The Storyteller's Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don't

The Storyteller's Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don't

by Carmine Gallo


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How did an American immigrant without a college education go from Venice Beach T-Shirt vendor to television’s most successful producer? How did a timid pastor’s son surmount a paralyzing fear of public speaking to sell out Yankee stadium, twice? How did the city of Tokyo create a PowerPoint stunning enough to win itself the chance to host the Olympics?

They told brilliant stories.

In his hugely attended Talk Like TED events, bestselling author and communications guru Carmine Gallo found, again and again, that audiences wanted to discover the keys to telling powerful stories, inspiring stories that could galvanize movements and actuate global change. And indeed, whether your goal is to sell, educate, fundraise, or entertain, your story is your most valuable asset. A well-told story hits you like a punch to the gut; it triggers the light bulb moment, the ‘aha’ that illuminates the path to innovation. Your story is “a strategic tool with irresistible power,” according to the NYT. Radical transformation can occur in an instant, with a single sentence; The Storyteller’s Secret lets you craft your most powerful delivery ever.

In The Storyteller’s Secret, Gallo offers lessons from a range of visionary leaders, each of whom cites storytelling as a crucial ingredient in success. A good story can spark action and passion; it can revolutionize the way people think and spur them to chase their dreams. Isn’t it time you shared yours?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250072238
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 06/27/2017
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 121,188
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

CARMINE GALLO, bestselling author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, is the communications coach for the world’s most admired brands. A former anchor and correspondent for CNN and CBS, Gallo is a popular keynote speaker who has worked with executives at Intel, Cisco, Chevron, Hewlett-Packard, Coca-Cola, Pfizer, and many others and writes the column “My Communications Coach.” He lives in Pleasanton, California, with his wife and two daughters.

Read an Excerpt

The Storyteller's Secret

From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don't

By Carmine Gallo

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Carmine Gallo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8269-0


What Makes Your Heart Sing?

People with passion can change the world for the better.

— Steve Jobs

As the sun was setting over the Hudson River on a brisk October day two men stood on the terrace of a luxury apartment overlooking New York's Central Park. One man, a rebellious 26-year-old, dressed in a mock turtleneck and blue jeans, stared at his running shoes for a long time without saying a word. Then, as quickly as a light switch moves from off to on, he turned to the man by his side — a successful corporate executive who was one month shy of his forty-fifth birthday — and delivered the words that would transform the careers of both men and change the business world forever.

On the balcony of the San Remo apartment building in March 1983, Steve Jobs turned to John Sculley and challenged him with a simple but devastating question: "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?"

Sculley had just turned down Jobs's offer to run Apple, saying that he intended to remain in his position at PepsiCo. Jobs's question, however, forced him to do some serious soul-searching. "I just gulped because I knew I would wonder for the rest of my life what I would have missed," Sculley recalls of the question that landed like a "punch to the gut."

The punch to the gut. The "wow moment." The "aha" moment. Whatever you choose to call it, radical transformation can happen in an instant. But an idea can only catch on if the person with the idea can persuade others to take action. Otherwise, ideas are simply neurons firing off in a person's brain. The greatest waste is an unfulfilled idea that fails to connect with audiences, not because it's a bad idea, but because it's not packaged in a way that moves people.

This is a book about ideas that did capture our imagination and change the world. It's about dream makers, visionaries, and risk-takers who mastered the art of storytelling to bring those ideas to life. Steve Jobs was undeniably the greatest business storyteller of our time.

On the apartment balcony back in 1983 Sculley had witnessed the famous Steve Jobs "reality distortion field," a phrase coined to describe Jobs's mix of charisma and his ability to convince people that they could accomplish the impossible. Upon hearing the news of Jobs's passing in October 2011, Sculley said, "Steve Jobs was intensely passionate at making an important difference in the lives of his fellow humans while he was on this planet. He never was into money or measured his life through owning stuff. ... A world leader is dead, but the lessons his leadership taught us live on."

Jobs's lessons do live on in the careers of former colleagues such as Apple chief designer Jony Ive, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Nest Labs founder Tony Fadell, or Disney's chief of animation John Lasseter. Jobs inspired them to communicate differently, to sell their ideas in a way that captured the public's imagination. Jobs revolutionized computer design, of course, but he was also a persuasive storyteller. Every public presentation that Steve Jobs gave resembled a Broadway play and had all the classic components of a great narrative: sets and surprises, heroes and villains. Nearly every major technology leader — and darn near every young entrepreneur — now tries to create "Steve Jobs–like" presentations. While anyone can copy the minimalist design of a Steve Jobs keynote presentation, it won't get them very far until and unless they learn the real secret to Steve Jobs's gift as a storyteller. And that gift wasn't on a slide. It was in his heart.

