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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Mahfuz

E115. Looking for Storytellers in Dating Sites with Anna Ong



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 Anna. Anna is an ex banker turned storyteller. She is the host and creator of What's Your Story Slam, a curated storytelling show in Singapore that constantly sells out. Through her business, What's your story, huh? She uses applied theatre and improv techniques in coaching, consulting and corporate training, to find and develop people's stories and create breakthroughs in communication. Sometimes, Anna climbs mountains, sometimes her storytelling show traumatises kids with naughty stories about Santa Claus. Sometimes naked guys break into her apartment building. If she left banking to find more excitement in her life, it's pretty safe to say that she's doing a great job. Ladies and gentleman, and I'm Anna, welcome to the show.


Anna Ong  0:56

Hi, Francisco. Thank you for having me. I wasn't so sure whether you should start cracking up laughing from your intro. Love it. Thank you laughing


Francisco Mahfuz  1:06

at the things I say is not only allowed, it's recommended. So


Anna Ong  1:14

I love it. You may you made me giggle. Okay, so


Francisco Mahfuz  1:17

I think your decision to quit finance and do something else with your life in weeks like this one where the Silicon Valley banking bank has just gone, basically gone down the drain? I guess in weeks like this, that decision feels slightly more justified than usual, doesn't it?


Anna Ong  1:37

I would say like when things like that happen makes me feel like you know, like people who have lost their jobs are forced to have an opportunity to think about doing something else. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  1:48

that's a generous or an optimistic way of looking at it. What I don't find it to be like that. generals are optimistic about humankind is this this bit of info I saw a couple of days ago, where the I think the CEO of or the CEO, or the chief administration officer of the Silicon Valley Bank, was also one of the top executives in Lehman Brothers in 2008. So that's a start looking that that CV is going to need some storytelling to fix. Yes,


Anna Ong  2:24

well, he can definitely spin it. I say he's a major disrupter. Each organisation, so for any company or industry that's looking for disruption, they should hire him.


Francisco Mahfuz  2:38

That word might be slightly difficult this week. But anyway, so I don't need to ask you how you you know how or why you get into storytelling, because I've done that myself. And everyone that I've pretty much I had in this show has gotten into storytelling at some point. So the appeal of it is pretty obvious to me, and I think should be obvious to my audience by now. What I do want to ask you is, how did you get into your head that it was a great idea to do a storytelling show? Because that, you know, I think you're only the second person, or third will be the third person I've had in 112 or 13 episodes, that actually has decided to create a storytelling show and run it. So why?


Anna Ong  3:29

Well, because one does, we don't have one in Singapore. And I love the storytelling shows in the US. And when I moved back to Singapore, I was pretty miserable. Because there was no place for me to tell stories, going to stand up comedy open mic nights, while the storytellers are woke up. It's not the same crowd. And I wanted to create a community for people who want to listen to stories. And I think my friends were just tired of me complaining. So is one of them just asked me, Well, what's stopping you from starting your own show? So you know, what was? What do they say? Like, fail fast, fail fast or something like that? So I figured, like, why not? Let's try it out. Let's do it once. If it doesn't work, then at least I tried. But it worked out back when we started in July 2019. And I had so much fun, hosting the show and seeing, like, you know, seeing something that's from your imagination just come to life that I decided to like, continue on. So it's what keeps me going sometimes when things get tough.


Francisco Mahfuz  4:32

So the show happens every two months, right?


Anna Ong  4:36

Yes, the show happens every two months. Because I will tell you that this is why I don't have competition. There's no money in showbiz. It's allowed to work and not that much that is not very profitable, money wise. So that's why I don't in a very cash conscious country like Singapore. And this is why I don't have competition.


Francisco Mahfuz  4:57

Yeah, I don't. I'm not terribly surprised. I used to hear that I think no money in show business is one of those lines that you often hear repeated, like no upside in management. But I, all the people that I know that ran storytelling shows were the two people that I know that read storytelling shows, which are Michele Nuray, he has mould Mondays in Canada and has been running that for for a very long time. And Marsha should endure, I remember just now because she always goes by Yes, yes, Marcia, and ever uses her synonym for everything. But she both of them, I think the business model was last in, I'm going to make money from this show. And more that one, it's great on looks great on the CV if you're interested in either working storytelling or with event production, but also that it's a very good way to get clients if you work with storytelling. So I think they got coaching clients through that, and they got into some business relationships because of the show. So that's the that's the only way that I've heard that it works. As as a business model. It's I don't know if that's, if that was in your mind when you started or if it's become something that that is part of it. But yeah, I understand the challenges of running something like that.


Anna Ong  6:21

It wasn't when I started my business, I did not have a business model to follow. I was kind of going in blind in an industry that I have zero idea on the show started because I wanted to because out more out of passion. But the show has become a way for people to realise to understand who I am and what kind of storytelling I wanted to do. Because until my show started, nobody in Singapore really understood what I wanted to do in storytime. When I say personal narratives, a lot of them take I wanted to be an actress, or if some of them thought that, you know, I wanted to dress up as a fairy and tell stories and fairy tales and children's parties. So until they saw the show, and they saw the kinds of stories that I wanted to tell. That's when they it sparked their imaginations. And that is true. That was where I get approached by businesses to work with them. In terms of us in terms of storytelling.


Francisco Mahfuz  7:16

Sorry, what you're saying is you don't you don't want to dress like a fairy and tell stories in children's park this just so I get this straight? Who is this might be where we you know, we started disagree. Yeah,


Anna Ong  7:27

I will be very popular with your daughters. I know, I know. It wasn't my dream to dress up as like a Disney princess and start telling fairy tales.


Francisco Mahfuz  7:40

Yes, I think that will be that will be an absolute hit. Okay, so when you design the show, so just just talk me through quickly what the show looks like. So how many people speak, I believe you have a theme every every show, like how long the stories are that type of thing.


