How can we use story in our marketing strategy and drive more business?
Storytelling is a skill just like anything else. All it takes to write a mesmerizing story is knowing the key elements of great storytelling and practice.
In this episode, we’re joined by master storyteller Michael Hauge. He’s an author and story expert who has coached on countless Hollywood movie scripts since 1985. Tune in to learn how you can apply Michael’s 6-step storytelling formula to your own business.
Listen to this Episode:
- The reason why storytelling is valuable for marketers
- Why the storytelling process starts with your end result
- Michael’s favorite marketing story (and what made it powerful)
- How to find a protagonist your audience empathizes with
- Why the hero in every story must endure a crisis
- The goal of story obstacles and how to create meaningful conflict
- What your ideal aftermath is with persuasive storytelling
- How to use dialogue to transport your audience with story
- Storytelling Made Easy by Michael Hauge
- Michael Hauge’s 6-Step Success Stories
- Tiny Little Businesses
- The King’s Speech
- DotCom Secrets by Russell Brunson
- Expert Secrets by Russell Brunson
- Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour! Welcome to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com. The marketing podcast for marketers, founders, and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.
In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the six-step process to tell compelling stories, so you can change more lives and make more money. My guest today is someone I had the chance, I would even say the luxury to work closely with recently. I believe he’s probably the best storyteller out there.
He’s a consultant, and he’s been one of Hollywood’s top coaches and story experts since 1985. He has worked with countless screenwriters, novelists, and filmmakers. He has consulted on projects starring Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, and Reese Witherspoon. He’s kind of a big deal.
I’m super excited to have you on board, Michael. Michael Hauge, welcome aboard. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Michael: Merci, merci. There I answered in French, pretty much as much I remember from senior year high school French. My name is Hauge, by the way, it’s pronounced “Hague”.
Louis: Oh, sorry.
Michael: No, no.
Louis: I mispronounced your name for the last year and a half.
Michael: Yeah, that’s okay, because the way you pronounced it is correct Norwegian which is what it should be.
Louis: Ah, there you go.
Michael: But it got switched to confuse people. But now it’s Hauge in America anyway. Great to be here, or good to see you again. We’ve had fun working together in the past, so I’m looking forward to this.
Louis: Usually, I dive into the step-by-step process right away and I try to squeeze everything you have for the audience to listen to. But maybe this is something I want to make sure that people understand the previous relationship we have.
As people know, if you’re listening to this podcast for a while, you know I also work full-time for Hotjar. Part of the process, recently on a project I was involved in, was to have Michael on board to extract stories that we could tell people. That was one of the most successful projects I’ve ever done. A project I am super proud of still today. That was down to you, Michael, so I wanted to thank you again for your contribution to this.
Michael: You’re welcome. Thanks for saying so. That was just cool. My measure of sort of everything, I mean I’m glad it was a success but was it fun? I think work should be fun. You should be doing something you love and are passionate about.
There’s a real connection both with the person you’re working with, as I feel like we had, and then being able to connect with those who are the recipients of the story, and the project and so on. I say that fills the bill, so I enjoyed that.
Louis: Let’s try to go through such process together, the storytelling process that you’ve developed so that people listening to this podcast can take it away and do it themselves, and so that they can feel a similar thing that I felt when the story we came up with was identified.
Before going into this six-step process for storytelling and to tell compelling stories, why do you think storytelling is important for marketers?
Michael: I think the number one reason in my mind is because stories elicit emotion. Ultimately, when people decide to take some action, the decision is based on emotion. It may be backed up with data or a lot of reasoning or thought or whatever the source of the information is. But, ultimately, we go in the direction we feel positive about.
Let’s say you’re a marketer–or anyone communicating–but let’s say you want to persuade someone to buy a product, to join a subscription site. Maybe you’re just wanting to inspire people to change their lives or follow some philosophy.
Right now, one of the goals you have with this is to move people away from using, in your words, the sleazy, sort of shady techniques. Or I assume even beyond that, maybe just the slick, get-rich-quick techniques and use stronger methods of communicating with people and supporting them in what you do.
If that’s your goal, to change people’s behavior in any way, you need to get them to feel. The most powerful tool for getting people to feel something, the most powerful tool for persuading them to take action is going to be storytelling.
My background, as you said, and my point of view towards story is all built on my experience in Hollywood and, before that, my experience loving movies since I was about five years old. The thing Hollywood knows better than any other institution or group in the world is how to create emotion for an audience.
I think the total, I always lose sight of the total, but I think we’re talking about $300 billion. Something like that, if you take all of the film and entertainment varieties that Hollywood generates in world revenue. It doesn’t matter. It’s a lot.
The reason they’re good at that is, because they have learned and have known for more than a century that the thing that gets people, gets butts in seats, or the thing that gets people to stop flipping and watch your channel or your program on television or your streaming story is that you’re telling a good, powerful story.
If you can do that if you can get people to feel, they feel a greater connection, they feel a better sense of trust, and you’re actually giving them the emotional experience of taking the action you want them to take. Because you’re going to tell a story about someone who has followed that journey. Because they empathize with the hero of that story, they feel like they’re taking the journey.
