Search
  • Francisco Mahfuz

E52. Can Engineers Tell Stories? with James Laurain



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 first. My guest today is James Laurain. James describes himself as a recovering engineer clean for about six years now. Sometimes he relapses and fixes a microwave, but has a strong group of friends who support him and keep him accountable. When he's not fighting his engineering cravings is a technical copywriter who translates geekspeak into a language regular human beings can understand. But hiding behind this geek facade, James is actually one of the greatest sales minds of social media. And he clearly got to me, because I spent weeks tracking him down for this episode, genuinely buying his heartfelt apologies. Only to find out it was all a cunning ploy to see if I was really committed to having him on the show. The man is an evil genius, ladies and gentlemen, James Lorraine. James, welcome to the show.


James Laurain 2:03

Oh my goodness, thank you, you know, I listened to all your intros from your other podcasts and you're like, This person is like a Nobel Prize winner. This person is like, you know, keynote speaker wanted by everybody. This person invented the internet. And then I thought What are you going to have for me? Like I don't really, I'm impressed at your level of research, sir. As amazing.


Francisco Mahfuz 2:22

Let me give you one more. One more bit of research that hopefully will impress you in a museum who see who's who I've got here with me that a little rain is indeed so it's a logon to be exactly exact from the movie. And the reason I have it here apart from the fact that I know you are a Wolverine fan or used to be is because I record this this podcast in the fortress of pillows, which is my daughter of my daughter's bedroom. And when the oldest style is started sort of regressing in her sleep and feeling you know, afraid of things that fraid of things in the dark. Yeah, one of the only things I could do to trick not trick her but convince her that it was okay to sleep by herself was to tell her that Logan was going to protect her.


James Laurain 3:12

That's awesome. I you know, I'm a Wolverine fan.


Francisco Mahfuz 3:15

Listen, I do my research man.


James Laurain 3:18

I think you know, honestly, though, everyone's a Wolverine fan. So let's be real about this. It's probably a safe bet they should be Wolverine fan it should be that's a good idea though. I got to get one of those for my kids rooms.


Francisco Mahfuz 3:30

They're great. So there's the Mr. reaction wasn't just you know, you you making it playing really hard to get to come to the to the episode, I might have suffered from a tiny bit of misdirection as well because when I originally came across you on social media, two things drew me to you. The first thing is that I miss read your headline, I misread it as I can explain high tech to your mum instead of to my mum. And I thought, wow, that takes balls.


James Laurain 4:02

Yeah, yeah, I can see that. Maybe I should capitalise that.


Francisco Mahfuz 4:07

I think I think I could explain high tech to your mum. This just changes completely the person. You have


James Laurain 4:18

to look at that now. Yeah, it's funny to some people were some people were offended by that. You know, but yeah, a couple people said it was ageist and sexist. And I'm like, You don't know my mom. So it really if I would have said your mom then it probably would have been. But I was talking about my mom. It's legitimate.


Francisco Mahfuz 4:36

Yeah, it's, it's difficult nowadays, because even when you're talking about a real person, it's very hard to to figure out what so even if it's 100% the case with that one person, you might still be giving the impression that you're being prejudiced, but I find that it's a minefield out there for


James Laurain 4:54

for things that it is really difficult.


Francisco Mahfuz 4:57

So the other so that was the first thing that drew my eye too. to your content on social media, but the other thing was, it was was a story and if I recall correctly was a story about sourdough, which I understand is also one of your obsessions, right?


James Laurain 5:10

Yeah, we'll go with that. Yeah, when the pandemic hit, I realised the only thing we went to the store for was like bread. So I should preface I live in the middle of nowhere, which you probably know, but a lot of people don't. I'm surrounded by cows, there's not a lot out here. So I found a farmer down the road where I can go get milk. And it's actually illegal to buy milk right from the cow. In Michigan, you can't buy milk from a cow, you have to buy the milk from the store, you can't buy it from the cow, or they have to stamp it like not for human consumption. Or you do a herd share, which means I pay for a portion of the upkeep of a cow. And then you get the milk as the byproduct of paying for the cow. And that's legal. So I have I get, I get my milk, my eggs, my meat from a farmer. So all I need really is toilet paper. I told my wife let's plan to toiletry or read. So I started, I got a sourdough starter from somebody and six months later, I think I've hit a good point of making artisan sourdough. But yeah, it's one of those things. I think everyone needs to have one of those things where they can just turn their brain off and just, you know, do something with your hands make something for me, it's it's that it's sourdough. Have you tried


Francisco Mahfuz 6:18

it? You bake? No, not really. So baking is not really my my thing. But but the main reason why I don't bake is because I find it remarkably dangerous. So I I'm not one of those people that can basically eat whatever they want, and never pay, pay the price. And my one of my Achilles heels, is warm bread with butter, I could just eat that for the rest of my life. And that and a whole bunch of other stuff. So I avoid having it in the house. And if I learn how to bake, then I'll force myself to bake all the time. I'm more of a more of a barbecue type.


James Laurain 6:56

Okay, I like barbecue. It's about that season here. I learned when I make bread now I have to make multiple loaves at once. Because when you first pull it out of the oven, my wife and my kids will pounce on it and like eat an entire loaf. So for that reason, exactly as you said, I need to make three or four at a time because one's going to be gone. Like in five minutes.


Francisco Mahfuz 7:15

My ex wife believed that if you're going to bake a cake, you might as well bake three cakes. The first one everybody pounces on straightaway. Yeah. And then the second one you actually get to enjoy. And then if you're going to bake to bake a third one and you know, take it to work or whatever. But, you know, I put on a lot of weight during that relationship.


