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  • Francisco Mahfuz

E75. The Power of Made-Up Stories with Kelly Swanson



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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, the show about the power of stories that people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco mahfuz. My guest today is Kelly Swenson Kelly is an award winning storyteller, comedian, motivational speaker and author of many books, including the story formula that gets the Girl's Guide to public speaking. And the story series prides hollow the small town with a big heart. She's also the founder of the story impact Academy, which helps people master the art of strategic storytelling. If that wasn't enough, Kelly's friends with centre, she might be able to perform an autopsy in heels. If she tells jokes about herself on stage, the most people wouldn't tell their own family. Bless her heart. Ladies and gentlemen, Gary Swanson. Kelly, welcome to the show.


Kelly Swanson 1:53

Hey, welcome. Welcome with an intro like that. Where do you go from there? For instance? I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to be here.


Francisco Mahfuz 2:01

There are many different ways I can go. And one way one way we could go is I could put aside every single question or bit of research I put away and just do the horrible thing I've seen some people do, which is Kelly, you're a storyteller. Can you tell us a story right now?


Kelly Swanson 2:20

Yes, I know. You know, that feeling. And maybe some of the people listening and watching No, that failing. It happens every time I go to a family party. I'll go to a Christmas party and my aunt will come stumbling up and say, Kelly so funny. She's a comedian. Be funny, Kelly be funny. And then everybody looks at me. And if you're a comedian, you know, we can't just turn it on like that. And, or, or just on the spot, tell a story. So I know that feeling. And I know you're kidding. Yes. And


Francisco Mahfuz 2:48

yes, I am kidding. Although to be fair, I find that because most of what I do on social media, is I only talk about storytelling, social media. And I tell it's very rare that I don't have at least one story a week or two story in very short stories. So if someone says, can you tell me a story I'll probably just get was the last thing I posted. And then I'll just share whatever the last thing I posted was, but it doesn't mean it doesn't work the same way. It's not a joke that you're just so completely out of context, in the wrong place.


Kelly Swanson 3:20

Right. And even with stories there are so many it's it's sometimes you can get caught like a deer in the headlights of a car and go well, which I got hundreds of them. Where do I Where do I even start and maybe one will slip out today not in the scripted manner to which I am accustomed went on stage. But just naturally as we as we chat, because you can't you know, as you know, you can't take the storyteller out of the person once we get going.


Francisco Mahfuz 3:48

Although it is useful to have one or two stories that you one know how to tell, and two people might not want to listen to. So one, one thing I will probably do the next time someone says that I'll say, Well, I haven't told you the story about my vasectomy have I ate up free. I eat a pretty funny story. But I think most people go I think it's okay. It's okay. I don't need to hear that. Okay, well.


Kelly Swanson 4:21

We know what I love to do, which I'm sure you do, too, is get people talking about themselves. And to say, you know, when you're in a social setting or networking, I mean, I often feel like oh, people have heard me enough. Tell me about you. You know, throwing a question out to the table like Do you remember your most embarrassing moment? Or you know if you could leave your your your children one, one lesson that you learned the hard way? What would it be? And I bet there's a story attached. I love to get people talking and pull the stories out of them and try to somehow put them in the spotlight. That's pretty cool too.


Francisco Mahfuz 4:56

I have a friend who is a dear friend. He's also a complete freak, Florian look, love your forum. And he He's incapable of small talk. He hates it. There's nothing he hates more in the world in small talk. So he's the guy who will generally sit down for a beer with you looking in the eyes and go. So if you had to tell something to your children, just before you die, what would it be? I was like, Wow, no warm up. Nothing. You're just going straight there. And it's like, yeah, it's small talks, boring. To see


Kelly Swanson 5:24

me and I would get along really? Well. I'm really an introvert, people find that very hard to believe. But I am an introvert. I've learned to be extroverted for my job and for my career. And I'm the same way walking into networking situations or parties, you know, it just my stomach clenches up is like high school all over again. And and I finally figured it out recently, and you just really hit it on the head. It's the surface Conversations. I'm not a fan of it's the little small talk. Where are you from? And you know, people don't really care. They're just saying what they need. But like you said, you sit down beside somebody and said, If you won the lottery, and money, were no longer an issue in your life. What would you do? And suddenly, I've done that at dinner parties. And it's just amazing how the conversation opens up. And and people it's just so enriching, to take people to that place where you really get to know them on a deeper level. So I'm all in I'm the same way.


Francisco Mahfuz 6:21

I don't mind small talk at times, but but I also occasionally will do things like I did, I think was last week, whereas I just sent my friends on WhatsApp or something, an article about I think Daniel Craig, you know, James Bond, he he was talking about how he doesn't want to leave his money to his children. Right? He does he think he's going to ruin his children, if he leaves them all his money. And there was a whole bunch of people's opinions on should you leave money to children or not. And I sent the article to my friends and said, Yeah, I agree with most of the people that are saying that you shouldn't. And you know it, you know, queue hours of enraged comments from my friends, like, what, what are you talking about? You are demented. This is just not right.


