E46. The Truths of the Storyteller with John Zimmer
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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, a 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 first. My guest today is John Zimmer. John is a sought after international speaker for delivers powerful keynotes and helps organisations and individuals become more effective communicators. His clients include Nokia, Roche, and the World Health Organisation. He also teaches public speaking in a number of executive MBAs across Europe, and his blog manner of speaking has been recognised as one of the leading online resources in the field of public speaking, presentation skills and communication. John is such a nice guy. It's hard to believe that he was once a proud member of the noblest, most admired and most respected profession in the world. He was a lawyer. But since he left the dark side many years ago, I won't hold that against him. Ladies and gentlemen, John Zimmer. John, welcome to the show.
John Zimmer 1:58
It's great to be here, Francisco. Thank you for the introduction.
Francisco Mahfuz 2:03
As I wrote that, I was thinking, our trial lawyers, undervalued or underappreciated, storytellers?
John Zimmer 2:12
It's that's an interesting question. Because whenever you bring your clients case to court, you are in fact telling a story, you are telling a story to the court, and you want the court or the judge to find in your clients favour. So the lawyers who can tell a story and obviously fit the different elements of the law to it, they are the ones who often have the best rates of success.
Francisco Mahfuz 2:36
I was reading something the other day, about this, this line you hear a lot in speaking or the phrase that pays, or, you know, one way to make stories and speeches sticky is just have a line that keeps being repeated over and over. And then someone mentioned, if the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit.
John Zimmer 2:56
Yeah, it's it's that was from one of the most notorious trials in recent memory. But it's true these these phrases, whether it's in a court or in front of an audience, if they can go away, and you have one phrase sticking in their minds, then there's a much better chance they're going to remember your message.
Francisco Mahfuz 3:16
For anyone who doesn't know if the gloves must fit, you must acquit was from the OJ Simpson trial. And so they had found this this gloves, and supposedly they were the murderers gloves. And then there was a whole bunch of shenanigans, I think of OJ squeezing his hands very tightly for a very long time, because he knew him, the lawyer was gonna ask him to put them on, and then they didn't fit and he ended up getting acquitted. I found this out the other day, did you know that OJ Simpson was considered as a potential for the Terminator role before Arnold Schwarzenegger in someone's thought? No, no, OJ is not going to work. No one is going to believe him as a motor.
John Zimmer 3:56
I did not know that. And I can say that I'm very happy that they went with Arnold.
Francisco Mahfuz 4:01
Yes. Yes, yes. I think that that was the right choice at the end to when it comes to storytelling. And I've heard a lot of your speaking I think it's worth mentioning to people that apart from the professional speaking, you do you do like me? You do. You will Toastmasters for a number of years. And you won nine European awards? Yes. So listen to a lot of your stories. And one thing I thought it was very interesting is that you seem to have a very, a very clear balance between telling personal stories, which I think you almost always tell, but also telling stories that are not yours, and are not necessarily business stories. For example, I heard the Keynote you did the other day, not the other day. I heard the other day a keynote you've done in the past. And you mentioned the story of Osceola McCarthy. So this lady who ends up donating a lot of money, even though she had a she was a washerwoman, the whole of her life. And I've, I've seen you talk about the the fame Christmas truth during World War One. Do you have any clear guidelines to yourself about that balance? You know, when when do you use each type of story which when when each type of story is more appropriate,
John Zimmer 5:17
I always look for the right story for for the right situation. And sometimes there's a personal story in which in which case, that's great, because it's my story. It's part of who I am, I've lived it. But sometimes a story about a third person is the right story to tell. And you've got many speakers who say you should only tell personal stories. And I disagree. I think, though, what must be the case, whether it's a personal story or a story about a third person is that you as a speaker, there has to be something in it for you, you have to feel close to this story. The story has to resonate with you. There's a wonderful article that I would recommend to your listeners in the Harvard Business Review, and they can find it online. It's called the four truths of the storyteller. I don't know if you're familiar with it. It was written by a guy named Peter Guber, who is or at least was the CEO of Mandalay entertainment. It's a Hollywood movie company that has made some pretty big movies like seven years in Tibet with Brad Pitt, or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with Johnny Depp movies like that. And it's an interesting article, because he talks about how speakers in the business world can use techniques from Hollywood to tell stories that make an impact with the audiences. It's called the four truths of the storyteller. And he said, a story has to have four truths. And the first one is it has to be true to you the teller of the story. So if I feel something for the story, if it gets me feeling emotional, or it touches me in some way, then I know it's a story that I can tell to other people. So then
Francisco Mahfuz 6:56
what had the other truths?
John Zimmer 6:58
The other truths are very, very quickly. The second truth is truth to the audience, there's got to be something in the story you tell that the audience can take away, I might tell you a great story from my childhood. But at the end of the day, why should you care? Why should you care about some experience I had with my father or my grandmother, or whomever. But if there's a truth in there for you to take away, then that's a great story. A good example would be, you know, companies these days, they hire keynote speakers to come in and speak to their employees about some things that they've done. And they hire people who've done amazing things like I don't know, maybe they've climbed Mount Everest. How many people Francisco do you think are going to go out and climb Mount Everest? After listening to that, I'm guessing zero, that's my bet. Nobody's going to go climb,
Francisco Mahfuz 7:44
specially after listening to exactly,
John Zimmer 7:47
but so why bother bringing them in? Well, maybe there's something in that story about teamwork or something in that story about overcoming challenges that I can take and apply to my life. So truth to the to the audience is the second truth. Truth to the moment is the third truth, which means you tell the right story in the right amount of detail for the right audience, if you've got a 10 minute presentation, you can't tell an eight minute story, you've got to really boil it down. So that's the third truth. And finally, the fourth truth, he talks about his truth to the what he calls truth to the mission. I think of it as truth to the objective, how does the story you tell help the audience along to achieve the objective that you as a speaker have for them. So it's an article worth reading.