James Laurain 7:38

Dangerous as dangerous. Oh my goodness, Greek it like whole cake. You know, like,


Francisco Mahfuz 7:44

okay, cakes, cakes, pies, you know, whatever, I would arrive home and just see on the windowsill like two or three two cakes. I was like oh two she's restrained herself today is like now the third one is still in the oven. Large. So I saw I saw that sourdough story. And the reason I said that that was a bit of misdirection was because, you know, I saw that and I thought, Okay, this guy can definitely tell a story. And then I put you on my, on my ever growing list of people that I want to talk to you about storytelling. But if if there is a genuine and a genuine skill, I haven't seen a great deal more of it, because most of the other stuff you do is not really what most people would consider storytelling. But having said that, and again, feel free to disagree with me. Do you disagree with me?


James Laurain 8:39

No, I was gonna say you should have seen i So it's funny. Like, if you want to talk imposter syndrome, I think nobody has a bigger than me, which is funny because that's imposter syndrome, right? I did. A while ago, I did a series it might have been before the shower door might have been before you were watching where I was having people recommend like random items, or I was picking random dumb items, and I would turn them into a story. So somebody pointed out to me and I don't know if it was you or somebody else. That there was a a group of people who bought things from a thrift store and then lifted them on like Craigslist and wrote a story behind it. That was you. Okay, no, I took it. That's awesome that that was you. By the way. That was a long time ago.


Francisco Mahfuz 9:19

Well, yeah. What was the name of the I forget now? It's the it's something objects, significant objects. That's it significant origin experiment?


James Laurain 9:28

Yeah. How cool. That was you? Yeah. So I started. So I wrote like one on like an old school, eight beat egg beater. And I wrote I wrote some posts about that. The best one I had, I don't know if you read one. It was about chairs. It was actually


Francisco Mahfuz 9:40

cool. I read the eggbeater one,


James Laurain 9:43

and the chair like it, it's not a chair. It's not something you sit on the chair is a feeling of belonging. Like really, if you show up at a table and there's no chair for you. You don't belong. You know what I mean? You feel like you don't belong now. You're awkward. If there's a chair there's a chair for you. Like you feel like you belong So I rewrote a whole thing about I don't, man, I'd have to go find it. But it was about essentially that like selling a chairs, you're not buying a chair, you're buying this belonging, you're buying the ability for other people to belong and all that stuff. And I kind of wrapped that one in the story. And that one did incredibly well. So I don't think, you know, do I have a skill at it? I frankly, don't think I have a skill at much. It's just people tend to like what I do, which is cool. So yeah, so I don't know, the problem.


Francisco Mahfuz 10:29

Let me let me pick up on the chairman. Yeah. I love that. Although we must be sad that I had a chair in school, and I'm not sure. Yeah, good point. So I think you can have a chair and not belong, but not having a chair is a very clear sign that you don't belong. And I think that but what I really liked about what you said there is that you were looking for the feeling. So yes, surely it does. It does a physical thing, or allows you to do a physical thing. But what's the feeling that engendered by it, and this is the one thing I I hammer home over and over and over again, when I talk to people about this whole nonsense of people not having stories or thinking that their stories are boring, or they're not fantastic enough. And I would say that the story is not about the external circumstances of the story, the story is about the feelings generated by the story. So you can have a story about feeling inadequate, or belonging or overcoming obstacles. And those obstacles don't need to be Everest, take the obvious example. It could be a challenge as a parent, or in your job, or just you know, you were trying to catch the bus and you are not whatever doesn't it doesn't matter what the circumstances are, is, how did it make you feel? Because that's what people we identify with? Not that's not the only thing they identify with. But if you get that right, then you know, you're on to something.


James Laurain 11:57

Yeah, I another thing I told people, is, you know, for the lurkers and the people who don't post frequently, and who don't write things very much. I said, the challenge is write something you know, that you think everybody else knows. Because what happens is usually somebody writes something that they assume everybody else knows, like, Okay, this is dumb knowledge, and they just post something about it. And then a lot of people write back and say, Thank you and interact, and even people who do know what, wow, it's a great way of putting it, I didn't think of it that way. And it's like, all these people get amazing feedback. And I know a few people I started that with who are now like regularly contributing, because I think it lowers that barrier wall, to just say, write something stupid. Everybody knows about half the time they put something at the beginning that says everybody knows this, but and then they go on to say something that like I had no idea about.


Francisco Mahfuz 12:42

It's a very good tip, you know, tell people about something you think they know, instead of trying to, to educate them, or inform them about stuff that they don't know, at least when you what you're going to get if you pick your subjects well, is his relevance, it won't matter to people because it's a subject they they care about. And something else that that you said, No. So we started talking about half of your head, your tagline on LinkedIn, which is I can I can explain high tech to my mum. But the second part of it is tech copywriter for humans. So I just want I mean, I think I know your answer. But I wanted to know to have you explain any way. What qualifies the for human parts? Yes.


James Laurain 13:29

So I wanted to differentiate there from technical writers in general. So I, I've told this a few times, and you've probably heard it, but I have an electrical engineering degree. And I have that degree because my mom said, that's the degree I should get. So she said, You're good at math and science, be an engineer. And I feel like a lot of people who go to college don't understand what they want to do until they're already there. Right? So that's what happened. And I went and I did that engineering for 10 years and I realised that I don't actually love it as much as I thought I did. And I really like the understanding consumer psychology and why people buy things so you if you have a new product and a lot of times I work with a lot of the copywriting is actually like websites stuff that's not technical and all that people paying me for. But a lot of the products I work with are like microcontrollers, and like you know, semi complex stuff, microprocessors FPGAs all this crazy stuff. And there are a lot of technical writers who will take that and translate it into here's your memory size and this and this and this, but it doesn't, it's not the number of I don't want to do that because I don't you know, it's good people when they get to that level, they need that level of information. If I bought the partner, I'm going to use it and I'm I'm very closely evaluating for Okay, that's great. But I wanted to add the for humans part because I don't enjoy that as much as I enjoy understanding the complex system and then breaking it down. So the average person can understand it. So that that was my own stab at trying to separate myself from people who, you know, basically Just lift specifications and write traditional data sheets that are incredibly dry. And only really for people who need specific answers when they're in the specific moment.