Anna Ong  7:59

Okay, so my show normally has about eight people tell stories I have it does come with a team, each person has to pitch their stories through me and I help them craft it. Or I give suggestions on how they can craft it into a compelling narrative. The logic behind this is because I want them to, I want people to help work on your stories, right? They're working, sharing something personally meaningful for them. And they expect them to memorise it and to deliver it well. So I want to make sure that's worthy of their time, the audience that I have, they give me two hours of their undivided attention. That's what I expect from them two hours of their undivided attention to be present in the show. And they want to make sure that deliver them something that is worthy of their time. So I cannot afford an open mind. But in between because some stories can be heavy. I actually have an improv team. Because I did start off an improv. I have an improv team that does an intermission at for 15 minutes. And they do scenes inspired by lines they hear during the first half of the show. So they have like five stories to work with. And they normally ask the audience like, what did you remember in terms of like, what line so then the audience draw some lines for them to start off with and then they run with it?


Francisco Mahfuz  9:08

Okay, cool. And I think I might have read somewhere that the stories are somewhere on five to six minutes, right?


Anna Ong  9:15

Yes, each stories are about five to six minutes long. Do you


Francisco Mahfuz  9:18

ask people did they have you gotten to the point that people just approach you to pitch your story? How do you how do you find your storyteller essentially.


Anna Ong  9:26

So it's a combination of both my first show, I had to ask everybody, I had to ask people that I know. It was mostly my friends. Although I also went online on a dating app to look for storytellers.


Francisco Mahfuz  9:38

Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. You went online on a dating app to look for storytellers?


Anna Ong  9:47

Well, yeah. Because you know, when you go on dates, right, people tell stories. So sometimes if they have a good story they go, which is to tell a story and Michelle, hey, we never worked out but I did find one storyteller that tells a story Michelle, and And then tend to watch the show. Okay, but


Francisco Mahfuz  10:02

I've just tried to understand this. So you, I don't know if this is a swipe right type, swipe right situation. So you go in line, and you just start talking to them. So this person, I don't know if it's a man or a woman says, Oh, hold on this, this girl is interested in me. And then you go, I would really like you to come to my storytelling show to tell a story that was that essentially your


Anna Ong  10:27

pitch? It wasn't, I don't go to Apple, I have to make some small talk first, but then they go, what do you do? Then I tell them about my show, then I go. Yeah, you know, I have a show coming up. This is the like kumbaya ticket, come watch. So the first show, I may have pitched a little bit too hard, because my friend said, and at least 10 guys here think they're on a date with you.


Francisco Mahfuz  10:52

So I think this, this, in some ways might be the version of like what we see on social media, right? When somebody starts doing small talk with you on the on the direct messages like on LinkedIn, it's like, Oh, Hi, how you doing? How's the year going? And then it turns into some coaching pitch, like, how are your objectives for the year shaping up? Is there anything we could do? This guy's come over. It is like, I don't know. She was talking about stories. I'm not sure but you know, I fencing her, I've come into this show is like you're getting on stage and telling your story. And I was like, what?


Anna Ong  11:25

Well, they have to still pitch their stories to me. And that means that they get some one on one time with me right? After I help them craft the story, get to know


Francisco Mahfuz  11:34

that it's, then it's all fair and exactly what they expect. All right, so so so that was the beginning. Now, have you gotten it has the show gotten to a point that there's enough people pitching that you can just choose the best ones and you feel every show without trying massively hard?


Anna Ong  11:55

I would say not quite yet. Because Singapore is a bit it's quite small. And here in Asia, people are very reserved, and they don't really want to share things personal in public. So it still takes up, it still takes more time. But it's a lot easier. Like I get a lot more people pitching like I don't have to go around so much like looking for people to tell stories. Normally I am because I also teach storytelling like I have, like not, I don't just work with corporates, I do an open programme open enrollment programme, where I run a storytelling course for six weeks. So I do have some students that I normally can ask if they can tell stories as well on the stage. I have stories from both corporates who hired me for a six week programme because I do kind of like have a little database in my head about who's got interesting stories that I can approach. And who I think would would say yes. And then I also have people who do want to learn for me the art and craft of storytelling. Fair


Francisco Mahfuz  12:55

enough. No. Yeah, I think everyone, anyone that does that does any type of training that involves storytelling, we're always going to have some exercise in the trading where people are supposed to tell stories. And if you get a good one, I can imagine that it's perhaps not the hardest pitch in the world to say, Isn't that was a really good story. I don't know if you know, but I have this show. Would you like to do that in front of however, 300 people, 200 people? So with people that are the people that didn't necessarily approach you or approached you with trepidation, right, which I'm sure there are plenty of them. How do you find like, what is their transformation, if that's the right word to use between them being sort of reluctant to tell the story, then they work through it, then they go on stage, which is sort of terrifying experience for a lot of people. And they tell the story, like what sorts of things they tell you after they told the story, because I'm sure that there's the stuff they tell you after.


Anna Ong  13:49

So there are the people who come to me because they have massive cases of stage fright that they want to conquer. And they find a certain sense of liberation after be able to tell the story on stage because my audience I think the difference between stand up comedy and storytelling audience is the storytelling audience is normally very welcoming, that the audience is normally just very grateful that you're so brave enough to share something personal to roomful of strangers. But then there are also other people with like, really big stories that's in their chest, that defining the moment that they tell it. They also feel that it's very cathartic. So I always say like, storytelling is cheaper than therapy, though, I find with some of the stories I work on, I feel like oh, they really should have been in therapy. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  14:34