Francisco Mahfuz 8:34
So I want to read on some of those because I think this this is very interesting. The first point I think is is simply not the truth to the to the teller. And I think, you know, if you choose in the story, and you think it's a story that you want to tell other people, I'm going to go out and say that you probably have some attachment to the story, or you'd like it, you think it's a very good one, it'd be a difficult, strange choice to just have a story, you don't even like that much to anyone else. But the one thing I always say is, I don't want to hear a story from you. That is not a personal story. Unless you tell me why you were telling that story. And sometimes it's as simple as saying, you know, I heard the story the other day, and I just couldn't get this out of my head. And then you tell the story. But as I've seen people do is they will tell a business story. It was like, Okay, why why are you telling me the story? You know, this is not your story. I could read this on the Harvard Business Review or watching the movie. So why are you telling me as if it is. So I think that it's important to establish you as the guide to whatever experience you're taking your audience through, because otherwise it just feels a bit disconnected? I would think
John Zimmer 9:44
it definitely has to be connected in some way with what you're saying for sure.
Francisco Mahfuz 9:48
And the thing about the truth to the audience, which I think ties very neatly to the truth to the mission is the way I tend to think about the stories is the stories are about how they make People feel they're not about the facts around the story. So the story about Everest could be a story about overcoming challenges. It's not about climbing Everest, it could be, you know, maybe your father never believed in you. And this is the thing you said you would do because because you wanted to prove yourself. So it's a story about you and your father, it's not about Everest. So as long as the emotion of the story is relatable, then a story about climbing Everest can be a valid story to tell to any audience, regardless of you know, are they ever going to climb Everest? But I think some people don't get that. And then it becomes about how I've achieved this amazing thing in my life. And I want to tell you about it. And like what I, this is not me, why do I want to hear about this?
John Zimmer 10:43
Exactly. You're exactly right. And I think you touch on an important point. And what you were just saying about what do you want the audience to feel and you talk about the emotion of it. And whenever you're trying to persuade an audience to do something there, there are two types of persuasion. There's the rational, logical persuasion. And then there's the emotional persuasion. And depending on how big the the thing is that you're trying to get the audience to do. They may, it may not be reasonable to expect them to take a decision immediately, they may need to go away and think about it and read the documents and do the calculations and that's fine. But when you're in front of them in that moment, this is when you have your best chance to really connect with them at an emotional level to get them interested in what you're saying to get them excited about it. So it's an important point.
Francisco Mahfuz 11:33
I've heard you do this in one of the in that keynote, and I mentioned listening to the one you mentioned Osceola, McCarty, the connecting you to the to the story or to the fact you quoted Khalil Gibran, who is a Lebanese poet. I'm Lebanese as well, by the way, I'm happy that that's about one metre. That's where the food comes from. And you didn't say collusion brand. Famously, Bernie's poet said this, you said, a friend of mine gave me a book by this guy. And he said this, which, which I think was a very masterful way of doing the exact same thing. But making it feel a lot more organic than just quoting someone.
John Zimmer 12:15
Oh, I appreciate your saying that I'd forgotten that. I'd said that. It's been a while since I've seen that that the video of that speech. And
Francisco Mahfuz 12:23
talking about truth, this is something I I'm coming to my own conclusions about it, but but I wanted to take it to get your take on it. So this is what happened. This was a few weeks ago. So I told the story. As it happened, you know, there's some dramatic flair, you change some stuff here and there. But what happened at the end of the story was that the message of the story is about how we don't often take time to think about what's really important to us. And we make decisions with all that in mind. And sometimes that can lead us down dangerous paths. But in my story, I risked losing a girl because I wanted to go to a rock concert. That was the essence of the story. But I didn't actually lose the girl. So I had a scare that I thought my you know, good looking friend was going to leave with her. But he didn't. And I ended up just getting a scare. So when people were talking to me about it afterwards, they said, Yeah, but your message is a lot weaker, because you didn't actually lose the girl. So I would have changed that. So you lost the girl. Something like I know the line. Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story. But something didn't sit right with me when I was thinking about it. And I wanted to get your take on it before I tell you what, what I'm thinking about that type of situation. Now.
John Zimmer 13:37
I have a comment. But first question, what was the band,
Francisco Mahfuz 13:40
so it was Radiohead? I hadn't just gone to the concert, I had pretended to be someone else. To go in as an employee, then I hid in the bathroom for four hours. And then I had to hustle my way to the stage, pretending to be someone else again. And this was a gig I had been wanting to go for many years, so that there's a bit of context to the story.