Francisco Mahfuz 15:11

Yeah, there is a problem that that you've touched on before, but also now, whereas if you're talking to people from a position of have superior knowledge in the sense, just in the sense of you have more knowledge than them, you are suffering and you think people are going to get it, you are suffering from a friend of mine calls your cock problem, also known as the curse of knowledge. In you know, is this is this assumption that people get what you're trying to say they understand that Oh, yes, but I'm talking about recruitment and everybody that wouldn't know that. People don't get what you're trying to say. And, and I think it's interesting, because when I try to tell people about storytelling, and what's the point of storytelling, other than, you know, being entertaining, I have often used the metaphor of a language that language that human beings actually understand. When you when you speak, in figures and state, you know, just statements and opinions and data, your brain has not evolved. Understand that. I mean, you understand cognitively. But it's not how the brain assembles information and retrieves information. So you're forced to, you know, it's like, my, my Spanish is decent enough, my Catalan is almost non existent. So if I'm trying to speak someone in Catalan and understand what you're saying, Katelyn, my brain is doing a whole lot of work in is almost certainly not catching anywhere near as much of the information being imparted or the meaning. That if they speak in English to me, or in Portuguese, which is my, my native language, then then that's fine. I'll get it. No problem. I want to send 100%. And I think there's that that happens with storytelling, but also happens with the type of copywriting. You do. Yep.


James Laurain 16:57

No. And I like what you put exactly with retrieving and recalling information. And where we put things. I think it's people have asked, What's the like, how do I write like you do? That's a tough one. I like that. Have you heard the story of Picasso with the napkin drawing in the cafe? Most people have heard


Francisco Mahfuz 17:13

that actually, I posted that last week. Oh, there you go. But


James Laurain 17:17

Oh, good. Cuz I was gonna do it now. I won't know.


Francisco Mahfuz 17:21

Sure. My take my take on it. I'm sure it will be completely different than yours. And yours will get a much bigger audience. So. But did you tell the story or should I?


James Laurain 17:30

Yeah. Well, first so from my perspective, it was the lady came and asked the cast Oh, to Can I have a drawing or a quick, you know, whatever. She saw him at a cafe and wanting to drawing he made up a drawing and he gave it to her and said it'll be 40 grand, or whatever the dollar amount was, and she said 40 grand, it took you five minutes. All the drugs, you know, this drawing didn't take me five minutes, it took me 40 years. It's the culmination of all the knowledge up to this point. I think the hardest part, what works best in technical writing is analogy. I've heard a lot of people talk flak about analogy lately, because analogies, you can miss things, they're not entirely accurate, they may be misinterpreted or misunderstood. And those are all very valid risks. But if I'm trying to explain to somebody who's entirely non technical, technical, so like Realtors financial advisors, like a lot of people who follow me, I'm trying to explain to them an inductor, which is like just a coil of wire wrapped around a ferrite. Like I could say it like that. And that doesn't mean anything. Probably most people think I said ferret. But if I explain it, and I relate it to like a gooseneck faucet, so faucet that looks like this. So when you turn the water on, it takes a while for the water to turn on. When you turn the water off, it flows for a little bit longer because of that gooseneck. Like now people can understand the basic concept. The same thing works with electricity. When you power an inductor takes a while. And when it finally comes out, we turn it off, a little bit of extra electricity comes out. Is the analogy perfect? No. But that is kind of how when I'm dealing with things that are higher tech, I did chaos theory, I did string theory I did parts of relativity and some of Einstein's work. And that's been later kind of developed on if you don't have analogy, if I can't turn that somehow into it is a mini story, right? I'm trying to relate it to something that you can see, maybe you've experienced a kitchen faucet like that. If I if I don't do that, and I just stick to data. I will be more accurate. But I will lose like nine out of 10 people.


Francisco Mahfuz 19:31

Yeah, so it's worth I think being a little clearer for anyone who's never seen your content. What exactly is that you do? But most of the posts that I've seen you do recently, after you did those series on stories, is you're either getting something sort of technical or a complex subject like you're just described and picking an analogy to explain it to lay people but you and you also do your rewrite copy advertising Copy that, you know, our ads, as most people understand them, that other people have done to to make them better. And one question I have when we explained in the gooseneck analogy is, a lot of these things you're explaining are very technical, right? So I obviously understand that there is an element of showing your talent and showing what you're capable of when you're tackling those subjects. But is there a technical person out there that you're going to sell one of these very complicated contraptions to that actually needs, you know, that copywriter for human? Because because I've seen it? Like, I wouldn't? I'm never gonna buy a lot of the things that that I've seen you describe in that way? So is it just the exercise of the skill and to show people that it can be made simpler? Or is there actual market for technical people that want a good copy?