Kelly Swanson 7:04

And you know, what's so interesting, too, now that you bring it up, a great segue into story might I add, is we're always in a space with social media, and with politics of the day, where people are getting into those conversations. And I believe this, and I believe that and fighting and, and, you know, just really heated about what we believe. But when people share their beliefs from a story aspect, this is what happened to me. This is why I believe this way, I believe in not in protecting your money in this way. Because this happened to my grandmother. And we all promised we would never let it happen again, when I used to have a hairdresser. That was the opposite of me in every single way, except that we both love big hair, and just every way possible. And we could have sat there all day, takes a long time to do my hair, talking about, you know what we believe and why but we would tell stories, and I would walk away, feeling like I knew her in such a different way. Because it would open my mind. And it would put me in a place where it's hard to argue with somebody, when you hear their story and where they've come from, and why they believe the way they do. And I truly believe it has more power to open someone's mind than standing there shaking your fist and saying, This is what I believe don't get anywhere. You know with that. And I believe that segues into as I'm sure you do to the world of persuasion, where we can't just, I mean, open up LinkedIn, and there'll be 10 more messages from people wanting to tell you what they have, you know, want to marry you before they've dated you. And stories are the best way to jump into a different kind of relationship.


Francisco Mahfuz 8:50

Yeah, I've seen you describe them as a Trojan horse, which is a comparison that I had I had stumbled upon, accidentally a while back. But as soon as I stumbled upon that comparison, and for anyone who doesn't know what we're talking about, this was from the Trojan War was the Greeks and the Spartans, if sealians.


Kelly Swanson 9:11

I put it in that horse


Francisco Mahfuz 9:14

that yeah, they were they were there from Troy, I guess. And there was this big wooden horse and there was, you know, lots of soldiers hated inside. So there was a gift. And this is where the expression which I think is not politically correct anymore, is the Greeks gift comes from this, as I stumble upon the comparison that stories are like a Trojan horse because they get your message unsuspectingly into people's minds. I realised that for people of my generation, when you say Trojan, they're usually thinking of the condoms, or they're thinking of the computer virus that you catch if you download too much adult content. So


Kelly Swanson 9:54

they all all three sort of kind of had the same definition, but we won't go


Francisco Mahfuz 10:01

Yes, I, I can see they're using the Trojan horse analogy in the speech. And then I thought, what I have to explain what it is to I have a whole bunch of people now thinking about the the, you know safe sex or porn? Hey, you


Kelly Swanson 10:16

got their addiction? I'm just saying.


Francisco Mahfuz 10:20

Right? So no, no, I completely agree. And it's this idea that that when you are telling people things, your opinion, facts, statements, data, you are pushing information at them. Whereas when you tell a story, you just put it out there, you know, this is my, this is my truth, this is my experience. I'm not saying you have to agree with me, this is just what I lived through not what I believe necessarily what I lived through. And it's always good to go. Actually, you know, something similar happened to me. Whereas, it's, I'm asking you to agree to what my truth is based on something have happened, not on the truth of the world. And I think that's a much smaller ask that you're not even making. You're just putting it out there. Yes, I


Kelly Swanson 11:07

agree. And there's a lot of science behind it that says it much better than I can. But what you're doing is you're allowing somebody to stand inside your experience. Story is very experiential. It's very interactive, people always say, are you going to interact with the audience? You betcha. No, I'm not going to sit down and make you you know, we're not going to talk to each other. I'm going to tell my story. And people stand inside your story, they experience it. And when they hear your story, Francisco, and they recognise an emotion, frustrated, lonely. That's why emotions are so important in a story. They're not connecting to the plot of your story, as much as they are to recognising themselves also having that emotion. And so what happens is quickly, their brain searches for a similar experience, where they had that emotion. And now they're standing in your story, and their own story at the same time. And they're getting to I know this sounds strange, I just don't know another way to put it. They're getting to test drive your truth. And you're almost as if they had a virtual reality glasses come to their own conclusion. You You are convincing them because they are now going through that experience that you had with you is the best way I can describe it. And I just stumbled on that. You know, I didn't set out to learn this, teach it and then do it. I was already doing it as a storyteller, and trying to figure out why I was able to have such an impact on people, when I saw didn't look the part. You know, I was so ordinary or girl next door or mom next door, you know, there yet it was people were just connecting with me on a radical, deep level. And it was because I wasn't afraid. I didn't get up on that stage and go, here's what you need to do. Because I did it the right way. I said, Wow, here's how I messed up. And here's the pain I've experienced in my life. And here's what I learned as a result. And it's such a non threatening way to just let them crawl in your lap, and sit there in that story. And and go through your emotion and their own. Am I making sense?


Francisco Mahfuz 13:23

You are everyone? And if you think that that's a strange way of describing it's the virtual reality, which I had heard from from other speakers as well. I'll give you one from a storyteller. I really like Marsha Shandor. She calls it a freaky Friday body swap experience.


Kelly Swanson 13:40

Yes, it really is. It really is. And I always say, well, we don't we'll never really connect through plot, you know, I don't know what it's like for this woman who had to move to this country and not be able to speak the language and, and but you know, but when she starts saying, My children were upset with me, I didn't know how to make ends meet. I was, you know, scared. And you know, all of a sudden, I'm like, well, well wait up in there before. And so it's not the plot, it's actually through the emotion, which I believe many people using storytelling in some way, leave out. They tend to leave out. They just they always say a story is not a list of facts. It's about something you went through. And and you know, it's there's a the before and after there's a you went through something and you've come through it and you've learned and there was pain or victory. It's not so many, like companies kind of means that we want to tell our story. And they'll just list a bunch of facts like that. That's a list of facts. That's data. That's not a story. A story is about experiences. And there's


Francisco Mahfuz 14:45

something you said just now, which I think also is really important when it comes to crafting stories, which is that I agree I think a story I started first of all needs to be relatable otherwise there's not going to be any connection. And you can connect you can relate to external circumstances or internal one. So the external ones are, you know who the person is? What are the job? Where are they from what they look like, what are the things that they like in life, the internal ones will be the emotions and the thoughts. But in the vast majority of cases, it as much as you're gonna edit a story to a certain degree, or you can craft a story. But if you're telling real stories, you're not really gonna say you're doing a job that you weren't doing, you're not gonna say that you're from a country that you weren't just so people can relate to that. And if you're doing that, there is always the chance of you losing credibility, because people think you're just making things up. Whereas the internal stuff, typically you don't need to make up because the emotion will be that will be relatable, it will be what other people have thought before what they have felt. So not only that is more powerful than trying to relate to the actual part or the actual facts. But it also is more powerful in it's the one thing you don't need to bother editing or trying to, but is this gonna work to have, they have to have the exact same experiences because no one has had the exact same experience as you in most cases.


