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  • Francisco Mahfuz

E28. The Stories Great Leaders Tell with Paul Smith



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


Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

Hi everyone, Francisco here. Just before we get started, I wanted to share something I'm really excited about. I recently launched the story powers bootcamp, a course that teaches you everything you need to know about how to find craft and tell stories that work. But it's not just an online course, because you get personalised feedback from me for all the practical activities in three hours of life coaching to work through any challenges, or focus on specific projects. So it's like if you bought a cookbook, but the chef came along with it. So go to story powers.com and click on Course, all the information you need will be there. So please check it out. And if you love the show, and would like to support us, you can go to buy me a coffee.com forward slash story powers. I drink about five coffees a day, so any support would be much appreciated. All right on with the show.


Welcome to the story powers 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, my guest today is pose myth pose. One of the world's leading experts in business storytelling is one of ink Magazine's Top 100 leadership speakers of 2018, a storytelling coach and best selling author of the books, the 10 stories greatly to sell, sell with a story lead with a story, parenting with a story and four days with Kenny Tedford. When I was younger, my father told me to stop playing around and get a real job. Told my be the only person I know whose father told him to quit a real and well paying job and start playing around. Ladies and gentlemen, Bo Smith. Bo, welcome to the show.


Paul Smith 1:47

Yeah, thank you so much that that might be true. I guess he did give me some kind of a backwards advice, but it worked out.


Francisco Mahfuz 1:55

Yeah. And I heard you describe that experience of quitting Procter and Gamble after 20 years, was it? Yeah. And there was one line that I thought was amazing, which was nobody gets a standing ovation at the end of a budget meeting.


Paul Smith 2:08

Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. So yeah, it's been a big, big difference these last seven or eight years.


Francisco Mahfuz 2:15

It's one of those things that, unfortunately, I think a lot of people don't have the experience of because, you know, my experience is not quite the same as yours. But but I've been doing, I had been doing the same job for a very long time, and I had no issues with a job is a perfectly fine job. But once you find that thing that you're really passionate about, and I think you described this when you were writing a book that you were trying to sneak in time to write the book, because you're enjoying it so much. And I'm finding the same, you know, recording the podcast, or preparing keynotes and things of that nature, it doesn't feel like work. So it's perhaps less than the jobs we're doing have a problem with them. They're just horrible. We hate them. But they don't they feel like what, whereas whereas this doesn't?


Paul Smith 2:59

Yeah, and that was one of my kind of criteria when trying to figure out if and how I was going to leave my corporate career was finding something that didn't feel like work, something that I love doing so much, that I would almost do it if they didn't pay me not quite, but almost and that, yeah, that that's a sign that you found the right thing.


Francisco Mahfuz 3:19

And I've I've just read the, I think is your latest book, The 10 stories greatly there still. And as promised, it was read from cover to cover in under an hour. And I thought I thought it was amazing. I wanted to congratulate you on that. But also, you know, challenge of something you said at the beginning, you said, you know that in your experience. You've done all these interviews with executives. And there are more than 70 types of stories.


Paul Smith 3:44

Yeah, does that sound like too many to you or not enough?


Francisco Mahfuz 3:47

It sounds like too many. I mean, because you're you're 10 cover a lot of ground. Yeah, but 70 sounds quite a lot.


Paul Smith 3:55

Well, and that's why that's why I wrote the book, because 70 was a lot but I think I covered 21 different types of leadership stories in my first book and 23 types of character building stories for for children in my parenting with a storybook, and 25 types of sales and marketing stories in my cell with a storybook. So I think that adds up to about 70. Right. So in those three books, there are 70 types of stories and probably 250 examples. And I suspect I could write a few more books like that. And so the whole purpose of the the most recent book is focus on what are the most important ones because 70 is a lot of different stories. What are the most important 10? If you're going to start being a storyteller at work to improve your leadership capability? What what 10 stories should you start with? And those are the 10 I think you should start with but I think there are many more after those 10.


Francisco Mahfuz 4:48

It's interesting that because there is I don't know if this is assuming it's deliberate, but there are some people that talk on storytelling and write on storytelling that will focus very heavily On three or four types of stories, so I was just talking to, to Jason Reed, as I mentioned, and he said that he finds that a lot of people put a lot of focus on, say, the origin story. Or maybe you have a value story or or client success story, whatever you want to call that. But this is, you know, they're just shortchanging themselves, because there's all these varieties, and you know, in origin stories, and interesting too, but most of lead leaders are not necessarily telling their origin story. Right? They're telling all sorts of smaller, perhaps more important stories on a day to day basis.


Paul Smith 5:33

Yeah, yeah, I agree. And there are a lot of people who focus on these two or three most important stories, and you know, there are some stories that are more important than others. But if the only stories you ever told was your origin, story, and sales story and marketing story, and that's it, you're you're severely under utilising the power of storytelling, I mean, if you're interested in we can go through, probably want to go through all 70. But I can, I can share the most important tan and we can talk about a, you know, a dozen other types, if you want to give your audience a feel for the breadth of purposes that stories can be used for, I think that would be useful use of our time.