The Storyteller's Tools

In March 2011 the visionary who made "one more thing" a signature catchphrase took the stage one last time to reveal Apple's secret sauce. Steve Jobs, thin and weak from the cancer that would take his life a few months later, made an unexpected appearance to introduce a new product, the iPad 2. Few people in the audience expected Jobs to make an appearance because he was on his third medical leave. "We've been working on this product for a while and I didn't want to miss it," he told the cheering crowd. Jobs closed the presentation with this observation:

It's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.

In one sentence Steve Jobs captured the essence of what made him an inspiring storyteller. As it turns out Sculley had nailed it, too, when he said that Jobs was passionate about making a difference. Passion is everything and Jobs had plenty of it.

Since he cofounded Apple in 1976 with his friend Steve Wozniak, Jobs combined passion, logic, and emotion to make a profoundly meaningful connection with his audiences. Jobs's ability to inspire a crowd is legendary. After interviewing Jobs's colleagues, presentation designers, and the people who knew him best for my book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, I discovered that Jobs's secret to captivating an audience was not in the slide design, though the designs were beautiful. Many leaders now try to mimic Steve Jobs's presentation style (current Apple executives use the same design template for major product launches). Jobs captivated our imaginations because he had a wild and wondrous appreciation for how technology could change the world and he had the courage to express it.

Your story begins with your passion. You cannot inspire unless you're inspired yourself. Passion is a puzzle. Most people know it when they see it, but they have a hard time discovering it for themselves. Steve Jobs discovered it by asking, "What makes my heart sing?" The answer to the question: What makes my heart sing? is a lot different than the answer to the question: What do I do? Steve Jobs made computers; building tools to help people unleash their creativity made his heart sing.

The question of what makes one's heart sing goes to the core of Apple's DNA. Apple CEO Tim Cook repeats a version of the phrase in his keynotes and product launches. Cook once asked, "What do our hearts beat for?" On another occasion, the launch of a new iPad Air in October 2014, Cook was talking about the product's high customer satisfaction scores. "This is what makes our hearts sing," he said.

Steve Jobs wore passion on this sleeve. In 1997 Steve Jobs returned to the company he had cofounded after being fired 12 years earlier. Jobs held a staff meeting where he talked about the role passion would play in revitalizing the brand.

Marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world. It's a very noisy world and we're not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. And so we need to be really clear on what we want them to know about us. Our customers want to know who is Apple and what is it that we stand for. What we're about isn't making boxes for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well ... But Apple is about something more than that. Apple's core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.

On June 12, 2005, Steve Jobs gave one of the greatest college commencement speeches in history. Jobs delivered the 2,250-word speech in 15 minutes. Steve Jobs, the storyteller, crafted the speech as a three-part narrative supporting one central theme: Do what you love. "Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become," Jobs told the graduates.

The profoundly moving speech garnered well over 20 million views on YouTube. Apple employees say Steve Jobs's passion continues to live in Apple's DNA and they mean it, literally. When Apple released a new version of its operating system, OS X, they secretly hid a gift, knowing that someone would discover it. Embedded in the Mac's word processing application — Pages — is the entire text of Jobs's commencement speech. Passion is contagious. Passion is irresistible. Passion fuels the inner fire.

Ask Yourself, What Makes My Heart Sing?

Your passion is not a passing interest or even a hobby, but something that is intensely meaningful and core to your identity. For example, I play golf as a hobby. While I like the game — love it, actually — it is not core to who I am. It is, however, core to international PGA golf superstar Rory McIlroy. Asked to describe his love for the game McIlroy once said, "It's what I think about when I get up in the morning. It's what I think about when I go to bed." For McIlroy, golf isn't just a passing interest; it's the verse that makes his heart sing.

I was invited to deliver a keynote speech at the prestigious LeWeb conference in Paris, a gathering of the world's most passionate entrepreneurs for several days of sharing information on technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Backstage I met Ferran Adrià, the visionary chef who created the world's most famous restaurant, El Bulli.

"What is the one quality that all successful entrepreneurs share?" I asked Adrià.

"That's impossible to answer," he responded. "There are so many paths to success."