I this is an interesting, this is an interesting conversation that perhaps neither of us are completely qualified to have. But I I've had that reaction from clients before where you you're going it's hard working through their their one of their stories or their origin story. And then I make a connection that they never made before. So that also so the reason you do this thing is because of that thing that happening in your childhood and they go, huh? I and then they just like you can see that is landing and they go. I, I guess so I never I never really thought about that before but but it makes so much sense. Just not therapy. Right. And then I in I started not that long ago I started therapy. And I started talking to the therapist about this. And he said, and he said, Yeah, you know, there is there is an element of therapy in that process. But where, where it's perhaps not quite the same thing is your interpretation, or the storytellers interpretation of what happened both both the person telling the story and nurse helping them tell the story is aimed towards a story that makes sense. And sometimes life is a little messier than that. And then perhaps we are, we're trying to connect dots that don't necessarily go together. And then the potential issue there is, we've made it a little too neat. And actually, there is a lot of other things that needed to surface that we explore the so I think it can work as therapy. But But I think anyone who needs therapy, probably should get therapy, they should assume that this is the work. And it's done. So


Anna Ong  16:21

my actually, that's a good point. Actually, I would always ask my clients when they tell me a story that's heavy, I ask them to question. Is it a wound or a scar that we're talking about? Is your story a wound? And so they got what's the difference? Because most of them English, not first language. So I go well, the difference is, when it's a wound is still very fresh. It's still raw, and it's just healing. When it's a scar, it's hardened skin. We talk about scars, but we don't talk about wounds when we have to wait for the wounds to properly heal. So so if it's still a wound, because I also can't afford to have them break down on stage, because that I need to protect the audience. You need to go see a therapist. And once you and your dad once you are the therapist resolve it, come back to me and we'll take it we'll make it into a story.


Francisco Mahfuz  17:10

Yeah, I've heard that expression before. I think I heard it. It's slightly slightly more alliteration. It was scars, not scabs. So that was the that was the version. I heard from that. I think I think as I heard from Simon reybold, was on the show before. Yeah, I think it's okay for people to be emotional about their story, but not to the point that they're overcome with emotion. If you're telling a story and there's a tear in the corner of your eye, that's fine. If you're telling the story. Go on, but then, you know, you need to tell it that other 50 times. So then to that you pass that point, so or you know, just wait another six months and then tell the story when you pass that point emotionally. So So yes, I agree with that. So you have themes for the show. What is the what is the theme for the latest one doesn't we have some examples here?


Anna Ong  18:02

The next one is an APR and the theme is full. So F O L Ed. Because right now because it's around April Fool's. But also because we also have stories about being tricked, playing tricks, or having impostor syndrome. So those are like, things that I think apply to the theme for


Francisco Mahfuz  18:21

you. Yeah, so So this shows the theme is food. And you will have some lines, I think, on a flyer I've seen on social media, to give people ideas, and one of them is tell us about a time you thought you had everything figured out only to realise you were wrong. And I read that and I thought, how many hours have you got? And the other line you had was? Tell us about a time you misrepresented yourself. And I immediately thought, well, there's about 700 million people on LinkedIn. I think there are some candidates for that particular. Call total LinkedIn coaches tell us about a time when you misrepresented yourself. Yeah,


Anna Ong  19:09

I think there's a lot of people with those kinds of stories, because I want us to inspire people to find figure out, you do have stories, because other people will tell me Oh, I don't have a story to tell, especially when they find out I'm a storyteller. Yeah. So. So these themes say because they for you, like so many things have already popped up. And it's true. We all have gone through these moments where we've misrepresented ourselves or intentionally or unintentionally but normally when we're applying for a job sometimes we miss interpret ourselves all the time. So yeah, I think everyone has a story and the process is supposed to get your memory jogger and realise that you know, you're not alone in this process.


Francisco Mahfuz  19:51

The conversation I often have with people because that I've heard this so many times. That irritates me the whole I don't have any Starbreeze in my question to most people is like, has anything weird? Or funny? Or thought provoking ever happened in your life? And I go, yes. Did you learn anything from any of those experiences? Yes, right. That's a story. Okay might not be the world's greatest story, you might not be your best story. But that's a story. And I'm pretty sure you've had five of those in the last few weeks. Now, will they make for an amazing story to tell on a show? Perhaps not perhaps they will need more work to go from this small thing that was interesting to something that other people can take a lot from. But I think it's just there's a misconception of what the story is. People are thinking of an adventure. You know, what, what is the story of you were climbing a mountain like you done not that long ago, and things went terribly wrong, and you almost died. And they think this is a story, they don't think your kids saying something weird, or that sounds weird, and makes you rethink your whole life as growing up in the country you grew up. They don't think that's a story. But it is probably a better story, because it's more relatable than the mountain climbing one. I


Anna Ong  21:18

totally agree with you on that one. I actually like to promote that there are stories in the small moments. Like, for me, one of my favourite stories to tell is a story about me and my niece, which is like, when she was her first sleepover with me. First time I took care of her unsupervised. And it was the first time she told me I love you. And it's like, and so I will tell like, especially clients with kids tell a story about a time your child tells you I love you. And then suddenly, I will tell my parents never told me they love me. Words


Francisco Mahfuz  21:56

very quickly. But But yes. So one example why I use often this was maybe it's a few months ago, I'm having breakfast with my kids. We have a big window in the living room and my oldest Alice, she looks out the window and says Popeye, the building the building across the road is almost ready. I'm like, sure, but why you're so excited. So like all because the when the new people move in, they're gonna be super happy, right? And I'm like, I guess so. But what makes you say that? It just says, well, because it's a new building and new buildings are for homeless people. Right? And I was I was like, well, it's not quite doesn't work quite like that. And and, you know, I couldn't really explain to her in, it just hit me like how differently she sees the world than then the world actually is. It's kind of sad that she sees the world in such an optimistic way. The world's very far from that. But I have hundreds of little stories like that now can I did with that they will tell them for five or six minutes on a show? No, I would have to string two or three of days with perhaps that a bigger change that has happened with me as a parent to get a good story out of it. But for the purposes of using it on social media, for the purposes of using it on a podcast, or in business, even I have used that story. Like I've done, I've done talks on diversity and inclusion. And I've used that story, as an example one example how kids today See, and want to live in a much different world and the one we actually live in, but we're not quite there yet. So I think a lot of mileage in those most stories.