Kelly Swanson 16:07

Right? That is so true. And you're right, that when I was studying, writing, or trying to be a writer, whatever you want to call it, they kept telling you write what you know, write what you know, write what you know. And that that's, that's pretty much what you're saying. People ask me all the time. Where do you stand on the truth in a story versus fiction? You know, in fiction, it's very I embellish twist, get dramatic. And, you know, I said that's something you're going to have to decide in your own heart. What you're okay with, I'm putting on a show and a lot of that lends itself to creative liberties. But but but you're right Francisco don't write about what you don't know. Because they're going to they're going to pick up on that, obviously, don't write about cancer, if you haven't had it, or that you served in the military, if you didn't, I mean, that's just you think we would need to tell people that but apparently we do. But even that's why when I try to write my stories, sure, I may say it was a Tuesday when it was really a Thursday, or combining experiences into one story. But I try to stick to the truth of it as much as possible, even when I'm writing fiction, because I do have an imaginary town prods Hollow is fiction, based on mostly truth. But I do, I do try to stay in that writing what I know and you're exactly right feelings. You know, that's why I think a lot of my stories because I haven't had a lot of huge life experiences in terms of travelling the world or climbing mountains or, you know, my, they've been closer to home. And that kind of lends itself to another note, people think your stories need to be big need to be you know, these climbed a mountain or won a gold medal. And actually, it can be the the simplest stories about, you know, your child that can can have, you know, just as much impact. I think I talked myself into a wall on that one. And all I want to say is I agree,


Francisco Mahfuz 18:07

I agree with most things you said there that I would say that not only stories don't need to be big, the vast majority of stories shouldn't be big. Because a big story is a plot point that most people want to relate to in of course, you can still find the smaller challenges you can find the emotions, you can find the the analogies between, you know, climbing Everest, or whatever the big story is to your difficult project at work. But you having to do a lot more heavy lifting to do it that way. And sometimes can be a bit ham fisted to just sort of, oh, you have a big project coming up. But I have climbed Everest, you know, it's it's done to death. The smaller stuff is a lot easier for people to go, oh, yeah, that sounds like what happened to me last year, something I've gone through many times. So I think, as a habit, when I work with people, I don't really care that much about the bigger stories. But usually, rather someone can come up with 10 small stories that happened over the last month, then try to find is one big story that you tell identify that that's more productive. And the other thing about truth is I was speaking last year with Bose myth, fellows storytelling speaker in his test for this, I think is the perfect one. He says a person who was there, or whose part of the story or who knows exactly what happened in real life was in the room when you told the story first, would you be embarrassed to tell the story knowing that that person is there? And to if that person came up to you? Would they say, Yeah, that's what happened. Or would they say that's not exactly what happened? And if they say that you say okay, but that's pretty much what happened. That's the gist of it isn't it was like, yeah, that's pretty much the gist of it. That's fine. You're okay. If they go there's some caveat. That's not that was What happened? Right, you had you had to change that story to make feedback, then I think perhaps it's it's where I personally feel slightly less comfortable if someone saying, well, that's kind of fiction. It's not really what happened beyond the just but but as as you said before, I think everybody has to decide where they are comfortable with that line.


Kelly Swanson 20:23

Yeah, that is a great rule of thumb to think of it that way. And often my stories, and I will also encourage others in that this way of thinking, the story is, in my perspective, the story is in how I stood in it and received what was happening around me the story is, as I remember it, and that's where any story become something, I always joke and say, I can take any story and make it work. And they're like, What do you mean, because it's not really about the story. It's about why you're telling it, what it means to you. And I'm kind of combining two, two issues there. But a lot of my stories are especially my comedy. And especially when I write fiction in the town, or the AR, I'm the narrator, and I'm talking as I see life. And so a lot of this material doesn't have to be fact checked. Because it isn't about facts. It's about the way I'm seeing the world around me. I wanted to also bring up something I would often hear, and I would imagine you you'd agree with my thinking on it. You hear people being coached, to not tell personal stories that they don't belong in the setting of going to a corporation or a business setting. And I kind of believe the flip side of that, I believe we've heard enough stories about Disney, or other companies. Hey, not to diss anybody tell the Disney story. That's not what I mean. But we often sorry,


Francisco Mahfuz 22:02

let me let me just stop the let me just stop the podcast and go get that big chunk deleted from my keynote right now. Hold on there for a sec.