James Laurain 20:57

There, this is such a deep subject I've been talking to people about here, here's what I'll say. So the sales funnel, there's the sales funnel, right. And so in the sales funnel, on the top, we have people who don't even know about you, really, and then they kind of enter the funnel, and then it's mild awareness down to, like, I'm ready to go ready to buy at the bottom of the funnel. A lot of my problem with a lot of the advertisements, with a lot of technical writing, with a lot of things like that, I am at the smack dab bottom of the funnel, like the very bottom, because I am advertising, I just saw one that I'm gonna rewrite very soon, actually, that has so many acronyms and so many complex, it talks about their proprietary system and all that nobody knows what that is, like nobody. So the amount of people who are in that bottom of the funnel is very, very small. So why am I curating advertising content for those tiny people as my only source Now mind you, you should have some for them, obviously, my thought is, though, that the funnel itself to hit the max amount of people, if you're going to put an ad on LinkedIn, you may as well hit a lot of people, right, we need to increase awareness. And that's where I see a big gap. So a lot of higher tech things, they don't get anybody in that awareness stage. So I like I'm trying to think of specifically what it was. There's a lot of electronics sites who are advertising electronics, they don't start with the basics, they start posting the really complex things. Here's the difference between you know, Laura, which is this long range wireless protocol and CIG Fox, which is competing long range, protocol. And again, you hit people on the bottom of that funnel, like the very bottom. Let's say you were Khan Academy, Khan Academy started by, you know, someone explaining the very, very basic rudimentary things, if you start explaining the basics, like, what is the diode, what is the capacitor, you know, for electronics, these are the basics, these are the tiny little components that make up nothing, you can suck people in in that awareness phase. And similarly, you get like the students in school who were trying to learn, and they want to look up what this is, because they you know, they haven't turned assignments. So they go look it up. But you're casting that super wide net, that guides people to the funnel of things at the bottom that kind of already exist, all those really high complex things already, just so really, a lot of what I do, I get a lot of good feedback from the people who are complex, like who are in that bottom of the funnel, because they're like, Oh, that's a great way to relate it. People like me who were bottom of funnel, want ways to talk to our wives, spouses, you know, children about what we do, so that they understand it, because again, to your point, humans want to talk to other humans and tell them what we do and have people understand us. So I think people appreciate that. But to me, a lot of what I do is push the ads kind of up the funnel, to catch a wider audience and have them understand, look, this is accessible to you, you can understand this, you can do it. And then maybe you might end up being bold enough to tackle some of these challenges, or some of these products or things like that. So I was gonna actually do a series two on like repairing electronics, because it's easier than people think. But this way, your little like my $15 milk frother in the kitchen. Like when it breaks, it doesn't mean you have to throw it out, like here's the things to look forward to fix it. So for me, it's about educating the greater people, having them understand making it accessible to them, not necessarily pleasing those people at the bottom of the funnel because they're already there's already so much information for them there.


Francisco Mahfuz 24:22

You talked about analogies before. And I think a very, very similar type of device would be would be metaphors. And I've seen many people describe a metaphor as the shorter, the smallest version of a story. So why I referred earlier to my Achilles heel. Now most people these days probably don't know where that expression comes from. But they they might have some awareness of what it means but obviously, this is a, you know, a much longer story from Greek mythology of this guy. Kilis, who was the greatest warrior of all time, and he was invulnerable, I believe, and the only Only way to kill him was hitting him in the heel. And that speaker my Achilles heel, and now everybody understands that your your weakness or your your weakest point. And that is it is the short, the easiest way to access a whole bunch of meaning in people's minds without having to say something that takes three or four sentences to say to you know, the analogy in the end the the metaphor, perhaps the shortcut to what a lot of people do with with stories, you know, the story is obviously a longer version of that. But but your goal I think is you've now created a an analogy in a way that people can understand without it being so quick. But obviously, I think if you're doing copy, you perhaps just don't have the space to write a story in front of people are going to hire you for you, you know, you can tell a story in most cases. But having done that before, and if we're just talking about content and getting ideas across to people, do you have any particular preference for when do you think a story like the ones you've done before, are more suitable? And when the type of analogy where you know, you pick a movie, or you pick an everyday object, and you use that as the comparison, do you have any clear thoughts on which why one over the other?


James Laurain 26:17

I guess for me, it'd be emotional appeal is when I would switch to a story. So it is kind of interesting. I just did a a copywriting competition. Did you see that? Oh, yeah, well, thank you. So we had the right eye, we crowdsource someone would pick a topic, you know, we gave it to everybody, whatever topic they wanted. And then we would me and another copywriter would would give it a go and try to create something compelling. Again, we limited to 1300 characters the size of a LinkedIn post, because we were originally just going to post ours. But we put it in an article to be anonymous, which was actually a lot more fun. But it was about neurodiversity in the workplace. So people with ADHD, autism, all that and, and getting a job encouraging people to hire those individuals. That one actually would have been like really good for a story. I thought, because it's an emotional appeal. There's logic in it. There's a logical appeal. Obviously, a lot of these people are very talented and have very good skills, and they're just not well suited for the actual hiring process. But I battled with that, you know, the blank page has copywriters worst enemy? Because do you pick an individual and guide that person through? You know, so like, you know, here's Johnny and Johnny is an all star and does all these things. But he Johnny gets rejected on each interview. And why? Well, because Johnny can't sit still. And What's it matter if he can sit still or not? Because he's incredible? Or do you kind of go facts and data, do you? Which way do you drive. So my if it was neurodiversity encompasses a whole lot of things. So I wanted to encompass all of them. I didn't want to focus on autism and leave out ADHD, I didn't want to leave out some of the other ones I wanted to capture as much different as I could. So my approach was not a story in that regard. But when I would switch to a story is again, when I'm trying to elicit an emotional appeal. That's not a complete black and white, because I could do a story for some of these electronics, I just don't have a lot of room 1300 characters to do it. And I think a metaphor that's fine. But that to me is when if I'm if I'm really looking to get someone passionate or an emotion, then stories are where I go.