Adrià turned away and I figured it signaled the end of our conversation. Adrià then turned to me and said, "I take it back. There is one thing that all successful entrepreneurs have in common, and that's passion."

"How do you know it when you find it?" I asked.

"Let's put it this way. When you see a glass of wine, what do you think of?"

"A drink," I said.

"Exactly. You see a beverage. I see a vineyard. I see an ingredient. I see joy. I see family. I see friends. I see celebration."

I enjoy wine, but for Adrià it makes his heart sing in celebration.

Several years ago I interviewed Chris Gardner, the man portrayed by actor Will Smith in the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. Gardner recounted his story of being homeless, spending nights in the bathroom of a subway station along with his two-year-old son. In the daytime Gardner would put on his one suit, drop off his kid at day care and take unpaid classes to become a stockbroker. You can guess how the story ends. Gardner rose to the top of his firm and became a multimillionaire.

When I worked in San Francisco, I would take the BART train and pass the very subway station where Gardner and his son slept at night. I would look around at the faces of the people seated near me. Very few seemed happy. They were staring at cell phones with frowns on their faces or looking out the windows with glazed expressions of longing. The spark in their eyes had gone out. Somewhere along the way they had lost sight of their passion. I wondered: How it is possible for a homeless guy sleeping in the subway bathroom to have more excitement for life than those who had a job and rode the subway to work? I asked Gardner that very question. His answer changed my life.

Gardner said, "The secret to success is to find something you love to do so much, you can't wait for the sun to rise to do it all over again."

Gardner rose from the depths of poverty precisely because he listened to the verse that made his heart sing.

If you have yet to find your passion, ask yourself a better question. Don't ask, What do I want to do? Ask yourself, What makes my heart sing? Both questions will lead to very different answers.

Before you learn the craft of storytelling and master the specific techniques that will help you inspire the world with your ideas, you must get really clear on what you want people to know about you. Begin the process by asking yourself the right questions. For example, I met with the startup team behind a healthcare company that enjoyed the backing of some of Silicon Valley's largest venture capital firms. The company had developed a blood test to detect cancer. I asked the CEO a series of four questions intended to elicit an emotional response and lead to a message the company could use to tell its story to its key audiences (investors, medical professionals, and the media). Note how each question gets progressively more emotional and triggers a very different response:

1. Why did you start a company? "To impact patients' lives."

2. What does your company do? "We've developed a tool that allows us to fight cancer with a simple blood test."

3. What are you passionate about? "Patient care. Every week we see patients matched with therapies that can save their lives."

4. What makes your heart sing? "We were working with an oncologist who told us about a patient they had diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It had spread everywhere. The patient was told she had two months to live. There was no hope. Her oncologist knew about our blood test and decided to give it a try. The test results had successfully found the mutation of the patient's cancer. The mutations were inconsistent with pancreatic cancer. The patient had ovarian cancer. Her oncologist changed the treatment. In twelve weeks she had no detectable cancer. These stories keep me burning the midnight oil and working through the night."

Reflect on what had happened in the previous conversation. The first three questions elicited factual responses. The fourth question — what makes your heart sing — triggered a story. Facts alone don't inspire. The heart of your story gives facts their soul. Fact-filled PowerPoint presentations do not win hearts and minds; stories do. Well-designed slides complement the story, but the story must come first.

Disney animation chief John Lasseter, who said he owes his career to Steve Jobs, once said that in developing a story, the plot can change dramatically: the characters can come and go, as can the setting. What you can't change is the heart of the story because it lays the foundation for everything else.

A famed venture capitalist once told me that he listens to a pitch as he would a song. He asks himself, Will its verses click with consumers? Will its emotional hook inspire people to join the hero's journey? The investor is looking for an emotional connection. He's listening for a pulse, a passion. The first step to telling an inspiring story is to discover your verse, the track that makes your heart sing.

The Storyteller's Secret

Inspiring storytellers are inspired themselves. They are very clear on their motivation, on the passion that drives them, and they enthusiastically share that passion with their audiences. Ask yourself, What makes my heart sing? The answer is the foundation upon which all great stories are built.


From T-Shirt Salesman to Mega Producer

Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

— George Bernard Shaw

Mark had plenty of time to think about his story on the 5,000-mile flight from London's Heathrow Airport to Los Angeles International. He had no job, no place to live, and only a few hundred bucks to his name. On paper Mark didn't have a compelling resume. Although he had served in the British military, Mark was 22 years old and had not gone to college. How could he possibly achieve success in a new country he had never even visited? On the flight Mark decided to write his own story and get really, really good at telling it. While he wasn't American, Mark had two personality traits that would help him achieve the American Dream: optimism and self-confidence.