Francisco Mahfuz 6:13

Yeah, I will pick you up on that one. But one thing I wanted to ask before is, I read the book, and then I thought, Okay, well, this is incredible. It's, you know, such a concise, such a concise book, and he has a lot in it. I mean, you could stay busy for years, just trying to master that. And then as soon as I finish, I thought, okay, but you know, you've written these two other more business related books on storytelling. So you had to leave a lot behind to write that one. So other than the 10 stories, there isn't much to talk about, we think, you know, structure and things of that nature. And when you were writing, did you get that feeling of, they're gonna need this extra stuff? Or did you generally convince yourself that no, this is enough?


Paul Smith 6:55

Yeah. Well, I of course, I did. You know, I want include everything in every book. But, you know, the easy way to to ease my mind at that is, well, if they want to learn that stuff, they just got to go by my other books. It's in there, you know, so this one was just supposed to be? What are the 10 most important stories, I should tell, give me one example of each of those 10. And give me a few tips to how to find that story and craft it myself. So that's all it is. And that's why you could read it in an hour. But you know, the book I wrote before that sell with a story goes into all the detail about the structure of a story and different techniques to create the right emotional engagement. And how do you create a surprise ending? And what are the questions your story needs to answer and how long they should be? And how much what level of detail should you go into? And in the stories, and how do you guard against, you know, too much embellishment versus being accurate enough? So I mean, I really went deep into the nuts and bolts of how to craft those stories in previous works. So that just freed me up in this one, to just be very focused on what are the most important 10 stories?


Francisco Mahfuz 7:57

And are you are you signed up already for the 10 stories? Great salespeople tell?


Paul Smith 8:02

No, I probably would just point you to the right chapters of that book. I don't know maybe that's a good idea after write that down and think


Francisco Mahfuz 8:08

about I mean, I you know, I can imagine that. I imagine that it can come competitively that this book would have taken significantly less time to write that one. If this one does. Well, as it looks like it's doing why not? Right. I'm sure. Two or 310 stories you're getting out of that? Well, I mean, you can write seven books of 10 stories. You may


Paul Smith 8:28

have just convinced me that maybe my my job for the next couple of years.


Francisco Mahfuz 8:33

The easiest sales speech of all time.


Paul Smith 8:35

Yeah, I think so. All right. I'm convinced.


Francisco Mahfuz 8:38

The question I also wanted to ask was, because I genuinely thought, I mean, this is a very useful book, and it shot right up my list of books that I'll be recommending to people, particularly because it's so different. You know, I read yours, on the back of your mate, Sean's book, putting stories to work. And again, they're completely different beasts. And I mean, Shawn's book, I think is a lot more like your previous books. But then I was thinking was, is there a chance that when you write this, you know, 300 page book that covers every single aspect you can about storytelling, compared to this one you just wrote? Is there a chance that we are overestimating what someone needs to actually start telling this effective stories? You know, do they need all of that stuff? Or, you know, is this tome that you just wrote, enough?


Paul Smith 9:28

I think it's enough to get started. So you know, I think that was Sean's first book, and Sean's a brilliant guy. And it's a great book. And my first book was my longest book. And I think that's what you do as, as an author, you know, you've developed some expertise in something, you spent years researching it, and you write your first book, and you're so excited about it. And so you want to write everything that you've learned in that book. And so it ends up being a big, thick book. And then by your third or fourth or fifth book, you know, you've already written all that stuff and you want to write just about the the new stuff. So now looked back after having written five books on the topic. Yeah, I think you can start knowing a lot less with something like storytelling. And maybe it's true with every with everything else. Like if, if you wanted to learn to play the guitar, do you need to start learning all of the techniques and everything you'd need to know to be a classical, you know, guitar player and fill up Carnegie Hall with, you know, people want to hear you play, probably not, I mean, get a guitar, go take a few lessons, learn a few, learn a few chords, you know, and start playing around. And I think that's probably true with storytelling as well. And that was the purpose of this last book, here are the most important 10 stories, pick the two or three that are the most important to you right now. And follow these few simple steps to finding it for you and start playing around with it. And then when you want to refine it and get it much, much better. Yeah, you might need to buy another book to do that, or attend a few more training classes or something. But yeah, I think with just a little bit of information on storytelling, you can get started in a confident way. And you can learn more later.


Francisco Mahfuz 11:03

I think that if you want to learn the guitar, all you need to learn is the chords to Stairway to Heaven. Maybe there is to be the case. Yeah. When I when I was younger, just because I realised that I said, Shawn, and some people listening well know who I'm referring to. I'm talking about Sean Callahan, who wrote putting putting stories to work and actually talking to him with him in an event in October, there was a storytelling Congress and a B. Team. I'm one of the people speaking on that on that one. Right. So you mentioned some types of stories. So one thing I wanted to ask you was, from your experience, what are the stories that leaders are worst at telling?


Paul Smith 11:43

Hmm, yeah, so they're pretty bad at? Well, they're bad at telling stories, they don't know, they should be telling us stories. Right. So So compare that to like, stories, they know, they should tell us stories, like the origin story that you mentioned, most leaders know, I need to be able to tell the origin story, the founding story of this company. And so they worked on it. And it's, you know, they got it to where it's probably fairly decent, but most of them don't even know that they should be telling a strategy story. You know, they know they should have a strategy. And they should have a strategy document. But they don't think they should have a strategy story. You know, they think they should have a vision statement. But they don't know they need a vision story. So so they're really bad at telling those two stories, because they they've never even considered telling them a story. Whereas the founding story, yeah, they know that they've got to have that. So those, I think, two of the worst the vision story, and the strategy story, because they know their vision and strategy, but they have no idea how to tell a story with it.


