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  • Francisco Mahfuz

E81. This Is How Your Talk Gets Millions of Views with Devin Marks



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


Francisco Mahfuz 0:00

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


Welcome to the story powers podcast, the show about the power of stories, the people who tell them and why you should be doing it too. I'm your host, keynote speaker and storytelling coach Francisco mahfuz. My guest today is Devin marks. Devin is the president and founder of Hutchison marketing company offering comprehensive speaker messaging and story training services. He's been involved with record shattering TED talks, fortune 10, CEO keynotes at the World Economic Forum, Series B funding features and technology speeches at NASA. Devin has been helping presenters advance culture shifting stories for decades, and he's been nicknamed the TED Talk whisperer. Now he's probably too shy to admit this on the record. But just before we started, he confirmed that working with him will guarantee at least 1 million views on your talk or more. He's looking at me finding out so it's probably best to get started. Ladies and gentlemen, the TED talk was for Devin marks. Devin, welcome to the show.


Devin Marks 1:59

Thank you. Great to be with you Francisco. While we kick things off, I need to dive back into that story and maybe rerecord the intro. But I can't take credit for all of those logos. Those represent a number of partners. So I was not at NASA. A couple other those you mentioned are the bona fides of probably Luke bogs out of Atlanta, and he was the senior speechwriter for CEO Coca Cola for a number of years. It's still your company. Yeah. Well, there you have it, I'm really honoured to be able to come alongside them and learn from that team. And then also bring a bit of the, you know, Ted messaging model to what we do in those various spaces, whether public policy or venture startup or straight old corporate communications.


Francisco Mahfuz 2:48

Before we get into the whole Ted thing, which is I think it's going to be the main thing we talked about. One thing I just wanted to just ask is, What is it with people who study in seminary and becoming either great speakers or great speaker coaches, because one of my best friends here in Barcelona, he he was a priest, actually, for for many years, he was an ordained priest, and no longer the case, but he is probably the best speaker and speaker coach that I know of, which seems very strange to me, because I've never been to a church to a mass to any religious services that did not bore me to tears. So what is the missing link there?


Devin Marks 3:33

Fair enough, fair enough. And you you're picking up a little sticker that says, hey, backstory, so well done. I've been impressed listening to you interview guests, and the advanced work you seem to have done Jeff Davenport, stories coming to mind, having come in out of a theological education at some point and then moving to door to now on his own. What is Seminary in general, it's an education with high achievers and high performers, and middle and low like any university setting. So let's just examine those high achievers who really have made their mark from the pulpit, and across the culture. And a great place to start is Billy Graham. He went to Bible college with my grandfather, and I became friends with his the youngest guy on the team, Lyman Coleman, who was the driver for Billy Graham, and then handle a lot of the advanced work and youth follow up after the Crusades. And when I got to know Lyman and introduced him to TED talks, he said, Ah, okay, this is really what Billy was doing. Let me explain and what was Billy Graham doing? He was sharing a life changing message. That was clearly focused story wrapped, and action igniting come to the altar, change your life, change your marriage, changed your business, change your family dynamics. So when you think of someone like Billy, somebody like Rick Warren, who wrote the number one best selling purpose driven life and his Mina on the TED stage, they bring one what I call Scottie Pippen talent, right. They just got that knack and the ability to hit the buckets, but also that work ethic and a great TED speaker without a work ethic is not a great TED speaker, mediocre TEDx view, talk, right? But brilliant ideas by brilliant people who lean into the opportunity and work their tails off like Billy Graham did. And like some of the big luminaries on the TED stage, we know in love, there's, there's also something else at play here that not I've touched on another interview. But I think Chris Anderson, the head of Ted kind of gets that, because he came out of a missionary family, and was actually educated with one of my cousins in India. And so whether he considers himself a follower of Christ and unbeliever in whatever level of commitment or lack thereof, he was seeped in dramatic storytelling and pastoral care, and life changing challenges. And I think that, in some ways, is why when he took over Ted, he really radiated with the potential there that was to advance what I call the secular Church of ideas.


Francisco Mahfuz 6:11

Let me just clarify a couple of points that for anyone who's not from America, they might have flown right over their


Devin Marks 6:18

heads. That's fair. Thank you. Right. My apologies


Francisco Mahfuz 6:21

who Billy Graham and Rick Warren are. I'm not from America. But I'm familiar with the names and correct me if I'm wrong here. But they're essentially very, very, very, very famous and popular. pastors, ministers that have made their name by publishing books.