Francisco Mahfuz 28:30

Yeah, I I think that the reason you want that one was because as I'm going to disagree with you, I think I think what you did was significantly closer to a story in that particular case, then what the other copywriter did because what you did was you gave you gave us a whole bunch of characters that we would recognise. So I think you talked about Steve Jobs and our Einstein and a whole bunch of other people that are normally considered to be very smart or geniuses even. And then you said, you know, what they all have in common is that none of them would be hired by most companies with their hiring practices because they are neurodiverse and they would they would fall through the cracks because of things that clearly don't shouldn't matter. Whereas the the other copywriter what she did was she she gave us a couple of two or three lines and then at some point right after she said, Did you pick up the double award in the first line, there was a the in the first line and says, you know, a neurodiverse person would have caught it. So hire people that think differently than you. And I thought that was very, very smart. But I didn't think it necessarily moved the the emotion needle anywhere near as much as yours because Because yours had more clear characters that we could we could imagine as real people. And this so there's this thing I've said a number of times which is emotion decides in Reason justifies If you don't have the emotional trigger, when you're making the decision, the fact that it's smart won't ever weigh as as heavily or as powerfully as the fact that he moved you in any way. And you can feel for the people that have lost a job. Whereas the other one is more, you're being silly by not hiring the person that thinks differently than you. Whereas the first one is about putting yourself into the into these people's lives and because they're different. So in my reading, that's why that one ended up being preferred and intimate, slim margins. But, but I still think that it doesn't need to be a story. But it's, you have story elements in there. The thing I


James Laurain 30:43

like is you always get into the short copy long copy. So what works better? It's always a question to short copy, or long copy work better. And the answer I like to give is it has to be long enough. So this is one example though her entry was 85 words, mine was like 190 something. So I mean, I was I was double her entry. And that always makes me nervous. Because I feel like if someone can get the full entire thought, expressed in half the words like I must be doing something really wrong. But to me, it's a lesson because I've had people when I do the ad rewrites sometimes they grow. Sometimes they grow quite a bit. But it's because I feel like we need to have a progression. And one line just isn't gonna cut it. So you know, website headlines, they have to be punchy, they have to jump out and it's like the How can you cram, it's kind of the the Hemingway story, right? baby shoes for sale never worn. It's six words. But there's an entire story in that. So it's not just six words to be six words. And that's where I think a lot of the disconnect is. So I appreciate your thoughts and your feedback on it. When I had written it, it was like I hit a point where I tried to cut as much fluff as possible. And I didn't think there was much other than like cutting out certain people's names, or cutting out certain companies that have implemented new hiring policies or something. But I did have a lot of people right back who thought that they were reversed. I thought that I was the short one because you're addicted to short writing you really like short and cutting out fluff. And I'm like, do you read my posts? They're all about 1300 characters, you know, they're all at the limit. So I don't know where you get that impression. But yeah, I try not to have useless words. But anyway, no, that's a good perspective.


Francisco Mahfuz 32:24

In short, copy long copy arguments. So I had some episodes ago ahead. I had another guy's from story brand on the podcast and, and he talked about what what they call the Starbucks test for your, for your website. So they say, if you if you this is a bit of a weird scenario, to be honest, but he said, If you are in Starbucks at just approach someone with your laptop and say, Listen, do you mind just looking at this website and telling me what it's about. And in supposedly, you're going to give the person five seconds to look at the website, and they need to be able to tell you what you do. And if they can tell you in five seconds, then you have a nailed that first line or lines on your website. And I think that's it's a very clear and important thing to master. And it's going to lead me into talking to you about your thoughts on LinkedIn headlines. But I also think it's true that if you're reading an ad, you don't have necessarily it's not as logon, you don't have to catch people's understanding and attention and move them within six words, you have two or three paragraphs to do it in, in many cases. So as long as the first as long as the hook gets them in, you've bought yourself enough time to work it a bit more. So you know, different messaging for different medium.


James Laurain 33:43

There is, yeah, I thought about putting some together and the art of the hook too. Because I spend the bulk of the time on the hook. You know, I don't I don't underestimate the clothes. I mean, every part is important, right? So don't underestimate the clothes, the clothes is important, because I feel like that kind of gives you continuity into a next action, which I think people often overlook, download our ebook. That's it, you know, but like, I don't know, it doesn't flow necessarily. But I do put a lot of time on the hook. And one thing that's very interesting to me, and this is potentially a story thing. A lot of people avoid second person. And I was actually just on a job where they said don't use second person because it could offend people in Europe, and I'm like, okay, that's fine. But I incorporate second person on almost all of them, because to your point, I need to get someone in the story. So instead of saying, I streamline data gathering or something, but it would be like streamline your data with you know, because I need you to realise Oh, my data is kind of a mess. I need a way to streamline it right so I put in a your, but I mean, even that one little change fixes so many ads. I haven't had a rewrite that I'm working on right now that's going to be different and I'm kind of excited about it. I didn't a lot of times it's a total tear down and rewrite. I have one I might even posted today if I finish it, or I just take, there's, like, Let's do two simple things that radically change this ad. And it's like one of them is you use like a proprietary name at the beginning with proprietary name, let's just push it to the end. So do whatever with and put that at the end. And then the beginning they have like, you know, streamline whatever optimise revenue, like all these generic things that don't matter. So don't use the generic use one specific, you know, instead of optimise your data, or I'm trying to think of a good one, but a lot of people to put your data in one place or make your data make sense or something, but something a little bit more specific than these generic that people see. So again, throw your in there, and now I've pulled you into the store. So I've added, you know, a specific with a your, so I'm trying to relate it to something about you. And then again, at the end, I put something to kind of call to action. So anyway, I'm kind of excited about that. And I'm hoping that we get


Francisco Mahfuz 35:56

the challenge of this specific is a very important one. And this is something when I when I tell people about how to tell better stories, this is something people don't necessarily get, but once they get it, it's obvious is that specific, makes it universal, because it's grounded in reality, and makes people feel that you actually know what you're talking about, and gives them something very concrete to latch on to. So one example I've given recently, is when, when Steve Jobs was presenting the the iCloud, one of the things he talked about was how, you know, you have all these different devices, and you have the phone and you have the computer, and you have the iPad, or you know, whatever you whatever you have for your music, and you have cables connected to one into the other, and then you forget to do one. And most people would have had that very specific experience at some point, you know, he could have used very highfalutin language to talk about the cloud. But he just said, you know, this cables, and you never know what's update, and it's a nightmare. It's cables everywhere, the whole thing is a nightmare. Now, we're going to do a way of all of that. And I think everyone can see themselves in that situation. And in then essentially, you know, as you and everyone that talks about messaging or, or good copy or, or any marketing knows, it's, it's the problem you're trying to solve. It's not how you solve it. And I think that a lot of people don't get that by having that specific thing, you'll make it easier for other people to see themselves in it. If you do if you go generic, it just sounds generic. And you might not catch the people that should have been caught. Because they didn't see that one thing that they go oh, actually that that exact thing. I've got a problem with that.