Francisco Mahfuz 12:42

I'm surprised that you say that they know how to tell the origin story. Because I mean, the impression I get is that if people haven't been trained on this, or you know, some people are just natural, right? But if they haven't been trained on this, this the the origin story tends to come out as, you know, boring, boilerplate text on a website, 19 Something, something where it's, I don't think I've seen anyone describe to me their business. And actually, you know, zero in on a moment. And when a when was the insight, when the Insight happened is always this. This is who we are. This is how many of us when we started this, how we grew


Paul Smith 13:18

is how big we are now. Yeah, yeah. I totally agree. Yeah, so I, if I could correct, I didn't mean that they're, they're, they're great at telling that origin story, but at least they know that it should be a story. Now they do it poorly, because they don't tell the origin story. They tell the whole company story from the moment, it was founded with, you know, $35 in the garage with two people, you know, all the way to today, where we're a fortune 500 company? Well, that's not a story. That's a timeline. You know, the story is just that moment at the beginning, you know, that insightful moment that you said, and so yeah, when I once I work with him, you know, we develop a story around that moment. But at least it's not a surprise that there really should be a story there. I mean, most people who work at I would imagine Microsoft would know about, you know, Bill Gates being at Harvard and dropping out and, you know, they would know this, you know, similar story about Michael Dell in the college dorm room in Texas somewhere and, you know, building computers in his dorm room, and, you know, the Apple garage, you know, so they've got a vague idea of the origin of the companies that they work for, but they really don't even know where to begin to think about a strategy story.


Francisco Mahfuz 14:27

And what we just say, is, I mean, out of the 70 something that is very rarely used, or maybe a bit obscure, that you found that, you know, no one tells no one knows, it should be told or it may be if that doesn't come to mind immediately, just a moment in business that people should be telling stories, but pretty much never are.


Paul Smith 14:49

Well, so one that I think is obvious that is not used as often as it should, is what I'd call a marketing story. So in the in the the 10. That's the how we're different from our competitors story, almost everybody's got a list of features and benefits that they're trying to sell. But that's not a story, you know that we hear the three features and benefits the about my product, and that's why you should buy it well, but tell me a story about somebody using it. And being happy with or somebody using one of your competitors products and being unhappy with it. In fact, tell those two together, and now you've got a story that is much better than the list of features and, and benefits. So that's one of the most useful stories I think you can tell.


Francisco Mahfuz 15:28

There was one, I can't remember exactly. If that was the vision story. In the book, which you described, someone writing magazine article, a newspaper article in the future. Yeah.


Paul Smith 15:41

Yeah. Which that's actually useful in both the vision story and the strategy story. And I've seen several examples, and I've had my clients use them as well. But yeah, if you want to tell the, if you want to illustrate your vision, I mean, what is a vision, it's a, it's a picture of the future, so compelling that people want to go there with you, right? So if you write you know, for example, a newspaper article of a fake one, obviously, one written in the future, looking backwards, you know, and saying, here's where we are today, five years from now looking backwards, it's so much better than where we were five years ago, you can really paint a picture of what a day in the life of a person in that future is after you've achieved your vision. And it should be a wonderful story, right? You're getting to make the whole thing up, you know, make it up wonderful. And it ought to be something that's plausible, based on your plans to to get to that vision. Yeah. And so I've just seen several companies, who will, you know, they'll pick the favourite reading material of their CEO or the general population there and write it as if it was that Wall Street Journal article, or that Financial Times article, or whatever, looking back, and it just makes it a more fun thing to engage with.


Francisco Mahfuz 16:52

You said something just now about you making that up. Now, I think most people that that teach storytelling tend to suggest that, you know, apart from stories that ever happened, that you're trying to imagine that you shouldn't make up stories, you should use things that have actually happened. But my question then would be, in your opinion, how much can you genuinely craft those stories or edit them? So what are you comfortable with? And what do you think is going over the line?


Paul Smith 17:18

Yeah, so first of all, in my experience, 95% of the time that I need a story are one of my clients needs a story, were able to find a real, real one that happened, there's no need to make up a story about 5% of the time, they just they don't have they can't find one or the ones they found or two confidential and they, you know, don't want to, you know, they want to protect the anonymity of the people involved. And so we end up fictionalising it so that, you know, you don't do something you shouldn't do. But 95% of the time, you should, you should be able to find one. But even among those that are true, I think your question is, you know, how much can you embellish, or edit or craft the story? And so here's my advice for that. I think you should be no more or less willing to edit stories, and it's maybe not the right word, embellish stories, then you're willing to embellish facts. Okay. And so what that means is not too much, but more than nothing. So for example, almost everybody is willing to round off numbers, right? So if we had a 14.7% increase in sales this year, you just call that 15%? Right? If, if your survey results on employee satisfaction, were up 95% This year, you'd say we doubled our satisfaction rating right. Now, those that's not perfectly precisely accurate. But that's okay. Because rounding off numbers is it's literally a rounding error. And we round off numbers for very good reason. Because you're giving people the level of accuracy they need without overburdening their cognitive load with precision. That is unimportant. Right? So 14.76%, it's 15%. Right? So we're all willing to embellish numbers a little bit, but not much like if you rounded off 14.7 up to 20%. All now that feels dishonest, right? So the magnitude of the change matters. So I think you should be willing to embellish stories a little bit, but not a lot. Right. So you and in fact, I call it hard points and soft points. You don't want to change, you know, the situation that the main character was in the problem that they ran into how they resolved it, and what the results were. But if you want to change the names of the characters, or the exact dates or locations to kind of protect the anonymity of people or, you know, you can change things like that. And in fact, here's my acid test. If you ever tell a story in front of a group of people, and then imagine that whoever the story was about was actually in your audience and you didn't know it and you find After you told the story that the person the story was about actually heard you tell that story, then ask yourself these two questions. Would you be embarrassed at how you told the story? Or would they be offended at how you told the story? And if the answer is yes to either of those, will you change too much? If the answer is no, then you're fine. That's kind of my acid test,


