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  • Francisco Mahfuz

E80. The Power of Relatable Stories with Norman Bell



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 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 Norman Bel Norman is a storytelling and presentation coach. Award winning speaker, Theatre and Film actor is passionate about helping purpose driven entrepreneurs and organisations tell stories to connect with their audiences on an emotional level, which leads to more clients more donations and more impact. Even though Norman has rated and perform in successful one man shows has acted alongside Christian Bale. It's clear that all his life and work have brought him to this moment because the author of a book called The Story powered speaker is now aghast at the story powers podcast. If that's not proof, we all have a destiny. I don't know what is. That is a gentleman Norman Bel. Norman, welcome to the show.


Norman Bell 1:56

Thank you so much, Francisco. It's a pleasure to be here. Yes, thank you.


Francisco Mahfuz 2:00

Should we start by settling the copyright issue that the one that you might know about and the word you might not know about? Oh, sure. Go ahead. Right. So so I don't know if you've actually copyrighted this thing, but I haven't actually bothered copywriting story powers as one word. Do you have a copyrighted story powered the way you write it?


Norman Bell 2:21

I haven't. And I've seen some other companies in other parts of the world use that phrase story powered before actually, I haven't seen story powers. On my end. I have no issues. I hadn't even really thought about it. But yes, we can. We can discuss this more if needed. But I'm cool with it.


Francisco Mahfuz 2:38

No, I'm kidding. I I'm not really bothered. I mean, I know there is some German guy who seems to have a podcast called Story powers. But I think the company might be talking about is what I'm very familiar with, which is anecdote. So anecdote they are they are their story consultancy. And they have copyrighted that term. I think it's story power with a hyphen story powered sales and story power leadership or something like that. But But yeah, I suppose I think unless you use it in that exact configuration, who cares? Right?


Norman Bell 3:11

Sure. I'll look that up afterwards. I know they're in Australia. So I don't know if there's anything there. But anyway,


Francisco Mahfuz 3:16

yes. And I do find it somewhat amusing to me at least that today, you know, there is this name coincidence between between the stuff we're doing and two weeks ago, I had a guest on the podcast that has the same name as me, or my surname Mahfouz is his first name. So it was very strange because often throughout the conversation, I'll say my foods and I was like, why am I talking to myself?


Norman Bell 3:42

My foods meet Mr. My foods.


Francisco Mahfuz 3:44

Okay, so the first thing I wanted to ask you about was about this thing you call the the mango effect. Okay. It's a common concept in storytelling, but I like how you branded it that can you just talk a bit about what the hell that is, and what you mean by the mango effect.


Norman Bell 4:01

The most powerful examples I have experienced of regarding the power of storytelling is when I was a solo theatre performer, and, you know, I've done a variety of different shows, I did a, for example, a full length solo performance about the subprime mortgage meltdown, where I played like, 11 different characters, and people were like, oh, that's the first time I really understood what happened. It was before


Francisco Mahfuz 4:27

the Big Short, right? Big charters 2010. And your thing was subprime is 2009, wasn't it?


Norman Bell 4:33

That's right. That's right. I probably could have pushed a little bit more to get to Broadway or something before The Big Short came out. But But yeah, it's a kind of this in the same vein there. and The Big Short has Christian Bale, who I played, you know, opposite for this scene in the machinists. But anyway, that's another story. But I did a short solo performance. One time it was just maybe 10 or 15 minutes very simple story about my tempestuous relationship with an 18 Pack. curmudgeon of a cat named mango, so I'm not talking about the fruit, the mango, I'm talking about a cat, this orange cat mango. And when we first met, we hated each other, I would come into the room and he would growl at me, I would growl back at him. But then after, you know, a period of time, an unlikely thing happened, which was that we kind of fell in love with each other. One morning, I found him needing on my chest and giving me some love and blinks. And I found myself being silly with animals the way that we are, and like, Oh, give me give me a cattle you got a Lima, you know, and then so our hearts kind of opened up to each other. And then unfortunately, about six months later, he he got sick, and he died. And so the the piece that I performed was was just a simple story about kind of acting out what I what I just said there, and just sort of the journey from hating each other, loving each other and then feeling heartbroken after after he died. And it was such a and I should know, also, maybe when I was first developing the piece, there was a lot more to it, there was like I had all this stuff about, oh, the universe, Hey, did you know that the universe was the size of a marble when it first started, and then is kind of conceptual things. And then the story of mango was just a piece of that. But my wife as I was kind of performing it for her. She's my sometimes director, she was like, you know, the only part that about this that's really resonating is the part about mango. And so we stripped away everything else. And I just told that story. And it had a you know, it had a really powerful effect on certain people in the audience, right. And they would come up to me after the show, sometimes with tears in their eyes, and they would show me pictures of their animals that had passed. You know, this is my dog, Coco that died two years ago. And I heard this phrase over and over again, you know, I really related to your story. And so that that was just one of those times where one I saw this example of when I, you know, had all these big ideas that I wanted to get across, but those weren't really landing. And when I stripped it away and told a simple human story that was emotional at its core, that was what really resonated. And so yeah, that's the mango effect is sort of when you tell a story that really connects with people on an emotional level. And you hear that phrase I really related to your story, then you know, you've you've connected with someone