Kelly Swanson 22:11

I mean, there's, that's not a big deal. If it is, but you know what I mean? I have tonnes of business stories. And I'll try to tell them Sure. If you're speaking to a bunch of men and their CEOs, for example, you may not make every story about you and your child, you're not gonna tell a breastfeeding story, for instance. But stories about your relationship. I know there was a joke there, probably several we should pause and let


Francisco Mahfuz 22:39

I know there's nothing there. No, no, you said I have to do it. I have to do it. So I have two children. Right. And my youngest was born right before the pandemic. And, and I like you, I think I have this thing that can be a gift or a curse where I keep looking at the world and looking for the joke, right? And sometimes I'm forcing it, but sometimes I'm not. So I my youngest, Olivia. She was two days old or three days old. And my wife is a little concerned that she's not. She's not breastfeeding enough. Right. We're still in the hospital. We haven't like C sections, which hasn't left. Latching, she was latching but but I don't know my wife got convinced that that not she wasn't doing like, you know, she's not breastfeeding enough. So So the nurse comes in. And I'm sitting in the room. It's me, my wife, my mother in law. And the nurse comes in and my wife says I'm just concerned she doesn't seem to be like breastfeeding properly. She you know, she breastfeeds a beat and she lets go and dresses did not go in my you know, my breasts are hurting. They're hard. That's things have happened sometimes the beginning. And then the nurse looks at her straight face and says it's because it's it's very exhausting to suck on something so hard for very long. And she leaves the room and I look at my wife. I look at my mother in law, and I go, come on. Nothing. Really. Am I the only one here that notice what she said? Go like, what did she say? Like sorry, let me go crack up in the next room and I'll be back and I can compose myself.


Kelly Swanson 24:27

Oh, gosh, that's hilarious. See, they didn't think it was funny when I would breastfeed at the salad bar at Apple.


Francisco Mahfuz 24:34

Sorry, sorry. So maybe that story I can tell two male CEOs.


Kelly Swanson 24:40

But here's the thing. I'm more vulnerable on stage. I'm authentic. I'm real. I don't hold back. I stay within the lines. You know, I know the lines. I don't I shouldn't be crossing. And you know, but once you've warmed up to an audience a some people would say Francisco don't ever tell that story. I would say hi Have at it. Most of the people in that audience, they're gonna get the joke. It's funny you, you just did it in a very tasteful way. You know, you didn't even make the joke you let us make the joke. It those real life experiences endear you to us. I mean, you're gonna have, you know, everybody's gonna line up after that programme and want to hear about your baby and want to give you latching advice, even though you're past it, those personal stories, while sometimes we may decide, okay, me, it's more of a matter of time, and there's so many wet things you can do. But I think those personal stories actually do belong in a speech or in a setting because people can relate to it. The most universal type of stories are the ones that most everybody's when I talk about my husband, and he's been in one mood for 50 years, you know, and I've been in 50 mood since I started this sentence, people can relate and and you, you, you create that trust you break down that barrier between you. And that audience. I think it's just absolutely critical. And often, I'm sure they'll ask you to is this a good story? Is this a good story? They'll just hold it up? Is this good enough? Is this good enough? Is this good? That's it y'all are asking the wrong question. The question should be, is this the story? Now I'm all about strategic storytelling. I'm not talking about theatre, that's different. When you're really doing just a show. That's a different conversation. But I'm talking about strategic storytelling in business in whatever your platform to persuade people to think, feel or do something and to take action. It's not about the right story. I mean, the good story, it's about the right story. Does this story suit its purpose? Does it illustrate the point you're trying to make? And half the time people are like, Oh, I don't even know the point. Okay, well, maybe you need to go back and figure out, I think stories are a tool, even a breastfeeding story is a tool, you could make the case that I'm going to do this just as any salesperson would, in the beginning of any kind of sales call, create rapport and connection with an audience. I would still say it strategically could have its place. But that's just something I wanted to kind of throw in there is don't focus on is it the best story? Is it the right one? And then make it interesting?


Francisco Mahfuz 27:17

Yeah, I find that the whole personal story, telling personal stories or not, is almost the lowest hanging fruit these days, have anyone who coaches storytelling, because the moment you tell someone, yeah, you just need to find stuff that happened in your day to day, that is not particularly big. And those are the stories, you should start by telling that there's plenty of other stories, you can tell, as you said, you can tell stories of businesses. And if you're doing a keynote, it can just be personal stories in the vast majority of cases, unless your personal story has to do with a business. So I've seen Scott Stratton, for example, that is very well he goes into a store, and then he's talking about customer service he received in that store. That's fine. I can just tell stories about my my daughter, and the craziest stuff. She said to me, if I'm talking to a business audience, and you know, at no point I come close to business they want they're gonna wonder, don't don't I know those stories, haven't ever worked in a business so I could share some of the stuff that happened. So there's a credibility issue there as well. But I think in the vast majority of cases, the personal stories should be your goal to Yes, separate the other one, I think you said something, I don't think I've seen anyone say that way. But it was, you know, make your longer stories, the ones that people are really going to remember the ones that are going to connect you to your audience, you make those personal stories, and then use business anecdotes to illustrate the business points you're making. Although I think you also said you could do the opposite. But But I subscribe to that approach. My longer stories would be personal normally.


Kelly Swanson 28:49

And I don't think there's any hard and fast rule, either. And sometimes you don't have to be scripted and polished, you can do something as very casual as saying, I've gotten blurry on this camera. So I'm going to lean in. And I'm going to wipe it and let it refocus. Because I want to do that, see if it worked. But also, because I'm showing you that stories also don't have to be polished and put together and you can you know, jump off script, you can lean down and interrupt yourself and talk to somebody. One of the I know I'm taking it in a different direction here a little bit but from a theatre show. I got a director and wow, I wish I had gotten one years ago as a speaker, because I've never Yes, there are coaches to help with your speech and your stories. But I've never had a director's us on me and what he's his teaching me in theatre is exactly what's going to make me a more authentic storyteller in keynote speeches, and I realised that I've been making a massive mistake for years, and I've been pushing too hard, performing too hard now Would people notice? Probably not. To me, it's massive to you know, I've had a successful career. So obviously, nobody noticed. But he's teaching me to unpolished myself, that less is more now he says, Well, this is theatre, but I'm seeing the connection very well. And, and how, at some point along the way, speakers, either that's the way it was, or were made to think that it was grand gestures. It was, you know, so poetically worded. It was perfection, it was commercial. And the exact opposite is what is required today. And I'm on a quest of taking my stories and not making them feel so scripted or to feel real, to interrupt myself to go say something to somebody in the in the room, to leave the space inside the story to just feel and react. And if that helps anybody listening that that's on a similar journey. It really is eye opening to realise Less is more,