Francisco Mahfuz 20:20

identifying that I don't mind details that are still within the spirit of what you're telling. So even if you're wearing something awkward, but whatever that awkward thing is just doesn't translate to the audience. They won't recognise that as something awkward. Yeah. I like I like superheroes. So let's say I was wearing, I don't know, a Wolverine t shirt. But not everybody knows who Wolverine is. But now most people do. But if I just say about Superman, yeah, Superman, everybody knows and knows the spirit. And what I've we've seen done have told people that I don't have a problem doing is, you know, if you have a whole bunch of minor characters, that are just going to make it complicated, but all of them represent sort of the board bureaucrat stopping you from doing something we should probably not even naming, it should just make the bureaucrat be the one person. Yeah, because otherwise you just complicate things beyond, beyond people's understanding.


Paul Smith 21:16

actually wanted to give you an example, my favourite example, from your last question, because I loved your Wolverine example, one of my favourite examples of somebody embellishing a story in a way that sounds like they shouldn't do it, but I think it's totally justifiable, is this so I had a guy in one of my courses, he told the class and you know, at the end of the day, everybody developed their stories. You know, at the end of the day, he tells his story and his stories about going to New York with his wife on a trip, and they're about to check into a hotel, they get out of the cab, come from the airport, get out of the cab, they're about to walk into the hotel, the guy looks down the street, the long Avenue in New York, and the sun is setting right at the end of the street. And that like rarely happens in New York, if the sun is setting right at the end of this really long street. And he's a photographer, he's like, Oh, I got to get a picture of this. And so he's getting his equipment out and everything, I'm gonna take this picture and his wife's like, you know, honey, we got to go, we got we got dinner, we got a theatre, we got to get to, we're gonna be late, we got to go check in. And he's like, You know what, you go stand in line to check us in, just give me 10 minutes out here, I'll get this picture. And then I'll meet you. And so so they do that. And the whole story, the purpose of the story was Don't let these you know, unique moments pass by because of whatever some mundane, trivial thing that you got to do capture the moment. And he tells the story, everybody got it, they loved it. And then he admitted later in the class. Well, not everything in that story was true. And so then we're like, Oh, really? Well, what what did you make up? You know, and we're thinking it was gonna be this, you know, horrible thing. And he said, Well, everything about that story was true, except it wasn't my wife. It was my secretary was my secretary. And so of course, when everybody's like, oh, oh, you're such a terrible person. Oh, my God, you're having an affair. And you had this beautiful story, but you're out. And then And then he says, no, no, no, no, it wasn't that way. And that's why I didn't tell it that way. It was a big company event that we're you know, 300 of us checking into the same hotel at the same time. But you know, my secretary, we work together. So we fly together. And we, you know, we're in the same cab, and we got there at the same time, we weren't in, we weren't checking into the same room. But we were all going to the same dinner in the same theatre. And she's trying to make sure I'm not going to be laid. And so she was just doing her job trying to keep me on track. He said, and I could have explained all of that to you. But that took longer to explain than the story took, right. So I just tell the story and say it was my wife, because every time I tell the story with all the truth in it, nobody remembers the beautiful sunset and the lesson in the story. They're so focused on trying to figure out if I'm, if I'm cheating on my wife or not. So it just it's a distraction, that that accurate detail is a complete distraction from the the beauty of the story. And so he just changes that. And then nobody ever asks him again. And I haven't heard that. I think that's totally justified. What do you think?