Francisco Mahfuz 7:25

well, I really related to this story, because my wife is also sometimes my director, even though I don't act, she's just my boss, because like, no, that doesn't work. Stop doing stop making the joke. No, but but really, I do really relate to the story. Because I remember a few years ago, when I was in one of those Toastmasters competitions, I did a speech, they got me in second place at national level, and it was about my dog. And I remember the very first time I gave the speech outside of a competition, I gave the speech and you know, like with any animal story, the animal dies at the end. And the person who went up on stage to to evaluate my speech, which for anyone who doesn't know, in Toastmasters as a public speaking club, and usually some people give speeches, the other people go up there and tell them, give them constructive feedback. This guy went up there in like, I almost cried during my speech. And then he gets up to the evaluation. And he starts and he starts kind of word salad catching in his throat. And he's like, I just really boost my dog to Oh, yeah, yeah. And then it was the same. And I did the competition. I kept I have people coming up to me was like, this was my dog. This was my cat.


Norman Bell 8:34

Okay. Okay, so you've had the same experience? Yeah, yeah, I


Francisco Mahfuz 8:37

think it's worth it that if you ever, always worth remembering if you ever do a workshop or a presentation about this in Europe, remember that when you say the mango effect? A lot of people are going, what the clothing brands, the one that has no Gerard PK and XiDan. And that's what I thought was the main effects are going to be interesting.


Norman Bell 9:01

Yeah, I say not the clothing brand, but the 18 pound orange cat


Francisco Mahfuz 9:05

when you share the story of loss and loss of a path, which is something I think most people can relate to. That's kind of obvious why that works. But so many example when you do a story about subprime now, now this is easier for people to understand because of The Big Short and how popular That movie was. But when you were figuring out the story of The Big Short, what were the relatable pieces in there?


Norman Bell 9:30

Well, I actually worked. I mean, this was just like, my normal career work has been in communications, whether it's been story, you know, these doing storytelling, I've done copywriting and so forth. But I have a little detour into this world where I just I just come home actually I was I don't think we've mentioned yet, Francisco but I was living in Barcelona, for I lived in Barcelona for five years, actually not far from where it sounds like Francisco lives, but I came home to Seattle in 2000. I was in for and I needed a job and I ended up working at this subprime mortgage. I mean, it was like a mortgage company and so I wasn't a mortgage loan officer, but I was a they call this J Lo's Junior loan officers.


Francisco Mahfuz 10:17

J Lo's Oh, Jesus.


Norman Bell 10:20

J Lo's. Yeah, like Jennifer Lopez, right. And it was just a crazy atmosphere, it was just sort of like, you know, I actually, I haven't seen The Big Short, so but I'm sure there's some of that in there. And just, if you any, any movie, you've seen about Wall Street or whatever, you can maybe kind of imagine just a really hyped up atmosphere. And so a lot of the play was based on my own experiences. And then the latter half that then I had some kind of a fictional customer that got brought into the the problems that they had as a result of getting into this. And some of the loan officers were based on people that I had met there. So the easiest was to write the things that that I experienced myself, obviously,


Francisco Mahfuz 11:01

yeah, because this is something I I mean, I fully believe in this. And I think this is the great talent that people like Michael Lewis, who easily one of the best return storytellers out there, for sure, or, you know, Malcolm Gladwell do, which is you can make just about anything sound interesting, if you find some character in there that it's relatable. And you and you tell it with enough details, that it feels like a real real life experience that you're reading or watching. Because of the types of stories I often often tell, I don't believe in this thing that it needs to be an exciting, the thing itself needs to be exciting for you to make for an excited story. And I was just just off just a few minutes before we started, I was finishing a presentation to Hewlett Packard. And you know, I have a whole bunch of corporate stories in there. But I had a story about my kids going to school in Barcelona and finding it strange that people spoke funny, because you know, it's a local school, they speak Catalan and she didn't at the time, I had a story about my wife leaving her job, or you know, getting out of her job and being kind of screwed by her boss. And they have the story about me not being the best of fathers and finding trying to find a different way to do that. And on the surface of it. None of those stories are terribly exciting. I mean, there's barely much happening in those stories. But I would argue that because the character is relatable enough, and I'm making it seem like an action scene, something that actually happened, then you leave it through with me and you you get the the emotion you get the value out of a story like that. But that's why I thought it was pretty interesting that you had a subprime show.


Norman Bell 12:42

Yeah, well, and I would say for everything that you just mentioned, you know, one of my tips in my book is to kind of get in trouble. If you look, if you think about any movie, you've seen any book, you've read that and I know from the theatre world, you know that conflict is at the centre of every every story. And I use Star Wars, as an example is something we probably most of us know. And one of my favourite stories. And of course, we don't have space battles in our own lives, or Darth Vader or the Death Star. But we do have our own and it can be big trouble or little trouble, right. And so just even in the examples you just mentioned there, it was sort of like, well, your child's went to school, and why do they speak funny. So that was something something challenging, or a slight different, you know, something that a minor obstacle that your child had to overcome. And then the other examples as well, in my workshops, I usually ask people to start with thinking of some Turning Point moments in their lives. So because stories are often about challenges, but also about change, you know, where something changed for you either got better or worse, could be a big change, or a little change. But those those are often good places to start.