Francisco Mahfuz 31:10

I know who to blame in, in most people's cases. And I think a little bit perhaps in your case, if I if I buy the premise of what you're saying, and most likely, it's Toastmasters to blame. Yeah. Because as I am a Toastmaster as well. And this was one of the biggest shocks to me is when I moved from the Toastmasters world into the professional speaking world, how not only it was different, but like you could just not get away with the stuff you get away with in Toastmasters in a professional speech. And I heard this from I spoke to Ryan Avery, who you might know and he said when he won the the World Championship at Toastmasters, how he lost gigs in the professional world, because people would go look it up and find out this World Champion of Public Speaking, let me see what his speech looks like. And the speech was super theatrical. And I heard this from Mark Brown, who said that he was talking talking about a different speaker. And it was just the night before a competition or the end, the guy said, oh, I need to go to my room and practice, like practice. What is you know, this thing by heart? There's nothing, there's like, no, no, I do. I actually have to go and, and polish it. Like, I know we too well, I need to sort of put some imperfection on the speech. In one of the what I've developed over the last couple of years, is as I've seen you talk about how people should write how they speak. I've gone What I think is one level higher than that or lower, perhaps, which is I don't write my speeches or my stories anymore. I tell them, so I record them. I sometimes tell them four or five, six times. Okay, can I get it on the right time? I want? Can I get all the points that I'm trying to reach? Yes. Okay. You have I have I know that more or less by heart. Yeah, that's it, I'm done. I don't put them on the page anymore. Unless I'm transcribing then I don't mind. Because I found that as most people do, you don't write like you speak. And I kept making it too literary or making it too nice on the page. And then you you, it just doesn't sound spontaneous doesn't matter how much you rehearse to get that off. It's difficult once it's in there.


Kelly Swanson 33:16

I agree. And I've I've said that I've spoken to many Toastmasters groups, and I've said, Look, I'll say it to your face, this is a problem. This is not going to work out in the real world. Now, I love Toastmasters. And I'm a big fan of them. And I know that you need to create rules before you break them. But the grading system is one that won't serve, I can't take that. And you're exactly right and go use those same principles in a business setting and think that that's going to work. So you have to sometimes within the rules, just they're just rules passed around. That don't work. For example, beginning with dialogue. I've seen so many people do that. I'm like, did you learn that at Toastmasters? Where it doesn't make sense in a conversation to me, you're exactly right. We're not performing. In a speech, we're having a conversation with somebody who's not really talking back but we want it to seem and feel and sound as conversational as we can. And so if you don't say here to four in your conversation, or leap across the stage, don't do it here. And this is very, should be very freeing for people because we're saying act like yourself. However, I've got a big pushback to that as well. And I'm not disagreeing with anything. You're saying. I agree wholeheartedly, and I want to add another perspective to it. Now, maybe I'm harsh. I believe I have a very high bar that I don't even meet. But I believe that there are many others a speaker born every minute, a professional speaker hanging up their shingle. Most of them are not remembered by the people who see them speak for different reasons. They fall in the sea of one more Just the same, it's a very hard business to rise above. So for me, it's a craft, and you work a craft. Yes, I agree with you and all of that, right, like you talk unpolished. I'm not disputing any of that. But at the same time, there are those who wing it and never get anywhere, because they're just winging it. And they think the sound of their voice is enough. Some people are just talented with the ability to get up there and tell a story naturally say what needs to be said and move on. Not many, most people ramble, they never get anywhere, you can't really figure out what the points they are that are trying to make. And I'm trying to find that well, so swing into the other end of the pendulum. To me speeches are like music. Stories are like music. And the words we use are like notes. If comedy and humour is part of what you do, what you say matters, where you put the word, how much timing you have, all of those tiny little notes make a huge difference in the experience. And so what I'm trying to find is, how do you find that balance, but because some people are coming to me saying, I'm just realising they want me to be authentic. So I'm not, I'm just going to have an outline and go with it. And that's a dangerous place to be when you're up against the one who's, who's crafted it and has even if it's just phrases, even if it's just I call them tweetable. I'm sure I'm not the only one, those things that people it can anchor into their heart and their belief system, because you've said it in a way they can repeat it, or a power statement. You're probably Francisco doing it naturally. So I just wanted to add that piece of it is that we have to somehow find that place in the middle and one of my heroes just passed away within the week, Jeanie Robertson. And I mean, she is she's the reason my career started. She found me as a storyteller. And we at the convention in Vegas recently got to see what I'm pretty sure turned out to be her last performance and none of us knew it. And I watched it again last night on video, it was perfection. She sat in a rocking chair and just talked, and you would have thought she had not planned a single thing. And I would bet money. She had prepped and prepared every single word. Maybe except for Where's My Water and chill. She would admit that I know her I knew how she works. She crafted every word and then worked on that craft to make it look like she didn't. And I don't mean to ramble. I just wanted to make sure people didn't walk away and fall in that trap of just saying, Oh, well, I don't need to do anything, then. Yeah, I


Francisco Mahfuz 37:45

don't I'm not in in any way shape or form suggesting that the way I'm there's nothing spontaneous about the way I prepare my most of my presentations. So I think there was just yeah, just so just so no one thinks that this is easier than it actually is. But just for example, the way I would do it is I say, Okay, well, what am I trying to get across to this audience? What are the main points or points that I want them to remember? Okay, which stories support those points, what goes where? So I know, I usually do a bullet point outline that has 3040 points. I will know each story I don't need to write them down. Like I know what the story is. But everything that involves humour, I will wordsmith like I will work out the exact sentence I need to say to get a laugh. Because if you say it in the wrong place, then it doesn't work sometimes in will normally know by heart, the first minute or so, of the speech, every time and I will always know the end by heart word for words. The rest I have rehearsed so many times that it might be word for word, but at no point it was written down in I memorise the words, it just you told the story so many times, it just comes out the same way every time. But no, it's hours and hours of rehearsal. But not memorization. Yeah, I'm glad I think a lot of people get those confused.