Francisco Mahfuz 24:06

I think that you touched on something there that is that is very important. Have you changed the truth of the story? The truth of the story is I did not get derailed from this beautiful moment by these mundane things. Well, that hasn't changed. And I haven't, I haven't changed the setting. So that happened, it was all going to happen the exact same way. The no problem. The question I wanted to ask was a lot of business stories, people use business examples, right. So let me give you an example of mine in this is 100% A true story. I 10 years ago, 12 years ago, I was living in Madrid and my now wife was in Barcelona. And we saw each other once a month. And then I told her Listen, honey, when you come over for next weekend, you know bring up really bring a nice dress As I'm taking you somewhere special, I've got a surprise for you. So we've she comes and she's, you know, she's wearing this lovely dress and we go out. It's just beautiful old house. And we come in, it's a restaurant and all the waiters are dressed in like tuxedos. It's super kind of formal. There's someone playing the piano, and dinner starts, and it's all lovely, and she seems a bit quieter than usual. And then at some point, halfway through the dinner, the waiter sort of clinks on a glass, fork, bangs and glass. Everybody stops in, they start singing an opera. Because the surprise was that a restaurant was a restaurant, but also a classical music school. So throughout the dinner that happened two or three times, and it was beautiful when and I felt that she she didn't seem to be so much into it. And then dessert came and she just kept like peeking through her meal, not eating very much. And it's like, Okay, fine. And then I asked her when I got home, I said, Listen, I you know, I went through all this trouble, and it wasn't a cheap restaurant, but you just didn't seem to be into it at all. And she's like, Oh, no, nothing, no worries. And then I found out about about two or three weeks later, she said, Listen, you know what? You told me to drink a nice dress. In you told me two things on special and you had a surprise for me? I thought you were going to propose. So I kept looking for the ring in the middle of the food sinking? Or surely it's hidden here somewhere. Yeah. And in, you know, I didn't understand my donors and women terribly? Well, I know. And I clearly didn't understand who I was speaking to. So what I was communicating wasn't what they are, she was understanding. And it wasn't just her because she spoke with her friends. They all said 100%, this proposal, there is no question about this. So I have used that story before to say, it doesn't matter how clear you think you are. If you don't know your audience, and you don't understand how they are going to understand your message, then you might just be not only, you know, wasting that message, but causing yourself a problem as I did.


Paul Smith 26:56

But I hope you marry the woman eventually. Right? I have


Francisco Mahfuz 27:00

married. Okay, I have married. So my question there is, that's obviously not a business story. Right. But I can clearly make a business point out of it. So in your experience, do you find that those more sort of day to day stories that have nothing to do business? Do you find that they are, are as effective, or there are times that they just doesn't play in the way perhaps we think it might,


Paul Smith 27:23

I think they're very effective, in fact, and they goes the other direction as well. In fact, the reason I wrote my second book, parenting with a story was because when I was writing the first book lead with a story, as I was letting people read parts of the book, I kept getting feedback all you know, I could use that story with my kids at home. And that's and I got so many feedback like that I realised, you know, leading people at work and raising kids at home, there's a lot of similarities, right? In both cases, you're kind of the boss, right? And you're, you're genuinely interested in their growth and development. And your job is to point them in the right direction, and, you know, discipline them when they don't do right. And so there are a lot of similarities. And so a lot of the leadership stories that I was writing in the book, were really very useful for parenting stories. And then the reverse I think is true as well. I mean, stories are the things that happen at home, like, like you just shared, you know, can help us at work, make better decisions. So yes, they don't all have to be work stories about things that happened at work. In fact, I tell people that, you know, a leadership story is any story that furthers your leadership objective. A sales story is any story that furthers your sales objective. So it doesn't have to be a story about selling or a story about leadership is as long as it accomplishes your objective then it was a leadership story.


Francisco Mahfuz 28:49

Parenting with a story was actually the other book of yours that that I've read. And you know, my daughter is turning four in a couple of my oldest daughter's turning four in a couple of months. And she's she's already been bitten by the story bug because I fell into this mistake of starting to try out my material with her. Yeah. And in this is sort of baffling. If you haven't, you know, studied the power of story. Doesn't matter what story it is. I've told her, like business stories, and she's interested interested in them. So one of the questions I had for you is, I'd imagine you tell your children's stories. How do you avoid the Oh no, here comes another dead story problem. If you ever get that, yeah, I


Paul Smith 29:35

get it occasionally. But I avoided by not forcing I'd like I don't tell my kids my business stories. Because I know that they won't be as meaningful to them, you know, they're 15 years old or whatever. So but I do share a lot of the stories that I think are that are more family, human interest, the character development, the other stories like you found in and parenting with a story. I do share those a lot. And in fact, they sometimes ask for them. Like, they'll say, yeah, what was that? What was that story about the guy that did the whatever that you know, what was that? And I'll tell that again, if they ask.


Francisco Mahfuz 30:14

You know, there's there's one, I think is the one that perhaps opens the book. The club sandwich. Yeah. No, there wasn't a cookie was the quiche.


Paul Smith 30:21

Yeah. It's both. Yeah.


Francisco Mahfuz 30:24

Yeah. But yeah, that one is that one is great. And do you have a short version of that? Because I love that story. I'd love that to be on the recording. Yeah, yeah.


Paul Smith 30:33

So my, I was probably 716 17 years old, my dad got me a job at the company. He works out as a file clerk. And on the it was called secretary's day back then that's probably Administrative Professionals day now. I was so excited. Because it turns out, my boss had to take me out to lunch on that day. And so my boss and I, and then all the other managers and their secretaries like me, were at lunch. And it turns out, my dad was sitting at the same table as me and his secretary. And the when the waitress came around, they only had two options on the menu, a Quiche Lorraine, and a club sandwich. And this is back right after that book, Real men don't eat quiche came out in 1982. Alright, and so everybody knew that if you if you ate quiche, then it you were less than masculine. Right? So none of the men were ordering the quiche, right. And most of the women were getting the keys and the guys who were in the club sandwich and which is exactly what I did, right? All take the club sandwich, you know. And it got to my dad, and he, he said, You know, I've never had a quiche before. So how about you bring me a half a quiche, and half a club sandwich. That way, if I don't like the quiche, I got the half club sandwich. Well, the man just started abusing him immediately and calling him all kinds of names. And you know, criticising his masculinity. And course, I was just terribly embarrassed by this and sinking down into my chair. And so after a few minutes of abuse, my dad calls the waitress back over and of course, the guys are high fiving each other because we broke his spirit, you know, and laughing at him. And so he the waitress comes back over and he says, I'm sorry, I gotta change my order. Out of the half a quiche and a half a club sandwich, I need you to take back that half a club sandwich. And you didn't need to bring me the whole quiche. And of course, the guys are like, why? That's not what they thought he was gonna do. And he ate that whole quiche right there. And I don't even think he liked it. But he ate the whole thing. And it just, it taught me such a lesson about what it means to be a real man, which is to not care so much, whatever the people think of you and to, you know, do what you want to do and not be so motivated by that social acceptance. I don't think he intended to teach me that lesson. But it did. And it worked and stuck.