Francisco Mahfuz 13:49

I fully agree with you I in my core, like the online course that I've that I've got in in trainings I've given I the three things I tell people to look for when they're looking for their origin story are almost exactly or too sad challenge change. And then the third one I call kung fu moments. And this is we'll take a peek could either be the I was thinking of the matrix when Neo gets all the the uploads and says I know Kung Fu, that moment of realisation where you have a power that you didn't have before. He works perfectly well for Kung Fu Panda as well. I fully agree with you with you there and on the on the subject of origin stories, which is something I work with, with my clients to origin stories work really, really well. For speakers, they work really well for intrapreneurs they work really well for people that you know, away or on their own. At least that's been my experience. Have you found that there is some way to use origin stories when people work for larger organisations, if you're not the founder? I mean,


Norman Bell 14:49

yeah, I've been working with organisations lately and focusing you know, there's so many different story actually, there's, you know, the author Paul Smith, I had him on Oh, you had him Great, great the 10 stories that you know, leaders should tell I forget the exact title of his book. But so that's a good place to start. It's a short book, actually. So I'd recommend checking that out out of those. I've focused recently on three stories for organisations, who I am. That's kind of the origin story, who we are sort of a culture and values story like Who are we collectively? What do we stand for? And then where we're going is sort of the the vision story of where we're headed. And I found that to be helpful. There is, yeah, I am not going to remember the name. There's somebody else that has a similar framework. And basically, yeah, it was called The Story of self, the story of us and the story of now and that story of now a sort of like, why do we take action now? Marshall Ganz and he's from Harvard or something like that. So I should probably have these names already at the ready. But and the the who I am story is really your personal, why story, right? And everybody in the organisation needs to have their own why? What motivates them personally, and it may go back before your time in the company might go back to childhood, who knows, this is why I like to look through the the turning point moments because it might not be the story you think it is until you start to dig for some story gold. And then the who we are story is in an organisation I worked with recently a healthcare organisation. It was really stories of like how people were showing up for work, here's some of the values that we've identified that are that we stand for in this organisation. But it's one thing to say, oh, yeah, we stand for generosity or dedication, etc. Those are just words. But if you can back those up with a story, for example, last Thanksgiving, one of the doctors this is I mean, vaguely based on what came out of that, you know, came in and did to to overnight shifts to help with the overload of patients because of the COVID pandemic. So stories related to that kind of illustrate those values. And then then, you know, the really interesting conversation, sometimes there's people in different parts, leaders in different parts of the organisation that are siloed, and don't get a chance to really talk to each other. But then in some of the conversations they were getting excited about. This is where I see where our organisation is going, as far as the new technology we're using, here's how we can reach out to the community, etc, etc. And if you can start to coalesce that into a kind of a vision story for the organisation that can be effective. Hope that answer your question,


Francisco Mahfuz 17:37

the vision story, I find a bit trickier. And I know pose approach, or at least one of his approaches is kind of it's kind of interesting, where he says, as he's told people to just get the magazine your CEO likes to read. And in sort of write it write an article as if it was in the back, like in Forbes, right? So write the article telling the story of the success your company has, or the department has or the project has had, but write it as if it's in the future, right? So you don't have to like tell, this is what's going to happen. You actually tell us if this has happened last year, and you're just putting down a magazine, which I think is interesting, but I'm always I'm always sort of in the back foot with with some of those speakers, I don't know, to what extent, the just to me just becomes fiction, right? So that's the thing I struggle with, because I've seen a lot of people teaching how you write one of these visions stories or future stories or customer stories, instead of just finding one that real instead of finding one that you obviously you can't have the vision story before something happened. But you can, you can have little things that have started happening, that are on the same path or, or things like what you're trying to do that have happened. As an example. I've tended to think that that just I mean, it's still a real story, you just positioning in a way of this is the beginning of what we're trying to achieve. Or this is like what we're trying to achieve instead of an exercise in in fiction for swears by that one and his is one of the good ones. So I'm not gonna I'm not gonna say anything against him.


Norman Bell 19:15

Absolutely, absolutely. I think that that's a that's a great approach that he suggested I, I always look for I talk about in my books, there's sort of the horizontal axis of story, you know, sort of the future and past but then there's also the presence, the verdict, kind of the vertical axis of the teller, right? And so I pay attention to that piece as well. And I, I always look for stories that come alive. And so whether they're stories from our past, or something that people are getting excited about in the future, and I'm thinking of this workshop that I just referred to, that there were certain moments when we were this woman was talking about the technology they use in this healthcare organisation where like I didn't know anything about that technology. nor am I that interested in it. But I sure wanted to know more about it after she talked about it because she was super excited, right? So it's like finding those things that are legitimately that you're excited about that animate your body when you start talking about them. And I think that that's one of the things that I look for with story goals. And I think you're right, though, that it should, you know, if you're doing a vision story, if it's not something that people can really relate to, on an emotional level, then it'll just seem like an idea, versus something that's really motivating.