James Laurain 37:43

Yeah. And we've actually I've done a bit of work with people with features and benefits. So the hard part is when you are too close to a product, you know all the features, so therefore you want to sell the features. So the features of the iCloud, you know, simultaneous update everything updated all your pictures in one place, whatever are the features. And so I found a lot of success by having people actually write down all the features because that's easy, they can do it. And then you have a so what column, all your pictures in one place, that's a feature. So what so you know, and then you talk about never lose a picture again, you know, you don't have to swap things to see where they are. It's, it's you're confident, you know where they are, they're safe, they're secure. They're your memories, they're valuable. And now it's like we've created a whole nother thing is with story and with with some of this messaging. I also think one element that people overlook is the focus. So I can talk about the history of the world, I can talk about the history of the country, I can talk about history of certain people, or I can write about a certain like a certain piece of a certain person's life. I can write a certain day in their life, I can write about how they felt in a moment. Um, so I wrote a poem A while back, which it didn't go over well, like it didn't, you know, it was early on that I published it, it didn't get a lot of necessarily traction, but that was fine to just kind of put it somewhere. So I had it. I wrote it for my wife a long time ago when we were dating, and it was called the very first yawn. So I thought it was funny, because when you yawn if I yawn right now, you would probably yawn like nap because you don't like you know, because they don't like us because it just happens when someone sees someone else yawn, that we have that reaction, right. So I thought that would be awesome if it started somewhere. Like if there was a yawn that somebody else saw that started them beyond them before you know it like now we have this pandemic of yawning in the world because anytime anybody on somebody else sees them and yawns and we're just continuing this thing that was started in one moment. So I wrote a I wrote a poem about that but I like it kind of goes in with the tech copywriting thing too is you can write about the big generic or you can hyper focus on to like one element and if you do it well, each one is interesting and each one is kind of different. So you can present the same solution in like 1000 different ways by by narrowing in or broadening out so


Francisco Mahfuz 39:55

I don't know if you if you did this on purpose, but you If for anyone that, that studies story or listens to people that talk about story, the exact term you used is the term we use moment for the moment is one of the things that many people including me, will tell you it's absolutely essential for a story is in a specific moment, because otherwise you wouldn't what you get with is not a story is a timeline. It's like how most companies present their, you know, our story is We were founded this day. Whereas that's not the story. The story you know, if you are, if you are Airbnb, the moment would be when there was a conference in San Francisco, they were broke, they were trying to find some way to make money realise that all hotels are booked solid. And then they bought some air mattresses, advertise them online for 80 bucks a night and got three guests to stay in air bed and breakfast. So that you know that was it. That was the that moment is is the most important part of the origin story of Airbnb. For most customers, if you're if you're talking to investors, then you have all sorts of other interesting things there about how they they produce the the scenery, the election serials the Obama halls and the cap McCain's or how they went to the hosts apartments, took a whole bunch of professional pictures and put them on the website because they realised that the quality of the pictures wasn't up to scratch. And that's what was dragging the website down. But whichever scene of those you get that that is the one scene, you have to describe in as much detail as you can. Because that is really what the story is about. Everything else is what came before. And what happened after. And if you if you if you don't reel down a moment, it doesn't feel like real life. And this is why history in school was boring, because they had every possible interesting thing in the world to talk about. He was always from, you know, 30,000 feet. And that's not very exciting.


James Laurain 42:01

I love that. See, I struggle with this with big corporate, I was just looking at a company called the Shea. Shea is an electronics company that does actually pretty boring parts. And then looked them up and found out their founder is actually like a Holocaust survivor. And like there's so many interesting things about the adversity he overcame to found this company, I think of the entire company differently.


Francisco Mahfuz 42:23

And that's a whole point in I think this gives itself perhaps to story a little more than to you know, regular copywriting is that products are a dime a dozen. And most products and services are to some extent commodities. So what sets them apart is the human aspect of it. Now, that human aspect might just be for some reason you bought it. And now you have your own experiences attached to that product. But it could just be that you know about the history of the founders. And then there is a human dimension to whatever service you're using. So the Yeti mug I'm sure he has. But does he have an interesting story? They


James Laurain 43:04

just wanted everyone at home to know that I had one. Alright, yeah, just kidding. I'm sure you know, I gotta go look at it. But I think it was I think it is like an underdog kind of story. Because a lot of the other people in the market the Coleman's and all that stuff, we're already established big companies. I'm gonna go look up their origin story now. And I bet you they did a good job. And I bet you at the moment, my point is, it's a commodity, it's a commodity. I mean, it's a total commodity. If you compare this to probably any other mug on the market, they would both keep ice cold the same amount of time. But the story people tell themselves is that this is the absolute best thing in the world. But they've created a story with it, yet. They have bright colours, and they're about, you know, like grabbing your friends and hitting the beach that day or climbing a mountain. Like they've created the story around the product so well, that you don't buy the product, you're buying the story. Like it's funny because I wanted to make like a joke, like a true ad for a Yeti. And be like, it's been with me on my wildest adventures from like, when I started Netflix until when I stopped watching Netflix, you know, because most people who buy them you just buy it to keep your coffee warm in your house. You're not climbing Mount Everest, but you feel like you are really silly, just because of this powder coated mug.