Anna Ong  23:42

Oh, it's actually it's a very beautiful moment and how you described it? Yes,


Francisco Mahfuz  23:47

it's not not all moments with my kids are beautiful. Plenty of them are not. But that read of it, but I like I like them or like I like just because you say to people and even people that don't have kids, but people they've been kids, they've they've seen a child before. It resonates with them. And I think it's just it's just changing people's understanding of what the story is to figure out to figure out how they can become storytellers and also that even if you have the adventure, the adventure in itself is not usually that interesting. If you're telling it from a zoomed out perspective, you know, even take the last mountain climb you've you've you've done the fact you've climbed the mountain in itself is a one liner. You need a small story in that to make it an interesting story for an audience. So I think you know, it's all about there's more stories


Anna Ong  24:48

I actually find that like sometimes they all these major major like claims. It's a travelogue is not really a story, because it's more about like me just talking about like what they did and they don't find it particularly interesting to tell. So whenever if I say, So how was the climate got? I climbed it and climb up. I climbed down. That's it. It was tough on me too. But it's what I enjoyed more was the final destination Shangri La. So I tell more stories about what happened when I was trying to check into the after a hard day of climbing. I just really want to get into my hotel room. And the front desk girl took two hours to check me. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  25:27

that's, that's an amazing, relatable part of the story. It's like, I've done this thing that is supposed to be amazing and super hard. And I enjoyed it, it was fine. But then this thing that was meant to be really easy. This is the thing that's tripping me up, you can twist that particular lesson into something that a lot of people could use it like, Have you ever went for something difficult found that it wasn't so hard, didn't get tripped up with a tiny thing. I think the example people use when, even with mountain climbing is like, it's not the it's not the mountain you it's not the mountain you climb, but the pebble in your shoe. That is the real challenge. Okay, so when you were working with this, with the storytellers, which I would imagine the vast majority of them are not experienced having stories, or at least they're not experienced any stories on stage, right?


Anna Ong  26:20

Yes, most of them are not experienced, I actually find it's funny, I find it harder to work with people who have experience as speakers versus novices. Because with novices, it's an it's like a clay right, I can mould them. And they're very open to suggestions and feedback. And people who are very who are already seasoned speakers have certain habits and how they want to tell a story. And when I tell them, that's not a story. That's an anecdote. That's an essay. That's a monologue that's going through your head right now, I need this thing. I don't understand what I'm trying to say is a story got no it's not. It's better to be read written. But I need something that can spark people's imaginations. And that's where I find like the struggle, but then when they deliver, that's fine. They show about confidence. But I find novices are sometimes the first timers, the nervous ones, they're the best to work with, because they follow my instructions.


Francisco Mahfuz  27:17

I guess that is the problem of working with anyone on anything. And they feel they they have some knowledge. So it was that what is the the four quadrants of manage of managing people or the competence levels? It was it, you know, the conscious, competent, the unconscious, competent, the conscious, incompetent, and the unconscious, incompetent. And I think that with a lot of people that have told stories before, they might be unconscious incompetence that like they know, they think they know, but they actually don't. And then you have to point out to them, like you've been talking about your thoughts and feelings. There's not actually a story to go, but I've told stories many times might that might have something to do with it. So. So what do you find is either the biggest mistake, or the biggest challenge that most of these people have, when they're working on what to a lot of them the first time they're really going to tell a story. In this type of environment.


Anna Ong  28:18

The challenge I think most people have is like they think like telling a personal story on stage is like writing into your journal. Most of the time, that initial script I receive is like a journal entry. So which is mostly a collection of their thoughts and feelings, like an like an essay, and I go, but there is no set that they forget to set they got I need a location, I need to know where you were when these thoughts were happening. You need to give in I got first I need, what were you doing? And where were you when you when all these things were happening. And people forget to put the location to set the scene. Because when I tried to explain to them, telling a story on stage is like painting a movie in the mind of your audience.


Francisco Mahfuz  29:00

There's some things that I've tried over the years that I think work well with some people more and some people other things work. So one of the ones that work is just an elements, right? So I got this from the guys from anecdotes. And they always say that I stopped the the elements of a story are, it has a time and place. It has at least a character which is typically a person, it's not usually an animal. And it's definitely not a company or an idea. It needs to have a sequence of connected events, you know this thing happened and because of that something else happened. And it needs to have something unexpected or surprising. And you know, if you're going to be using it in a business context, then you need to have a point. Now that's not always going to be the case with stage storytelling, but it should at least have some type of moral or that should honestly say it but it shouldn't be understood from the story. So some people react well to the elements and you go on your mind doesn't have a time in place or Our mind doesn't have anything unexpected or it doesn't have, you know, whatever. And one other way of explaining what our story is the people that are struggling is Marcia Shandor describes it, she talks in the movie language like what you just did, she talks about a movie in the minds of the audience, but she breaks it up into three different things just as well, you know, when a movie starts, and it's just like words on the screen, like the beginning of Star Wars, or, or is a voice over, saying, you know, in the beginning of time, bla bla bla, okay, so that's a voiceover that's really boring. That's not really what we want, at least we want as little of that as possible, okay. And that's usually explaining things, then you have a montage, like in the Rocky movie, when it's like, you know, his training, and now he's doing this or like, you're in Paris now. And now you're in London. So these are like quick themes moving from one thing to another, and that sometimes is needed to move a story along. But what you want more than anything else is an action scene where things are happening in real time, and people are talking to each other. And it's not it's you showing it and not telling. And I find that some people respond really well to the movie metaphor and go and I've been doing voiceover right. Yep. And that's not as exciting. And some people react more to the elements. So, but it's a common one. I think a lot of people think their thoughts and feelings and their opinions on a story. Yeah,