Francisco Mahfuz 20:32

So you talked about scenes that, you know, make you come alive. And I think that that's a nice lead into something I'm very curious about, which is that a lot of people love talking about how storytelling, you know, great storytelling has to do with, you know, the hero's journey. And a lot of the techniques that are used in movies, like you know, most of the Pixar movies, use stuff like that. Now, you you've done acting in different capacities, you've been involved with big Hollywood movies, knowing what you know, now, how much is that connection? Kind of an obvious one? When when you look back into some of the cinema work you've done? You know it? Can you look back at those scripts and go, Yeah, I can see exactly what they were doing. There was a clear formula here. Or the truth is slightly more complicated and messy than what some people want to make it sound like


Norman Bell 21:26

Yeah, and I don't want to overplay my my film experience. I think my one minute of film fame was in this this movie, The Machinist actually it was filmed in Barcelona, was it I had no idea it was yeah, they put up signs to make it look like it was Los Angeles or something.


Francisco Mahfuz 21:43

All this lovely food here in Christian video was, you know, wait something like 7480 pounds or something ridiculous.


Norman Bell 21:50

Yeah, yeah, he lost a tonne of weight to play this part. And nobody asked him to that's the kind of actor he is. He's just sort of like all in. He's, I think one of our best. Yeah, so I've been in that I was actually in a Spanish soap opera. When I was in Barcelona. Some of this is just coming to mind. Now I'm a theatre guy. I think at hearts, even though there's more money to be made in film and commercials and TV and so forth. This whole idea of performance coming to life, or a story coming to life I find easier to do in the theatre, when it's sort of the space is sort of built for that right. But then there's somebody like Christian Bale, we could use him as an example, as someone who is so dedicated to their role as an actor that they are that person, right? Sure. There's some other actors, you can think of your favourites, Marlon Brando comes to mind or somebody like that. But I just find that in the film world, it's harder to kind of do that, because there's so many constraints and then they're, they're looking to film things from different angles. And a lot of it it's there's a lot of technical stuff going on that can sometimes and sometimes the directors don't allow the space for those kinds of performances. So that's all all the all the better when it's it's all the more amazing when it comes through. I'm thinking of the Lord of the Rings, you know, we just binge watched the Lord of the Rings again recently. And that's, you know, such an amazing technical feat. And yet, the performances are so amazing as well.


Francisco Mahfuz 23:11

I have a problem with a lot of the Rings. I think it's I mean, I love the books, even though the first book can be one of the most boring things you've ever read with all the descriptions of shrubbery.


Norman Bell 23:22

Tom Bombadil Yeah, detour there.


Francisco Mahfuz 23:24

Yeah, yeah, then I'm sure you can say shrubbery without remembering Monty Python. My problem with the Lord of the Rings, and this is perhaps more blatant in the books than it is in the movie is how I find Aragorn. Such an a relatable character. They're entertaining, and they're fun. And but all but none of them are part of, you know, the hobbits. They're not they're not almost not fairly bow at all. Legolas is a archery killing machine. Our garden doesn't seem to be in any danger throughout any of the three movies. Really. It is one of those movies as an example. I think if you didn't have the Hobbit, the movie just wouldn't work at all. It will essentially be like a James Bond or Fast and Furious type of movie, but with orcs, which actually doesn't sound like the worst idea ever, Fast and Furious, both with Oryx and


Norman Bell 24:14

then you could go into the Hobbit trilogy is even a level like oh my god, that for me that just didn't work at all. You know, I don't know how far down the rabbit hole you want to go here. But yeah, I think in the book, Aragorn really seemed like well, he already even had that the sword or whatever that and he was already super confident. And I could see in the movies, they were trying to give him a bit of an arc where he was unsure about whether he was going to follow the same path as his old door, you know, cave in at the end. I think they tried to show like, oh, no, he's he's taking a different path. But I hear what you're saying. Yeah, but in the meantime, I would say what really resonates with me on an emotional level is Sam Sam's journey seems like it's going to be about Frodo. But Frodo so busy being possessed by the ring that it's really Sam in the end that's it's so heroic. So But anyway, I could talk about that


Francisco Mahfuz 24:59

for Wow, in a beautiful habits to habit romance that never never came to pass on the on the screen, but seemed pretty, pretty clear what they were going for, or they're going for there. The reason I wanted to start talking about the acting you do was one because of plot and things of that nature that a lot of people love referring to cinema when they talk about storytelling. But the other thing is, is idea you have in the book about acting out because I perhaps because I've been exposed to too much Toastmasters in my life. But this is one of the things that I find one of the most common mistakes people make, either as speakers or as storytellers is that they're not actors, they don't understand the concept of acting. So what they will do is they're acting out scenes like they were minds, instead of people leaving it. So all of a sudden your hand gestures become like everything is I was talking on the phone, and then I got my gun. And you know, for people can't watch I'm just mining every single object I'm mentioning and becomes a pantomime of pantomime. But you know, that's not no one ever speaks that way, no one will ever tell a story to their friends at dinner that way. So I'm always concerned when any type of advice when it comes to stories suggests that people should act. So what exactly is your take on that?