Francisco Mahfuz 32:39

And also what generates a lovely tagline it just eat to the quiche.


Paul Smith 32:43

That's right. Yeah. Which I tell my kids now when they end up when I can tell they're doing something just because the other kids want them to or that they're feeling peer pressure. Yeah, now I just say hey, then eat the quiche. And then he goes, Oh, yeah, okay. Okay. So I'll do it. That's what


Francisco Mahfuz 32:59

it was, was one of my favourites in the book. And the other one. The other one I really liked was the John Ray store. So that's the one where the guy is I think it's crossing from Dlo Russia, out of Russia back into somewhere Poland or something? Yeah, yeah. And then the and then the deal. The Russian border patrol's has been on doors, he doesn't have his documents, and he's got his passport and they call him to a room. And so he walks into they look at his passport, say something to try to take him to a room. And that is they're terrified. Because you know, it's the Belarusian Border Patrol, and then ask him to sit on a table one guy behind him covering the door, one guy ahead of him. Then the guy opens a suitcase gets a bottle of vodka out and three glasses pours them and say, John Ray, today's your birthday, isn't it? Happy birthday? is incorrect. Because you can you can definitely see you can definitely feel the horror that guy felt we call it a rush of border patrol.


Paul Smith 34:01

Yeah. And you told that well, you know, he's terrified he's thinking he's gonna end up in a bylaw Russian you know, prison for the rest of his life. Right?


Francisco Mahfuz 34:08

If he's lucky. Yeah. Yeah, so do you have do you have any that that were your favourites or stories that perhaps you knew already, or that after writing the book, they just stuck with you?


Paul Smith 34:21

Well, so the key story is definitely one of my favourites. And actually, the last story in the book is probably my very favourite, which is also about my dad. I don't know if you remember that one. But it actually the reason it's my favourite is because it is quite literally responsible for me making the career change that I have. So it's the story that convinced me to leave Procter and Gamble and do what I do for a living. You want to share that one with your audience?


Francisco Mahfuz 34:46

Why is that is the is the is the story we refer to right at the beginning. That's why I said that your father was the only person that's ever told you to quit your job. Just tell tell the father part. Yeah, yeah.


Paul Smith 34:58

So he he when I was struggling With either staying with my corporate job or quitting and doing this for a living, I wrote my dad letter and asked him what I should do. And he wrote me back and just told me a story about himself as a kid. He said, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. When I was five years old. I wanted to be a singer, like Frank Sinatra, or Tony Bennett, or whatever. And he said, I knew that for sure, the first day of the of the first grade, when the teacher asked any of us if we had any special talent, he said, I raised my hand, and I said, I can sing. So of course, you know, she asked him to stand up and sing a song. So he does it. And he said, I nailed it. Right, I got all the words and melody, right. And the teachers and the students stood up and applauded me. And he said, that's when I knew for sure that this is what I was destined to do with my life to be a singer. And he said, unfortunately, that turned out not just to be the first time in my life that I ever sang a song in front of an audience. It turned out to be the last time in my life I ever sang in front of an audience. And he said, The truth is Son, I just never had the courage to go through with it. He said, You know, there's not a month that goes by, and that's been 75 years, and that I haven't regretted that decision. He said, you know, someday you're gonna wake up, you're gonna be 80 years old, like me, and it's gonna be too late to pursue your, your dream. And, and as if that wasn't enough. And it was, by the way, he close the letter by saying, I'd love to see you achieve your dream. But that doesn't mean in your lifetime, son. That means in mind, and I just thought, oh, my gosh, like pressure, right? Tick tock guys ad, right. So I literally two days later, I walked into my boss's office, and I resigned from my career to change my career. And absolutely, the best decision I ever made now would not have made it nearly that soon. Had my dad not share that story


Francisco Mahfuz 36:33

in because this is something I couldn't quite piece together. Because I've heard, I've heard you tell that story. And I've read some of what you wrote around that decision and how exactly you you get around making the transition. But what they haven't figured out or they haven't seen you say anywhere is, you work for Procter and Gamble for 20 years, I've seen the list of jobs you did for them. Lots of impressive stuff. None of that has anything to do with storytelling. So so how do you go? How did you go from? Okay, now, this is not, you know, this is not soul food. I want to do something more meaningful for me. How do you go from that decision to I want to teach people storytelling?


Paul Smith 37:11

Yeah, it means how did i What was my exit? Yeah. How did you? Yeah, so no. Decision Process? Yeah. I


Francisco Mahfuz 37:17

mean, no, where does the storytelling come from? Oh, cuz that's nothing you did at all with I mean, not officially at least you weren't, didn't look like you were in a very, you were a manager, you had people would have worked for you, but but didn't sound like someone who's naturally come across storytelling, and would have been doing kindly not a marketer that decided to become a speaker. Yeah. So So where does that come from?