Francisco Mahfuz 44:20

Don't Donald Miller, who's the other guy, the most well known guy from story brands. He said that there was this knife like a survival knife or something like that, that he he I don't know. I think their ads are always this guy getting into all sorts of trouble and using the knife to you know, MacGyver his way out of it. And he said, I'm never going to do any of those things in my life, but I just want to be the kind of man who could so he'd got the frame gave him the knife and he just says I only use it to cut cheese. But every time I cut cheese, I feel like the most capable man in the world. Oh, I That's awesome. Yeah. Right. Okay, headlines. So for those that know what we're talking about, when you have social media, LinkedIn profile, there is a line or a few lines that go under your profile. And most people use that for their job title. Some people have started using that to say I help these in this type of person do this other thing. And the reason I wanted to ask you your take on it, which I know you have one is because headlines are one of the ways where, you know, messaging crosses over with copywriting and a story. And one of the hardest part of any of these activities is for people to very succinctly say, What is this about? And why should they care? So you know, floor is yours?


James Laurain 45:47

I think so number one, your headline that the only thing that travels with you, so your profile picture does and your headline, so any comment you make any posts you make any anything you make, anytime you do anything anywhere, your headline is there, the first 55 characters of your headline is there. So you can optimise your about section you can you can make a bunch of articles, you can do whatever you want, but nothing goes everywhere, like your headline does. That is absolutely everywhere. Any comment, even if you make a smiley face comment, your headline is there. So to me, it's important that you do your headline, and you focus on it. What there are a lot of people who just list the job title, it depends what you're trying to do. I work with a lot of CEOs that are proud that they're CEOs and they want to say I'm the CEO of whatever, okay, like you can I feel like the CEO title is being watered down because I could just start a company tomorrow and call myself CEO and have zero revenue. And people do. So what I've tried to do, I feel like when you put the iHelp or something like that, you are number one, you're making it about yourself. Number two, you are it's kind of needless characters. So what I like to do is, there was something trending on Tik Tok, like two weeks ago, which may as well been like two decades ago, as fast as tic tac trend stop. But it was telling me what you do without telling me what you do. You know, tell me you have a million dollars without telling me you have a million dollars and people would just be sitting on their yacht and take a drink of something ridiculously expensive. And you're like, Whoa, okay. But I love that concept. So I don't, there's two pieces, I feel like need to be in a headline. The first one is the attention grabbing. That's the 55 characters. That is the tell me what you do without telling me what you do. And I'm breaking some rules, because I'm not telling other people what I would do for them. That's implied. I'm telling what I do without telling what I do. And then the second half is an actual, like, Okay, actually tell me what you do. So that if the analogy is lost on me, if I don't understand the first 55 characters that I will, I will catch the second half. So mine is I can explain high tech to my mom. The second half would be tech copywriter for humans. So I feel like the first part says what I do, you know, you have a complex thing you need to explain, I could have said I help you explain complex things to your customers, I could have said that, that's pretty dry, I'd kind of sound like everybody else. So instead, I chose to break down the way I did. And I explained what I do in 55 characters or less, right, what I do without explicitly saying, and that's how I think you get people's attention. It's kind of with that approach. It's hard to it's, it's not easy, I went through multiple revs. The other thing is you can change your headline 1000 times 2000 times in a day if you want, like so don't, it doesn't have to be a big deal. I think some people make a big deal out of changing it and then change it 20 times it doesn't matter. No cost associated. And


Francisco Mahfuz 48:41

I think a lot of people resist the temptation of being too whimsical with their headline and you just, you just want to say, you know, say what you do is on Sally, you know, I help bla bla, which can get kind of boring. But you also don't necessarily want to be too out there. So you know, I, I think mine at the moment is tell the story and grow your business. Right, which is not overly exciting, but should should get the message across. Now,


James Laurain 49:05

if you use Oh, yeah, tell us what you do without saying what you do. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz 49:10

I could I could be more whimsical and say, become more interested in Netflix.


James Laurain 49:15

I like that bell theme, but I would be interested in that.


Francisco Mahfuz 49:20

Maybe Netflix is does it become more interesting than Hulu? Maybe we'll set the bar a bit lower.


James Laurain 49:26

Oh, man. No, but I mean that if you become more interesting to Netflix, do your customers. I was talking to teachers. There are a lot of teachers who said my students won't pay attention to me. I'm like, Well, honestly, like we pay attention to whatever the most exciting thing in the room is. You're not the most exciting day like there's no I can't sugarcoat this, you're not the most exciting thing. Be the most exciting thing and people will pay attention however you'd like to do that. So I actually like that. I worked with somebody who was a CEO and they did an element of phone systems. So they did phone systems for companies. And of course the original one is CEO of company name that you've never heard of. Right? Which, why am I going to call you you're a CEO of a company name, and especially nowadays when your company's name is beansprout or something and nobody knows what you do, like, I don't understand you're the CEO. Congratulations. So I wanted to change it. So people don't think of phone people pay a lot for lead generation inbound lead, how do we get new customers, but they're actually calling you like a lot of them every day. So we I wanted to change that person's to like your customers are calling Are you listening? You know, or something like that to like, get you. You thinking about the customer experience, right? The customer journey and not specifically your phone system as being an end just your phone system. So yeah, I like that though. I'd changes.


Francisco Mahfuz 50:47

I might I might give the I might give the become more interesting to Netflix or spin.


James Laurain 50:52

Yeah, man, that is a big issue. Put the little VHS logo behind it a little.