Norman Bell 26:19

Great question. Well, I always like to start with, to me the most important part of the process. And it should be because this is where you find the stories that really resonate with you is uncovering the stories, right digging for story goals. And so again, I like to oh, there's a quote from a film director John Frankenheimer, which is casting is 65% of directing. And what he means by that is, if you find the right person for the role, you're going to have to work so much less, it will be so much easier to get the performance you're looking for. And so I would say that's the truth with stories as well. So in my process, as we're looking for story gold, we do some tryouts, auditions to see which stories are really resonating. And I'm always looking for that story that lights you up when you tell it, and then we apply the craft, and then we fine tune it. And so we're starting, we're not starting with the hand, I'm an inside out guy, as opposed to an outside and guy and I know from from studying, acting, both ways are valid, they both can work, but I just tend to, and actually most of the acting,


Francisco Mahfuz 27:25

what do those things mean? Outside In inside out outside and is


Norman Bell 27:29

kind of what you were describing there of like, move your hand over here, then look look concerned, whereas inside out is find a reason why you would be doing these things, right? Like what your your concern, what are you concerned about, you know, like, authentically concerned, and that's why you would show a concerned look, it's tricky. I mean, like acting like I remember and the acting classes and so forth. There's a lot that goes into it. And sometimes it can go haywire as you you tap into some some old emotions or experiences. And it's crazy things can happen in an acting class. But I think just I'm always looking for that authentic as sort of an authentic, like, what how do you authentically feel like tell me like, why do you do what you do. And if we can find that moment in your life where it was like, and a lot of times people have it, like right there, it's like, I'll tell you why I do what I do. Because when I was 12 years old, a bully came up to me at school and XYZ, you know, they tell that story. And that's that once once there's that, that sort of conviction there, then the acting out piece is just sort of a it's kind of icing on the cake. And so it's just sort of like you did this already, naturally, where you acted out the bully coming up to you on the playground, and you said to him, and you pointed. So just kind of getting a little bit more definition around those those scenes, we're always kind of looking to play out a scene so people can picture it in their mind, that's when storytelling can be most effective.


Francisco Mahfuz 29:00

So that's, that's an interesting, that's an important point. Because I find that this is one of the things that people have the most difficulty with. It's this contrast between what you call narrative summary versus scenes. So I normally refer to, you know, scenes as moments. And they would say, you know, do you have a moment and the rest is all you know, exposition or just narration or you're telling but I want you to show me I find it some people grasp the context of the scene or the show me the moment fairly easily. In some people don't. Now when you really doing workshops, how much you find that it's more one than the other. I was


Norman Bell 29:41

a participant at a workshop with a guy named Kevin Allison and I think he comes from the improv world but he also has a podcast called risk, which is about telling kind of vulnerable stories. And he said that this is one of the common I don't want to say mistakes, but one of the common things that beginnings story tellers do is they'll spend most of their time or the majority of their time in narrative summary, which is sort of at the 30,000 foot view. And I'll have to come up with a better example than this, because this is the one I keep using, but I need a more compelling one. That would be like me saying, Yeah, about 10 years ago, I was working at the the gore flex Corporation, I was a copywriter, and I had been working there for five years. So that's all that's all high level, right? And then scene one night, I'm in the office, it's 1030. There's nobody else in the office. It's quiet, except for the sound of me clacking at the keyboard, when suddenly, I noticed that there's a light on in the boss's office, and I hear a creaking sound. And then the sound of a baby crying, right? So I mean, again, I'll come up with some other scene. And other time I'm getting tired of that one. But but but you get you can get the difference, right? Like one is this high level information that really doesn't conjure up any images in your mind. The other is we're on the ground with the storyteller in that situation, and your mind can almost not help but conjure up that situation, even as I said that, you might have been imagining sitting in front of the computer in the dark, and seeing a light and hearing a baby crying. So Kevin Ellison said that, or I think in my book, I said, you know, like, we probably spend 70% of our time as beginning storytellers in narrative summary and 30% in scenes. And a goal that move towards is is the reverse, you know, maybe 30% narrative summary and 70% scenes so that your narrative summary is kind of connectors at but from scene to scene to scene example I


Francisco Mahfuz 31:43

usually give to people to just make the different differences. I say, No, if you want to tell me how strange your childhood was, don't tell me how he was for years. Just tell me how it was for one Thanksgiving dinner. So do you notice how my favourite just say, so it's Thanksgiving dinner last year, and I'm sitting down next to my brother. And then my crazy uncle Kevin comes in. And Kevin looks at me and says, I find that like explaining that is I find that fairly easy. And I tend to tell people, the bigger one of the almost undeniable cases when you've gone from one to the other is dialogue. If you're telling me what the conversation was about, that's just a narration when you're actually saying, so I looked at him and said, and you actually do the dialogue, then you're automatically into a scene. But even so I find it very challenging. With some people, they just keep resisting the scene. I don't know if it's that they lack the resources to say, Okay, well, how do I make it into a scene? And and I just have to say, well, try to tell it in the present tense if you don't find it too weird, and just do a lot of dialogue. Because if you can do that, then it's you can't avoid the scene or a moment if you're doing that, but it's one of the things most people I find struggle with.