Instead of using facts to persuade them to follow your direction, you’re actually letting them do it. Subconsciously, they’re the ones who are working with you if you try and get them to hire you as a coach. They’re the ones who are using the product you’re trying to sell. They win because the hero of the story you’re telling is going to win doing that.
Louis: But the burning question I always have about storytelling, because it is such a powerful thing that works, that just works as you said. Hollywood are storytellers. This is what they do. They’re not making movies.
They’re trying to get emotions out of people whether it’s sadness, happiness, etc. Do you know why intrinsically in our DNA as human beings, do you know why stories, the format of telling stories is such a powerful emotional mechanism?
Michael: Well, I don’t know if scientifically I can say exactly why. I know that scientifically it’s been proven that that is the deepest way to reach someone’s subconscious to get them to make decision. I think that part of it is from the beginning of mankind, from caveman days when they started telling stories, it was a way to impart information. It was the way to give people experiences and feel the feelings that go with them without actually having to have them.
Let’s say that a caveman discovered that you want to stay away. They survived an attack by a mastodon or whatever it would be. If they tell a story about that they can instill that fear and teach others that this is something to avoid.
That expanded then to become a way to experience more of life and humanity without direct involvement in doing that. We’re hardwired to respond to stories in that way over evolution or over civilization, that’s just become an ingrained part of our consciousness or our subconscious.
I don’t know if that answers your question, but I think it goes that deeply. That it’s just a way of connection that goes beyond what you can do physically face-to-face with something or goes beyond real physical experience.
Louis: Michael, do you know the only difference, the actual, the core difference between human beings as a species and any other animals on the planet?
Michael: Well, there are a lot. But the one, I just read a book recently called, Sapiens, and–
Louis: There you go. I was hoping you would say that.
Michael: Oh, great book. I know. This is something we can do for all your followers, and that is recommend that book. It’s called Sapiens. You’ll have to tell them the author because I forget his name.
Louis: Me too.
Michael: Brilliant book, it’s just fascinating. In every page, you are thinking, “Wow, I never thought about that. I got to remember that to tell people.” There are so many you can’t remember them.
But what he says is, “Man is the only creature that can actually imagine something outside their direct experience.” They can actually imagine something that does not exist. It permeates everything. From the simplest thing of saying animals don’t imagine what is happening to another monkey 3000 miles away.
A story can let you do that immediately. But it even goes deeper than that when it came to mankind. That’s the source of all religion, all passionate belief, all sense of community. Communities really grew, and the tribe of Homo sapiens became more powerful, partly because they could feel a connection to someone that they’d never actually met in person.
Just because they had a shared, manufactured belief that at its core level grew out of a story not out of real experience.
Louis: Yes, because it’s proven that you cannot … If you don’t tell stories, if you don’t use stories as a mechanism, you cannot keep a group of more than 150, 200 people together. As soon as you start growing your population beyond that you must use stories to organize people beyond belief.
As you said religion, beyond a king, beyond something that is just bigger than oneself. A country, money, all of that is imaginary, and we are the only species able to imagine that, and not only imagine that but get around it and agree with it as a whole.
Today’s is not about the study of anthropology and the study of humans. Today is about storytelling, but I wanted to make this point, because if I have to believe in the only thing, the only marketing foundation, the only thing that marketers should learn today is storytelling. Because it’s such an important foundation for everything you do.
Without further ado, what is your six-step process to come up with a strong, compelling story?
Michael: Well, it’s a process I’ve developed by looking at thousands of movies and reading lots of
screenplays originally and then going beyond that to look at any story in any situation. Any story that involves a character who wants something and makes an attempt to achieve it is going to follow the same six steps as any other story that falls into that same category.
It’s by examining this and developing a process that’s similar for movies and then streamlining it and applying it more to stories that are told in a business situation or in any situation where the storyteller’s not necessarily a professional storyteller, a novelist, or a screenwriter or something like that. That’s what I call my 6-Step Success Story process.
But all I’m really doing, to be truthful, is adding my own labels and way of looking at something that I didn’t create. It evolved out of storytelling centuries ago. A lot of people talk about the hero’s journey, but Joseph Campbell didn’t create that, he just added different labels to what he’s recognized in centuries of fairy tales, myths, and so on. It’s just my way of looking at it to try and simplify it. But this is the way stories have worked for centuries.
Before going through the exact six steps, the first thing you need is, you need to do a little groundwork. The first thing you have to decide is, why are you telling the story? What is it you want? What is the action you want your recipient of this story to take?
Maybe if you’re telling a story to friends, it might just be to fill up space or get them to laugh. But if you’re using it in a marketing way or any sort of public way or business way like that, you may want them to purchase something. You may want them to subscribe as I said, you may want to just create connection with you. If you’re a public speaker you want them to stand up and applaud, or you want them maybe to go home, so to speak, and improve their lives by following the steps that you’re outlining. What’s your purpose?
Next, is, once you know that you have to then define a hero for the story that is going to take the same action you want the people in your audience to take. By and large, the reason I call this success story is let’s say you would like people to benefit from Hotjar.
Then one way, a primary way you need to do that is to tell a story about someone else who joined or connected with or found out about Hotjar and accomplished something as a result of that. That was going after something that Hotjar helped them achieve.