Mark landed in Los Angeles on October 18, 1982, a working-class kid from London's East End with "no return ticket." Mark's friend, Nick, met him at the airport and brought good news: A wealthy Beverly Hills family was looking for a nanny. Mark interviewed with the family that night. They were initially uncomfortable about his experience, or lack thereof. Male nannies were unusual in Los Angeles and Mark didn't strike them as someone who would excel at domestic chores. But then he delivered a pitch they couldn't resist. Using the effective narrative technique of analogy he told the couple that having a former British paratrooper in the house was guaranteed security, "like hiring a nanny and a bodyguard at the same time."

Mark's performance earned him a job within 24 hours of landing in America. The very first job television producer Mark Burnett performed in America was unloading a dishwasher, a device he had never seen until that day.

In his two years as a nanny Burnett studied the habits of the wealthy and learned a valuable lesson about success, one that would catapult him to the top of the television industry. Burnett came to realize that the story of his life was a blank slate and that he was the author, the one ultimately in charge of crafting the narrative. Second, he learned that he had a storyteller's gift for selling his ideas. And he took that gift to the beach.

Burnett's first business plan — if he had written one — would have fit on a napkin: Buy T-shirts for $2 and sell them for $18. Since he didn't have the money to rent a booth, he rented a fence, and since he couldn't afford the entire fence, he settled for a 10-foot section of it.


Excerpted from The Storyteller's Secret by Carmine Gallo. Copyright © 2016 Carmine Gallo. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface: Your Story is My Passion

Introduction: Richard Branson, Dopamine, and the Kalahari Bushmen

Part I:Storytellers Who Ignite Our Inner Fire

1. What Makes Your Heart Sing?

2. From T-Shirt Salesman to Mega Producer

3. Conquering Stage Fright to Sell Out Yankee Stadium

4. A Rock Star Rediscovers His Gift in the Backstory of His Youth

5. Change Your Story, Change Your Life

6. The Power in Your Personal Legend

7. A Coffee King Pours His Heart into His Business

8. We're Not Retailers with a Mission, We're Missionaries Who Retail

9. If You Can't Tell It, You Can't Sell It

Part II: Storytellers Who Educate"

10. How a Spellbinding Storyteller Received TED's Longest Standing Ovation

11. Turning Sewage into Drinking Water

12. What You Don't Understand Can (and Does) Hurt You

13. The $98 Pants That Launched an Empire

14. Japan Unleashes Its Best Storytellers to Win Olympic Gold

15. A Funny Look at the Most Popular TED Talk of All Time

16. Dirt, Cigars, and Sweaty Socks Put a Marketer on the Map

17. A Burger with a Side of Story

Part III: Storytellers Who Simplify

18. If Something Can't Be Explained on the Back of an Envelope, It's Rubbish

19. The Evangelizer in Chief

20. A Film Mogul's Granddaughter Cooks Up Her Own Recipe for Success

21. The Storytelling Astronaut Wows a TED Audience

22. "Dude's Selling a Battery" and Still Inspires

23. An Entrepreneur Makes Shark Tank History

Part IV: Storytellers Who Motivate

24. Find Your Fight

25. The Hospital Steve Jobs Would Have Built

26. A Hotel Mogul Turns 12,000 Employees into Customer Service Heroes

27. A Revolutionary Idea That Took Off on the Back of a Napkin

28. When Amy Lost Her Legs, She Found Her Voice

29. From Hooters to the C-Suite - A Former Waitress Shares Her Recipe for Success

30. Trading Wall Street Riches for the Promise of a Pencil

31. The Ice Bucket Challenge Melts the Hearts of Millions

32. His Finest Hour - 180 Words That Saved the World

Part V: Storytellers Who Launch Movements

33. Great Storytellers Are Made, Not Born

34. Millions of Women "Lean In" After One Woman Dares to Speak Out

35. The 60-Second Story That Turned the Wine World on Its Side

36. From My Heart Rather Than From a Sheet of Paper

37. Story, Story, Story

Conclusion: The Storyteller's Universe

The Storyteller's Toolkit

The Storyteller's Secrets at a Glance

The Storyteller's Checklist


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