Norman Bell 33:00

Yeah, yeah. And I mean, this is just like, like anything any of your listeners hear? Well, if you actually if you're listening to this podcast, you're probably an avid li interested in storytelling. So maybe you're you're already practising this. But it's not something you're gonna pick up after listening to a half hour conversation or an hour conversation, it takes a lot of practice, right? And that's probably one of those things, you know, as a, if you're, if you're working with executives, or people in the business world, this is this pushing their comfort zone is like, Oh, I'm going to act out a conversation or something like that, you know, encourage people to go there, you know, like, the more that you're able to draw people in to your story. And doing that is one way to do it, the more you're going to connect with them. I mean, we do this all the time anyway. Like you don't need to be i That's one thing I try to stress is to demystify storytelling as if it was just something like you and I I'm also a Toastmasters guy. So you and I are Toastmasters people, actors and so forth. It can sort of seem like, oh, that's, that's a rarefied realm, storytelling. But no, we tell stories all the time. Right. Now, obviously, we can't stand around the watercooler or we're limited in doing that. But whether it's on Zoom or in person, anytime you answer the question, how was your weekend? You're gonna be telling a story. It might not be a great story, actually, if everything goes well, you know, like, yeah, I went to a party. It was great, huh, it's not a great story. Oh, I went to a party and you wouldn't believe what happens, you know, I show up and my ex girlfriend is there. And I was like, oh my god, I can't even I haven't talked to her in seven years. And she's got a really angry look on her face. I mean, that's probably gonna be a good story. And you probably might act some of that out.


Francisco Mahfuz 34:41

I find it surprising that even people like Toastmasters, who speak on a regular basis. They still struggle with a concept of moments or scenes. Now, just last week, I had someone coming to me and saying I've got the storytelling project. Can you just give me a hand because you know, this is what you do. And and most of it was like some My father was like this. And my mother was like that. And then the I stayed between the two of them and in one would then say, so it's like, it's all of that is huge. I mean, you're not that far away. So it's an I don't think it's the 30,000 foot view. But you were just telling me what happened. You now you're not showing me any of it. And there is a, there is an analogy that I've gotten from Marcia Sian door, who is a storyteller I really like. And she says she describes it as movies, because the whole idea is, you know, a good story is a movie in the minds of your audience. So it says, okay, so imagine this, as there's voiceover, there's montage, and there is an action scene. So a voiceover will be like an audiobook, right? Or just telling everything and you want to avoid that as much as you possibly can. The montage is when you just talk about four or five different things that you need to just set up in place for the story makes sense. But you're not going into any detail. So you say now struggling through, I was travelling through Europe, and we went to Paris and visited the Eiffel Tower, we went to this other place. And when these we've been running with the bowls, we we really enjoyed some tacos in Barcelona. So that's sort of a montage montage. It's a lot of really quick things. And then you say, but then when we arrived in Russia, I'm in the metro in Russia in Baba. So she goes through the montage to a scene. But yeah, to me to meet that is one of the biggest challenges most people have with any story. The other challenge that I tend to find all the time is people either they can figure out what the story's about, or they figure it out. But don't make sure that they drop a few things throughout the story, to highlight that, that's what the story is about. So the story is going to be about some big learning they had. But at no point in the story, you see them not knowing that thing. If I'm telling a story say about how I learned to communicate better with my daughter. What a lot of people I've worked with in the past would do is they just at some point get better at communicating with their kids. But at no point in the story. They were terrible at it, we and then it just doesn't really work, then the message is fine. Like okay, fine, you got a little better at something like this. This is not much of a story. There's no no I was terrible at it was like But you didn't tell me that, like where's the where's the awkward conversation you're having with your kid or the blowout or the fight? It was just not there at any point.


Norman Bell 37:22

Yeah, that's the kind of the change and challenge we've talked about. And stakes, you know, the more you can raise the stakes, that's always like, you know, in acting class or in movies and stories in general, high stakes, by the way, we're all living in high stakes situation and you know, high stakes situation these days. So there's stories going on all around you surely, you can probably tell a story of the the day, the first day the pandemic really hit you. For me, it was March 13, I could tell you that story, but I won't probably don't need to hear more stuff about the pandemic. I was also gonna say like, there's, there's a framework that I use, it's not I didn't make it up. But it's, it's similar to what I've heard Pixar uses for their framework for all of their films. So there I was, that's essentially the, you know, the opening of a story, I call it context, then one day, and then and then and then. And finally, and what I learned from that was this, right, and that whole middle section is basically the series of challenges that the the hero you or, or someone you know, overcomes and then the lesson they learned at the end, and it is probably important to get to the end, and have a lesson that you learned or something that's and because of that day, now I do things differently. And here's what I here's what I learned from them. And I would save the lesson for the end right now. You know, like it rather than say I my family's really strange, you know, show don't tell. So describe the scene first. And then you could say, Yeah, my family's really strange. That's just like one of many things. Let the listener discover that.