Kelly Swanson 39:11

They really do. And I think that's important to note.


Francisco Mahfuz 39:15

So one thing we talked about earlier was how we should tell personal stories. And we talked about the truth and how much you can stretch it or not. But one of the things I definitely wanted to talk to you about because I think you're very unique in this in this particular way, when it comes to storytelling is pride hollow. So if I understand this correctly, this is a fictional city you've invented in your early years when you're used to a kid or a teenager. You filled it with characters, which some of them might or not have been based on real people. And I know that now you've developed this into a story series. There's a podcast and some stuff on YouTube. But the point I really want to talk to you about is your take on using this fictional stories, not from literal You're not stories that other people would know. But stories a lot most people won't know, in, you still tell those stories in keynotes and in training. And I think that's it's a very different approach than most people. Other people tell parables and they share fictional stories, but not stuff they invented themselves, you might be the only one that I've ever heard of doing that.


Kelly Swanson 40:24

Thank you. And that's a blessing and a curse. The reason is, because I came into this business as an artist, and looking for a place to tell the stories about these people I saw in my head. And for years, I didn't think they amounted to anything. They were just mine. And, and didn't think anybody would want to hear them. And so there's all there's all kinds of journeys in that. But so it's been this constant quest to go see who would want to hear them. And it's not easy to get in theatres. And it just it now I look back, I wasn't ready. Anyway. So this storyteller when I was discovered, quote, unquote, by Jeanie Robertson, just telling my stories at a festival. She said, are you making any money at that? And I said, Well, no, not really. And she said, You need to go be a speaker. And she brought me into the world, I joined the National Speakers Association, I looked at the business of it. And I quickly said, what I do is not going to that's not going to fit here. And I buried them.


For a long time, they became just a hobby. Well, not even that I was so busy. Who do I need to be in the speaking business? How do I create a career? What do people want? I was very impressionable. So I looked around to see what everybody else is doing. I was fortunate that I never told stories about myself. I wasn't part of it. I was hiding as the narrator in this town. And I looked around and said, No, this is who I need to be did that for 10 years. And oddly enough, when I would go be around my peers, and NSA or Toastmasters, I would sneak these stories in. And because I wanted to tell them, they were desperate to be told they were so angry at me for not being true to them. And my speaker friends began to fall in love with the characters in the story. And they thought that's what I was doing out there in the real world. And then I began to have this dream of, well, why can't I tell them? And why can't keynotes have that component to them? Why can't I have an element of fiction blended into an element of nonfiction? What would that look like? If I did that? And there was this whole, do opportune like the town is real and just say, in pride Tolo where I live, you know, am I making it too complicated by saying, now we're going to this place, there were all these issues that never really got worked out? I would tell the stories anyway. And people just really wouldn't know that they had come from prod taller, what they were so seamless, and then when COVID hit, and I got to the point, you know, as most of us did, all our bookings were cancelled every year the whole world was upside down. I really had this moment of life is short. What did you get in this for? If you're going to do this, this is your last chance to do it, or you're never going to do it. And I thought, well, what does it look like? And my inner voice said, go be the artist for a while. So I created the town recording studio primo productions friend and peer of mine said let us bring them to life on video. Don't just make them audio. So we created that part of the YouTube channel and we're talking a shift by YouTube people are like Scuse me you're going to now you're now a pride Talat, what are you doing? You're this is you're changing your brand. Now everything and I'm almost finished. Everything in my brand does exist under one umbrella. It's the power of story. I just do it, teach it and coach it. So it all fit some people just want me to do it. So we created that and the podcast. And then I thought I fell into the world of Patreon, I began looking at my business as an artist. And I was like, Well, why can't I have a Patreon page? Why cannot be crowdfunded for that, you know, let's just see what happens. And then one of my friends said, can you make this even more experiential than just watching a video and chatting? And that's when we said, Wait a minute. What if this could be a town people could join? What would that look like? What would it What if you could get a key to the city? What if you could buy a house there, what if there's this whole virtual reality? Where you you know, You're the writer? And what if you could actually have your business in prod Tolo and then the episodes, you might get a shout out what if we ran from how to run for mayor and and and so that is where I am now is this massive thing that that that I'm haven't figured out exactly what to do with which has morphed into will now that's I'm already doing a theatre show around my personal life, but that's going to be the next theatre show. So my art has found a place to live. And now I'm coming back to the keynote and figuring out how do I take him to prods hollow? And yet teach your How do I do all of this? And and the answer so far is going to be because like we've said, I can't go set up a stage and create a theatre skit, when I go to speak to the city workers of our I mean, it's it's just not it has to be natural. And so I'm combining. This is the town where I've spent most of my free time, I'm going to take you here. And I've got a story that I wrote just for you. And I'm writing stories. I spoke to a group for example of city people in a in a city in Canada. They told me their theme, they wanted me to speak on resilience. I asked them what their their value statements were, whatever their words were, that would be scripted on a wall, so to speak, or in their language, and in their corporate, whatever, you know what I mean? And then I asked for who the people were going to be in the audience what their jobs were. And I wrote a story about how a town pulled together and prides Harlow during a pandemic. To to this was about a parade to is put on the town parade and prides Harlow as an example of what resilience looked like and how we all learned the art of bending without breaking. And I've wove the characters to represent, I strategically chose people who were did the same jobs, they did not all of them and chose what their life has been like in that regard. So I created a fictitious story that was so real to them, that they saw themselves in it and in the story that people learned the four values that they had given me. And I wove the content into the story. So I would stop in the middle ago, let's take a look here at what's happening in this town. Look how the power of a story was contagious and got people involved. So I was using the story to teach story, which was a vital part of my content. And luckily, it was virtual, I can't believe I'm saying that. Because I didn't have to memorise it, I could write it, put it up there I'm very good at at reading the material and, and saying it as if I write the way I talk. Sometimes I don't even finish sentences when I write so it's already ready to be presented. And Francisco they loved it. And now I'm stuck in a good way of okay. How is this gonna look every time? What is the template for this? Where I can write a new story or not? Is this going to work? How do I bring enough personal stories? And that's way more than you asked. But I do think I get charged up as many people listening probably do with creating and creating something nobody's seen before. And putting it in the business setting is very exciting to make sure we have entertainers who enter the business world. But the combination of all of that is intriguing to me. Will people like it? I got no idea.