Paul Smith 37:38

Okay, yeah, I get the question now. So I just I decided I wanted to have a career where I loved what I did all the time. Because like, my, my theory is that most of us love about 10% of our job, you know, it's why we went into the business in the first place, or whatever, why we chose that career. Most of us hate 10% of our jobs. I mean, office politics, filling out your expense report, whatever. The big bulk in the middle, the 80%. In the middle, we mostly just think Well, that's okay. It's good work. I mean, I wouldn't do it if you didn't pay me, but it's not bad. And not the kind of work you are excited to get out of bed in the morning and do but it's okay. And I thought, wouldn't it be cool if I could just do that 10% of the top that I love it. But that would be my entire job would not be cool. And so I thought, well, what is that 10% For me, and I realised it probably was only 5%. But it was the few days a year that I got to give a speech at the company annual event or teach a new heart training class or teach a class at, you know, general manager college at Procter and Gamble, or whatever. But it was when I was on stage teaching. That was the time that I loved my job the most. It was only a few days a year. And I thought, well, how do you get to do that full time because there's no full time speaker trainer at Procter and Gamble, even out of the 120,000 people, there's not one and I realised, well, you you got to write a best selling book and go around the world doing that for all kinds other companies. So So I guess I got to write a book. Well, what would I write a book about? Well, what is it that I'm with that I enjoy when I'm speaking and training? Well, I like it the most when I'm telling interesting stories. And when I included storytelling in my training courses, people loved it. And so that became all that then that's probably what I should write a book about. So I went and researched storytelling and wrote a wrote a book about it. So it really was, it wasn't that I was fell in love with storytelling. And so I, you know, move my career there is I wanted to do this speaking and training thing and I needed to find a thing that I was passionate enough about to make that my thing and storytelling turned out to be that thing for me.


Francisco Mahfuz 39:42

It's an interesting phenomenon, which I've seen in myself and in in other speakers that talk about the subject is or people that tell stories in other areas, which is that perhaps because we're into story, and we kind of know something about story, it's pretty easy to construct the story that led you to story. Perhaps we just don't realise if you haven't looked at it, how much we tell stories. I was I read Shawn's book, and I in one thing you were saying is you just try to spot how many stories people tell, like in any normal event at work or personally, and I was just having a socially distance drink with a friend the other day. And I just remember that exercise. And I said, Okay, I'll just pay attention in over the course of sort of 20 minutes. I might have told a couple of stories, he told a couple of stories. And then my wife gave me and says, Have you guys heard about what happened to whoever? And then she told us, and but I don't think that almost no one thinks of that as storytelling, right?


Paul Smith 40:43

Yeah. In fact, that's interesting. You say that, because when I was researching my first book, I realised I wasn't getting anywhere when I was asking people to tell me stories, right. And I didn't get any good stories until I started asking people to tell me about something interesting. That happened, then I got good stories, because people think about stories as things that they tell frequently. Oh, there's that story I tell about you know, my sister. I tell that story all the time. Well, now it's a story because it's something I repeat often. But if it's just something interesting that happened to you, they don't think of it as a story. It's just an event that happened, right, so that you have to ask about events to get good stories out. When asked about good stories. I don't get much I've


Francisco Mahfuz 41:25

seen someone described this, as this phenomenon you're mentioning about people not realising that they're telling stories is, you know, gossip, for example. And gossip is just perhaps not the nicest type of story you can tell about someone else. But it's a story. Yeah. Shares, you know what he did? This is what he did. It's a story. And you believe what she did? Yeah, I was speaking to a, I was speaking to a coaching client the other day, and I will say, No, this is the process we're going to go through, I'm going to help you find the stories, personal stories that we can use in the business and business stories we can use. And this is how Yeah, that part's gonna be a bit difficult, because I haven't got any stories. And I said, Have you ever gone anywhere or done anything? Have you ever made a mistake or learn something? It's like, Yeah, well, then there's a story behind that isn't there? But it's, I think it's just the ward. And it causes this mental block on people, and they just don't really know where where to go with it. Yeah. And one of the last sort of last questions I wanted to ask you was, when it comes to business stories, are you teaching people in business to tell stories? I mean, there was a resistance there, which is kind of strange when when people look a tiny bit into it, everybody realises that they love stories, but there's still a bit of a resistance. What would you say, has been is the biggest mistake that people make when it comes to, to telling stories in business? Is it that they just don't tell them at all? Or they try, but they don't really know what they're doing? I mean, so what has been your experience with that, particularly with people where you've done a course, or training, and then followed up and found out? Well, you know, they're not doing it right. Or they're not doing it at all? Because I know that happens?