Francisco Mahfuz 38:59

Yeah, I was gonna say is that that what you're referring to that everybody talks about as the Pixar structure is not actually the Pixar structure is Ken's myth, story spine, which is once upon a time, one day, and because of that, and because of that, and because of that, until finally, and after that they are ever since that day, so yeah, it's it's the story spine from Ken Smith, and what you said about how they've the lesson for the end? Yeah, I think I agree. I think the lesson should go after the end. What I think sometimes is helpful is something I picked up from the guys from anecdote that we were talking about earlier, is what they call a relevance statement. So instead of just launching into a story, which which is absolutely fine to do on a stage, I don't think there's any issue with just launching into the story when you're on stage, or in presentation, but that feels very awkward if you do it in conversation. I think somebody said something if your first thing out of your mouth is five years ago, blah, blah, blah. It just seems really weird. So So I've seen the relevant statement be something as simple as well, now that you say that it reminds me of something that happened to me five years ago, fine. Now it sounds okay. Or or people can do some pretty unexpected things sometimes. I mean, there was this time last year where you're not giving the morrow away, you just giving maybe the theme. So the theme is people do strange things. And then you still going to tell your story. And I don't do that much. But I think that it has one big advantage for people who are not necessarily great storytellers is it takes away the temptation of finishing, and then giving three, four or five lines of this is the moral of the story, because you kind of already set it up. So you don't have to do it at the end. Whereas I think a lot of people do is they just tell the story, and then spend, you know, almost the same amount telling what the story means was like, then tell a better story?


Norman Bell 40:53

Absolutely. I think that's that sounds like great advice. And especially I think storytelling is a little bit I think, at this point, people know that storytelling is effective in the business world. Right? And and yet there's this or anywhere, right, that we're built for story where it's one of the the oldest forms of human communication, but we don't know exactly how to use it, or where to use it. Sure, on stage, but like you just said in a conversation. Well, funny, you should mention that, because five years, you know, without sounding a little bit silly. So yeah, I mean, one thing that occurs to me for anyone who's listening, and they're sort of just starting at this is, I'm just a fan of, of working with where you are, I advise people to start a story bank. And so start writing down your stories as they're happening to you on a daily and weekly basis. And I don't mean writing out the full story, but just a phrase or two to remind you of what happened. So you can start collecting stories, but then you can also start to just notice, how are you already telling stories because you tell stories, I'm focused on this. So I now see storytelling all around us all the time. But if you're not, then you might think, oh, that that's only something that's happening when I'm watching a movie or reading a book, just notice, oh, I told the story earlier today. And and here's how I went into that, then it was fairly natural, you know, so just always looking for that authentic way in


Francisco Mahfuz 42:15

before we're done. I wanted to share something that I reading your book, he came back to me. And and I'm not sure if this thing that happened makes me sound like a horrible human being or a non judgmental human being. But I think it will, it will speak to you. I was working as a financial advisor in you know, this was 2008, I think. So we have that in common to some extent. And, and there was this guy from from the London office in my company, we had the back of a manager's meeting. And at some point, we're in the meeting, and I just catch him making taking some notes and in something just catches my eye and I'm not sure what it is. And then I pay more attention. And I see and I'm like, hold on one of his hands is really, really big. Like I'm talking about like baseball glove beak. Okay, well, maybe not so much, because that would be monstrous. But like, it's, it's like one and a half to two times the size of what most people's hands are in. And I just like, Okay, well, I never heard them anything like that. And then I just went up to him. And I said, Please don't take this the wrong way. But what's the deal with your hands? And he kind of like, you know, obviously, I don't think he took my question very well, and he clammed up. And he just had mumbled something like I was just just being always been like that, or something like that. And I think you know exactly why I'm telling you that. Because you shared in the book, how you you talked? Didn't you do like a show or a presentation? That's called Leto hand, right? Yeah. Yeah. So my question there is, so in this show you were sharing how I think one of your hands is slightly smaller than the other? I think I know the answer. But for anyone who's listening, you know, you picked something that a lot of people prefer not to draw attention to, as I guess, would have been the case with with Matt, that this guy who is to work with me, but you chose to draw attention to it. And you drew a lot of attention to it. The whole thing was about this. So why did you do that? And why is that something that people should be doing in their storytelling?


Norman Bell 44:16

I opened the this was another solo performance and little hand, the first line of the performance was going up to the audience and going I've got one hand that's a little bit smaller than the other hand. Can you see that? Can you see that? And then I just went into the story of that. Yeah, it's kind of like is my vulnerability right? A weakness, you could say in quotes, a weakness that maybe ends up being a strength, but I just told the story of my experience of that in, you know, and somewhat abstract way but kind of with scenes of being teased a little bit in middle school and wanting to get away from it and how I felt, you know, there was one point where I sort of, act out like Feeling like quasi modos? Like do no Druker you know, but at the end sort of coming to and then my left hand, I was always like, Oh, my left hand, my left hands my strong hand, I've never am left handed and is this dichotomy, right. And then by the end, it was sort of like the two hands coming together, weakness and strength being more together like that. So that's a theme for me is sort of vulnerability. And I think that it's, I think that was probably even more than the mango story, I think that was probably the most vulnerable, that I've made myself. And I know from reading some Brene Brown, that the feeling of vulnerability is really uncomfortable. You know, it's not that you're gonna feel great, when you're being vulnerable, it will feel uncomfortable. But I think it's important, you know, and I think that we don't need to necessarily divulge every secret challenge that we've had in our lives on the first date, you know, your first performance with an audience or first meeting or conversation, but it's not a black and white situation. But if you can edge in the direction of being authentic, sharing your challenges, people will gravitate towards you. Because guess what everybody that is listening to you is challenged as well, that could be said in any time, but especially now. And if you're not sharing that at all, if you're not giving any hint that you're suffering or being challenged right now, then it's a cognitive dissidence with your listener, because they're, they're struggling, everyone's struggling right now. And if you're playing it off, like you're doing great during the pandemic, during the global pandemic, then people are gonna start to kind of feel resentful towards you, whether they whether they realise it or not, that's just my my thinking about that, you know, if you decide to do that, to put be a little bit vulnerable, in an honest and authentic in what you do, you're not going to be on the vanguard of this because there's leaders out there, including Steve Jobs, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and and many others, who are out there telling their vulnerable stories. So I just always encourage people to do that. I think


Francisco Mahfuz 47:05

I would hope that Steve Jobs is still not out there sharing sharing his vulnerable stories is a slightly different type of story.