What do you want them to do? Who is the hero who took that journey to achieve a similar goal? Then you can define, okay, what are the steps that person went through?
Louis: Let me go back to that. The purpose I think is pretty clear. I don’t want to spend too much time on it, because you need to understand why you’re doing stuff in marketing every time. That’s not only specific to your process.
But the hero process is something we went through together which actually is also interesting. It’s easy sometimes to maybe when you think of story–to think of this imaginary story that you can come up with, with a hero that is not real with those characters, supporting characters are not real with a world that is not real.
Straight away as soon as I’m thinking of stories I usually think of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and you mentioned Hollywood and all of those movies. But can you explain just a bit more, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe there are two types of heroes. There is yourself or somebody else in a sense, right?
Michael: Yeah. You could even say three.
Louis: Three, okay.
Michael: There’s you. There’s you having a true experience. There’s someone you worked with or benefited from your process who actually had that experience, or there’s a fictional character like you said a made-up character who you might be using as a fable or an allegory or just to entertain people. It’s any one of those three.
Louis: Am I right to assume that the more you go to the third choice, the more you go from yourself to someone else to a fictional hero the more difficult it is to tell a story?
Michael: Well, they’re all difficult in a way. They’re simple, but there’s work that goes … It would be more difficult to do that in a way that your goal was, the primary goal is for someone who’s a marketer of some kind. If you want to inspire someone, that could be just as good a hero to include.
It’s probably more difficult in this way. If you’re creating a character or a story on a blank slate where you have nothing to work from, then there’s a whole lot of work to be done to decide what is this is about? Who is this character? You got to make everything up.
If you’re telling a true story, you’ll at least have the real events, and it’s a matter of conveying those into story form and presenting them in a way that creates that emotional experience. I guess that was a long way of saying, “Yeah, it’s probably harder to do the fictional character.”
Louis: I was planning to ask you a question at the end. But I think we’re going to use that as an example for the six steps. Could you think about maybe one of the favorite stories in the marketing business world you had someone to distill?
Do not pick the one we worked together, something completely different. Maybe a story that you’re very proud of that is simple enough to explain where we can actually match it with the six-step process and explain, okay, the setup step one, this is the setup for this story, etc.
Michael: Sure. Do you want me to tell that story first and then we’ll go through it, or do you want
me to go as we go?
Louis: I think it’s better if you tell the full story.
Louis: Quickly, quickly, as much as you want, but then we can distill it.
Michael: Yeah, it was long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Okay, I’m going to make this abbreviated, so it’s not going to be a prepared version that’s trying to elicit all the possible emotion but just to get you through that.
Okay, James Stafford has a company and a website called Websites Made Easy. He helps people, particularly marketers create websites that are going to help them market product, create a blog, et cetera, et cetera. He originally came to me as a client, because I helped him with a story that helped him launch one of his new products, one of his new programs. That was fine, but that’s not what the story’s going to be about. It’s just how I knew him.
James called me, this was possibly a year after we had done that first project, and he said, “I need your help.” He said, “Here’s the thing, in three weeks I’m going to hit the 10-year anniversary of the last day I took a drink. I will have been sober for 10 years,” on whatever day it was three weeks away.
He said, “I want to commemorate it in some way. I feel like over the 10 years of sobriety I’ve had and going through all that I’ve learned some things that some people might find of value. I’d like to share those things that I’ve learned just in case some people could be helped with it. I’m not marketing anything with this story. I’m not going to post it on my company website. I’m just going to set it out on mine. I will see if anyone responds because I just … If there are 10 or 20 people out there that could benefit from this that would be great, and I need you to help me create that story or those stories.”
I said, “Okay, tell me about some of these things you’ve learned.” As usual, I asked him a bunch of questions. He talked about how it came to be, and what he learned about relationships, and different situations he was in that were difficult, and how he had to find ways to overcome them. He said to me, “One of the things people learn is they think when you get sober your problems will go away. The fact is when you get sober that’s when the problem show up, because you’ve been hiding those problems through alcohol before that.”
We talked a long time, and I suggested, “Okay, I think the first story has to be the day you got sober.” He started telling me, and we molded that into a story.
The story opens with him driving to the airport. His mother driving him, he’s about to get on a plane to leave Texas to fly to Los Angeles, a place he’s never been to start a new life. Because he knew if he had any chance of giving up his alcoholism and getting past the life that put him in jail, and he lost all his friends and most of his family and so on, he had to go to someplace new.
He was so afraid that he was just trembling in the car on his way there not knowing what this was going to be and scared to death that he was never going to succeed. He knew if he didn’t succeed at it this time, it was probably going to kill him.
He gets on the plane, and he’s so scared, he does the only thing he knows how to do when he’s that frightened, and that is he starts drinking. He basically gets plastered on the plane. They practically have to pull him off the plane.
He goes in and finds a bar in the airport. The next thing he remembers is waking up. It’s morning, he’s in some strange bed in some strange house. He has no idea how he got there, or where he is.
It turned out that the support people who were waiting for him that had the halfway house where he was going to come live, they went looking for him, found him, and carried him out of that bar and took him and put him to bed.
The next morning, he woke up, he saw the day, he realized what had happened. He said, “Something about being in that place away from everything I had known, something about just starting that day, I realized it was now or never, and I had to change.” That became the first day of his sobriety.