Paul Smith 43:07

Yeah, you know, that just reminds me, I wrote an article on LinkedIn a year or so ago, and ended up getting a lot of views and a lot of nice comments at the bottom. And then one of the comments was, there is nothing, nothing worse than a story told by somebody who's just been to a storytelling training. I thought, oh, it hurt me so bad, because Oh, my gosh, well, that's what I do for a living. I wonder if people leaving my class tell horrible stories. And I hope that's not the case. But But I think I know what she was talking about. What she what she meant was, when people come out of a class like that they feel pressure to go tell a bunch of story, why just went to a storytelling class. So I gotta go tell some stories. And so they end up telling stories when they really didn't need to, or when it wasn't appropriate, or because they just wanted to show off their new skill. And, and by the way, they're still they're still learning the techniques. And so they're not very good at it yet. So you have people telling stories, that they're not very good at when they maybe didn't need to. And so that's what people Oh, you must have just been to that storytelling class, right? So that's part of the I don't know if it's a mistake, but when you're new at something, you're new at it, right? And so you don't you're not the best guitarist, when you just are learning, you're not the best actor when you just start acting. So, of course, it's going to come across as not quite polished yet or not perfect yet. But I think that's okay. That's part of the learning process. I think the bigger problem is what you said, is that just not telling a story at all, when they probably should have been telling a story. It's not recognising that Oh, you mean I need a vision story. I didn't know I've needed a vision story. I have a vision. Oh, oh, you mean I need a sales story or I need it. They probably know they need that. You know, I need a case for change story. I didn't know I needed that. That's the biggest problem. It's not record. Knowing that there are stories that you need, that you probably don't have, that's the biggest problem. That's the biggest barrier to being successful that way.


Francisco Mahfuz 45:08

One thing that probably explains that first problem we talked about, and people just come out of the storytelling workshop, not yours, hopefully, or mine. When you knew the seams will show, whatever you're trying to do. So instead of saying, you know, that problem with having the factory when I've seen that before, so last year, they won't do that. They would say, we have a story about it. Put the voice the voice or change, yeah, 10 years ago.


Paul Smith 45:43

Well, and that's why those are actually two of the and you probably do this too, that two of those specific things. I tell people don't do this. Don't announce you're going to tell a story before you tell a story. Just tell the story. And I you know, I tell them like you probably do. If the tone of your voice changes. When you enter storytelling mode. You're doing it wrong. You shouldn't sound like a kindergarten teacher, you know, with a group of five year olds around you, it should just blend into the conversation. So yeah, I kind of cover the, you know, the common mistakes like, you know, apologising for telling a story, asking permission to tell a story like don't do that. Don't announce you're going to tell the story. Don't give away the ending of the story. Don't change your tone of voice with Yeah, all of those are very common mistakes.


Francisco Mahfuz 46:26

One thing that I found effective, and it's the simplest trick in the book, and somebody was like, oh, is don't think of it as a story. Think of it as an example. As like a longer example. Yes. But there's a let me just give you an example of what I mean, last year, whatever. And because we're like you give examples of things, right? An example, typically is a story. And you don't say, let me give you an example. The numbers are blah, blah, blah, blah, and nobody does that. But I again, it's, it's the I think I said someone the other day that, you know, one of the most pretentious terms in business that there is, is storyteller. If you call yourself a storyteller, there's, there's just something just sounds like I don't call myself a storyteller on my LinkedIn profile. I say I'm a storytelling coach or a speaker. Yeah. You say, I'm a storyteller. There's something about it. That's, yeah, well, who


Paul Smith 47:16

isn't? Right, right. Yeah, I don't I don't refer to myself that way, either. And that's for all those reasons. And and I use that as well. The example just yeah, let me give you an example. For instance.


Francisco Mahfuz 47:29

Yeah, yeah. I'm mindful of our time. So I just want to ask you a couple of last questions. And the first one is, Are you already missing the stage?


Paul Smith 47:38

Ah, yes, I am. This is not the same this, you know, online presence. You know, I'm doing my best to make it work for me and my clients. But I've got to admit, it's probably not as exciting and as engaging as having somebody live on stage. And, and for me, personally, yeah, I love to be a little bit closer to my client. So I am missing. I'm not missing all the time in airports. But I am missing the face to face time with clients for sure.


Francisco Mahfuz 48:07

And it's important to contextualise that you are not one of the people who had seems to have struggled at all with the with the technical challenges of the virtual speaking because you've got no TV quality studio. I think that's your garage or something. Yeah, yeah. So you know that you're not one of the people that are saying, you know, I don't mind it, or it's okay. But then you have all these technical things. You're trying to a camera. I don't know, technology, we you've got that technology. Now. I don't imagine there's that many speakers right now that have that level of, of tech to present virtually. But yeah, I mean, I think the lack of feedback is the biggest challenge from the, the feedback from the audience and the energy and all of that that is obviously very important. But also, I think, is just, it's just difficult if you can see how things are landing in our story. Maybe you see a few faces, and maybe they look interested but maybe not seeing another 100 faces and they're bored, then you just don't know. Right? Right. And then the last thing I wanted to ask you is, if people want to find out more about you, where where should they go?


Paul Smith 49:16

Yeah, thanks. So my websites, probably the best place. So that's lead with a story.com. So it links at all my books and training courses and stuff like that.


Francisco Mahfuz 49:25

Bo, thank you very much for your time today.


Paul Smith 49:27

It's been a pleasure, you as well as a fun conversation. Thanks for having me.


Francisco Mahfuz 49:31

Alright, everybody. Thanks for tuning in. Take care of yourselves. And until next time.


I hope you enjoy the show. And if you did, I'd love for you to subscribe and leave us a review or a rating on the Apple podcasts app. It's very easy. You open the app and find the show and scroll down a little and when you see the stars tab. I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find this. 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 story powers.com



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