John Zimmer 14:03
Ask your question. No, I would not have changed the story to say you lost the girl. Because if you didn't lose the girl, then you're just lying to the audience. And for me, if especially if the audience then finds out that it wasn't true. Your credibility takes a huge hit. It takes a massive hit. I've I've done trainings in a number of companies where I have people do speaking exercises, and I've had some people come up and tell stories for the purpose of the training. And then at the end, you know, people love the story. And at the end, they say, oh, it's not really true. And you can just see even though it's a training and there's no real harm done, you can see everybody feels a bit deflated. The way I say it, think of it is you know Yes, of course if you tell a story with the literal truth, nobody's gonna ever want to listen to any stories because it's going to be too many details too long, too convoluted. If you can stretch the truth. Here's an example of stretching the truth. I went fishing the other day, and I caught a fish that was a metre long, let's say, Alright, maybe the fish was only two and a half metres long. That's fine. But you must have gone fishing and you must have caught a big fish. If you understand what I'm trying to say. Coming back to your question, no, you did the right thing, not changing the story. Maybe it wasn't maybe the actual story was not necessarily the best fit for the occasion. I don't know. But you're much better off sticking to the truth.
Francisco Mahfuz 15:35
Yeah, my conclusion after thinking about it wasn't necessarily that the story wasn't a fit for the occasion was that I chose the wrong message. Because I had the story. I really wanted to share the story. And I thought this message worked well enough with that story. But then in hindsight, I thought, well, actually, there's different as with any story, there's different lessons you can take from it. And I thought of a much more powerful lesson that fitted perfectly with a story. In the one I chose. I can see how some people go oh, yeah, but you know, this, this is not really what what that story says or it doesn't say this powerfully enough. I had the guy, another speaker, storytelling speaker called Poe's myth. On the podcast, a few episodes back the way he describes this, as he says, If anyone who was there, when it happened, would listen to the story and say, That's not how it happened, then you've gone too far. In crafting it for the audience. I will join characters from time to time it was like two people, but there's no need for two of them there. And you just make them one, too. But I agree, I think that you shouldn't be able to defend yourself with Yeah, that wasn't exactly how it happened. But if I told you how it happened, I'll have to be here for an hour. But that's pretty much what happened. Oh, yeah, that's pretty much what happened. I
John Zimmer 16:46
completely, completely agree. And I've done that as well. I've had situations where I've combined two characters, because it wasn't so essential to the truth of the story that they be two separate people. And this is a good lesson. I think for people when it comes to storytelling, you can have a good story, tell the story. But then tell it again, try different ways shorten, lengthen it, play with it. And as you've just shown, if you tell enough stories, there are going to be times when the story doesn't work, or it doesn't resonate with people, or at least a certain number of people in the audience.
Francisco Mahfuz 17:19
Just yesterday, I was I had had frank on the show. And he he does story based presentation training, using slide decks and videos and things of that nature. And he talked about this, I never know how to pronounce never this, this filmmaker David Mamet met. David, I think, and what he says when you were putting together a few more a story is look at all your scenes, and remove one. If the story still works. Without that scene, then the stories to work on the scene should go. If it doesn't work, then that then needs to stay. And I think it goes for how you craft a story, most of the details can go, they make no difference to the understanding. And then you need to, to make the story work as a oral story, or a written story. Otherwise, they won't do what it's supposed to do.
John Zimmer 18:09
I'm dating myself a bit with this, but I remember when DVDs came out, and the cool thing about DVDs was that in addition to the film, there was all these there were all these extra features at the end. And the one that fascinated me the most were the deleted scenes, especially when you would have the director commenting on the scene as it was playing. So the scene was playing, but you could hear the directors voiceover. And so many times, a director would say something like, here's a scene that we shot. I loved it, the chemistry between the actors was fantastic. In fact, it was one of my most favourite scenes for the whole movie. But at the end of the day, it didn't advance the plot. It didn't move the story forward. And so we had to cut it. And that was a really good lesson. To think that here's something that you love so much. But if it doesn't fit within the whole, you got to take it out. Writers have this expression, you have to be prepared to murder your darlings. The thing we love best if it doesn't move the whole thing forward, the whole novel, the whole movie or the whole presentation, it's got to come out.
Francisco Mahfuz 19:19
Robert McKee, who wrote story he said something along the lines of every single scene needs to tell you something about a character that you didn't know, and or advance the plot. If he's not doing one of two things, then there's no purpose in it being there. When you're choosing which story to tell. I think the story you choose depends on what emotion you're trying to highlight or what lesson and I think some lessons are easier to highlight. If it's not you, and some have to be you. So if it's a credibility, you know, if your credibility is not guaranteed, you need to share a story that shows that somehow you're a credible person If you need to assure the audience or tell the audience something about you, that has to be done with a personal story, if what you're trying to do is something that has nothing to do with you, and perhaps would be awkward if it was from you, you know, you want to talk about generosity. You don't want to share a story about how generous you are. No, can you just come across like a knob?
John Zimmer 20:20
Yes, I mean, establishing credibility with an audience, especially an audience that doesn't know you is very important. This is why I love it for every every time I have a speaking engagement, I love it, when there's going to be somebody who's going to introduce me, and a tip for your listeners, if you're ever speaking at an event, a conference, whatever, and you know, somebody is going to be introducing you get in touch with that person and offer to write your introduction for them. They love it. Nobody has ever said no, because it's one less thing for them to do. But more importantly, you then get to pick what is most important from your background for that audience on that occasion. Because the person introducing, you doesn't have time to read your LinkedIn profile. There's too much information there. But you can pick two or three key things that will help the audience understand a bit better about who you are. And as you as you imply Francisco, it's always better when somebody else says Our next speaker is Francisco and he's done this and he's achieved that and he's done this please welcome Francisco as opposed to you coming out and saying, Well, I've done this and I've done that. It just sounds much better.