That was the story. He sent it out, and, immediately, within about 10 minutes of sending it out, he started getting emails on how touched people were by it. He got people saying, “I felt like you were talking about me.” “I’ve been wanting to do this myself. I think now I have the courage to do it.”
But then what happens is those people started forwarding it to other people, and it got sent to other websites who sent it out to their followers, and they started … It went as a viral email. He figures by now, it’s now been seen by half a million people.
Somebody who wanted to start with changing 10 people’s lives now has seen and gotten hundreds of emails now, just helped change the lives of well, half a million if you count all the people that saw it.
Louis: The story you picked, I think you’re testing my interviewing abilities with this, because it’s a story within a story. I appreciate that. I think it’s super good.
The main story is the story with you and him, and the story of the two of you coming up with a story, the result of coming up with a story. But then, there is the story inside which is the story of this person who went through this alcoholism, the crisis, day one of sobriety. But for the purpose of it, let’s focus on the main story that you said, which is the one where your friend, I’m going to forget his name, reached out–
Louis: … James reached out to you who wanted to tell the story. Let’s frame that with the six steps. There are six steps in total. I’m just going to name them: the setup, the crisis, the pursuit, the conflict, the climax, and the aftermath. In the story you just said, what was the setup?
Michael: Okay, let me back up just once. That’s fine.
Michael: Clarify a couple things. One reason it’s a story within a story is because it was about the
writing of a story, and you needed to know what story came out of it.
Michael: But there’s two key questions to ask first. Who’s the hero of that story?
Louis: The hero is James.
Michael: James. Now, I want to clarify for everyone that when I use the term hero, I don’t mean someone who is heroic. It is perhaps someone who has the potential to become heroic, and the story is about him finding that heroism. But all I mean by hero is protagonist. You can use that or main character if you prefer.
Why do you think I would pick that story to tell, besides it being an illustration? Why would that be a story I’d want to tell everybody’s who watching or listening?
Louis: Because you want to show the power of telling a story that can seem simple that doesn’t talk about this superhero of some sort.
Michael: Yeah, okay. We can say that. But I don’t want to be accused of being shady. There’s another reason I want to. That is, what would be my purpose in doing that besides sharing? I’m doing it for you to illustrate because that’s why I’m here. But I want people to potentially contact me and consider hiring me to coach them.
Michael: Okay, this is what I mean by a success story. I’m not the hero of the story. But if you’re thinking, “Okay, I want to go through the same kind of experience James went through. I want to get to half a million people.” Then who are they going to think about, “Gee, maybe I should think about this Michael Hauge guy and look into him some more. Maybe I should contact him.” That’s how the six steps work.
I want to be very transparent about that maybe I am, maybe already a lot of people are thinking, “He’s just telling that story hoping we’ll hire him.” Yes, busted, but I don’t consider … It’s a true story. You can email James, and he will verify that.
Okay, to answer your question. The setup is when we introduce this hero. Whether it’s you or this successful client in my case in the story I told. You introduce them. You show them living their everyday life, and you create empathy because you’ve got to create that psychological connection.
I told you who James was, and I was hoping to create a picture of him calling me up and saying this is what’s going on. Because when you find out, when he says, “I want to celebrate. I’ve been sober for 10 years.” It immediately creates a sense of empathy or feeling sympathy with him that he had to go through whatever he had to go through to become sober for the past 10 years.
He’s also likable because he says, “The reason I want to do this is not to make money. It’s just to help people.” I didn’t make that up. I might have adjusted a few things which you can do for the sake of the story, but none of the content is made up. He said that to me. Now, he’s trying to figure out, “Okay, what is it … ” The setup is who he is in his everyday life.
The crisis is some tipping point. Something that happens that forces this character to take action. His tipping point was he looked at the calendar saw, “It’s my 10-year anniversary. What am I going to do? I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do.”
That’s when the hero will usually find or look for some kind of mentor. Some kind of guide that’s going to assist them. He called me to see if I could be his mentor to decide, “What can I do?”
He had already come up with the idea of telling stories. I worked with him to find out what is the specific story you should start with. I said we decided on the day he got sober. Now he has a goal to write a story about the day he got sober that happened 10 years ago to connect with people. His goal is finishing the story and posting it.
Louis: That’s the pursuit. That’s step three.
Michael: No, no. Not yet.
Louis: Not yet.
Michael: No. When you have the crisis the reaction is to figure out, what am I going to do and define what specific goal you had. He knew generally he wanted to do something, but he hadn’t decided what. You want to define a specific finish line to cross that gives your audience something to root for, something to anticipate and be invested in. His goal was: Get this story done and get it out to people so they can react.
Louis: The more detailed the better, because you mention I want to share it to 10, 20 people. I’ll be happy if 10 to 20 people get inspired by that.
Louis: You mentioned a number.
Louis: The more specific the goal, the better.
Michael: Yes, exactly, because you want your audience or your reader to be able to picture this in their mind, what success would look like. They want to see some version of a finish line in a race. That’s what we’re going for. You can picture what blowing up the Death Star would look like. Now we know what the specific goal is.