Devin Marks 6:36

Yes. Ministers, theologians, writers. Yeah,


Francisco Mahfuz 6:40

talking on TV talking to very, very large crowds. So I think they were probably the biggest names in their time. If not, if they still aren't,


Devin Marks 6:48

no one has sold more copies of The Purpose Driven Life. And Rick Warren and his team think next to the Bible, it is the number one bestseller. And then Billy Graham spoke to, you know, whatever the stats are more people worldwide than any other human being in that era. And maybe, you know, until TED Talks had a seismic impact. And thankfully, you know, this isn't always the case. But thankfully, they walked their talk, and lived out full and great, healthy and productive lives. Rick Warren still alive by the way,


Francisco Mahfuz 7:17

you use the term there that I think probably explains a lot, at least when I'm thinking of my friend, Tobias, who was on the show, as well as one of the first guests. The term you used was, they were I think you said they were seeped into dramatic storytelling. And one thing that is my friend has always done whenever he speaks, and I think that that might be one of the reasons why I think he's so good, is that it's very, I don't think I've ever seen him do any type of speaking, or training or anything that doesn't have story as the backbone, you know, it's not, it's not, that's not always true of many good talks, or many TED Talks. But to my taste, the better ones will usually have a lot, I think you you call that story wrapped. And I think that's something that is, I find that the best speakers naturally tend to do that. Now, I don't know if that was seminary, or for anything else. But at least that was the case with him.


Devin Marks 8:18

Now there are a lot of people come out of seminary, and they can't preach worth a darn, it's almost like they didn't learn the business side of running a nonprofit, and they didn't learn fancy term homiletics. But preaching, that's a shame. But you know, they're the water they swim in his story, the meta story, the Gospel story to redemption and whatnot, but also the micro stories within that that are personal, relatable, and again, instructive, whether biblical or personal. And so when we were rolling with a curriculum three, four years ago focused for on pastors, how do you take the TED messaging model and apply it to other contexts, pastors radiated with a preach like Ted content and found it highly instructive and useful, but that was pre COVID.


Francisco Mahfuz 9:04

One thing I find quite interesting, paradoxical even when we think of the language we're using, is that one of the biggest advantages of stories is that they allow you to connect with people to teach people to move people without what a lot of people call preaching. So what you don't want to do in a speech is preach at people. But I find that somewhat ironic, because the greatest preacher of all time was known for talking in parables for telling stories. So what Jesus didn't do, according to the Bible, was preach


Devin Marks 9:36

Fair enough. And arguably, I'm not the Bible scholar, you would imagine, but arguably, some of my professors at seminary highlighted that the Sermon on the Mount would qualify in length as a TED talk.


Francisco Mahfuz 9:51

How long was the Sermon on the Mount? Was it seven minutes?


Devin Marks 9:56

Well, they're there they're telling me it was 16 minutes or something like that, but I I haven't seen the transcript, you know, or the I haven't heard the audio. I've only seen the transcript. But yeah, I think principles that Jeremy was highlighting in a recent episode so artfully, these timeless principles from Aristotle through the present every generation shares in common. Now, you know, Billy Graham and others were clearly focused story wrapped in action, igniting speakers or preachers or But Martin Luther King to I mean, the context of their era and the technology that propelled a message that's different and why did Billy explode the way he did? Well, radio but television was new, in the same way TED talks and lectures right whether short or not but lectures what was new about that? What was the the length, but these things were focused storied and action, igniting as YouTube was new and social media was new and


Francisco Mahfuz 10:52

right so you said this now about five times we might as well pick it apart. So the lines you repeated many times, understandably so because they're great are clearly focused story wrapped, an action igniting so what is your short into the point definition of each of those things? What what counts as clearly focus?


Devin Marks 11:14

Fair enough? Those are loaded terms.


Francisco Mahfuz 11:16

They're they're great. I'll do repeating them all the time if they were mine. This is the mistake I sometimes make and I have to catch myself often is because I do advance work as you said, because I do research sometimes I'm so I'm so seeped into my guests work that I'm just talking to them, as you know, because I know the work. And then I completely forget that people have never seen this stuff before. So I think those are important to break down a little bit more for the people listening,


Devin Marks 11:43

happy to those three principles are part of a framework of seven that I developed in seminary. So you know, back up a little bit how in the world, you become a TED talk, Weissberg, Coach guy, besides raising your hand and saying, I can do it. Well, in my case, it was seminary. I wanted to deconstruct TED Talks and understand why these lectures or secular sermons, if you will, we're exploding cross media, the core of what I understood the formula to involve, were those three principles clearly focused. That sounds like common sense, but it's uncommonly applied in the TED style. That's one example, one big idea, no more than three key points, because we're not going to remember five, seven, and 11 sub points, there's more to it. But that's a great place to start. Because if you just take your message and apply that metric, or mechanism, you're going to be tighter. Secondly, a story wrapped message. It's not insert story, because it seems to complement what you were saying, instead, you wrap that story around those principles and move those principles forward through the power of story and what type of story right I'm not gonna belabour the whole Hero's Journey thing and how complex that can be and what a heavy lift that is, I think you had a great interview with Jeff Davenport on that topic, a particular form of story, shape of story applies. And that is what I call the challenge shaped story. And that's a three part you know, set up problem resolution, however you want to phrase it. But how many folks bring a story or a message to stage they fail to introduce a idea wrapped in a story that has a conflict and a resolution, my fingers walking along the sidewalk? Look, I fall in a hole I resolve and get out of the hole. And I'm looking down next time, right? Very simple little story. But Kurt Vonnegut has a just a powerful and fun little diagram on a chalkboard where he explains the shape and movement of story. So a 10 messaging model really embraces that very concentrated hero's journey, and then action igniting let's move the audience to take action, as Ravi was saying in a recent interview of yours connect and convert. Right. One of my businesses is called Connect to compel and we want to compel an audience to take action, but what action and I'm not going to belabour this but you've heard it in other interviews, I suppose. We're not going to boil the ocean and save the whales and remove all the plastic, right? That's not the call to action. What we are going to do though, is walk up to the water's edge, hold hands with our daughter pointed a piece of plastic pick it up, repeat, repeat, repeat, because what we're doing is taking small steps that can become habits that can become shareable and repeatable. And if that happens, the best of Ted messaging model begins to play out. One of my clients that you've probably heard me reference is a Harvard researcher who looks at health and happiness in the lives of men. And he examines what makes for a good life. Well, he doesn't call people to big actions and steps in the close of his now 40 million viewed top 10 TEDx talk, actually top 10 Talk period on TED he suggests little steps become habits repeatable and shareable date night with your spouse long walks and talks together reaching out to that someone you haven't spoken to in years and healing that rift. These are steps that you can take tomorrow and that actually Francisco to loop back to seminary and why preachers are so effective sometimes. That is what they call the application of the sermons Sunday. You hear Monday you do