Francisco Mahfuz 21:33
I heard this great way to be introduced as a speaker, which was he knows, the guy would say, Oh, this is John Zimmer, blah, blah, blah. And don't let him get off the stage without telling his Maddalena story or something along those lines. Like if you really want to get a story in there, just have the presenter say it and then creates the anticipation he can even be uneasy. Wait for a cold open, because if you want to get into the story straightaway, but yeah, is it gonna work first thing out to get Okay, well, listen, he said I might as I'll just tell you, and then you can start with the story you wanted anyway.
John Zimmer 22:12
For the seeds early I like but yeah, personal stories, then when you're on stage, telling a story, and especially a story where you you didn't do so well. Things didn't go quite so well for you. audiences love that being a bit vulnerable. Have you seen Brene Brown's TED talk on vulnerability? You're nodding your head. No, I,
Francisco Mahfuz 22:33
I've started started No. So many times. I I wrote, I published a book on public speaking earlier this year, and it's called bear a guide to brutally honest public speaking. And as I started writing it, I started writing a lot about vulnerability. And then I spoke to someone I can remember who it was not. But I spoke to a friend of mine, I said, I'm doing a lot of work on this vulnerability thing. I think I'm really on to something. And then he said, Oh, the Brene Brown thing. I was like, What What's your need? Who's Britain ever?
John Zimmer 23:05
Yeah, she she, it's a great talk. But I tell people, audiences, audiences love to hear about your five F's, the letter F your firsts, your fears, your frustrations, your failures, and your fiascos, which are big failures. We could also use another F word if you'd like, but we'll keep it clean for the kids. It doesn't mean that you're talking about all of those things. And it certainly doesn't mean that that you talk about them for the whole time, but to talk about a time when you've failed at something and what you learned and how people can benefit from your experience to avoid the same thing in the future. audiences love that.
Francisco Mahfuz 23:46
Okay. So that was your your firsts, your failures, your frustrations, your fiascos and missing one,
John Zimmer 23:53
your first your fears, fears, okay. Your failures and your fiascos. Okay.
Francisco Mahfuz 24:00
Okay. So that leads me nicely into the idea of collecting stories that I've seen you talk about, we're gonna just talk a bit about that.
John Zimmer 24:07
Sure. I mean, knowing the importance of stories, what I tell people is to have a little booklet that you carry around and you see something happen, jot down one or two sentences. Or if you're reading a magazine, or a newspaper, and there's a story in there that resonates with you tear it out and start a physical file at home. Or for those of you who are more into the technology, you can use platforms such as Evernote to collect stories and you start building up this this repository, this bank of stories, and every now and then just flip through it, go back, read through the stories read through the story summaries just very quickly, and you never know if you've got a big presentation. There might be something in there that you that you can use.
Francisco Mahfuz 24:54
And when it comes to writing those stories down. What do you consider to be important to Write down. So what do you actually write?
John Zimmer 25:03
Really, for me, it's not very much, it's just a quick one or two sentences about what happened, you know, on the bus, woman dropped her package, and man picked it up and give it back to her. That's usually enough for me to remember all the specific details and any conversation that they had. If somebody says something, and there's a phrase that really sticks in my mind, I'll write that. But it really it takes very little to jog the memory.
Francisco Mahfuz 25:31
Yeah, I have this feeling that that is the case, because you have been doing this for a very long time. In so have I not as long as you and I, for example, someone asked me this yesterday, how they write them down. And I said, I just use my note the Notes app on my phone. And I will write a line that reminds me of the story. And what I also do is I write the see a word or two for the scene, or the message. So for example, I had the story that so the line that reminds me of it is punch clients in the face. And between brackets I have, you're not alone, which was the message. So I have things like you know, friendship, or leadership or whatever written there. So what I can always do is if I go on my notes app and search for leadership, it's going to show me all the stories that I can talk about that are leadership. So that's I find that very useful.
John Zimmer 26:21
Yeah, that's the advantage of electronics on on Evernote, I can I group things by different topics. So a story happens and I can just throw it under that sub folder. So I can immediately go to that sub folder and all the stories relate to that theme.
Francisco Mahfuz 26:37
I heard the interview from Jim Cathcart, who's under this legendary professional speakers has been around speaking for 4050 years and other guys that used to sell tapes, teaching people how to sell or leaders or whatever. And he says that he has this. He has this piece of paper written on both sides with all his stories. And he's just a lie not award. It's to remind him. So he says there's about 180 stories written on that piece of paper. And he I don't think he hasn't been electronic farm.
John Zimmer 27:09
If it works for him when I was in law school, through the course of a year you read you read hundreds of different cases, and then you're preparing for the exams. And of course, you can't be rereading all the cases it's too much. And so what laws law students will do is Case Summaries where you have the name of the case and the ratio or the main point and maybe a bit of the facts. And what I found useful was once I did a case study, a case summary to do a summary of the summary in order to distil distil, distil down to its essence. And that I found was a very useful exercise in helping me retain the key information from a legal case. And people can do the same thing with story files, you just distil the story down to its essence.