Louis: Before going to step three, I just want to go through a bit more detail about what you said. You brush it off quite quickly, but you mentioned, James contacted me as his mentor, his guide to lead him through this story.
This is also a very important part of storytelling, isn’t it? The guide, this idea of having someone else or a magic thing that tells you what to do next. There is this element in storytelling quite often right?
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a very common character. In fact, some of my compatriots who also are experts in story say that’s essential. You have to have that person. I will add one other thing. If you’re considering making yourself the hero of the story, it’s really valuable to have a mentor or a guide that you had.
Because then you can give them credit for helping you to achieve the goal, and it doesn’t sound like a story that’s basically saying, “Let me tell you how great I am, because I wanted this, and I got it, and I did it all by myself, and I’m super.” That isn’t going to be a very persuasive, emotionally involving story. It’s not going to have the effect you want.
But if you say, “Then I met this person, and they showed me to do this, and they helped me do that. They gave me the secret. They told me the words that would inspire me to do this.” It’s a great character either kind of story you have.
Louis: Just a few examples. I keep … I don’t know why, my brain is wired to do this, but every time I think of stories I think of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings, you have Frodo as the hero and his guide was Gandalf. In Star Wars, you had probably Anakin in some of the episodes as the hero, and then you had, I’m going to forget his name as the guide, the master Jedi.
Then for Harry Potter, Harry Potter is the hero, and one of his guides is sometimes Hagrid, sometimes Dumbledore. But there’s always this guide, this mentor that runs around to help this person go through the story, the journey.
Michael: Yeah. Exactly.
Louis: Going back to your story, though. We went through the setup, we went through the crisis, we’re at the end of the crisis. You basically have your hero deciding, okay this is my goal, this is the detailed, specific goal. In your example, you talked about 10 to 20 people that James wanted to inspire. What is the step after that?
Michael: Okay, now you have the next two steps, three and four are pursuit and conflict. To define them, I put them as separate steps, but they’re intertwined. Pursuit is, what are the steps that the hero takes to achieve the goal? The conflict, what is the obstacles that that hero had to overcome?
In this case, when I talked about the pursuit I said, well, the first thing he did was he had to talk to me about what these were. Then we landed on this, so he had to tell me the details.
If I was trying to convey even more about how my process works I might go into a little more detail. I’m not going to tell everything. It’s just to give a sense of what … Remember this is an example of having a story that has this kind of goal. Give us a sense of what working with you or going to your website or signing up for or buying your product whatever it is would look like.
The obstacles are what kind of obstacles did the character encounter that they had to overcome. There’s two reasons you want those. Number one, your goal is to elicit emotion. Emotion in a story grows out of conflict not desire. Desire drives the story forward and gives us something to root for, but conflict is what elicits the greatest emotion.
The bigger the obstacle, the more emotionally involved we are. You have to have some obstacles, or it’s just like, “James started working with me and a week later five hundred million … Five hundred, it’s inflated now, half a million people.” That doesn’t work.
What I did, I didn’t really talk about the obstacles to writing the story so much, because then I moved into the other story. I knew there was conflict in that, so that would keep the story emotional. But, generally, it would be, what are the obstacles James encountered to writing this?
The other reason you want to include that is because who do you think is going to help the hero overcome those obstacles? That’s going to be you or your product or your process or your philosophy or your site or whatever it is.
Because now you’ve given the audience the emotional experience of getting your help overcoming a conflict, and, usually, that obstacle is going to be something that you know your audience is already anticipating as going to be a problem. That’s going to be a reason they don’t want to buy or sign up or follow your advice. It’s those two things in tandem, so to speak.
Louis: You’re a master storyteller, and it’s easy for you to move from the main story and then having a smaller story inside it, and you did that with ease. This is something we’ve talked about with one of our mutual friends now, André Chaperon, on this podcast where we talked about email marketing and email storytelling. We talked about this opening the loop, closing the loop.
Let me repeat it, and maybe you can say whether I made sense or not. But the way that you’ve done it to incorporate a story within a story is to start with the bigger story. You open a loop, you don’t close it yet. You open a loop like in a TV show, the start of the episode.
You open the loop, and then you start another story. You open this loop as well, and you have two stories intertwined. Then you close the smaller loop to give a bit of relief, and then finally, you close the last one, so that the two stories are closed.
That’s the way you’ve done it. But the way you’ve done it, even more, is that you actually managed to move from one story to another and switch back and forth a few times which is even more skillful.
The best way I can describe this in the day-to-day life is when you watch typical TV shows. Like recently Breaking Bad was just a phenomenal example of that where they just … When you watched episodes like this, you can see many storylines open up at the same time. You have the romantic storyline usually.
You have the major conflict storyline, the one that goes through the full season. Then you have smaller obstacles, smaller stories inside each episode that usually close within the same episode. I just wanted to make this parenthesis within the big story that is our episode to show that this is also a super powerful way to go about telling stories.
Michael: Well, one thing we should point out is André Chaperon’s a lot smarter than I am, and so he’d be the good person to talk about that. I never thought about it in that inner loop, outer loop or open loop, closed loop, because that’s not really the terms I use, but you’re absolutely right.