Anna Ong  31:21

I think that definitely depends on like, how people are like the ones who like structure work well, in terms of like the elements because they can identify different points. And the ones that are more visual, would want to go like figure out oh, you mean, like, go straight to the heart of the action first, and then work our way back? And tell your story? Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  31:41

I think that one mistake I see all the time on social media particularly is people think that if you were talking about a historical event or something that happened in your past, it automatically becomes a story. So they will say, I grew up in this place. I was this type of kid, there's like, that's not a story. They're just statements about your childhood is not an actual story. It's a story. If you say, when I was five years old, I was going through a really difficult time and blah, blah, blah. I mean, that's still not the most exciting way of telling that story. But at least that is a story if something happens. Okay, so I'm not sure if we actually answered what I what I asked because I think we I started digressing, but so what do you think people struggle with more other than, they don't realise that what they're doing is not a story, what they're doing is just, you know, a journal entry, what else they struggle with, or they find challenging once they started getting direction, I


Anna Ong  32:36

think, to be honest, before getting direction, the challenge for most people is finding stories. It's a muscle, like, you know, because they have their own filter. So they take I don't have a store, I don't have a story, I don't have a story. So that's why I have like, I promote story prompts. So that just to kind of help jog people's memory. Because otherwise, like if I just throw in a word, they won't, they won't be able to like they get stuck with it, they get obsessed with the word they got, actually, you can give me any story. And I can make it work the theme. But some of them are just so married into the idea and it's stuck. And I find that I think it's yes, I will say that as we get older, and we're so rigid in our ways, our creativity stops, and we just get stuck in the process. So


Francisco Mahfuz  33:21

I'm not sure if it's the our creativity stops or that it's a combination of many things. When it comes to storytelling, I find this one you don't know what a story is. So if I say to you, do you have a story about something, you don't have a folder in your brain for stories, unless it's like this one story, you always tell? Right? This is how my wife and I met. So you have a story about how your wife and I were met, you have a story about how you left the bank, you might have a story about how you if you didn't grow up in the country living in like me, you have a story of how I got to Barcelona to Spain. But apart from that people don't think of things as story so they could genuinely have hundreds but we're asking what we are asking doesn't get the brain to think in the right in the right terms. And in the other. I think it's just, you know, imposter syndrome and not thinking that whatever. They're not thinking things are interesting. You know, they think that everyday stuff is not interesting, but actually everyday stuff is the most interesting, because it's it's super relatable. And everybody's got that it happens to me all the time. Yeah, that happened to me last week. Yes. Oh, that didn't have that's different. Okay, now I want to hear this thing. And I think it's Once you tap all those things, it's, it becomes a little easier, but the prompts are a great way because I think it's difficult to see one of those prompts and not have anything. Yeah,


Anna Ong  34:45

so I am hoping like the prompts will prompt more people because I actually only have two slots left anyway to get people to like share more to share stories on my upcoming show, or at least what I have gotten a few messages On LinkedIn about people sharing their stories, though, which is nice, too, because they're not based in Singapore, so I can't have them on my show. But I still like reading their stories.


Francisco Mahfuz  35:09

Yeah, yeah, no, I can't imagine I think if you were doing this virtually, you would have no challenge whatsoever of getting as many storytellers as you wanted, I


Anna Ong  35:18

think no challenge in terms of getting storytellers to tell stories, but getting people to watch it is a little bit more challenging, because a lot of people don't want to sit through looking at the screen. So I find that's the challenge of doing virtual shows. But when I did my shows virtually and hybrid, I love that I was able to bring in people from Canada, Australia, the United States telling stories on my stage, and I would have them up on the movie screen and their audiences in Singapore watching them. When I did that, as a hybrid show.


Francisco Mahfuz  35:48

Do you get feedback from your audience? That is like, do they get surprised? Like they come in, maybe they didn't, they were not completely sold on the idea they kind of knew us someone asked them to come along. Do I would imagine a lot of people because a lot of people have never watched while we are calling storytelling, they have an idea of what it's like. But they've never watched the storytelling show, or anything remotely like that mean stand up comedians, or something which we know is not the same. So what sort of feedback do you get after the show? I imagine a lot of people are sort of blown away by the fact that stories are actually a cool thing. And this is fun.


Anna Ong  36:27

So I think one of the best feedbacks I got was a monotonic. How, how did you manage to find something warm in such a cold place? And I did understand if I got are you talking about Singapore is very hot. And he says no. But Singapore is very cold emotionally. And your story is just a room filled with warmth. How did you manage to, to create something that's so warm in such a cold place? So I think there are people who fall in love with the show when they finally see it, because they feel that it's one of the places where they just feel completely welcome like they belong. It doesn't matter if you come alone, everyone is so friendly. And I think that's like the culture that storytelling brings that everyone just is just happy to meet other people. And you know, it's just for the love of stories. So, but yes, of course, there are people who come there to cheer for their friends. And then there are people there to just kind of like, check it out to see what it's all about. But most of the time, people who come back and tell other people about it are those who fall in love with the show, fall in love with the culture and are inspired to also reflect back in terms of their own stories. They don't necessarily go up on stage and tell them but they liked that. It allows them to reflect on their own life, and then socialise with everyone over drinks. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  37:45

I'm not I'm not I'm not surprised by pretty much any of that. I think I was thinking first that it was a great marketing feedback, the you know, the room full of warmth. But then I realised that as you said, Singapore is pretty hot in putting writing a room full of warmth, might not attract people to the warmest room in Singapore might attract people that way you


Anna Ong  38:08

it's a room full of white, but don't worry, the ACS and for that, yes,


Francisco Mahfuz  38:12

yeah, as you can probably you can probably put the testimonial there. And then you have your line about the AC. So how have you found that out of the process of running the show and helping people with their stories? How has that changed? If it has your own storytelling? Like do you tell stories differently now that you've been doing this for a while and helping other people with their stories?


