The Secrets of Storytelling: An Interview with Author Carmine Gallo

The ability to create and tell powerful stories is by far the most important skill of a leader because it can change minds, spark action, and stir passion. Lisa B, Marshall interviews best selling author Carmine Gallo about his latest book: The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #338

Bestselling author Carmine Gallo says a "well-told story hits you like a punch to the gut; it triggers a light bulb moment…” 

I couldn’t agree more! In his latest book, The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t, Gallo reveals secrets to telling powerful, inspiring, and game-changing stories. 

As you might expect, Gallo demonstrates the power of story in every chapter by starting with an engaging or inspiring story from a notable leaders such as Steve Jobs, Tony Robbins, Sara Blakely, and Joel Osteen. By the way, each of these leaders cite storytelling as a crucial ingredient for success. Then, after each story, he highlights the specific tools and evidence-based techniques used so that you can master brilliant storytelling too! The ultra-practical part of me likes that he concludes each chapter with just one or two sentences which condenses into the “The Storyteller’s Secret."

If you want to sell, educate, fundraise, or entertain, you should be relying on the power of storytelling. Simply put, when it comes to influence, telling a great story is a your most valuable asset and that’s why I decided to invite Carmine Gallo to talk about his book:

Lisa:  Hi Carmine, welcome to the show.  You start the book by telling us that inspiring storytellers are very clear on the passion that drives them, and it’s important to enthusiastically share that passion.  In fact, you suggest that we should ask ourselves, “What makes my heart sing?” because the answer to that question is the foundation for building great stories.  So the most obvious first question is…what makes your heart sing? 

Carmine: You might say I’m ‘obsessed’ with ideas. I want to help people in all walks of life communicate their ideas to grow careers, build brands, sell products and change the world. 

Lisa: Well, of course your book resonated with me because I know first hand just how powerful stories can be, but I have found that many people, particular people technical leaders, are extremely “story resistant”. Let me give you an example…just last week I had a client say to me, “Lisa, my strength is in presenting facts and figures…I’m not a strong storyteller and it’s definitely outside of my comfort zone.  As a senior executive shouldn’t I just stick with my strengths?”  Carmine, how would you have responded to her? 

Carmine:  Your competitors would love nothing more than for you to stick with facts and figures. Facts don’t trigger movements; stories do. For example, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg launched LeanIn only after her TED talk on the topic of women in the workplace went viral. Sandberg acknowledged that her original talk was ‘chock-full of facts and figures’ and no personal stories. A friend convinced Sandberg to be more authentic and to open up her heart. She did so, revealing her own challenge with being a working mother. The story made the talk viral, which launched a movement.

Lisa: So can tell us why?  Tell us about one of the most compelling recent research that explains why stories are important for leadership and influence.  

Carmine: Dr. Paul Zak has discovered that the brain releases a molecule called oxytocin. He calls it the moral molecule because it causes us to be empathetic with another person. His research has found that emotional stories trigger a release of oxytocin, making it more likely that a person will want to give money to a charity or buy into an idea. 

Lisa: So stories are powerful, but often when people try to tell stories what they really ending up sharing is an anecdote. Can tell us the difference between an anecdote and a story

Carmine: An anecdote is a short account of an incident: “The subway was packed on the way here. You should have been me. My face was shoved up against the glass door. It was ridiculous.” A story has characters, a backstory, triumph and struggle. For example, “A boy from the wrong side of the tracks meets a girl from high society. Despite their differences they fall in love. The girl’s mother does everything she can to stop them, but nothing does—not even when the ship they’re on hits an iceberg. The ship sinks, the boy dies in the icy water, but the girl never forgets the boy who saved her in every way. She goes on to live a long life and the boy always lives in her memory.” The movie Titanic tells an epic story. It’s not an anecdote.  

Lisa: In the book you talk about different types of storyteller leaders e.g. those that educate, motivate, simplify --of all the people you profiled in the book whose story was most surprising? 

Carmine: Richard Branson taught me the most. He takes storytelling very seriously. He said that entrepreneurs cannot be successful unless they’re good storytellers. “Storytelling is the best way we have of coming up with new ideas,” Branson says. At his home on Necker Island Branson commissioned a local artist to build a gorgeous fire pit so he and his team can literally sit around a campfire to share stories.

Lisa: In the book you identify 21 story teller secrets. We don't have time to cover them all. So if you had to pick just three tips that would have the most immediate impact for someone just starting to focus on storytelling which would you choose and why?

Carmine:  First, stick to the rule of three. It simply means that in short term memory we can only remember three points. If you have a product to pitch, tell me three ways it will improve my life—not twenty reasons. Second, always have a villain and a hero. The villain can be a problem in need of a solution. The hero is you, your experience, or your product. And third, if you give presentations use more pictures than words. Text on a slide detracts from the story you’re telling. Show more pictures than words

Lisa: Finally, in your experience which secret do think is the most difficult to achieve? What steps can be taken to develop that skill?

Carmine: It’s hard for people to tell personal stories. They feel as though they’re lowering a shield and exposing a vulnerability. And yet, think about the leaders who are open about their struggles: Richard Branson had dyslexia, Howard Schultz grew up in the projects, Barbara Corcoran was fired from twenty jobs and worked as a waitress, television producer Mark Burnett came to America with $200 in his pocket. His first job was a nanny. Struggle develops character. Share it.

Lisa:  Thanks Carmine for writing this book and for helping us unlock the irresistible power of story. His book, The Storyteller's Secret, is available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Booksamillion, and Apple

Carmine:  Thanks for inviting me.  

This is Lisa B. Marshall moving you from mediocre to memorable, from information to influence, and from worker to leader! I invite you to read my best-selling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview, listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk, and invest in your professional development via my online courses Powerful Presenter, Expert Presenter, or Influence: Maximize Your Impact.   

As always your success is my business

You can also listen to an audiobook excerpt here (available on Audible, Amazon, or Nook):

About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.