To avoid getting overwhelmed by that possibility, first of all, it’s a tool. It’s a particular tool that André likes because of the whole way his whole process, his whole soap opera sequence process and the different parallel email series and so on works very well for that.
But the main thing if you’re trying to do that is separate these two stories and make sure each one is clearly defined, and each one has its own six steps and then blend them together. By depending on a variety of things we can’t get into now.
But the biggest problem would be if you’re trying to hold two stories in your head, and maybe I’ll take one here, no I’ll put another one here. No. Get two distinct stories and then weave them together.
Louis: Yeah, and if you’re starting with storytelling which was what I was trying to hint, it’s probably a better idea to start with one story and deliver it this way instead of trying to match many stories together.
Michael: Usually, yeah.
Louis: We went through the first four steps, the setup, the crisis, the pursuit, the conflict that are usually as you said intertwined. Now let’s go to step five, the climax. Part of … using your story once again, the story you told.
Michael: Well, his goal was to write the story or create the story, post it, and help 10 people. He said, “If even 10 people … ” I got that. I said, he sent it out and immediately started getting back emails that said how deeply they were touched and so on. That’s the climax.
He got what he wanted. You need to paint a picture or take a snapshot, you might say, of the hero crossing the finish line. We need to be there and celebrate that with the hero. It was like, “Wow, he did it.” The feeling there should have been, he did it. He got this reaction to it.
Then the next step is the aftermath. The aftermath is an essential part of the story especially a story you’re using to persuade someone of anything, and that is it’s a picture of the new life the character is now living, or the new life the character is living some period of time after crossing the finish line. We see how the character’s life has changed because they completed the journey.
Because that aftermath, that image you create of what the hero’s life was after all of this, that’s what your potential buyer, follower, audience member if you’re giving a speech, that has to be a picture that they want for themselves.
Michael: Now, it doesn’t need to be specific. Maybe your goal isn’t to reach half a million people. Maybe your goal is something more modest, but what it does say is by telling the story, he was able to touch a lot more people than expected. You can picture what that would be like to realize that half a million people had seen your story or your email or whatever it was. You would picture that in whatever way you wanted.
But it’s the long-term effects. It’s the new life. He has a different life now, because he’s now known by way more people than he was from before we started this.
Louis: Am I right in assuming that the climax, the step five in your story was when you said 10 minutes after the story was published or even before he started to get emails back saying that they were inspired?
Michael: Yes. That was the climax because that was him achieving the goal that he said he wanted to. That’s what we were rooting for. He didn’t say, “I want to reach half a million people.” If he had, we would have to create a new … That would be the climax, and we’d now have to create a new aftermath that showed what is his life now that he has already reached that.
But the principle is it’s not enough just to achieve the specific goal. We want to know, how will our lives be changed. You want to convey how my life will be changed if I am persuaded to do what you want me to do.
Louis: Right, so there you have it, folks. A master storyteller distilling the concept of storytelling in less than 30 minutes I think. I hope that was helpful for the steps.
But there is a few more things I want to talk to you about, Michael. One in particular that you also do naturally. You use dialogue in the way you tell the story. Instead of saying, I had this client. He contacted me. He was very anxious to find a good story to tell about his new life after sobriety. We talked a while.
Basically, without using any dialogue just paragraphs and paragraphs of no dialogues that probably would have been a very shitty and boring, boring story. But naturally, what you do almost I think in the first sentence, you said James contacted me, and he said that. You used his dialogue. Why is that?
Michael: Well, when you tell a story, you want to transport your audience. I’m going to stop saying audience, reader. I’m going to call everybody audience. It could be a customer, it could be a client, it could be a follower, whatever. You want to transport your audience from the world they occupy to the world you’ve created.
Again, I’m always going to refer to movies, because that’s who I am in my background. But you’ve all had the experience, unless it was a really terrible movie, of going into a movie theater and maybe somebody talks or turns on their phone, and you get really pissed off. But, why? You don’t get pissed off if somebody turns on their phone in the lobby.
It’s because you’re being yanked out of the new place that you’re in. You are there. You’re in the Millennium Falcon or you’re at Hogwarts or you’re on the road to Mt. Doom or whatever example you want to give. You want to be transported.
To take your audience there, you want to make that world as vivid as possible. That means it’s not just an overall description. It was a castle. It’s detailed. It was this high. The room had these objects. It smelled like this. You could hear the sounds of this, or we could … or whatever the sensation is. One of those is dialogue. We’re much more present if we can actually hear the person who’s talking inside our head.
A phrase I use often that I haven’t yet here is, your goal as a storyteller is to create a movie inside the mind of your reader. Because whatever kind of story you’re telling, you’re a screenwriter. Because you’ve got to create that movie. We’re not just thinking about it. We’re not just interested. We’re there. We’re in that situation.
To picture or to hear, so to speak, someone actually saying dialogue makes us more present to that than just an overall summary of what they’re saying. A good trick if you’re writing a story is when it involves communication between characters, look at how many times you use the word that and then see how many you can eliminate.
By that I mean … Okay, so James told me that he wanted my help because he told me that he was 10 years sober and this and that. But if you say dialogue. It was James.
I could have worked harder on making it even more vivid, or I might have, now that you mention it, I think it might be more vivid if I had given some dialogue to his mother. He’s sitting there, and his mother is saying, “James, what’s wrong? It’s going to be great.”