Francisco Mahfuz 15:21

I just rewatched Robert waldinger his talk, what makes a good life? I think that's the title, right? That makes a good life study after 1000s of men or whatever. So yeah, so there was a lot of things about that talk that I thought were were interesting, and not necessarily obvious once I was watching it with a more critical eye. So the action items or the calls to action, because I knew they were coming. I had heard you talk about that. I was watching it again. And I'm looking, I'm looking at the time, and it's, you know, 1130, the talk only goes to 12 something and unlike he's not even started the call to action yet. So I thought it was interesting and integrate degree kind of refreshing how he was almost a throw away. The call to action. He just mentioned this things. So there was no real focus given to this is the way we found that you can start applying this today that it was it felt very, very casual as if it was for a moment, I was like, Did he forget a call to action? He's gonna just insert it at the very end. But was it a deliberate choice to make it so casual? I guess so everything is going to be a deliberate choice.


Devin Marks 16:31

Part of that is Dr. Walters style, one of his real Scottie Pippen skills is a conversational tone. It's also a therapist and is in priest. And so he brings a certain dynamic to stage. But yes, I mean, these these are highly sculpted, as you know, highly refined, highly rehearsed feedback loops that go on and on and on messages. And that list that you hear just almost like an aside, when you hear it, you go, Oh, I could do that. That's something I could do with my wife tonight. And Harvard is saying it's a great idea. So I think, yes, some talks and some some speakers hammer out three suggestions, five suggestions, and it's check the box. And that works too. Variety is the spice of great TED Talks. And that was the style and approach that clearly worked for Dr. Walden, Joe. Now keep in mind, here we are talking story did he tell a story he told a story of the research project, but not a specific story of in the individual in the project for confidentiality reasons, he could have been unpacking JFKs personal files, because he had them until the library yanked them back. He could have been unpacking any number of men's family dynamics, whether successful or alcoholism or schizophrenia, or divorce or whatever these story movements were of given subjects. But he stepped back and instead as Nancy to work with a shared a data story. Yeah, right.


Francisco Mahfuz 17:55

I mean, the only thing that remotely resembles a story in his whole talk is the story of the study. It's told very casually and loosely in many ways, it didn't feel like a story, at least not the stories that you often hear in TED Talks. I was just wondering, again, for confidentiality reasons, I'm sure that there is there is a lot of limit to how much could have done with the actual data from actual people in the study. But But surely there's plenty of other stories that could have fit into that


Devin Marks 18:26

surely there are early there are and I talked about a radiating series of story circles right so there's the bull's eye in the centre is a personal story out of my life my experience, there's nothing more connecting invigorating, inner you know, the energy is subconscious as I share that with an audience. Next, radiating circle out though is a story from your world and experience that you shared with me, Francisco. And now that we know each other a little bit better your story that I share that second generation story translates really well. But you radiate radiate radiate out to Abraham Lincoln, and you can tell a challenge shaped story about old age, but it's not as impactful. Is that closer to the centre? Bull's Eye personal story? Well, Dr. Walden jury and I, you know, tried out wrestled with sorted and sifted how best to approach it. I often tell his story by showing a photo of the dear doctor and his wife on their porch at the home they've lived in for 40 odd years where they raised two sons who successfully left the nest and stayed gainfully employed and didn't end up in the basement. And he has lived the good life. And he could have told that story. But then you're wrestling with this. I'm the hero of the story type stuff. What other impressions did you have of the talk?