Anna Ong  38:38

I think in terms of like, on how I tell stories, I always keep working on refining my own technique. I don't craft my stories as often anymore, before they it takes me a long time to craft them. Now I work on how to quickly find stories and be able to feel more confident telling stories is spontaneous.


Francisco Mahfuz  38:57

So I always whenever I think about telling stories spontaneously, I mean, of course I do that I think we human beings, we do that pretty much every day. But I identifying that, for me, spontaneous is fine. The third time I tell it is 100 times better than spontaneous, particularly for interference free stuff people will LinkedIn sometimes asked me about the stories and whatever, because I always do them in one take, like if you ever see a video where I'm telling a story, it's one take, I don't there's no edits in it. And it's like, how long? How do you do it? Why don't I tell the story, usually two, three times just to make sure that I'm getting to all the points I want to get to and I'm doing it in the time, more or less I want to do it. So I don't want to tell any story on LinkedIn that is more than like, you know, one minute and a half to two minutes and a half. Because you know, patients fans and all that. So you know if I tell it the first time and it's coming out kind of like I'm touching other points, it's two minutes and a bit. I might tell it one more time just to sharpen it up a bit. And that's it and then the third time I tell it is what It's on the video. And if I put it on my keynotes or my training, then I can tell it in my sleep and I'm never really practising it anymore. The first time sometimes is a little clunky and rambley. Even though I've been doing this for a while, so at least that's my, that's my experience with spontaneous storytelling.


Anna Ong  40:19

No, I agree with you in terms of that, like the first time is always I have a name for the first time we kind of craft the story. I call it the CFD, the crappy first draft. Yes, that's true. And when I tell my clients this, or even people who submit stories where they go, just give me the crappy first draft, and they go, they they feel more comfortable. So send me something because I find that some people spend so much time editing what they're going to pitch to me, I told them, I wouldn't bother, because I'm going to make you redo it anyway, so So just give me the crappy first draft, because I want you to go to the process of just getting it out there, getting it out. And then the second draft you write, the third draft is 100 times better, because the second draft is the moment you write the first draft, the second draft that you make is if you already know how to make it better the second time around. Yeah, I


Francisco Mahfuz  41:07

find that most of the people that I work with, and for myself, if I just take a little more time, I don't only do this in my head, I never write this stuff down. But I don't if I'm crafting it in my head, I was like, okay, so what is what is the point of the story? What is the change that have gone through that other people can can relate to and learn from? Once I know that, then what supports that change in the story? It needs to be there? What doesn't? Where do I start as as close to the end as possible? And what is the moment that I'm basing the story around? Like, once I kinda know those things in my head, I can now start trying to tell it, and I find that the my crappy first draft is not miles away in the content from the final draft. It's, it's 10 times 100 times worse in the telling. But the content itself is like, well, it's kind of Syria, Zykina is not exactly the same. Because there's a line here that does this thing. There's a line here that does this other thing. So yeah, but I think what I noticed with a lot of people is because they don't have that mental structure of what they're trying to do with the story. It's pages of stuff. And you're like, Yeah, but why didn't you start three years ago, you could have started a story yesterday, when you talk to your kids, and feel the zine on the back. So buddy, now again, this is despite We are professional way, people are not well,


Anna Ong  42:30

I love the half that they gave, because that is that's true. Because sometimes you have to story or stories involve a certain change, there has to be an element of changing that. Otherwise, it's not a story. And you basically you're happy or they love it is because it goes straight to the point, it goes straight to the change first and then work backwards like because once you're very clear, the changes can like, this is your communication goal. Once you're clear with that, you know what to get rid of, because what doesn't support that, then you won't put it in? Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  42:59

all stories are about conflict and change. Or I like to call it because I'm a superhero nerd. They're about pain and power, there is some pain in your story, there's some problem, there is something that happened that is upsetting you, there's a struggle or whatever, that's always going to be a Nene story. That's, that's different. And you're gonna be changed by the end of that story. So you now have the power to know something or do something that you didn't have before. If you just keep those two things in your mind, like whatever is not leading you to the pain, and then leading you out of the pain into the power is probably not necessary for the story. Maybe it's fun, maybe it's worth putting it in because you have the time to do it. But it's not necessary for the story. And and I think this is where people don't they don't have those anchors. So they go like how did you leave Singapore? Did you leave the bank? Well, and they're like, I was it was a process. It took me two years to really leave and I almost left this time and I did it. And yeah, that's all part of it, but it's too far. Okay, so I wanted to to just as we were approaching the end, I wanted to ask you something that is kind of about storytelling, but not 100% about storytelling, which is I know that at least from from what video you put out I know that you're you're interested or we're interested at some point in doing not only storytelling, but also speaking, which is which is something I do a lot. So what I wanted to ask is what has been your experience so far? In how being a storyteller being a good storyteller prepares you or doesn't for being a speaker. So where do you find that the storytelling there's a lot for you as a speaker and where it's, what are the other things that perhaps you you didn't know you needed or you weren't as good at to begin with that you're finding that the speaker also needs because the speaker is not as a storyteller can the speaker should be a storyteller, but being a storyteller but it doesn't automatically make you a speaker. Oh,


Anna Ong  45:04

oh, I feel like you just put me in the spot here. Okay, I actually find speaking more of a struggle because it, I find that preparing a keynote record is a lot more thought and structure and a lot more lecturing. And it's not I find the storytelling element in the keynote. For me, it's my favourite part because that's where I get engagement from the audience. But then the last part where I have to kind of like, these are your key takeaways. I feel like I'm always I'm lecturing people, so I don't enjoy it as much. And for the longest time, I think I was like trying to figure out what the heck is a keynote? How does one craft a keynote? how come everybody does it so many different ways. And they also find that a lot of the speakers would like to use slides, and I is slides. I hate working with slides. I try to avoid slides as much as I can, though I do sometimes speak with slides. And I, I find slides require an additional amount of rehearsing. And you're already worrying up thinking about like, where to step forward to the side look left look right. And then you have slides, making sure the slides pop up when they should and memorising the order of your slides. So I find that part a little stressful, an additional element to storytelling. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  46:23