I’m working on it now, I’m rewriting. Next podcast, it’s going to be even better, so thanks for that. That’s why. It’s anything that makes it specific and vivid as opposed to general and summarizing. Those are detrimental to story.
Louis: Are there any other elements or things to avoid that could also be detrimental to a story? Apart from the ones we mentioned.
Michael: Well, one thing, let’s see, I don’t want to make this confusing. What I was going to say is don’t come out of the story. You can stop a story the way a commercial does on television if it’s commercial TV like what André was talking about.
You might tell part of the story and then leave us hanging while you pull back for some commercial content or some explanation. Or if you’re telling the story to instruct, to show this is how you create a website, you might tell a story about somebody doing it, and then they reach a certain point, and they say, “Now here’s what this person had to learn about building a store inside your website.”
Okay, so now you’re going into content, and you’re out of the story. But what you don’t want to do is you don’t want to make comments about the story you’re telling. Don’t say, “And so James was worried … ”
I see this a lot on stage. Maybe it’s a more apropos thing there, but they’ll say, “James was worried about having to come up with a story that didn’t sound like he was bragging. Have any of you ever worried about bragging with your story?” Okay, now you’re not with James anymore. Now you’re just in the present thinking about your this, and it shatters it.
The short rule of thumb is when you’re telling a story, tell the story. Don’t get distracted by other things unless it’s a very pointed separating parts of the story at dramatic places to give information.
Louis: Michael, thanks so much for going through this exercise. It’s fascinating every time I talk to you, because you’re always teaching me new stuff. I hope that if you’re listening to this podcast right now you learned a lot as well.
I always end up asking my guests three questions at the end of each episode, Michael, so let’s go through the first one. You cannot use storytelling as the answer to this. That’s your challenge.
Michael: You didn’t … Now wait, you didn’t tell me that when you sent the questions.
Louis: I know.
Michael: Now you have to ask me the other questions that I prepared answers. I may refuse to answer. Okay, go ahead. Let’s see if I have any piece of knowledge that doesn’t involve storytelling. I probably don’t.
Louis: You can’t answer by something specific to it, but it’s fine. What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Michael: It’s not storytelling? Oh, geez.
Louis: It’s your life, I know.
Michael: … you built me up and now–
Louis: Torturing you.
Michael: … now, I just look like a doofus. Okay, what should marketers learn? Well, now I’m
afraid it’s going to all sound familiar and kind of cheesy.
One would be, be absolutely passionate about whatever it is you’re trying to market. If you’re just finding something because that seems like it will turn a buck, it might turn a buck, and you might get even wealthy, but I don’t think that’s in the long run going to feel very satisfying.
As I said earlier when I was talking about us working together, my rule of thumb is I do the things that sound like they’ll be fun. I would hope that what came across, because I didn’t rehearse it, I just hope it’s clear, I am always excited about storytelling. I love talking about it. I wasn’t like, “Okay, how are we going to get through this?” I just get into it. We could go on for hours if you kept asking me questions.
Go with your passion, but truly believe in and be passionate about whatever it is you’re marketing, or whatever it is you’re trying to persuade people to do. Does that count?
Louis: Absolutely, and I concur because I believe this is the basis of good marketing. I think many people who are using sleazy, shady tactics don’t necessarily want to, but they feel that they have to, because the product or service, as they say, are not good enough, or they might even be shitty completely.
I think as long as this happens you cannot connect deeply with whatever you’re offering. Therefore, you cannot use all the leverage that you can use as a marketer when you’re trying to sell something that is truly good. You cannot use storytelling that much as a leverage unless you’re prepared to lie. You cannot use emotions that much unless you’re prepared to lie. I completely connect with you 100%, and I agree.
Now you can answer with storytelling stuff to the next question.
Michael: Okay, okay.
Louis: Besides your book, Storytelling Made Easy that I would recommend anyone to buy, what are the top three other resources you would recommend listeners? It could be anything.
Michael: First of all, you’ve stepped all over this one too because you didn’t tell me I couldn’t mention my book, and I was going to mention that, because–
Louis: I just mentioned it.
Louis: You have another bonus answer now.
Michael: Okay, cool. But I did come with actually four, so I can do these three. One’s going to sound a little weird. The first one I would say is, you’ve also already mentioned, and that is André Chaperon. André Chaperon has become a friend, but he’s been so instrumental in teaching me things, but also, he’s so great to work with. We did a product together that I’m very proud of, and that has been very successful.
But if you’re not familiar with him or haven’t gone deeper into what it is he does and could, if you go to … You may have given a website already, but I’ll just reinforce it, but I would go to … If you go to tinylittlebusinesses.com. I know that’s a way, and it tells you the different products he has and the different things he’s involved in.
But he’s a brilliant guy, and he’s just nothing but integrity. One of his guiding philosophies, he probably said is, “You don’t look for … ” He wouldn’t care about a half a million people. What he is focused on is, “Let me find a small group of people that can really use this. That really want and need this, and let me help those. Let’s make those passionate followers.” But also, “Let’s really help those people as much as we can,” and that’s been very successful for him. One would be Tiny Little Businesses.