Francisco Mahfuz 19:46

So the other impression I had and this is something that's been very recent to me are very present because I have been doing a lot of work with MBA students. I've just finished doing a big corporate training. And so the structure the sort of the simple structure it people to do presentation. I call that heat. So it's hook example, arguments and takeaway, right? Pretty straightforward. And the example is a story, essentially. And I often say to people, if you have a story, if it's a good story, you don't need the hook, you can just start with your story. What I often find is that people tend to resist that. And they like the idea of the hook. And they like the question to open the speech and whatever. And I'm watching that well, Roberts talk. And it starts with TPR, classical hook, it's an open question to make everybody think in, and I'm listening to it. And I'm thinking, I know, this is an incredibly successful TED Talk. But just based on this first two or three questions, this is to me just, it's a good talk. But it's a kind of a normal talk, I'm waiting to be like, pulled right into it. And the moment that happened, was really, when he started talking about, we've done this study, the moment that he set it up, and the moment he starts talking about the study, but the cameras are showing you is difficult to judge anything by but everyone's face looked to my eye a lot more wrapped, like I was at that point. And then my mind starts going, could he have just started closer to the story. Without the setup. I mean, it works perfectly well, clearly, maybe I've just gotten to become two story brains. And I always think that the if you can make the story, the start the story is the best start because it just poses writing, but with other setup Well, and


Devin Marks 21:31

again, he was he was balancing the confidentiality of stories. And the reality that there's a story of the research project itself, which has extended 75 years, and one is the longest running in the history of medicine. But then that phrase, I can still hear it, I bet you can too. And he says, and we did just that. And that's where that transition takes place. And then he shares the context of the studies sample, Harvard men, Boston toughies, who Ray were raised in the tenements and whatnot, and contrasting that, and people, you can just feel the room lean in, in that moment.


Francisco Mahfuz 22:08

This is something I I really missed from, from doing more things live, because we've been doing everything remotely for quite a while now. And last week, last week was the first, the first kind of corporate training have done in I think, 18 months where I was alive in an actual room with actual people. And the leaning in line is is the first thing that comes to mind. Because I tell stories all through my training. And I do that as proof of concept, right? When I start telling them that they need to tell just like I've already told you about eight stories in the two hours we've been here in no one minds is that and usually the moment you start with a story, you can kind of get just as a tiny movement on the chair that you don't really get online. But yeah, it makes a massive difference. And I say them just pay attention the moment you start, you see people's face changes lightly. You know, the body movement changes, but you don't get that online. I mean, a lot of this things we're doing, you don't even see faces when you're doing it.


Devin Marks 23:10

Well, we're human beings and not digital beings. So there's a part of me that just cannot wait to be in a live event again, but I know it's going to be a while


Francisco Mahfuz 23:20

it's coming back. But but it's coming back in very different ways than then it was I mean, in Spain we are we seem to have crossed the Rubicon, so to speak. And you can do things where people say, you know, everybody's vaccinated, everybody knows sometimes you take a test before and then you do a week long training in a room with people and you know, whoever speaking doesn't have a mask on so it's good enough for now. I guess there's only so much looking at, at a tiny.on my, on my computer that I want to be doing that throughout my day. But anyway, we get slightly sidetracked there is something that is really talked about a story being challenged, shaped. But when it comes to using stories on TED, so we were talking about this one specific talk and why in this particular case, it didn't make sense to to use the more traditional types of stories but with other people that you've that you've worked with, what would you say is the typical mistake, if there is one that people make when they're trying to use stories in their talks,


Devin Marks 24:23

we're trying to remember who said this in an interview whether it was your show or someone else's, but this is a journey insight and it's something along the lines of everyone thinks they can tell the story, but they can't. There's an art and a skill and it it's a discipline. I'm butchering his quote, but the reality is good storytelling is terribly uncommon and takes a lot of skill that Scottie Pippen ability but also his work ethic. So the Wilmore in Kentucky here the Wilmore story festival just wrapped up a few weeks ago and some TEDsters came in. And there's kind of an Appalachian tradition and in theme to the event, and they were riveting story tellers, but they've been working on that craft for 3040 50 years. So stories not easy. That's that's number one. I think also, one of the reasons my team distinguished itself early on was we lean so heavily into the rehearsal mindset that was open source focus, grouping feedback loops. Dr. Ballinger rehearsed that talk upwards of 75 times Now when I say rehearsed, that's not in front of a mirror in his office, that's with you on zoom right now or me in a room alone or a classroom or his wife or his barista, or his research team. And it just went on and on and on. And what he was doing was trying out different approaches, and even forms of of story. We were really fortunate to be able to do a dry run or rehearsal run in Concord, Massachusetts in the back den of Doris Kearns Goodwin and Dick her husband. They hosted us for a rehearsal run through of his speech, and then Doris and Dixon, Joe Kearns Goodwin, who was giving a TEDx talk, the feedback loop there was unique and potent. I mean, how many times do you have Dick Goodwin who wrote speeches for JFK? And LBJ able to give you a feedback on your message much or Doris doing her thing, but here's the reality. They were one of how many rehearsals that fed feed back to Dr. Walden, GER, and team and we sifted and sorted and frankly, their insights that while it stands out of my memory was not any more valuable than that barista that Dr. Walden just saw every day, and who listened to the talking gave some feedback, because what you need in prepping a TED message is a plurality of input for we're trying to reach a general audience, not a bunch of presidential historians and speech writers, for example, those stories that go through that fulcrum tender produce.


Francisco Mahfuz 27:08

Yeah, it's the rehearsal is one that I think it's one of the biggest surprises and unfortunate or a miserable surprise. A lot of people that get in anywhere near the higher level speaking, is they just don't grasp how much goes into this things. There was a great blog from I think it's Tim urban, I think is his name, who wrote the he has a TED talk, which is also in the top 10, which is called inside the mind of a master procrastinator. I think it's, yeah, it was a great talk really funny.