Francisco Mahfuz 50:58

I'm not so I'm not sold on the emojis yet. I actually, actually just, just a few days ago, I put I created a character called Clyde. And it's a conversation. So it's a video of me having conversation with Clyde and Clyde. I asked him what he does. And he says, I'm a purpose feeler. And I said, What does that mean? And he said, Oh, you know, I, I help purpose driven entrepreneurs. Live a life filled with purpose. And but if they're purpose driven, don't they have purpose already? That he starts waffling? I was like, Whoa, oh, wow. And then I was just trying to get him to say okay, well, can you actually just either just say something real that regular human beings don't understand. And he he gets kind of annoyed and says, Well, this would make a lot more sense if I had a confused emoji in a fire emoji.


James Laurain 51:53

Or a couple rockets. Don't forget the rocket. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz 51:55

the rockets. Yes. Yeah. So So yeah, I'm trying to resist becoming Clyde. Nothing against the emojis. It's just not it's been like an old man's thing with me where I don't love them. And I can definitely see that they can sometimes just putting on their microphone is saves you having to write the Jura? Speaker, I'd have any problem with that. But I think I'm just holding on to my old men's habits of just, you know, just write normally, no emojis. For me. It's


James Laurain 52:23

two things. So first, emojis and then secondly, success of a headline. So the emojis for me, I feel like if I said I can explain high tech to your mom or to my mom, I come off. Rigid. I come off hard, I come off. What's a good word? Like pompous, arrogant, right? Like I can do everything. So I have the little smiley guy with a little sweat bead. Like a little awkward. And I think that helps diffuse that. So I think when people read it, it sounds like kind of accidental, right? Like I stumbled upon it, like more so than a hard. Like, I'm the ultimate resource for whatever. So I feel like that helps lighten it, which is why I've I've included the emoji on it. Because I'm trying to the hard part is you're trying to complete convey emotion in writing, but I have 55 characters, so I can't really, but I don't. Like I said all my best ideas have come to me by accident. The fact that I use the word moment is coincidence. Don't assume any of it is actual intelligence on my part. So that's where that smiley face kind of comes from it fits what I would call success of a headline, because I get a lot of questions. And I'm like, the way I view success is not likes interactions, you know, clappy emojis, and all that stuff, is people who reach out and say, they would like to work with me. That's how I view success. If I haven't had that in a while, well, that's bad. I get about three to six reach outs a week, which is good. And that, to me a success. Success with the headline is when I have people use it back to me. So I have people reach out and their intro to me, when they will, like message me out of the blue is hey, I need to explain high tech to my mom helped me out. Or one guy we just finished a write up for him was like, my mom has no idea what I'm doing. I need your help. You know, like, but people repeat back to me what my headline is to me, and that's when I know I want so if you if you did, you're making you more, making you more entertaining the Netflix making more interesting in Netflix, you know, you know that you would have people reach out and be like, yeah, it's good. I need to be more interesting than Netflix helped me. And to me, that's a sign of a good headline. It worked. I can tell that's my attribution. I can tell right where you came from, because you even use my headline right in that text.


Francisco Mahfuz 54:35

Yeah. And this is something that is that is very, this is a summarised version of an effect that I've gotten many times with, with stories because I've done I've done a tonne of public speaking. And this is something because I'm very dumb as well. So it took me years to realise what my bath why my bathroom speeches were better. Even though people would always say I love that speech about the rat I love that one about your ex wife. It was never this, you know, retort, rhetorical, rhetorical adventure that I put together with all sorts of different things that it was always like a story. And it had plenty of stuff in in there to make it more interesting, necessarily, then than just the normal telling of the story. But you become they will people come to you and say, our that time you did the one about Tuscany, and then becomes what they identify with you. And the headline, the headline when it works is painting a picture in people's minds are getting, they're sending their brain into all sorts of all sorts of different ways, or places that that you wouldn't necessarily get if it's not so evocative. And again, I'm troubled clearly because I read yours and I got, you know, I can explain hi to your mom. I had this, you know, 1980s sort of bully having a conversation, I thought that's a very, you know, sophisticated way to tell someone off or threaten them. But yeah, it's, maybe it's the copywriter way of sounding threatening, but competent at the same time. So that's just my troubled mind query.


James Laurain 56:15

Now, I'm like, I gotta make sure people read it more slowly now. So they see mine.


Francisco Mahfuz 56:20

I think I think it's just me, James. Right. Listen, if if people want to want to see any of the stuff that we talked at length about his LinkedIn, pretty much the place to go for it?


James Laurain 56:33

Yes. It's actually funny because I was working on a website. But I've had so much business come in, I haven't had time to make the website, which is funny to me. Because I see all those posts about do I need a website? Or do I not? What I would say too, is if you want to see the ad rewrites, you can go if you go in LinkedIn, and you go in the search bar, and you just type in hashtag, LinkedIn ad rewrites, no spaces, it will, all those posts will pop up. And there's almost I think I'm pretty close to 400 followers of that tag, I'm going to try to keep it refreshed. I'm doing that series on electronics. So if you went into LinkedIn, and you typed in hashtag, ie 101, so he 101 All those would come up. Or you can just hit my profile or send me a message. I try to respond to everybody, even if it's a little delayed. Sorry, Francisco. So I should be fairly accessible. Yeah, that's the best way to get a hold of me


Francisco Mahfuz 57:25

go. I'll add all of that stuff to the show notes. Okay, well, I'm glad we finally did this. And and Thanks for Thanks for coming to the show, man.


James Laurain 57:35

Thank you for your persistence.


Francisco Mahfuz 57:38

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 the show and scroll down a little and when you see the stars. I'd really appreciate it and he does help other people find us. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website story powers.com



Recent Posts

See All

After 100 episodes, what storytelling lessons have I learned? Well, a few, so here are 23 for you, and they cover: why stories matter, what do you use stories for, where do you find them, how do you t