin story, you're talking about the person, right? And then the venture origin story, you're talking about how that person and this venture intersect to create this, this business. So it's really for a different purpose. And it just has a slightly different focus than just on the founder, why they began to you a career in entrepreneurship.


Francisco Mahfuz 50:27

Yeah, I think the, what you describe as the venture origin story is probably more akin to what a lot of people think of as the founder story. So if, for example, I think about, you know, Sara Blakely, his story, starting Spanx. There isn't, I mean, in the beginning of the story, this is just a woman who couldn't wear the white pants she wanted for a party, and then came up with a product. And then throughout that story there, you know, you can see how she has initiative. She's tenacious, she's creative. And then by you know, so you can see a whole bunch of positive traits of her as a founder through that story. But it's a story very, it's all about this particular product in the story doesn't exist, at least it didn't at the time, outside of that product. And I think it's very similar to say, the Airbnb story, if it's clearly connected to making that one venture work. Whereas then the founder story in your definition, might be about something that is completely disconnected to the product itself. But it's trying to, I guess, show that founder in a positive light as someone who will be, will be believable when you have to eventually pivot because this thing didn't go anywhere. Well, I mean,


Dan Manning 51:48

so the so the founder origin story is, is probably going to end up being connected to the venture that they're currently working in as well, right. But also the founder origin story is designed to, to build trust, and to let the people that they are speaking to often investors, or maybe early customers understand that, you know, here is my level of commitment to this thing, I'm the type of person that you can trust, I have the knowledge, skills and experience to do this thing. And if you count on me, I'm going to come through for you, separately, the product is something else that we may have to tell a story about, about how I connect to that and how I connect to the thing, right, all the examples that you mentioned, are all multi billion dollar companies, right? They're all the companies that that made it. And so far, I've only worked with a few, a few companies that have really started to grow. Most of the people I'm working with are much earlier in their own stories. And they have to convey you themselves and why they're a good bet, essentially, both for customers and for and for investors. And they aren't able to, to rely on on the Big B's after their after their dollar signs yet.


Francisco Mahfuz 52:55

I guess the challenge of telling a story, like the two that I mentioned, is that how though yes, we now know that those are billion billion dollar businesses, but most of their story is the very early beginnings of the business. But if the very early beginnings, so the very early beginnings happened before, much in the way of outside investment came in. So there was content to talk about so that they could talk about five or six or seven, particularly in Spanx Kay celebrated Legolas case, she could tell talk about three or four different obstacles that came in her way, way before she got to the point of standing in front of an investor and ask for money. It's slightly different on the Airbnb case, because that story was very small. And then he got slightly bigger as they got some funding, then they ran out of money, and they had to do different things to get more funding. So So yeah, I guess the perhaps the difference would be that when you when you just had the idea in your the very early stages of having anything happen with that idea, you might just not have enough to tell much more of a story. And then you have to go back in time to other things you've done. Because this one that is just there's only so much you can really talk about it, I guess.


Dan Manning 54:13

Usually though you can you can lead up to like when they discovered this was a solution. And most of the founders that I work with, have started businesses from some problem they solve for themselves. So if we can talk about this problem and talk about the challenges that they that they face, and the other things that they tried, and it works out great if those other things they tried are things that people in the market today are trying and failing to, to have work. And then they get to that moment of change where either they figured out that this is the thing that's going to work or they they solve some problem where they started thinking about it differently, or they made some discovery. And now because of that discovery, things are better than the story just can flow together. Even if they don't have a customer yet they're still able to demonstrate that yes, I understand the problem and I'm the person who can can be the pivot I can be the change that makes this this change in the world and creates a new world for all of us.


Francisco Mahfuz 55:05

Fair enough. So if people want to find out more about the stuff you're doing, I know you're super active on LinkedIn, I'll post I'll post a link to your LinkedIn profile on the on the show notes. But where else should they go? If anywhere? Yeah,


Dan Manning 55:19

the other places it build the story.com. So when I build the story.com, and talk about the services that I provide, and I'll be adding some an additional section about the story building course that I'm doing, it's a it's a monthly paid subscription course. And we're continuing to build it there. And I've got some great story builders who are already seeing some, some real changes in the way that they tell stories, and I'm excited about it.


Francisco Mahfuz 55:40

Fantastic. Thank you very much for your time. I had a great I had a I appreciate the opportunity to give you a hard time.


Dan Manning 55:49

Always please. I love it.


Francisco Mahfuz 55:52

Alright, Ben, thank you very much. This was this was great. Thanks for having me. All right, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves. And until next time,


I hope you enjoyed the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find the show. Then scroll down a little and when you see the stars tap, I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find us. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website storypowers.com



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