Another, I don’t know if you’ve had him on, but he’s also been somebody that’s been really instrumental for me personally and my growth, but I think he’s brilliant, and that’s Russell Brunson. If you go to russellbrunson.com, Russell Brunson is the creator and head of the company that does ClickFunnels. He created ClickFunnels. If you go to his website, it will tell you all about him. You probably, most of you watching this have heard of him already and maybe are a follower and very involved.
But among the things I would strongly recommend is get ahold of his books. It’s DotCom Secrets, and oh god, what’s the other one? Expert Secrets, and I should remember Expert Secrets. I’ll put in a self-aggrandizing plug because I’m mentioned in that, because he has a chapter on storytelling, and he mentions me. He says I taught him. He thought he knew storytelling before he met me, and that was very gracious of him, and it’s been very nice.
But that’s not really why I’m recommending it. It’s because it’s all about really how you create a following and a movement. It may not sound like something that you would want to do, but it’s brilliant, and there are a multitude of things he talks about that you can infuse into many aspects of your business as well as the specific thing he focuses on which is marketing through the internet and click funnels and so on. Get
acquainted with him. He would be the second.
The third, since you didn’t let me have my book, it’s going to sound perhaps strange, but it’s a movie that I highly recommend you watch. Actually, there’s two, but I’ll start with one, and that is, even if you’ve seen it before, watch the movie The King’s Speech.
The reason I recommend that is because not only is it a great movie … I just love that movie. It’s a historical movie about a prince who had to take over the throne when he didn’t want to, and then had to lead his country into World War II, and about how he was terrified of doing that. First of all, because he had a horrific speech impediment, and, next of all, he never thought he was qualified to be king.
But it’s the goal of that character is just to give a speech without stuttering. To do so, he finds an eccentric speech coach named Lionel Logue who actually his wife Queen Elizabeth I, not the first, but Queen Mother Elizabeth, she finds this guy and Birdie, the prince, Albert starts working with him.
Eventually … Well, you’ll see. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen it. But you know what his goal is. His goal is to give a speech without stuttering, and what happens is that speech becomes monumentally important before the movie is over.
The reason I recommend it is not just because it’s good, and because it’s a story. But because you’ll also see very clearly what those six steps are, but also, because, it’s a movie about a consultant. I want you to look at it and say to yourself, “Okay, who is the hero of this movie?”
Because it’s very clear it’s the prince who has the stutter, and he has the goal. But then ask yourself, “Okay, but if I had a speech impediment, who would I go to, to help me?” It wouldn’t be the hero. He had that same problem, but it got solved by this other guy, Lionel Logue.
It could almost be a marketing story if Lionel Logue, first of all, if the internet had been invented before World War II. But, also, if he was wanting more people to come to him this would be a great story that showed his skill without making him the hero, or he could show that and nobody would think, “Well, you’re sure full of yourself.” Because the hero we’re rooting for, but we are connecting to is actually the character he helped. On several levels as a story, I think it would be a wonderful one to take a look at.
Louis: Please, thank you so much for going through this and giving the three resources. I concur on the three of them. I watched the movie, I do not know Russell personally, but I do know André now personally. He’s the one who introduced us to each other, and he’s a sublime guy. He’s just so … He’s a nice person, genuinely nice and super smart.
Obviously, feel free. Please mention your book and tell us more about how listeners can connect with you and learn more from you.
Michael: My book is called, Storytelling Made Easy, and it’s not a really long book. It’s not dense or anything, but it’s a much deeper dive into the six steps, how you use them with a lot more answers to the question about what are some other things we can do to really refine a story and use dialogue and use Hollywood magic techniques, and how you decide whether you should be the hero, or someone else and so on.
But before you even do that if you want something free and a way to get in touch with me and also see other things that I’ve done, go to my website which is storymastery.com and just start surfing around. There’s products, but there’s an abundance of articles about different aspects of storytelling that can be applicable. It talks about my speaking gigs and so on.
But if you type in storymastery.com/6steps, that’s 6steps, then you’ll go to a landing page. If you click through you’ll get a free eBook. In that eBook, it’s just called 6-Step Success Stories, and then for free you can get an overview and a chart that shows these six steps, and a story that I wrote for a client after he told me the story that I wrote primarily to illustrate the six steps, so you can see them again in action.
This is not a marketing story. This is what you would think of as a signature story about the storyteller, and when he entered a marathon, and what he learned from that experience. It’s a fun story. I’m really pleased with it, and I think you’ll enjoy that.
I would go to the website, surf, then add the slash 6steps and get the freebie, and then you’ll be compelled to order the book on the website. I’m just sure because you’ll want even more.
Louis: I do have the book, and I read it regularly. Which is something I do with the books that I really enjoy, because every time you tend to forget a few things, and it’s good to remember a few concepts about stories. One thing and Michael, you’ve been an absolute pleasure. I mean it. You’re an expert in your field, and it’s always great to talk to you, and I think listeners have learned a lot from you. Once again, thank you.
Michael: Well, thank you. It was a pleasure.
How to stand out: 9 bullshit-free lessons from world-class tech marketers
Insights from Seth Godin, Rand Fishkin, David Darmanin and 6 other world-class tech marketers.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.