Francisco Mahfuz 27:59
I guess that what we haven't said that it should be the most obvious and important thing when it comes to collecting stories, as you have to tell them, I've heard that it takes between three and five tellings for the story to move from your short term memory to you know, longer term memory. And that's what I've noticed as well had I had stories that I hadn't told, but I wanted to tell. So I had, you know, read the Radiohead story written down on my file, but I couldn't really tell it, I hadn't really told it. So it took me getting it ready to tell it and I actually recorded it, put it on social media. And then now I could tell it forever, I think because of I've told it maybe 10 times in preparing for for that
John Zimmer 28:40
you can definitely polish a story. And like you say, the more you tell it, the more the more it becomes second nature. So there, there are some stories, you can follow me at three in the morning. And you would say tell me a story about x. And I would give my head a shake and wake up and I could tell you the story. Because that deeply ingrained.
Francisco Mahfuz 28:57
Something else that that I think it's important when it comes to collecting stories. And I heard you do this in in one of I think you were talking about this was a webinar on storytelling, I think, but you were talking about how you were working with someone who had travelled all around the world. And then you asked her, do you have any stories? And you didn't get anything out of her? And what I thought because because then you discovered you didn't and then I think you were helped she was having a coffee and she was a bit more relaxed. And then you said, So how was your trip to Ethiopia? And I don't know if you if that was on purpose. But what I thought when I heard this exchange, as I said, I don't think the only problem in the beginning was that she hadn't thought about it enough for that you haven't provided enough. I saw it was in the question. Because I know how my last trip was. I know how my trip to Ethiopia was in that particular case, but I don't have more. Now I have a mental folder that says stories. But I think most people don't have have a mental folder that says stories. So I've seen universal Sean Callahan that works in anecdote and has been doing this for god knows 20 years. He says that. So don't ever ask people like, Do you have a story? Or do you have an interest story? Just say, do you remember a time when
John Zimmer 30:15
absolutely I this is this is you're talking about a good friend of mine madeleina. And to give listeners a bit of context, at the time, I when when I met her, she hired me to help her with a big presentation she had to give. She was at the time working for a big family foundation in Geneva, Switzerland, one of these big foundations that manages lots of investments and properties and things like that. But she was responsible for the charitable projects that this foundation was sponsoring. And this foundation was sponsoring projects related to mental health issues, helping people with psychosocial issues in countries that had been afflicted by war or poverty. So she been to places like Cote d'Ivoire, and Malawi and Ethiopia and Lebanon and places like that, managing overseeing these different projects. She there was a big conference for a conference in Europe several years ago, where all these family foundations were going to come together about 250 people very, you know, influential people coming together for a big conference. And she was asked to be in one of the sessions with three other speakers to talk about different charitable works, these different foundations were sponsoring. And when we met, she was she was a bit nervous, because she was going to be the final speaker. She was the youngest. And she had the least amount of experience. And the others had prepared these fancy PowerPoint presentations. And she started thinking, Should I prepare a PowerPoint presentation, and she only had 15 minutes, I said, Look, PowerPoint is something that we look at, at the very end. I said, let's just talk about what you do. So we start working on how they pick projects, how they monitored them, financial accountability, auditing, all these standard things. And then, at one point, I said to her, and this is exactly what you were just touching on about the S word. I said, Now I would be really good to have a story. And she looked at me and she said, I can't really think of any stories. And I didn't say anything. But as I'm looking at her, I'm thinking I don't believe you for a second. But don't worry, we're going to come a different way. So I said, No problem. Let's keep going. So we continue to work. And then as you say, we took a break, we're having coffee, and I knew she'd just come back from Ethiopia. And I said, So how was your trip to Ethiopia. And now because she's not thinking of the presentation and the need to come up with the story. The first thing she says is, it was really interesting. And that's when I thought I've got you now. So just keep going. And she told me she told me this incredible story of the first day she went to visit the the mental health hospital in Addis Ababa. And I believe at least at the time, it was the only hospital in the entire country devoted to mental health issues in their 80 million people in Ethiopia. So already I was intrigued. And she says it was just pouring rain pouring, pouring rain car, picks her up at the hotel, drops her off at the hospital. Now she had to go through a tunnel and then run across a big open courtyard to get to the Administrative Office. And so she's in the tunnel, she's cinches up her coat tight, and she starts to run in the rain. And she said she took about five steps. And then she just stopped. Because here in this in this enormous courtyard, in the open, we're about 500 people just standing in line silently in the rain waiting to get in to see the doctor. And some of these people have been walking for days with their loved ones. And she's telling me this, and my eyes are like saucers, and I can't believe what I'm hearing. And she got to the end. And I said, That's it. I said, there's your story. And so fast forward to the event. The other three gave their presentations, and they all got nice applause and Madalena stands up at the end, no slides. In the end, we didn't use any slides. And we worked on her opening. And the very first thing she said was, it was raining the day I arrived at the hospital. And she said 250 pairs of eyes just focused in on her and she held them. And she said that afterwards, heads of these other foundations were coming up to her saying I will always remember this talk. And it's a great it's a simple but a great example of the power of a story. And I liked very much what you said about just asking people. So how was the trip? So how did things go? Because then they will think in terms of stories without using the S word.
