Storytelling Wins: Tell stories of hardship if you want to win over your audiences

18 May 2016 -


Bestselling author Carmine Gallo told guests at the latest CMI/GoToMeeting webinar to tell inspirational stories if they want to win over their audience

Matt Scott

You may not think that your story is the most exciting, but sometimes the most unpromising raw material can be turned into great stories that inspire, motivate and stick in the mind of your customers or markets.

Carmine Gallo, bestselling author of The Storyteller’s Secret and Talk Like TED, believes that rags-to-riches tales and stories of underdogs overcoming adversity can often have the greatest impact.

“Embrace those stories of hardship and struggles, especially if you have learned something,” he said. “Because it is a part of nature, and we want to hear the stories of people who have gone through hardships before and come out the other side successfully. We are hardwired to find meaning in struggle.

“If you don’t have those types of stories of hardship and failure, triumph over tragedy, that’s ok. The point is to use the tools of narrative to bring ideas to life.”

In special research conducted during the CMI/GoToMeeting webinar, 67% of delegates said that they would be prepared to share a personal story of failure or hardship in a business presentation. This is perhaps a surprising result given the natural diffidence of the British.

Watch the webinar

Storytellers, however, must make sure they don’t exaggerate or make up the details of their story, because it is all too easy for this to lead to mistrust and make the audience feel uncomfortable and withdraw from your story.

He cited the story of US TV anchor Brian Williams who told a story on-air about being hit by enemy fire while in a military helicopter during the Iraq war, and who then suffered a huge backlash when it turned out the story wasn’t true.

“You have to be very careful with embellishing stories, because as soon as someone finds out the truth you lose trust,” said Gallo. “Don’t embellish, but leave out the parts that aren’t pertinent. It is important to practise how you are going to tell a story that is short, concise and leaves out the parts that aren’t central to the story”

The key thing is to demonstrate that your success didn’t come easily, but has been the result of hard work, relentless focus on what the market needs and an ongoing dedication to your customers. That is when you will have the audience in the palm of your hand.

Many well-known business leaders and entrepreneurs have used this technique to win over their markets.

James Dyson, for example, has spoken and written at length about his early struggles in designing, developing and protecting his bag-less vacuum cleaner, in the face of vicious competition from the big white goods companies. Those stories are now part of the Dyson folklore, and the company to this day has the aura of the brave, feisty upstart.

Gallo was insistent that managers of all levels can use these techniques, too. The secret is to be yourself, to be authentic. He referenced TED Talks founder Chris Anderson who advises people in his new book to admit that they’re nervous in a pitch or presentation.

We are all storytellers

While the prospect of public speaking and sharing personal stories may scare many managers, Gallo insists that with the right thought and preparation, everyone can tell a story that is inspiring and motivating – even if nerves do play a part in the process.

“The world’s most inspiring communicators, at one point, thought of themselves as terrible communicators and terrible story tellers,” he said. The likes of Richard Branson and Bill Gates never thought of themselves as naturals, but learned through sheer persistence and practice.

“It is natural to be nervous because we are social creatures and want to be accepted by the group, so it is ok to be nervous about public speaking.”

“But we are all storytellers at heart, and we are all storytellers by nature,” he added.

The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t was published in February 2016

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