I think there's a question about structure there. And there are many different ways you can you can build a keynote. But one, one approach that I find that works well for storytellers is this idea of like, tell a story, make a point. So my keynote, which is about storytelling, and how we can use storytelling in different ways in business, what I always tried to do is say, okay, so what are the points I want to make? Do I have a story or an example, just to think of it in a simple way? Do I have an example that supports that point. So the way my keynote structure this, so let's say I'm going to talk about change, I tell a little story, right at the beginning about my kid learning how to ride a bicycle, and how she was really struggling to change the way she rode a bicycle. So that's, that's me just introducing the point that the topic I'm going to talk about, then I lecture to use the terms, I'm just lecture for a little bit about, like, you know, change is really hard, isn't it? Like, well, I've, we've tried to change it within this. But then there's so I lecture a little bit, and then I might I start looking for other examples. Right? So So do I have a science story that shows how difficult changes and then I can share that story? Do I have a business story that shows how change is important? So my, my approach is to have, there are points I'm trying to make that are takeaways, but I just tried to support as many of them as I can, with a story. And that story could be a two minute or three minute thing, from my personal life, from a business from science. Or it can just be an example, right? Sometimes you don't need to, like spend a minute or two telling about stuff that everybody knows, right? So you can say, you know, most people know the Steve Jobs told lots of stories in his keynote, right? You might remember the one he told about this thing. So let's say this is just an example. So it's not us saying stories are super important in presentations, which is just, it's me passing my opinion as effect, right? So I find that for a lot of people, once you into the stories and you're like, Okay, can I get away with just telling as many stories as possible, that helps a lot, because I think I when I talk for 45 minutes, plus the q&a plus a little bit too close, I tell something like a story every seven minutes, give or take, so that that helps a lot. But the other thing, I find that having a structure helps. And the one I did teach a lot of people is heat. So hook example. And the example would typically be a story, arguments and takeaway. So if, if all you're breaking out and doesn't matter if this is a six minute presentation, or an hour long presentation is say one thing to grab their attention or ask a question by rotation or a stat or whatever you want to do, tell a story that backs that up, then broaden the argument a little bit with science with other evidence. And then they take something away from that. And either you're done. Or you just repeat that process over and over building on to other things infrastructure tells you maybe don't even need the hook. The hook is the beginning of the story. So who either eat or eat. But I tell people who hit and eat are way more exciting than hat. Like if you can read of the example, that nobody's gonna find this particularly great, right? So yeah, so that's the one that I find.


Anna Ong  49:45

I am writing this down right now because this is a jam, like in terms of like structure for keynote because I always find preparing keynotes a bit more tricky for me. And I think that's also a different skill, but and also telling stand up comedy just, it's a different structure. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz  50:04

no, no, it's very different than and another approach that works well is not think of it as as one long presentation, you can think of it as say, Okay, I'm going to talk about change and the problems of change and how storytelling is effective in change. Okay, so that's my, that's my broad theme. That's what my keynote is about. What are the three most important things that I need to tell people that backup this point? And I can say, Okay, well, this is the problem of normal communication. This is why most people don't, you know, this is why storytelling is, is the way to fix that problem. In here are some techniques or tips or tricks or whatever, in how people can actually use that in their day to day lives. So you could think of those as three completely different presentations. And each one is like 15 minutes long. And then you just build that one. So so do a 15 minute presentation wide mode, the way most people communicate is, is not very effective. And that is okay, so what story can I tell here? What science can I use whatever you've done, and then you just put those together. And what you find is, if you ever have to do a 15 minute presentation, you already have it, if you have to do half an hour presentation, you might just choose two of those points. And you end up with a lot of your refer speakers refer this as Lego blocks. So you have your this story makes this point, this other story makes this point and you the more time you give them, the more Lego blocks you use, the less time you give them, the fewer you use. And if you give in training, you can go which of my Lego blocks fit into training, and then you have a five minutes here, seven minutes there, then just stick them in and they don't have to keep, you know, preparing an hour long thing or five hour long thing every single time from scratch.


Anna Ong  51:44

That's why I find trainees a lot easier because they're much more interactive. And it's like, I speak for shorter amounts of time versus just talking like, you know, like giving a monologue.


Francisco Mahfuz  51:54

Yeah, yeah, for sure. And I think one thing that a lot of people don't get with, with how storytelling helps presenting and speaking overall, is that if you have this storyteller, you learn how to talk like a human being, when you tell the story, you're not putting on a voice, you're not acting or whatever, in speaking is kind of artificial. So sometimes what will happen is people tell the story well, but then they go into speaking mode. And there's like, and this is why communication doesn't work. It's a real problem. There's So way to go from human being to like, weird person doing declarations. And so the more stories you can have, the easier it becomes to just sound like the whole thing is a conversation. So, ya know, I, I think it's the, it's the hack that makes most presentations a lot easier, is just have as many stories in there as you can, as long as you picking the right stories, and they support your point and all of that.


Anna Ong  52:49

And I like that you add. I mean, I can just imagine when you're doing your keynotes, you add a lot of elements of humour in it, because you're quite funny. Thank


Francisco Mahfuz  52:59

you very much. That is something I find very difficult to tell people to do. Because a lot of people don't feel naturally funny, or they don't feel confident with with humour. What I tend to always tell them is if you're going to use slides, that's a great opportunity for humour, that is easy. Like there is a meme that you can use. There's a funny picture you can use. So whenever I use slides, and I don't like them either, but if it's an hour long presentations, I'll often have some, but I try to have them be kind of interesting, like so I'm saying, so what is the real, how much more memorable stories are and then I have a guy going like this is the picture of a guy going like this. And then at some point, I start calculating something else. That's really difficult. And I make this face and there's an emoji right behind me that is the exact same face. So I'll do stuff like that, or I'll have a meme. I'll have a picture that is clearly funny. And then you put it on and just keep talking. Normally people will laugh and go, Oh, yeah, I love that picture. I've seen someone do one the other day with Simpsons, like was a Simpsons pictures of The Simpsons. And they changed like they put a balloon thought balloon to next to Homer. And Homer is talking about like marketing or something. Right? So there's opportunities for using humour that don't involve you being funny. And I think those are the ones people can easily try. And they go and google images and say funny cartoon marketing or funny meme marketing, and you find them straightaway. I'm


Anna Ong  54:27

sure there will be some AI is going to be preparing those searches as well.