Francisco Mahfuz 48:59

There's one question that I have. Yeah. Which is the question I've always had when it comes to using fiction, in this type of storytelling that there is no question that you can move people to care about something and act on something with fiction, there's plenty of movies that have started movements, because people care about the characters and they could see that these are the type of things that happen in real life. Famously, one of the very first that that did that was Uncle Tom's Cabin was one of the things that kick started the whole abolitionist movement in the US. You know, it wasn't a real story, but people saw truth in it. My mind is still struggling to, to overcome or to put myself in the place of someone sitting in a business audience that now if they don't know that it's it's a fictional story, then there's just they're just hearing a story, right? But I read through your the downloadable version of your book and there's this Story of Mr. Bean, the baker has a great story. And that basically is trying to sell his kid his healthy cake based on the ingredients and not telling everyone that his wife died of diabetes. And that's why he cared about making that cake. And I saw the stories as a perfect way to make that point. What I can't work where I still struggle is lighter to make the leap is how do you tell that story on the stage? Because you said, You know what, you are quite asking yourself the question. So how do you introduce that story? How do you break into that story,


Kelly Swanson 50:33

and that's where I am stuck as well. Because in my mind, I tell myself, this is imaginary, they know it, so it won't be real. And they won't accept the message is what one part of my brain tells me yet, when it's the same story is put in another place. They're crying, they know it's not real. They're touched by it. They're receiving exactly what I wanted them to receive. So my brains go and cannot do it over here. And it be known as an imaginary town, will that work? And I haven't answered that. I haven't answered that. Because I keep going back and forth. I've got one friend who says it's fiction, we get it. We're no stranger to fiction, you know, what's the big deal? Now yet when I act like it's real, and this is there is a prize hollow and you just haven't been there? It's in, you know, Fayetteville or whatever. Then I feel like I'm not being authentic, that I'm lying to such a degree. And then some people go, No, I, I didn't even think you're real stories were real. I'm what you know? Or am I overthinking it? When if it's that real? So then I look at well, how do you set it up? That's been my question for


Francisco Mahfuz 51:58

Sorry to interrupt, but I just leave my mind if I don't say it. But I think this is something you definitely should, should look into. I can probably hook you up with the with the podcast episode I'm thinking of, but you know, elf on the shelf. Yes. Yeah. Right. Right. So the woman who, who started that company who still runs that company, she's a bit of a nutter, in that she absolutely refuses to communicate in a way that acknowledges that often the shelf is not a real thing. Like she genuinely talks about how they're the keepers of Christmas. And this is a real mission. And the elf sir, the elves are real. And for anyone who doesn't start from America, it this is like a toy kind of thing. It's a little way off, and people put on the shelf, and kids get this for Christmas. And then every year, the elf moves from one place to another, so gigantic, super popular company in the western North America. And her approach is like, Listen, you know what I'm doing here, but like, I'm so into this thing, that this is this is how I live this mission. And I think that if you were to say that when you were a kid, you fell in love with this imaginary tower and its characters in there was all you ever said about how it's imaginary and never said it again. And didn't say I'm writing it. So I'm writing this story to say, No, this is an imaginary feel. But I feel like this be I know this people. And you never said anything. Again. I would buy that very easily. When you told one of the stories. I think if I know you wrote the stories every time to make the point. And if I kept being reminded of that, personally, I might, at this just my gut feel here. I might feel that it's most convenient, because you can just write the story whichever way you want to make the point. But I think if you say in the beginning and say, I'm weird, I like imaginary stuff, leaving at the end and never touch it again. We'll be fine with it.