Francisco Mahfuz 34:37
The magic word I find for asking people about stories is when is the owner the only one you can use but it's almost impossible to give you I mean, you can give someone a date. But if you say can you tell me about a time when you're trying to do some things wasn't really working and was making me frustrated? It's really difficult to answer that question with The other story, I mean, you could say, oh, yeah, I was I was trying to fix my computer. Okay, so what happened? Oh, and then you're gonna get the story. But it's so difficult to say, can you just tell me about any interesting stories from the past six months of working here, because I think it just a lot of people just don't have what we have now used as appreciation for what a story actually is.
John Zimmer 35:21
It's great advice. Because stories and you know, this stories are so deeply ingrained in our brains. I mean, this is they've been around a lot longer than PowerPoint, and Excel, they've been around for 1000s of years, people sitting around the fire, telling stories, this is how traditions get passed down. And scientists, they've done studies, putting people in the in the MRI scanners and have them listen to a story and they watch the different parts of the brain that light up. And the parts that are really associated with creativity and memory, they start firing up. And if you're reading them a financial report, those same parts of the brains don't, don't fire up. And this is why people should tell stories. And stories do have a place. Of course, I'm not saying never show statistics never show a graph, those things are important too. And we could go into a whole other talk about why it's important to have that logical support for whatever you're saying. But the thing is, even in in a business, even what some people perceive as the most is the driest, most boring business presentation. There are stories to be told, even if you're giving a financial report, the numbers didn't just invent themselves, there's a reason that somebody did something or somebody didn't do something that resulted in these numbers and telling a short story. And a story could be 1520 seconds. It doesn't have to be minutes and minutes, it can help people put things into context.
Francisco Mahfuz 36:46
One of the scientists that has been a lot of this work that you mentioned is Dr. Paul Zak, who was the was the scientist who discovered oxytocin as the trust model, the trust molecule or the moral molecule. And I had him on the show a couple of episodes ago. And he talked about how the story needs to have a dramatic arc for free to work on the brain. If it's, I mean, you could argue that is not a story, if it doesn't have any dramatic arc, if it's just an anecdote without any tension, or climax or anything of the kinds. Some people would argue that is not a story, but we don't need to get into the weeds there. But what he said is, you know, studying this, it was very clear that if you if you showed people, so he was talking about Superbowl commercials, who people watch the Superbowl commercials, they think they love them, they will tell you, they love them. But they there is no real dramatic arc on the story being told on the commercial. So when he ran that through his software, predicting what what was happening, and then measured people's brains directly, he found that the brain wasn't reacting to those stories. And if the brain is not reacting, then all the effects you're trying to get out of a story, or of an advertisement just don't work to the same level, talking about traumatic arc or as a good point. Can you just give the briefest summary to anyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about what the dramatic arc is?
John Zimmer 38:10
A Sure. And if people want to see a great example of this on YouTube, if they go in search, Kurt Vonnegut the shapes of stories. And Kurt Vonnegut, if you don't know, he was a brilliant writer from the United States, very witty. He wrote, he wrote Cat's Cradle Waterhouse five, he wrote, some of them were turned into into movies, brilliant guy. And he there's an old video where he talks about the shapes of stories. And basically, the stories that resonate with people are the one where there's this arc, and typically what something happens maybe starts out on a normal day, then somebody falls into a hole or there's a disaster or there's a trouble and then they get back out of it again. And that
Francisco Mahfuz 38:53
wait a minute, whoa, isn't it man at
John Zimmer 38:55
all? Exactly. There's a very, that's a simple arc. Another famous arc of a story is something that Joseph Campbell talked about in his book, The Hero with 1000 faces the hero's journey. And it's 12 steps, but to boil it down to its essence, you have somebody an underdog, a normal person, they are faced with a challenge, and they've got to meet this challenge. But it's not easy. It's a struggle. And you know, there are ups and downs and ups and downs. But eventually there's a resolution, and they go back home with an insight. They've learned something. And now they're no longer an underdog or normal person. There's a hero. They're a hero. And classic example from books and film is the Lord of the Rings. You have Frodo the little hobbit just going about his business, and he is the one who has to destroy the ring. And of course, you can't just hit it, take a hammer to it. You've got to travel halfway around the world and throw it into a very specific volcano and it takes you three books and three movies to do it. And of course, there's good guys and bad guys all along. But again, The ring is destroyed. apologies to anybody who's not seen the movie yet, because
Francisco Mahfuz 40:04
we're gonna talk about the how how much, it might be a plot hole that he had to do it on foot.
John Zimmer 40:12
Exactly, exactly. But that's, you know, so the story arc is, it's when there's tension, it's when there's a problem, you know, movies, these are the movies we like, if you go see a movie, and you know, it's boy meets girl, and they fall in love, and everything's great. And two years later, they're still together, and it's great. And then five years later, they've got a family and great jobs, and 10 years later, they're still together and the movie ends, you're gonna be banging your head on the table, because nothing has happened.
Francisco Mahfuz 40:37
I heard someone describe this as what makes for a great life doesn't necessarily make for a great story.
John Zimmer 40:43
Very true. Very, very true.