Devin Marks 27:44

Yes, that talk actually, you know, inside baseball, that talk is the one talk that leapt past Dr. Walden Jers talk and became the most potently viral. Now, Walden Jers was the most potently fast moving talk in the history of Ted at the time. But the procrastination talk chased him down.


Francisco Mahfuz 28:03

I watched that talk, not having any context on him. And as soon as he started with his lines, and the really crappy drawings, I was like, What is this guy doing? Why has he got this crappy drawings of his lives? And then, you know, later I found out that that's his thing, right? That's he draws this terrible drawings as part of his thing. But the reason I'm mentioning him is he has this he has a blog about the experience of participating as a TED speaker. And he has this amazing line that he says, I always wanted to have given a TED talk this, the more I started preparing for it, the more realised that I wanted to have given one not to give one. And he said that he decided early on that there were three approaches you could take one of them was to wing it, which he didn't think was a particularly great idea


Devin Marks 28:54

work for Ken Robinson, but he's a rare bird.


Francisco Mahfuz 28:57

I don't know if that's actually true about Mr. Ken Robinson. I mean, you probably know this better than I do. But I had heard that He has given a version of that talk, or, you know, sections of the talk for


Devin Marks 29:10

years for years, decades, decades. Yeah.


Francisco Mahfuz 29:14

So he might have just cobbled everything together. And clearly he's playing the room, and he's ad libbing. But what I heard is that, you know, 70 80% of that talk, existed already and had been rehearsed to death, or at least done to death.


Devin Marks 29:27

And ironically, that breaks at 1010 commandment of best practice, which is don't roll out your usual stick. Well, Ted was so new in to the wider population back then that the rules weren't really the rules were being developed as Ted moved into from 2006 into 2009 when TEDx events started rolling out, and so the formalisation of some of these rules came later. But it's not like Well, Dr. Wallander hadn't given you know, a summary of those findings before he did it two or three times a year. For the Alumni Office whenever folks gathered,


Francisco Mahfuz 30:02

yeah, so So just to finish the point on Tim urban head said, either I wing it, which doesn't sound like a good idea. I rehearse enough that I know where I'm going. And I have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing. But I know I haven't memorised that code. And then he he says that he figured out early on, that just doesn't work. Because you you sound half rehearsed. But then if you lose your way, it's really hard to get back on it. So he says, you know, the only option was learning to code, you know, learn it, like you can do it in the shower, you can do it while doing the dishes word for word until the tech, there's no way you could possibly forget what comes next. And some people, some people really push back on that. Some people really push back on that approach.


Devin Marks 30:45

It's a Boston marathon training regimen, not a run across campus with your fraternity brothers, and too many people saying, Hey, I know how to run and I've been running for years, I got that. And sadly, those are the TEDx talks that just languish away with 1400 views. And it's a great idea. And it had potential, but it was a flat delivery, we push our clients or push up the Mount Everest of the talk with clients for a delivery that's akin to Cirque du Soleil, so scripted, but so ingrained, and a part of the dance and expression of joy. All of that is because the performer knows the performance so well, they can respond to the audience and play with them. And that's where the best TED speakers land in Sir Ken Robinson is a great example. But there are many, many others in the top 100 that have really knocked it out of the park


Francisco Mahfuz 31:38

experience I've had giving talks where where I was so rehearsed that I knew I knew the thing word for word and had done it 1520 25 times for you know, a seven minute speech that didn't have necessarily the highest of stakes was it was really strange. But I would be on stage, and I'm doing the talk and I'm doing all the things that I'm meant to be doing. And then a particular section would lend better than I expected. And then I would think, okay, they like this, how can I play this up a little. And then I would kind of see Lego pieces from the talk would move in my head and I'd go okay, what if I move this two lines earlier? And then I'd readjust. So it was really strange. Like I was doing this on the fly, I'm just delivering my talk. And I'm like, Okay, I'm gonna move this line two lines earlier, see how that works out. And if not, I'll just flip back into it. It took a lot of effort to get to any point where that was, was even a possibility. And interestingly, the more I leaned into stories, the more I relax the approach, in that I still rehearse, rehearse a lot, but I don't rehearse off the page. I rehearse it, and when I realise Okay, the language here is just not tight enough, I need to tighten the language to get a few lines memorised and then move on. But the stories I think, once I tell them two or three times, they just end up coming out almost exactly the same every time. The rest, sometimes I'll tighten the language or memorise it, but I tend to find that if I'm doing an hour long keynote, memorising it word for word. In the beginning, it just takes so much mental energy that sometimes is just not practical.