Kelly Swanson 53:55

That's exactly where so far I land the most often is, wait a minute, this is my story. The power of story is part of who I am. It is my story. These people in this town, this is where I've spent most of my time. This is the dream that I've been afraid to give to the world. So it's so it really does beautifully. And I think I think I need to not think beyond that. I think you're right. This is where I spend most of my time. So let's go to Prague hollow last year when this happened, and then that's kind of how I've been doing it is let's just go when this when this happened. And there's something about the stories I believe they're about nothing. I mean, I'm working on one big seats in a Zumba class, which is really me and Zumba class, but I gave it to Bitsy. They're so simple. They're small, simple, ordinary stories. They are people I know. They are the woman who's afraid to lose Leave the laundromat because she can't she's afraid to go anywhere. There is the woman who is scared to leave her husband, there's the woman with the Buick in her driveway and her husband died. And she never learned to drive. And now she's going to do it. There is something to me so simple in this imaginary town, that you can't help but find it relatable. Because they're just ordinary people. It's much like Garrison Keillor and his Lake Wobegon, he very, very often just dips into pages just telling you what happened in town. And he might be talking about his mother in the next breath, and doesn't feel the need to explain it. But we already know, that's what it's all about. I'll figure it out. I think the main thing is that I need to do this. And I need to do it. And it's scary to do it on a stage. But I can do it in a way that's still it's still worth their time.


Francisco Mahfuz 55:56

I think the task for this is a very simple one is a test that every single person that tells stories on stage has to deal with sometimes is are people coming up to you to challenge the stories you're told because they don't think they're real. And because they they can see past the point that if they're not real, then whatever point you made to the story is relevant. If they're not doing that, indeed, continue not doing that, then no one is seeing it as a problem. I'm sure there's always going to be someone that's going to have that as a problem. But then they can have that as a problem with a personal story. You tell? As you know, I know you have those experience, I have had this experience millions of times we will say no, you're joking, right? You haven't married someone who turned out to like women, and then you got divorced with a with a supermarket divorce case, like 100% True, not invented a single thing in there. And we will say no, there can be it has happened. So if you're going to doubt the real stories, then what?


Kelly Swanson 56:54

They'll come up, I found they come up more often. They don't want to know if they don't want to break the spell they've had Yeah, so so they sometimes I'll hear them when it's a true story about me. They'll go Did that really happen? No, don't tell me you know, there's a there's that sense. I'll have them give me things to add. I will I never have I hate to say never, but I don't ever have somebody challenged, they may challenge my humour and find that it's not appropriate. But but they will not challenge that story. You know, the only ones who do challenge it, please do tell other speakers. Other speakers are the ones who cross their arms often, and throw the darts, which is okay. We're all used to it. But it's interesting. And that's where anybody listening? You know, I think the lesson here is, listen to your audience, your audience will tell you show you your clients, what's working, what's not working, what they thought you were gonna say, what would be funny, or what they're mad at. You said, you know how it touched them. And you're right, you're right. If they're challenging what you're saying you'll quickly figure it out. Yeah, and if not,


Francisco Mahfuz 58:02

yeah, I 100%. Agree, I think it's a craft thing where you see someone doing something well, and then you start finding reasons why you think you cannot do it. And then you start finding reasons why it's not okay for that other person to do it the way they're doing it. So you don't feel guilty that you don't do it yourself.


Kelly Swanson 58:20

And we were probably all a little bit guilty of that we're defending the way we do it, because we're doing it the way that we think it should be done. And I always say, I've always been a pink zebra, in a sea of black and white zebras. And I cannot go to the black and white zebras and ask how to be pink. They don't know. They don't see what I see. You can't that's the scary thing about innovation and creativity and going to try something no one's done before is it nobody's done it before. It's not safe. And and I'm just willing, I've always been that way a little bit. In my keynotes, I'll come up singing or I'll talk to myself in the mirror, have always done things that scare people a little bit, and I'm okay with that. But but there are consequences. There's consequences to that. You got to be willing to accept that because of that. You might not get that fancy corporate job because you don't really look the part and I've had to be okay with that, too. Yeah, I


Francisco Mahfuz 59:22

had a I had a speaker, friend, talk about how he whatever story he was telling the political story he was trying to tell. And one of his friends said, isn't that great? A great story, but it's a bit on the line. You know, you're not going to be you know, Google is not going to hire you if you're telling that story. And he said Google is not hiring me anyway. Just tell the story.


Kelly Swanson 59:47

Sure. They're always right. Yeah, I'm not sure that the people who say that I don't I don't know that they're always correct in that I think we can give our clients a little bit more credit because as soon as you say, I don't know, I don't want to look around at somebody out there in my industry doing something, and saying to myself, now, I wish I had done that. I wish I had followed what I wanted to do, because look, they did it anyway. And it worked. And one thing I think we always need to remember is speakers. And I know you'll agree, we look at this from a different perspective, we look at it from having seen a lot of speeches from knowing what speakers are out there, from knowing what the industry looks like. And so we often are guilty of saying, Oh, don't do that it's been done before. Or Everybody says that, or, oh, all the people talk about attitude. Well, that's because we see all of it, our audiences are in a completely different place. And so we have to sort of reconcile those two and understand that may be our peers aren't always the best places to go, or the only place to go for advice on what our clients and our audiences want. That's just my two cents.


Francisco Mahfuz 1:01:05

I agree. And I have a feeling you and I could talk for much longer, but I have to just come back another day. I have children to parents, you have a town to run. So you're a few in a few places online. If someone wants to check out your website, if I'm not mistaken. It's motivational speaker, Kevin swanson.com. And where do they where can they check out price Hall? Or what's the easiest place to go to


Kelly Swanson 1:01:29

pride hallo.com


Francisco Mahfuz 1:01:31

Okay, but that's easy enough.


Kelly Swanson 1:01:32

Thank you so much for having me. You're delightful. I hope we can have another conversation in the future. And thank you everybody who's listening. I hope you got something of value that will help you tell your story.


Francisco Mahfuz 1:01:44

I'm sure they did. 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 tap. I'd really appreciate it and it does help other people find this. And if you'd like to get in touch or find out more about what I do, reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit my website story powers.com



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