Francisco Mahfuz 40:46
And now one way I have summarised to people, the whole idea of the hero's journey is, you have to go from pain to power. At the end of your story, your character needs to be able to do something that they couldn't do before, and they need to suffer. If they're not suffering, then there isn't really a story. And I also think the the, the simplest dramatic arc that most people know, they might not know it from Aristotle, but they know it's the it's the the three act structure. I think Aristotle's is normally described as was it setup, complication or problem? Resolution? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So and Paul, Paul Zak talked about how you need this increasing tension that leads to a climax, and then decreasing tension. And so that I think that's how he when he did the, the video that he normally uses for it. It's about a father, who, so it's something they show, a bold kid called Ben, is that true story. So the ball kid called Ben and he said something like Ben is really happy that he can play again, now that his treatment is over. But Ben's father knows that the treatment didn't work. And Ben only has a few months left to live, and in his finding really difficult to play with his son, knowing what's going to happen. But, you know, how can he play with his son knowing that and how can he not, and that was the struggle, and then the father decides to, to, to play with his son, because, you know, he might as well just help do everything he can to make the kids last few months as enjoyable and happy as he can. And that's the story simple one and two, pretty sad well, and I get chills from telling it. And that story shows perfectly that in a very simple way, but that dramatic arc of emotion. And my question for you with that is, you know, we can talk about three acts, we can talk about the Kurt Vonnegut's three main story arcs. You know, the man in the hole boy meets girl and Cinderella are things the other one He loves talking about, or loved talking about. And what I find difficult with this, and also the hero's journey, and I have, you know, I mentioned Sean Callahan, before, just yesterday, I read something by him that it says the biggest mistake he ever comes across in business storytelling, is people trying to use Hollywood stuff to tell business stories. Because what he believes is, if you're not working on this a lot, it doesn't come naturally to you, complicates things. And it's not necessarily how you know you're not writing fiction, you're telling a real story. So you get all this information, right. And we know all the ways that the story becomes good or can become good from a Hollywood point of view, or a writing point of view. But you're also telling people to just tell a real story. And in the real story, as we said before, you shouldn't be you should be crafting it for for it to work, but it shouldn't be altering it. So isn't talking about all this stuff, or telling people about the stuff particularly things like the hero's journey, potentially going to do more harm than good when it comes to just telling the story?
John Zimmer 43:54
I don't think so. And I it does involve a bit of explanation in my in in some of the trainings that I do, the longer ones where I have time I talk about the hero's journey. And then when I get to the end of it using, you know, movie, as an example, I stress that this is a metaphor. That's all it is. And you know, part of the hero's journey, the hero leaves home and I say, what could leaving home be in a real world context? Well, it might mean you going on a business trip, or it might mean you walking down the hall and speaking to a colleague in a different department that could be leaving home. And when it's explained that way, I then give people a chance I say, I want you to think about an event at work, and then come up and just tell us the story. Like a hero's journey is a story. And you might be the hero you might be the helper you it might be about somebody else just tell it and I've heard wonderful stories, very simple stories where people understand now is it possible that people can get so caught up in this that they that it doesn't help and it actually hurts more? Of course, but that's like anything else, you know? I can give you a tool. And if you use it the right way, it's fantastic. And if you start using a hammer to screw in, you know, a screw, then you're gonna have problems. It's all how you use it. So I do think that giving people this kind of information that they can think if they're serious about if they want to become good storytellers, yes, they're going to need to put in the effort, they're going to need to think about it, they're going to need to tell a story, then they're going to need to tell it again and again and refine it, and get good at telling the story. But I don't see any particular danger with it. Because I think at the end of the day, we're all natural storytellers. We just don't think of ourselves as storytellers, when you get together with your friends. You know, if you if four friends go out for an evening, you're gonna have a dozen stories by the time the evening is done, they might be longer, they might be shorter. But that's what we all do.
Francisco Mahfuz 45:48
Yeah, I've repeated more than once here that some of my friends are awful at telling stories, because they've not as you said, they are doing it, they are doing the literal truth. It is painful at times where the story has gone on for five minutes, and you still have no clue what
John Zimmer 46:06
that is. We all know, we all know people like that who will go on and on. And you're just thinking, Could you please get to the point. And that's truth to the moment. This is knowing how many details to put in, I could tell you a story about x. And then I could go into a business conference, I could tell the same story. But I'm not going to tell it the same way. I might add certain details, I may take details out, I might stretch it, I might shrink it.
Francisco Mahfuz 46:33
Yeah. Because this is you're talking about business context. So this is something that I wanted to ask you, because I've had this experience last year, but not to the extent you've had which is teaching at an MBA. So I was last year, I did a lot of work at ESA, I don't know if you've touched on storytelling as part of all the things you've done, because I'm not familiar with the programme Exactly. Because when I did it, we had a specific day. That was on storytelling, and it was a specific project that was on storytelling. And what I wanted to ask you is what have you found is the most either the most difficult thing for people to get right? Or the biggest mistake they make in an executive, in your experience with the MBA is when you tell someone to tell a story. What do they really struggle with? Or what's the thing that they typically get wrong?