Devin Marks 33:22

Well, when I learned that over time, the hard way sometimes my trajectory was seminary deconstruct Ted land on a behind the velvet curtain of a TED style conference of faith at work summit in Boston. And, and they, you know, these theologians want to deliver in the TED style that went well, they all leaned in and really overperformed but then I stepped to a TEDx event in Boston, which was where I met, you know, Dr. Walden ger. And then from there TEDx event, TED event, Ted style event. And what I, what I realised was my client base was limited because all I was doing was climbing Mount Everest with them. I wasn't preparing speakers for a non Ted context. And over time, I began to understand there's the full monty Ted effect. But what can we strip out of those seven differentiators that make for a TED Talk and apply in a non Ted context for an elevator pitch for a venture capital pitch for a 40 minute keynote? And memorization word for word is not one of those things. Where this really came to a point was when we launched the preach like Ted content, and pastors have to, you know, bang out a sermon every week 52 sermons. And that's that level of memorization and Cirque du Soleil performance is not possible. But what you were describing is, especially if they begin with a clearly focused story wrapped an action igniting framework, one point


Francisco Mahfuz 34:54

of your framework that I've seen you talk about and we haven't really touched on it here, which is sort of the 139 Right, so one big idea, three key points. And then this line, which hasn't come up yet today, which is nine action items, or fewer. Now, what do you what do you define as an action item?


Devin Marks 35:12

Well, again, a suggestion in the direction of saving the whales, right or cleaning the ocean. So a repeatable habit that is doable within days of hearing that message. And, you know, you saw that in Dr. Walden Jers, six suggestions, 139136. You know, I'm, I'll stick with the nine because I'm sure I set it somewhere, but six is what we've been rolling with in recent months. And that's plenty. Six is too many, you know, sometimes,


Francisco Mahfuz 35:44

so either. For me, it was almost always one, you know, if one does the job and one is something everybody can do, I tend to prefer the one because then, you know, as I have, I have a good friend who's a great speaker, trainer, and he always says, give people no options. Like no, you decide what's best, you give them the word option that you know is best, but also know there's the power of three, and there's a nice symmetry symmetry to three. So I think the casual call to action, like wild injures call to actions, the three is a perfect number for that. But you know, I think well, but he was just doing two types of the same kind in a way. So he was talking about, you know, you know, I think was, go for it, go for a walk or go on a date. And it was just a couple of couple of options for the same type of thing. So those those were fine with it, I think, I think it's one goes all the way to nine, there's a pretty good chance you sometimes overwhelm people with with choice?


Devin Marks 36:48

No, yeah, I would, I would say so. These days, I'm using an image that is with a partner, we're working on a curriculum for engineering students, and the message temple, you know, the the roof is one big idea, the three columns, and six steps leading in and out of the temple with two doors, you know, story and story out that, you know, it's our frameworks, our models, our approaches coming on side clients, I would hazard are a lot like TED talks in rehearsal mode, you know, always iteratively getting better refining, seeing what works, shifting over two, two minutes later a sentence. And same thing for these frameworks. And that I'm always looking for the image set that clicks for the client for a number of years. In fact, we still do, it's in the recordings of my short talk training, we use the highway metaphor, which I was gifted by one of my clients who was an engineer, and he said, I think what you're able to do, as you move through those three key points in a message is picture an exit ramp. And as you exit, you're going to see signage, slow down 20 miles an hour, 15 miles an hour merge to the left, these signs are intentional. And they signal to the audience that you're transitioning from Key Point One to Key Point Two. And then the same exit sequence happens Key Point Two to Key Point Three. And again, that rhythm repeats Key Point Three to conclusion. Well, I mean, that was a suggestion on the back of a paper napkin. As he wrapped up his talk, he handed it to me and he forgot about it. I had the joy of reconnecting with him a few weeks ago. And we were chuckling over how significant that little napkin was that he handed me because I then took that imagery set and said, Well, what are we doing on the highway route, there are billboards that distract us, we want to remove those billboards from the script, there are disconnects are logical connections that you the expert, make and assume everyone makes with you, but they don't. Those are, those are potholes, acronyms or, you know, corporate speak that the audience doesn't understand. There are speed bumps, that shocking information that, you know, may make the argument but distracts the audience and they start rabbit trail, there's Road Rash on the side, there's you know, so these these image sets I've found useful to experiment with and bring to clients over the years, and now are making their way into a book on story and talk. But that's next year sometime.


Francisco Mahfuz 39:21

So when it comes to, to using stories in talks in general, but let's just think about tad length talks, because if you go too far, if we make them too much, too much larger than that they're too much bigger than that then just throws the throws the analysis out a little bit. Did you find that there was anything close to the perfect number of stories to have in a talk or the perfect length of a story for a talk or every single talk is pardon the pun, a different story?


Devin Marks 39:48

I think everybody's message and idea and style and ability that that all varies. So a formula template is is not the approach that plays well. And it TED or TEDx context, but there are patterns. And there there is that initial outline that I was just describing big idea, key points excerpt, that tends to be very useful, because it forces a client to shed a lot of content that they really want to introduce in their message. And once we've distilled the message down to one idea, three key points and whatnot and stories, then we start to roll out and test and see what works or doesn't. And those stories swap and swap out sometimes, you know, if you're taking that classic Carmine Gallo approach, which is the big idea, three points in it, it still works. And you can have an opening story, a closing story, a key point one a key point to story, a key point three story, there's five stories there. That's pretty saturated message. Now, is it? Are those five little stories part of a larger narrative? Or are they independent examples? And, you know, that's, that's where the length of the talk often drives the number of stories, Ted Talks, were 21 minutes or 18 minutes or 12 minutes, seven minutes, you know, the thresholds keeps getting


Francisco Mahfuz 41:09

tighter, have they have they officially reduced them to 12 minutes now? Well, I


Devin Marks 41:13

mean, you're seeing the more successful talks spinning into the 1011 minutes people's attention spans are challenged.