Francisco Mahfuz  54:33

And I think that's fine. I know you've been playing around with chat to PT, like many of us have. And I think I think we're very far away from a point where the person who stands up to present in front of other people is going to be completely replaced by anything and AI does. So if an AI helps you create your content, great, like if you go on the AI and say what is a good structure for a keynote speech that will lasts this long and has this as the main topic, or the main point in the suggestions might actually be very useful. You still need to get up there and present, I think we're still a bit far away from the the AI doing the speaking for us, at least doing it in a way that most people would want to watch or pay to watch. So I'm not worried just yet. I


Anna Ong  55:24

want to tell you, so if I don't think I want to put it in the podcast about like, the things I've asked Chad GPT to do for the do for me, in terms of our work,


Francisco Mahfuz  55:34

you know, you know, you don't need to mention it here. But I know a lot of speakers who really like it. And they find that there's a massive time saver, right. So I know some guy who works on our guy works with clarity. Like he helps his clients get clarity on their messaging and all the things they're doing. And he just use this chatroom D live with them. So it's okay, so we want to talk you're talking to marketers, and this is the main thing we're talking about. Let's just just get some ideas to discuss. And then he goes on chatting with you and ask some questions, get some ideas and go okay, some of these look interesting. What do you think? And then they debate them. It's never the final product. But it's a Okay, Chaturvedi. Can you rewrite this as if you were a TED speaker? Can you rewrite this as if you were a marketer, and you still need someone lead in that process? Because most people don't know the questions to ask the AI. And the people who do are never going to be our clients anyway. So I don't think it's, I think, pretending we are doing a lot of stuff when we're not. And there is an easy technological way to do it is a very easy way to talk yourself out of business, because you'll be so easily replaceable, that as soon as people realise then that's not. So another concern I have, at least


Anna Ong  56:50

now I like chat GPT in terms of like helping me come up with some of the prompts, but I had to come up with my own prompts. Okay, can we take you know, like, tweak some of the prompts, I chatted, he gave me Vega. Okay, but that's good. I touched him. He's good for brainstorming, sometimes in terms of like, just giving me some more ideas.


Francisco Mahfuz  57:07

And that's it. And then the person who says, oh, did you get that through? Just chat chat? Chat GPT, while that has taken away completed the value of what you've done, did you do it? Did you go and do it? Raise if you didn't, but like if if people are hiring, they're hiring us to solve a problem. If we solve the problem, then we've solved the problem. Now I could have done it myself. But you didn't write? Did it? So the next time try to do it by yourself and see how well that works for you. If it works, never hire anyone again. Okay.


Anna Ong  57:37

The reason why they hire us is not because they can solve it themselves. It's just that we can do it faster.


Francisco Mahfuz  57:42

Well, the further we go, we can solve it faster, right? So is, could they do it exactly the way we do it at the same time, with the same effort with the same level of confidence that it's going to get done? No, because if they could do it, they will do it. It's always a combination of those things they don't know, they don't know how to do it fast enough. They don't feel confident with the result. They just don't want to have the responsibility. They want to pay for someone to have the responsibility or to lead the process. And I think that goes for any type of consulting or coaching. I don't think it's people don't have the mental skills to do it. If they had some direction, but often they just don't want to, or they know they will never get around to it. I don't think anyone that hires a diet coach, the vast majority of people, they know how to lose weight. It's not a mystery. There is a reason they don't do it. It is not a lack of knowledge and the vast majority of cases. Yes, yes, it could be. Okay, so people are in Singapore and want to find out about the show. Where should they go? And if people just want to find out more about the work that you do? Where should they go? So


Anna Ong  58:50

actually, all the information is on my website WW, that ANA hyphen off. That's A N N a dash O ng.com. That's the easiest way that they can find me They can find me on LinkedIn through there, they can find me they can find links directly to all my shows for the year there as well as well as the types of workshops that I run. Okay, I'm gonna put


Francisco Mahfuz  59:11

that on the on the show notes because I don't think it's impossible that some people are going to have a slight challenge with your name, like I did, where I'm so used to reading OMG online that every time I saw your surname, I had to do a double take and go no, that's misspelt. No, he's wrong. He's not OMG is not Oh my god. Yeah, yes. And it's like oh, this is interesting professional name and oh my god. And that's a no no, you idiot. It's an Asian certainly. So but it again maybe this is just my brain, but or the lack thereof. The Show Notes anyway. Yes,


Anna Ong  59:50

yes. Because I think was in South America. Oh, Angie means a nonprofit as well.


Francisco Mahfuz  59:57

Or True. True, of course. Of course, so yeah, so they


Anna Ong  1:00:01

go, how do I spell your name? I go like, oh Na,


Francisco Mahfuz  1:00:04

yes 100% cc this is this is how my brain works or doesn't. I went for OMG and not for OMG, which is an actual word in the language in one or in two of the languages that I speak. So, so yes, that says a lot about more about me than says about you.


Anna Ong  1:00:23

You're more Americanized.


Francisco Mahfuz  1:00:25

That's one way of looking at it. All right. And thank you very much for your time. This has been fantastic.


Anna Ong  1:00:34

Thank you, Francisco. I had a great time.


Francisco Mahfuz  1:00:36

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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