John Zimmer 47:23
I would say one thing that they that many people, not all but many people get wrong, right at the start is to think that they can't tell a story about a certain subject. And these often become some of the most interesting discussions in class because there will always be at least one or two who say no, in fact, you can tell a story and it's important you get this discussion. And this is where, you know, I talk about the importance of using a story, something that happened that is concrete that relates to whatever technical topic you're talking about is and a fantastic example, I do a lot of work in in Geneva with the World Intellectual Property organisation and years ago, years ago, there was a presentation by a woman, a lawyer, who was talking about a treaty that allows people to apply for patent protection for new varieties of plants or flowers, people crossbreed flowers, such as orchids, and they create these beautiful new flowers. And they if they apply for patent protection, they can then benefit from the sale of these orchids the same way that a company like Apple files for patent protection for its iPhone, for example. And she did something very clever. She had on a slide this long legal paragraph from this treaty. That was the key paragraph that allows people to apply for patent protection. And she said, this is the paragraph you're going to have to spend time with, you're going to have to understand it, you're going to have to read the accompanying regulations. It's key, it's important, there are forms to fill out to file, etc, etc, etc. And then she said, but I don't want to take you through it step by step. Now you can look at it later. What I want to do is tell you about its effect. And she changes the slide and now all of a sudden there's this full screen image of this village in Southeast Asia. I can't remember which country but it's from Southeast Asia. And she talks about how they had crossbred orchids and come up with this beautiful new flower. And then a picture of the flower appears in the bottom corner. And she talks about how this village then applied for patent protection. And they got it. And because of this, they now sell this new orchid. And because of that there is an income stream coming into the village and because of that, they were able to build a clinic for the people and put in a concrete floor in the school and lighting and get new books and desks for the students. And now from that story, that very simple story. All of a sudden, that long, long legal paragraph took on a whole new meaning because people could see the human impact behind it. And so my advice to people listening is that if you're struggling to think, what possible story, could I tell in this context, think about the context. And then just keep drilling deeper and deeper until you find the human impact. Because at the end of the day, everything that we do, there is some impact on somebody at some level. And that's where you're likely to find your stories,
Francisco Mahfuz 50:36
there is a line that I think is useful, which is something is happening to somebody,
John Zimmer 50:42
somewhere, write that down, I think I like that something's happening to somebody somewhere.
Francisco Mahfuz 50:46
And if you if you always apply that to whatever, whatever you're talking about, then there is a much likelier chance that even if you don't tell a story, you are bringing the human element in because otherwise, it's, it's so easy to fall, particularly the business context to fall down into, you know, client segmentation. And this is the take up of the offer. And it's you just thought there's abstractions, which you can really care about, because we don't care about abstractions we care about, we care about people. So I think that line I got this from, from Todd Frank, when I was reading his book, get to the heart. And I think it's very useful, very interesting way to get to, to who's being affected by whatever you're talking about.
John Zimmer 51:27
You know, it's true, because you see all these technical presentations. And then I ask people in the audience, after, you know, in trainings, how much do you remember? And people say, Oh, no, we don't remember anything. And yet, it's funny, when people are in the audience, they want one thing, but when they get up on stage, they think, no, I've got to do it the way it's always been done.
Francisco Mahfuz 51:47
So risk mitigation strategy, isn't it, it I've often told people that if you don't want to do use PowerPoint, if you want to go up there and just talk and even, you know, say be funny, for example, if you pull it off, no one will complain. And they will like it a lot more than if you just did a competent presentation, the sort of the usual style. But if you screw it up, then people are going to go, oh, wow, he didn't even bother putting together a PowerPoint. So I think it's in a higher, higher impact higher risk strategy in a way, but it's the one that I tend to advise people to go for it because it's just such a contrast from the, from the, you know, the boring dross of data slides after data slide and bullet data size, direction fire occasion, because you have to, you know, deal with the data sometimes, but they're just bullet points as a
John Zimmer 52:39
no in the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. You can have slides showing the data, that's fine. But then you can also insert a black slide where the screen goes black focus, people refocus on you, and you tell a short story that helps people retain it better. And then you can get back to the data as well. It's, you know, balancing the elements of the three pillars of persuasion of Aristotle logos, which is the logic ethos, your credibility, and then pathos, which is the emotion and without question in the majority of business presentations. You're going to have more logic, more logos and pathos, but it doesn't mean that you leave the emotion out altogether. You can tell in a 30 minute presentation, you could tell a two minute story, which frames things nicely. And I'm willing to bet that people will remember the story more than they're going to remember any significant single statistic or a number.
Francisco Mahfuz 53:38
Agreed. John, this has been fantastic. Just about an hour and it's flown by.
John Zimmer 53:43
It has flown by I've really enjoyed the conversation, Francisco. Thank you for having me.
Francisco Mahfuz 53:47
So your blog is manner of speaking.com manner. Manner of
John Zimmer 53:51
speaking.org is my website on it, they will find a blog that I've been writing now for 12 years and some other information about me and what I do. Another thing that I'm very proud to have co created with Florian MC is rhetoric. Our mutual friend. Yes, yes, our mutual friend rhetoric, the public speaking game, we created a board game to help people gamify public speaking and there's lots of storytelling involved there. And it's available as a multilingual app on the App Store and Google Play. It's in English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Catalan. So far,
Francisco Mahfuz 54:30
having played it before with you, I think we pout you're with me the time I played. It's the most embarrassing, it's the most fun embarrassment you ever have.
John Zimmer 54:41
And it's a lot. What's fun. I think what's the most rewarding thing for me is having seen people, not you but other people who are nervous about public speaking. And the first time they have to get up and speak. They're a bit nervous, but everybody applauds. And then they sit down and they feel good and they're applauding everybody else and then the second turn they're a little less than Nervous and halfway through the game, you see people just jumping up wanting to play. It's my turn now because they're not thinking I'm giving a speech there. Now they're just thinking I'm playing a game. So, and it's an example of what you said earlier about telling stories and practising and practising and practising.
Francisco Mahfuz 55:15
Alright, everyone, 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 this 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