Francisco Mahfuz 41:19

Yes, it's an ongoing challenge for sure. I was going to take a turn, which is what I was gonna ask you something that I know apart from the rehearsals I haven't seen, you haven't heard you talk about in any great extent. And this is something that, that comes up often when I'm talking to people when I'm when I'm teaching them stories and things of that nature, which is this, a lot of speaker training is very delivery focused. And those are some very easy things to improve people on. That's perhaps one of the reasons why it's so delivery focused. And what what I usually do when I'm training, when you're training a group is our ask them feedback, a lot of that feedback in the beginning is going to be very much about delivery, because they can give that that feedback easily enough. But then as soon as the content gets better, particularly as they start sharing stories, and the stories are more meaningful, I almost always ask them, Did you pay? Like, how much attention? Did you really pay to the delivery? Like, can you tell me what they were doing with their feet? Like, did you pay any attention to their hands? And people say, No, not really, I was I was just paying attention to the story. I just like I wasn't, I don't even know what they were doing. So so my question to you is, apart from knowing your content back to front, through all the rehearsals, how much focus Do you usually put into more classical delivery techniques? You know, the vocal variety in the stage movement, whatever, later, you're allowed on a TED stage, hand gestures and things of that nature?


Devin Marks 42:54

Sure. In Francisco, great question. It's driven by the bandwidth of the speaker, the buy in of the speaker, the bench strength of the speaker. And we'll just stop there, because it's the rule of three, right? But there, you know, these are factors that with every client, sometimes I've given a slate of 30 speakers to work with, for a conference engineering conference, right? Sometimes I'm coming alongside one executive who's going to be delivering a commencement speech, for example, the CEO of Christianity Today, back in May gave a talk. And we were prepping in the same way that we would at TED message, but there were 30 days, right? A TED talk really takes 90 days plus to really prep and we move through four movements. One of those is rehearsals, but that first movement is idea to outline is this a TED worthy idea and have we put it through what I call the idea milling process is a six step test. Phase two is outline to script, we actually begin scripting, but it's not open up Microsoft Word, it was a dark and stormy night, key point 123 Call to Action. We begin actually, it's counterintuitive. But I always begin with my speakers and scripting in the middle in defining what key point one, two and three, four, they really needed that content, because here's what too often, especially experienced speakers do. They open up PowerPoint, and they nail the opening, because you got to hook them got it. And then they coast through the slides, which are crutches and reminders. And then they really bring it home and bring people to their feet for the conclusion. And then whether this is a 40 Minute or a seven minute, it doesn't matter, an all hands meeting, coasting through the middle saps the energy, the momentum, the potential of that message. And so we begin scripting in the middle of the talk, then we worry about what the opening is going to be or the close is going to be and we start story shifting to ensure that really the message wrapped in story, and that, that takes a good half sometimes of the engagement, then it's rehearsals. And then finally, you know, script rehearsal rehearsal to stage in that final module. And not all clients engage my team to to that level. But you get into the on stage, live event context. And sure, we're wondering where the hands are, what their little tick is, but if they know their idea, and their message and their stories well enough, all of the gestures and you know, staging and blocking, this is really immaterial, unless there's something distracting, I think, an artfully delivered message is going to carry the audience. And what I do with my hands really isn't going to matter too much. Somebody I really admire in this space is Tim Pollard, he speaks quite strongly about the silliness of worrying where your your jigglin you know, keys in your pocket are not the pre scripted gestures, I want your personality, I want your personality to come through and speak to me, because it's your energy and personal charisma or excitement for the topic, for example, right?


Francisco Mahfuz 46:12

I would argue that jingling keys would be a bad idea.


Devin Marks 46:17

Yeah, sure. You know, I mean, so So is the thoughtful pose, you know, and protect your belly, you know, hand motions there. There's some things that people do that you want to eliminate over time. And so what I often do is, if I'm coming be pre COVID. If I'm coming alongside a speaker for the full service level, we're flying in four days before the event. Now, why the hell are you showing up four days before the event? Well, it's because if there's a flight delay, I want it to impact me, not my client. So I built in time to get there early to walk through the venue before it's even being set to get to know the hotel and the space and the access points that are probably not going to be watched. So we can have the client on stage rehearsing zero to 18 minutes, zero to 18 minutes, zero to 18 minutes as they're setting up pipe and drape. Now, is that legal? Is that something that ensures really like, well, you know, it's amazing what a gift to a stagehand will do to make that possible, and what it does for the speaker, because they truly own the room in that context, as it's built around them. Well, that's when we can start playing with some of these other things. But by then we're, we've highlighted in the rehearsal process, because we've seen video we we've had zoom, we've maybe been with them in person, there's a there's a point where we transition into that fourth movement, which is stagecraft, where I will watch the best recording we have of a client, and I watch it four times, what the hell is that about? Right? First time, I'm just taking it in on a, you know, just ride it like an audience member. Next time, it's audio only, no video, next time in, that's when I start making notes. The first time I'm not making notes and critiques or anything, the next time it's visual, only now I don't watch 18 minutes of a silent talk, but enough at key transition points to see some patterns. And then you know, that final time is usually with the client. And we begin touching on some peculiar habits and we all have them that we're kind of blind on that might be useful to begin dumbing down.