Norman Bell 47:14

While he is on the internet, yeah, you could go look at him now. No, I


Francisco Mahfuz 47:17

completely agree. I mean, no, I did write a book called bear a guy to brutally honest public speaking. And the cover is, you know, a Clarkin type of guy opening his shirt, and his heart is just visible there. To me, it's kind of obvious why that story is more impactful than the mango story, because the mango story is a story of a loss, you know, and we can relate to that. But the story of I have this thing about me, that really bothers me, that makes me feel ashamed that it makes me feel smaller than other people. And I'm now coming to terms with that, like, every single person in the world probably has that. And if they don't, they're probably a bit of a dick. Right? So if there's nothing about you that you're a little bit embarrassed about that maybe you don't want to draw attention to then, you know, you're a bit of a strange human being, I would probably guess, that after you did that show, or after, you know, you rehearse the turn for that show, if it really bothered you before, probably doesn't bother you much anymore, if it still does at all. Right?


Norman Bell 48:21

It's kind of a minor thing that I don't think about on a regular basis. But I'm actually happy that you brought that up. Yeah, there was some same thing somebody came up to me after one of those performances, and they they had a disability. And they said, I really related to your story, and I've experienced some of the things that you've you know, we're showing that that performance.


Francisco Mahfuz 48:39

Yeah, no, I think I think you know, Brenda Brown has, has broken the ground on that one. But it's surprising how, how sometimes it's difficult to convince people that whatever you're doing, even if you're sharing a story of a lot of achievement, you students spend more time I think you saw this in the book, right? There's another if it's a success story, you still need to spend more time where you were struggling to make that a success. Because if you want someone to help you with a problem, the person who says I've never really had that problem, but it doesn't sound too difficult, I'm sure I can help you out is a lot less interesting to you as a guide than the person who goes like, oh, man, that is a nightmare. I went through that last year and I hated it. But you know, I figured it out so I can help you for sure.


Norman Bell 49:26

Absolutely. Absolutely. I don't think my wife would mind me sharing this but she went through breast cancer treatment in 2018. And now she is launching a group coaching programme for for people who have been through breast cancer and are ready to kind of move on to the next stage of their lives. And let me tell you, as she says, getting that out there, like people she's getting a lot of great feedback for like, you know, hey, thank you for sharing your story. And for doing this important work, right? It wouldn't be quite as effective if she had not gone through something like that herself. And then was vulnerable enough to put that out there.


Francisco Mahfuz 50:02

I don't think you know, Gandalf might have my work as a guide, or Yoda might work as a guide without us knowing anything about their own fallibilities. But when it comes to, to human beings communicating in the real world through stories, that guide needs to be someone who's gone through, if not the same struggle, but struggles that are somewhat related to the types of struggles that your audience is going through. Because otherwise, you just come across as as a know it all, or just someone who's not terribly relatable to the people that you're trying to help. And that defeats the whole purpose.


Norman Bell 50:37

Actually, a lot of business people will say, well, they don't need to know my story, this is about them, the customer is the hero. And that's true in your brand story, the customer is the hero, and you're Yoda that's been kind of outlined before. But I would argue the same as you just said there, like people need to know your story as well, and who you are and what drives you are the wise. Who are you to tell me this? Give me this feedback?


Francisco Mahfuz 51:00

Yeah, I don't want to go in on another massive tangent. But what I think about that is, is this confusion between that the stories about the customer is not about the customer is for the customer? That's different, you know, so that you're not saying, I mean, you can tell stories about your customers, but often you are the character of the story. In it, the whole story is just thought out, okay? Is this going to benefit my customer? How are they going to relate to this? How are they going to learn from it, but you still, you're likely to still be the character of an or someone else's the character, but you you're telling it for them? So you know, what do they need to see from this character? So this is useful for them. And I think that's a slight change in this whole idea. Oh, it's about your customer. That confuses people, because they think they cannot tell their own stories, because it should be about the customers like no, it is for the customer. It's not about the customer. Point taking good observation, right. And on that note, if people want to find out more about you, where do you wanna point them to?


Norman Bell 51:58

So I think a good place to start would be to go to story powered speaker.com That will take you to the book page of my website, and you can kind of check that out. And then you know, you'll see the rest of the offerings I have on my website, which is Norman Jay Bell, calm, but maybe go to story powered speaker.com coaching programmes, courses, and and more. So yeah, feel free to reach out to me as well at Norman Jay Bell,


Francisco Mahfuz 52:27

calm. Perfect, Norman. It's been fantastic. Thank you very much for your time today, man.


Norman Bell 52:32

Thank you so much, Francisco. It's been a pleasure to be here. All right, everyone.


Francisco Mahfuz 52:35

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


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



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