Francisco Mahfuz 48:23

I don't know I get myself to the meeting these things, but like many people that train and stuff you find your funny names for the for the gestures, right? So you know, everybody talks about the priest and you talk about you know, the Mirko there is a Dr. Evil, there's all sorts of things. And I you know, there's one that I called the the tourist in Barcelona, which is when you protecting your pockets, your hands flat against your pockets, there was this gesture that I caught myself doing. It was just like this sort of inspired, like hands cupped holding something that seems very Cohen and because I was trying to get myself off of that gesture, I named it the Bose testicles, because it was such a horrible imagery that that every time I caught myself doing I was like, why don't I do this anymore. But then I had a student of geez, this gets worse. It gets worse. I had a student a few weeks ago, and in one of his hands was just like a perfectly expressive ham. They just did all the things that our hand is meant to be doing. The other hand, was not only cupping, something's very cool, but caressing it, fingers moving up and down in affectionate movements. I said to him, I said, Don't take this the wrong way. But why are you caressing a bull's testicle while you speak? And I think he was so horrified that it reduced instantly how much he was doing it. I think if he gets reminded two or three more times, it will disappear. Very clever.


Devin Marks 49:56

Very clever. Very effective, I


Francisco Mahfuz 49:57

bet but but yeah, and I like to I like to highlight how you've elegantly described how you bribe your way onto the stage. It is great, but it just flew under the just elbows for the right notice there. It's one of the most common things you hear speakers say is, you absolutely want to be the nicest you possibly can. And that includes gifts to the AV AV people, like you're doing a conference you want those people to love you


Devin Marks 50:29

Sure, sure. Doesn't always work. But no, you know, it's, it's, it's really important. I mean, camera one, camera three, those people need to know you they need to have seen you rehearsing, pouring yourself into it heard your story interacted with you or me or my team such that, you know, the special attention is there. Otherwise they're, you know, texting during the filming. But in any case, in any case, it's I look forward to being able to make gratuities possible again in person. But I mean, Francisco one of the big benefits, I guess, of this horrific, you know, season we've made our way through in our own contexts is not only to my clients now all know how to use them functionally. But I, I had the realisation that what I was doing in prepping 10 speakers didn't apply to all communications platforms, except in a distilled version. And that was the clearly focused story wrapped action igniting stuff because what is a TED Talk? It's not a talk in a room in front of a live audience that makes it spread. It's the views. And so what is it distinct about the TED style of video in the speaker prep that makes connection happen on screen? And that's when lights went off. And I was like, oh, and connect to compel was the virtual training for communicators that, you know, still, is, is ticking along, because we need that screen connection and in person but screen and we need to compel the audience to take action. And as we've discussed, the easier the action is to take more likely they're going to take a step.


Francisco Mahfuz 52:02

Yeah. And this is, and this is a point that perhaps I could have made right at the beginning. Although to be fair, anyone listening to this podcast doesn't need to be told this point, which is that the reason why anyone would listen to two people debating what makes a great TED talk, and how do you do that? And how do you start how this is not because you are going to do a TED Talk. Now that could be the case. But for the vast majority of people, that is not going to be the case. But the reason why that is relevant is because if he works for a presentation on the TED stage, there is little to no reason that he shouldn't work on a presentation on the company stage or any other presentation that you have.


Devin Marks 52:48

Take that hug Yeah, high five yet and then take it to another level. I would argue that because of 6 billion collective views of TED talks, actually, it's probably closer to seven now an entire generation I call the TED Talk generation has been educated to expect Sir Ken Robinson, Dr. Walden Jers, Simon Sinek Brene Brown in their Sunday sermon, in their keynote, in executive all hands briefing in the sales pitch something, you know, that was a great message. But you know, I watched Brene Brown last night and it wasn't quite as moving. Right? Well, I mean, that's a horribly unfair expectation level, but it is a reality. And there are some tools in the TED toolbox that definitely apply to those other contexts, and can redefine for this generation, what effective communication is


Francisco Mahfuz 53:37

yes, and I think that's a good as good point as any we're going to find to finish on. So if people want to find out more about the stuff you're doing and all the different programmes you have, is Hutchinson marks.com. The best place for them to go to


Devin Marks 53:52

I think connect to compel.com would be the most immediate access point, connected compelled calm and Hutchinson marks is more that bespoke, you know, CEO, Executive Team communications side of things, but I'm looking forward to dialoguing with you more, learning more from your audience. As you know, folks reach out and please do Devon de vi n at connect to compel.com or reach me and look forward to learning more about your story.


Francisco Mahfuz 54:23

I'll add all that stuff in the show notes. And it's taken us a while. I'm glad we finally did as


Devin Marks 54:28

well. Thank you for your patience, your grace and your sense of humour.


Francisco Mahfuz 54:32

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



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